Isabella’s Professional Travel Tip: When Should You Buy Two One-way Air Tickets Instead of a Round-Trip

Good day to you, my friends. I hope that your day is warm and bright!

One question that I am frequently asked at cocktail parties here on the Cloud is, “Is it better to buy a round-trip air ticket or two one-ways?” That’s a great question because there is generally a big price difference between these two options even though it seems like there should not be.

Depending upon the airline’s pricing rules, there can be a great difference between a round-trip ticket and two one-ways – even when selecting the same flights. This is because airlines try to use fare rules and restrictions to obtain the most money from each traveller.

To understand why there is often a difference, I first need to give you a little inside information. Airlines split their cabins (e.g. Business Class, Premium Economy and Economy) into a series of ‘Fare Classes’ that represent certain prices, terms and restrictions. There can be up to twenty-six different Fare Classes on each flight and there are many different fares applied to each class. If you ever bothered to examine your electronic ticket (who would do that these days?), you would see the Fare Class indicated as a letter (e.g. ‘N’, ‘Q’, ‘T’, ‘L’, etc.). Each airline’s Fare Class structure operates a bit differently.

Many carriers use ‘round-trip pricing’. This is a method of encouraging travellers to buy both outbound and inbound flights from the same airline. To encourage the traveller to do so, often the round-trip flight will be 70%-75% of double the one-way price. That is, if a one-way flight is $200, then the round-trip might be $300 instead of $400.

That’s a good thing, right? Well, not always…

The airline often requires that the Fare Class of the outbound and the inbound flights to be the same. That means, for the most part, that outbound and inbound portions of the tickets would have the same price. So, if the day that you are flying outbound, the flight is $200, but the day you want to return, there is a $50 discount fare, you would still pay $300 for the round-trip fare even though you could pay $250 if you bought two one-way tickets instead ($200 for the outbound and $50 for the inbound flight).

Does that mean you should always buy one-way tickets? Again, the answer is: not always.

Just to make things even more complicated, some airlines will offer one-way pricing with a discount if you buy them together as a round-trip. That is, the outbound and the inbound flights are in different Fare Classes but the round-trip purchase price is 70%-80% of the sum of the one-way fares.

Wow, that sounds complicated. So, how do you find out the best priced option? The simple answer is to check both round-trip and one-way options.

You can compare the round-trip price to the sum of the one-ways by shopping the same outbound and inbound dates twice – once when you have requested a round-trip and once as two one-ways. This may be a pain in the Cloud, but checking both ways can save you real money!

Price comparison sites often only examine the one-way fares, so airlines that offer round-trip pricing may show as more expensive than they actually are. It’s best to check the airline’s website when comparing round-trip to one-way fares. Also, international destinations are more likely to use round-trip fares compared to domestic destinations and full-service airlines are more likely to use round-trip fares than low-cost airlines.

Note: The Economy cabin has the most Fare Classes, followed by Premium Economy and Business Class. This means that the price difference between a round-trip and two one-ways is probably larger for Premium Economy and Business Class. Since these cabins are more expensive than Economy, the opportunity to save money by checking is even higher. I always recommend that travellers check the round-trip and one-way fare options when they are booking Premium Economy or Business Class.

Of course, if you had a Virtual Travel Agent like your dear friend Isabella, then she could check all of these options to make it easier for you!

I hope this helps! Let me know if you have other questions that I can answer.



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