Should You Book One Way Or Roundtrip?

Skift reports that one-way ticket sales are up – for reasons of price and schedule flexibility. People find combining airlines is necessary to get them where they’re going and this can be easier on separate tickets.

So should you book roundtrips or two one-ways?

  • The elimination of change fees on most itineraries change the calculus on one way versus roundtrip. It used to be that if you cancelled an itinerary you’d hope to be on a roundtrip ticket so you only paid the change fee once. Two one-ways meant double the change fees. So the elimination of change fees makes one-ways easier to book.

      Bear in mind that basic economy tickets don’t have the same ‘no change fees’

      And if you’re dealing with international travel, your flights departing the U.S. may not have change fees but check the fare rules for trips that originate outside the U.S. because those may still have change fees – making a U.S.-originating roundtrip desirable.

  • One way tickets can make it easier to combine different airlines on a trip. Airlines generally don’t sell non-partner carriers (though there are exceptions) so if you wanted to fly American one way and United the other you may need to book them separately, or book through an agent, whether brick-and-mortar or online.

      Booking through an online agency like Expedia probably means cringe-level service when there are schedule changes, so if one ways don’t drive up price you’ll prefer booking directly as two one-ways.
  • If your flight cancels or delays and you throw in the towel on a trip, you can only get that ticket refunded – if you’re on two one ways that means getting money back for your outbound but not for your return. As long as you have no change fee tickets that may be ok – you’ll use the credit later. But vouchers aren’t as good as money, and if it’s with an airline you rarely fly the voucher may be tough to use.

Using separate tickets as part of a one way journey can be more problematic. If you misconnect due to a flight cancellation or delay, your second ticket may be useless. Your original airline has to get you to your ticketed destination only, no where you’re trying to go.

I’ll often buy positioning flights. Maybe my award ticket originates in New York and I’m in DC, so I buy a ticket up to New York (no award space was available or I couldn’t include it in the award). But I’ll give myself plenty of time to get there, with backup flight options available.

Bags are another issue on separate tickets. American Airlines won’t through-check bags on separate tickets (unless one ticket is an award and both tickets are booked in the same reservation on oneworld airlines). As of the last time I checked they would still, however, protect you if you misconnect on separate oneworld tickets.

I generally book one way tickets. The lack of change fees gives me that flexibility (since I no longer have two change fees with two one ways instead of a single change fee on a roundtrip). I often don’t book both directions of travel at the same time, I might lock in my outbound because I know exactly when I need to be somewhere or because I can confirm upgrade availability. And I might wait on the return, perhaps because of price or lack of upgrade space or because I just haven’t figured out plans yet.

Booking one ways suits my planning style and no longer has the downsides that it used to, although it’s worth pricing trips both ways. I may find it cheaper to book two one ways, but sometimes (and especially true with international travel) roundtrips are more expensive.

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