3 reasons I book domestic airline tickets in one way increments, not round trip

I keep being surprised by how many of my friends and family members still book domestic airline trips as round trips. Today, it is often smarter to book two separate tickets, one for your outbound journey, and another for the return.

Why?

Airfares within the USA* are no longer discounted for a round trip as opposed to one way. Your two one way tickets to and from wherever you’re headed will add up to exactly the same price as the round trip fare if you book the same segments.

If price is a draw, why book two separate tickets then?

1) If you need to adjust one segment of your journey, odds are your ticket these days is non refundable and costs over $100 to change. A domestic one way fare could cost less than the change fee. I’ve booked domestic legs from BOS-SEA, cross-country, for $119 in recent memory. On my favorite airline, Alaska, change fees are typically $125. Always double check fares for a new flight before paying an exorbitant change fee.

2) If there are changes to the outbound leg of your journey, your return segment won’t get screwed up when it is a separate ticket. Most leisure travelers avoid changing their airline itineraries because the costs are so high, but my husband travels for work. Due to his demanding schedule, it’s not uncommon for him to reschedule part of a trip. Changes to the outbound leg seem to have correlated with annoying, unexpected adjustments to his return flights. Usually, his seat reservation is changed. Occasionally, the entire reservation has disappeared from the system. Admittedly, DH has the worst travel luck of anyone I know, and a slew of amusing party anecdotes to show for it, but this is less likely to happen when two flights are booked as one way journeys.

3) You can book the best flight for your needs there and back, regardless of airline partnerships. This may be saving the best for last, but I suppose it needs to be stated for those who’ve never considering breaking up their domestic flights into two pieces: you aren’t beholden to one airline with this strategy. Book the combination of time, date, and airport that works best for you. This can be enormously more convenient for those who live near busy airports served by many airlines; it will matter less to those whose airport is part of a modern monopoly.

When is this strategy not a good idea?

Booking two one-way flights is good domestic strategy, but less often applicable to international flights from the USA with the big airlines, often referred to as “legacy carriers.”

The alternative, “discount carriers,” are more likely to offer one way bookings, even internationally.

NZ passport documents - 1If you are being reimbursed and your company accountants can’t accept two separate receipts for one trip, you’ll want to do what it takes to get your money back from the corporate overlord.

Some fare sales apply to “round trip fares.” You’ll need to meet whatever the stated conditions are to get the very best special fares, and that might include a round trip purchase.

Similarly, JetBlue’s frequent flyer program has gameified the mileage accrual process. There are bonuses to be earned, and a number of them depend upon “round trip” travel activity. If you are a points or miles collector, you’ll have to figure out whether one way flights will help or hurt your bottom line.

*Internationally, it’s usually old school all the way. Go compare fares for round trip as opposed to one way to Europe, and you’ll see prices thousands of dollars higher for the single leg.

That being said, you may save hundreds of dollars by booking a flight FROM Europe to the USA and back if you are considering spending cash for Business Class. You will still need to get to Europe to begin your trip, however.

This works if you have multiple trips coming up, allowing you to book your initial outbound flight TO EUROPE as a separate round trip coupled with with your ultimate return flight FROM EUROPE, leaving the Europe TO USA and FROM USA in the middle for a second ticket. It also works if you book your initial flight out using miles or points from a frequent flier program. Perhaps you’re taking a cruise, arriving in Europe by ship. Check one way and round trip fares back from Europe to the USA if you’re willing to walk away from an unused return and want the lowest possible fare, though choosing to ditch an unwanted return can have repercussions with the airline if you do it often because it is technically a violation of your contract with the airline created by buying the ticket.