Can One-Way Tickets Save You Money on Airfare?

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Airplane passengersBooking air travel in one-way increments
isn't just for long-term backpackers and spur-of-the-moment wanderers anymore.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, one-third of all airline travelers in 2011 didn't fly a traditional round trip, up from 19% in 2002. Chalk it up to scenarios such as business travelers visiting multiple clients, those combining work with leisure, or families setting out to visit several sets of relatives.

Frequent travelers are getting savvy about navigating layovers, perks and fares to create their best possible itinerary. Although it often requires a little more patience and time, booking one-way tickets separately rather than buying a standard round-trip ticket can offer better control over both price and timing.

The Basics of Road Warrior Travel

While common sense might suggest that the price of a one-way ticket ought to be exactly half of one with a return trip, that's not often the case. Airline pricing seems to have its own logic -- or lack of it -- and getting the best price often feels like a game of chance.

• Unrestricted fares often offer the flexibility to make changes without fees, but can cost a great deal more than their restricted counterparts. If you buy an unrestricted fare, you'll pay more but can make changes to your schedule fairly easily.

• Restricted fares are usually those extra-low prices that don't offer a refund if you cancel your reservation, and charge you a fee to change your ticket -- if they let you at all. If your plans are set in stone, go ahead and book that round-trip ticket at a cheaper, restricted fare. If your not entirely sure about your schedule, booking such a ticket and changing your plans later can cost more in the long run than you would have spent on changing one one-way ticket, or booking a last-minute ticket once your plans are firm.

In 2011, American Airlines charged more than $495,000 in reservation cancellation or change fees, the most of any airline except for Delta (DAL), which charged more than $766,000. By contrast, Alaska Airlines (ALK) -- which has ranked highest in JD Power's customer satisfaction survey for the past four years -- charged a mere $10,598 in change and cancellation fees in 2011.

Mix It Up

Careful planning is the best way to avoid pricey change fees and nab the cheapest one-way fares. You can minimize your risk with a combination of restricted and unrestricted tickets.

First, consider your entire journey: Note which legs of the trip are set (e.g., a confirmed business meeting) and which might change (e.g., a multiple-stop/layover family journey). Start by booking your set travel dates.

Remember, there's no need to book everything at once. As your plans solidify, you can book legs of the trip at separate times.

Whatever your trip's specifics, travelers have more options than ever to create an itinerary tailored to their needs. If all goes well, you'll have all the flexibility you need at an affordable price.

Molly McCluskey does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. Follow her travel and finance tweets on Twitter at @MollyEMcCluskey.


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13 Comments

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MR weaver king

nancy pel doesnt need a ticket we pay for her fuel and obamas so who cares

June 01 2012 at 4:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to MR weaver king's comment
madlyfem

We pay for the flight of the Speaker of the House. That is John Boehner, not Nancy Pelosi. Try to keep up Mr weaver king.

June 01 2012 at 5:13 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Njeanous

You paid for Bush, Clinton, and Bush I also its part of what we pay for to have a President rather than a dictator. Don’t be childish.

June 01 2012 at 5:17 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Njeanous's comment
colloc

The problem is--we HAVE a would be dictator.

June 01 2012 at 8:25 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down
Terry and Mandy

The airlines have become nothing more than flying Greyhound Busses. You are charged fees for anything and everything. The planes are dirty and contaminated with various viruses. The schedules can be interrupted at a moments notice for something as simple as a thunder storm. I just returned from a European flight on United and it was grueling and unpleasant.

June 01 2012 at 4:20 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Terry and Mandy

The airlines have become nothing more than flying Greyhound Busses. You are charged fees for anything and everything. The planes are dirty and contaminated with various viruses. The schedules can be interrupted at a moments notice for something as simple as a thunder storm. I just returned from a European flight on United and it was grueling and unpleasant.

June 01 2012 at 4:19 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
raptureready1958

I drive myself and it doesn't cost as much.

June 01 2012 at 3:14 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to raptureready1958's comment
Richard

I too, drive. Flying is for the birds.

June 01 2012 at 5:59 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
alfrag

Is the following meant to slam American Airlines, even though their fees in 2011 were 45% LESS than DELTA's?

"In 2011, American Airlines charged more than $495,000 in reservation cancellation or change fees, the most of any airline except for Delta (DAL), which charged more than $766,000."

Talk about poor command of the language!

June 01 2012 at 2:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mitch rochelle

can someone buy one way tickets for the entire republican party to china...?

June 01 2012 at 2:13 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mitch rochelle's comment
stevekarp81

Yes, send away the Repubs, keep the Dems in office, they are doing so awesome, todays job numbers tell the whole story, it's time for Obama and his crew of Czars to leave us....Mitch are you on WIC and collecting unemployment ?

June 01 2012 at 5:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
annecbayer

You'd think someone who writes articles for a living would know the basic difference between your and you're...

June 01 2012 at 2:01 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to annecbayer's comment
n2spinnin001

My thoughts exactly!

June 01 2012 at 2:56 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
jdykbpl45

Can someone buy Obama a one way ticket to Kenya?, Indonesia? Hawaii? or Chicago?

June 01 2012 at 11:13 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply