Just as the cruise, tour, and hotel world seems fixated on double occupancy, almost all widely used airfare booking systems default to round-trip flights. Although that may work for a majority of travelers, one size does not fit all, and lots of travelers are interested in multi-stop trips.
One reader recently asked about a specific itinerary, but the question could apply to just about anyone: "I would like to travel from Ontario, California, to Raleigh, returning with stopovers in Atlanta and Minneapolis. How can I book these connections as one itinerary?"
Actually, it's pretty easy, but the details depend on what sort of airline you're flying.
- Several low-fare lines price their best deals on a one-way basis, including AirTran, JetBlue, and Southwest. On those lines, just book your trip as a series of one-way flights.
- Other airlines require round-trip purchase for their lowest rates, and you can book these on an airline's own website, or with the online travel agencies. On Expedia, click on "one-way trips" under "Additional Options," then, on the next screen, scroll "Flight Type" to "multiple destinations." On Orbitz, click on "expanded search options," then click the button for "multi-city." On Travelocity, click "multi-destination" on the first screen. Most individual airlines offer similar options—just take a hard look at the options on the first screens.
"Metasearch" sites (sites that search other search engines) are a different story. Kayak has an option for multi-stop trips, but most of the others don't.
Normally, multi-stop trips qualify for at least some form of round-trip pricing. The most typical requirements are (1) the usual advance-purchase and maximum-stay limits and (2) a Saturday-night stay at your most distant point. The total trip price is then supposed to be the sum of half-round-trip fares on each segment. The online agencies' fare computations should provide for whatever such deals are available for your trip.
However, multi-stop ticketing has always entailed a certain amount of black art. You might be better off going through a travel agent who is knowledgeable about multi-stop ticketing tricks.