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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @ Gary — One way, especially for DL awards. DL will not refund the return portion, and the re-pricing engine on-line is a disaster (so you get to wait on hold for 5 hours instead). This is also a great option for one-way international flights since the pricing is exorbitant on those.

  2. I book mostly one ways overseas. I’m often using awards and traveling on different airlines outbound and inbound to maximize points.

  3. For personal travel, I almost always book one-way trips. For work/business travel, my employer’s travel website is a pain to use, so booking round-trips involves less hassle.

  4. Always book Southwest as two one-ways (not that I fly Southwest anymore, but the kids do). In the event of a price decrease, and you’re trying to claim the credit, on a roundtrip, Southwest makes you rebook both sides of the ticket. If one side went up and the other down, you’re out of luck. With two one-ways, you can rebook only the lower priced side. The redo both sides rule also gets invoked if you’re trying to redo a date date – you lose your previous pricing, even on the side that doesn’t change.

    Thanks for the tip on AA misconnects. I do that a lot, but always pad extra time for trouble, especially on international connections. This makes it a bit easier, so I can pad 2-3 hours, not 5. I wish they would let you check the bags through, like other airlines, but I’ll take this.

  5. I generally always do one ways. The last few weeks I have noticed that AA is significantly higher for two one ways than a round trip. First time I’ve seen that in a while.

  6. The other issue is pricing. In the old days RT’s were always cheaper. But for many years I have priced it out both ways and there has been no difference for 2 one ways vs a RT. However recently I found a RT to Hawaii was much less expensive in first class than two one ways. So you always need to check.

  7. I love that you mentioned through checking bags. Thankfully, Star Alliance will do this. Of 20 trips, only one instance of delayed baggage

  8. Our family also moved to one-way bookings once penalties were removed. We also each then got our own credit card for a free checked bag. If you don’t have elite status & are relying on a credit card for a free checked bag, every person travelling must be under the same PNR as the cardholder.

  9. Be careful as revenue tickets originating in certain international markets are now starting to see change fees for American Airlines. Not sure about other carriers but where one goes, the others follow.

  10. On award tickets, I am now frequently finding that many an award ticket for a route A-B-C may be priced lower than an award ticket for just the A-B route. If you’re a carry-on-only traveler, throwing away the onward award ticket segment(s) can work just fine.

  11. For regular paid international travel from and/or to the US, I still often find roundtrip airfare is cheaper for me than one-way airfare. If it weren’t for some international travel when it comes to regular paid tickets, I would be buying fewer roundtrip tickets than I do.

  12. The one issue I find with one-way tickets is that credit card trip delay/cancellation/interruption insurance requires a round-trip ticket. I’ve been bitten at least twice by that fact and left at the mercy of the airlines…

  13. Since I never use a 3rd party I most often book one-way tickets, alternating Delta and AA so I can maintain status on both

  14. Yep, we often buy 1-way tickets as fares vary so much now, that often the best way to get the best (lowest) fares is to book outbound and return flights separately, each when fares offer the best value, be it on the same, or different, airline(s).

    Sometimes the return flight(s) is (are) booked before the outbound flight(s).

    But, it’s not an hard and fast rule; it all depends on the fares.

    So, if a roundtrip itinerary on the same (or partner) airline is as attractive as that offered by booking separately, then we’ll book the roundtrip.

    My best advice, especially if one has enough time to (patiently) monitor airfares and then be ready to pounce when the algorithm gods are being generous (or are on the fritz!) and fares drop to a price point one finds best meets their price:value criteria.

    Of course, as Gary noted, this does not usually work for international itineraries, which more often than not for discounted fares, require booking roundtrip itineraries.

  15. Last time I checked, Singapore Airlines still charged severely more for 2 singles than a RT. Most other airlines seem to go for more straightforward pricing though.

  16. I used to book one way tickets until a recent cancellation on an airline forced me to spend the night in a hotel at my expense. American Express and other credit cards do not cover you on a one way ticket.

  17. @wta – thanks a bunch for pointing this quirk out about AA. For many years, I booked round trip or A-B-C stops on AA because they were typically less expensive than the component one ways. But once that changed a few years back, I moved to strictly one way flight booking, and stopped checking the round trip or multi-city pricing. I’ll have to go back to doing that comparison if AA is once again discounting for round trip or multi – city booking.

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