Advertisement

The Scoop on Open and One-Way Tickets

AskEd & AnswerEd
images/photos/columnists/edperkins.gif
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on March 2, 2009. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: Aer Lingus, airfare, AskEd & AnswerEd, booking strategy, easyJet, Ed Perkins, Expedia, Malaysia Airlines, Orbitz, Ryanair, student travel, Travelocity.

This last month I've been hit with several questions about two related topics: open tickets and one-way air tickets.

"Is there a way to buy a round-trip ticket, but leave the return date open, and if so, how do I do it?"
"I am planning a trip from San Diego to Butte, MT. I would like to have the option of staying longer and not having to pay the penalty of changing my ticket. Is it possible to get a good fare with an open return date?"
"How much would a one-way from the west coast of the U.S. to Australia/New Zealand be?"
"I'm going to South America on March 14th and need to fly into Quito, Ecuador. I don't know when I will be returning (to San Francisco) or where I will be returning from. What would be my best, and most inexpensive, option?"

These two topics are related because "open" tickets are largely a relic of the past, so the solution to an uncertain return date is, in fact, often two one-way tickets. And the short answer to cheap one-way tickets is that you can find cheap one-way fares on some routes and not on others.

Advertisement

I've touched on the subjects of open and one-way tickets in previous responses on open jaw tickets and cruise line airfares. This week, I'll try to tie them together.

Uncertain Return Dates

Occasionally, you head somewhere without a firm date for your return. Before and shortly after deregulation, you could usually buy an "open" ticket: a round-trip with a firm departure flight reservation but with the return date left to be determined at a later time, at the regular round-trip price. Now, however, they're generally not available at or even near the lowest levels of fares. Instead, if you face an uncertain return date, you have limited options:

Buy a round-trip ticket with the required fixed return date, then pay the airline's penalty to change your return when you finally decide on a date. That can cost an extra fee up to $150 (or more on some international tickets), but it may still be the best option. However, even with a fee, the exchange option may be to the original maximum validity period of the round-trip ticket. Because many round-trips have a 30-day maximum stay, if you want to stay longer, this won't work.

The only tickets I know that now allow either open routings or easy changes are some of the various round-the-world, circle-Pacific, and other such multistop "air passes" and visitor tickets. The problem with them, of course, is that they work only for very long, multistop trips, not simple round-trips.

If you're a student or faculty member, you might be able to find a student fare that allows long stays with flexible return dates on some routes. Check with a student travel agency such as STA travel.

If all else fails, you can buy a one-way ticket for your "going" trip and another one-way to return.

One-Way Trips—Domestic and Intra-Europe

Given the current competitive marketplace, I've found few domestic routes where you couldn't buy a one-way ticket for substantially less than the cheapest round-trip. I've documented several cases in my earlier report on finding return airfares from one-way cruises. All the major airline websites and the sites of the big online agencies such as Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity provide fare searches for one-way tickets, so comparing options is a snap. And, as I've noted, good one-way deals are now widely available—if not to/from your preferred airports, at least to/from nearby fields.

Europe enjoys the same environment. Low-fare lines EasyJet, Ryanair, and their many imitators cover the continent with low one-way fares. The main drawback is that you may have to use secondary airports.

Occasionally, however, you can't find a cheap one-way that suits your needs, and can't use a low-fare line. If that's the case, your only options are either to buy the expensive one-way or, if it's cheaper, buy a round-trip and discard the return portion.

One-Way Trips—International

Many popular long-haul international trips still impose a heavy price premium for one-way travel. I have four general recommendations for travelers who need such tickets:

  • On a few routes, airlines not based in either the U.S. or a destination country offer cut-rate one-way tickets. The specific cases I found recently were between the U.S. and South America via Toronto on Air Canada and between Newark and London on Malaysia Airlines—the fares were more than half the round-trip, but not by much. This is a fairly common situation: Airlines want to protect their own turf but are quite willing to mess around with a neighboring country's market. The main problem is that, except for Air Canada, the foreign airlines that sell cut-rate tickets on long-haul international routes generally depart from only one or two U.S. gateways. And these discounted fares are often posted only on third-party sites rather than the airline's own site.
  • To/from Europe, Aer Lingus, the major Irish international airline, has re-invented itself as a low-fare line and now routinely sells all its tickets on a one-way basis. It flies to/from dozens of European cities, so you can connect Boston, Chicago, or New York (its three U.S. gateways) with any of those European cities through a Dublin or Shannon connection.
  • If worst comes to worst, there are still routes where a round-trip costs less than half the one-way fare. I found that to be the case for a reader who needed a cheap round-trip to Sydney: Because of the current fare war, a cheap round-trip was considerably less than the best posted one-way rate. So my reader's best bet was to buy a cheap round-trip and discard the unused return portion. That practice violates airline rules, but few, if any travelers, are bothered by that detail.
  • Some consolidators and discount agencies can arrange one-way trips. Consolidators I've previously listed include Airline Consolidator.com, Airsaver.com, and BargainTravel.com. Also, some agencies that specialize in round-the-world trips are good sources of one-way tickets, including AirTreks, and Air Brokers International.

(Editor's Note: SmarterTravel is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Expedia.com.)

 
 
Read comments or add your own insight!
Please enable JavaScript to properly view and use this web site.