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Here's When Buying Two One-Way Flights Is Cheaper Than a Round-Trip Ticket

Budget Travel Airports + Flying
by Maren Engh Mar 29, 2022

There are die-hard travelers on both sides of the proverbial aisle — adamant one-way warriors versus the always-reliable round-trippers. If you’ve tried to google which is better, you’ve most likely found yourself more confused than before. So let’s clear it all up once and for all — which is truly the better booking option, one-way flights or a return ticket?

Well, the truth is “it depends.” Sorry, I know that’s a letdown. But simply put, both can be the right choice depending on the situation. The large majority of travelers simply book a roundtrip ticket by default — it’s easy and people typically assume it’s cheaper, but that’s not always the case. There are a few scenarios where booking one-way travel will help save you money and make your booking more flexible.

One-way flights are better when you book with points

A good example of when booking two one-way tickets rather than a roundtrip ticket might be favorable is when using points. Points bookings are usually dynamically priced within a range of prices, however, the number of points needed for a roundtrip ticket usually does not change if you book two one-ways instead. While this might not make the flight any less expensive, by booking two one-way tickets, it is often significantly easier to change or cancel should you decide to stay longer or leave earlier. For example, Jetblue specifically recommends booking one-way fares when dealing with points because it’s easier to update booking dates after the fact, giving you more flexibility.

Similarly, if you have points accumulated across a few airlines, you can book one-way on Airline A and one-way on Airline B. I typically do this when I don’t have enough points to book a roundtrip on a single airline’s points program, but can combine carriers to use points for the entire trip.

One-way flights can also be cheaper when you make multi-airline bookings

Just like with points bookings, sometimes booking two one-way tickets on separate airlines can save you a good amount of money. For example, if you are flying from San Francisco to Miami, you may find a great deal on United to get to Miami and there may be a great deal on American flying out of Miami. If the carrier has to move a plane and it’s not full, you may find some insane deals on one-way tickets if you’re willing to do the extra bit of work.

To find the best deals, I usually search on Google Flights for one-way tickets. You’ll see the lowest-priced flights appear first and can use extensive filtering and calendar views to find the perfect flight.

For example, when looking at the cost of a round-trip ticket from San Fransico International Airport to Miami International Airport on April 18 — April 20, you see:

The cheapest ticket is $439, but keep in mind you have no baggage allowance.

If you then search one-way on April 18, you find:

Obviously, $68 is an amazing price for a one-way ticket even without the luggage. Now, enter the return:

The best return ticket is $197. So in total, booking two one-way tickets would cost you $265. That’s almost half the cost of the roundtrip booking.

Return tickets make sense with flight deals

So now that you know of a few ways to leverage one-way tickets, let’s talk about a time you don’t want to rely on one-ways.

Flight deals are an area to consider booking roundtrip tickets. Flight deals are typically based on roundtrip fares and therefore you’re not going to find the same one-way prices available. For example, I recently got a notification for a flight deal in my inbox for a roundtrip to Puerto Vallarta for under $300:

You can see here that a roundtrip ticket on May 9 — May 16 will set you back $264.

If you do the math on the one-way tickets, you’ll find a one-way on May 9 to Puerto Vallarta will cost you $116.

The return flight booked separately on May 16 will cost you $189:

If you book the two one-ways, you’re paying a total of $305. That’s quite a bit more than that flight deal was offering at $264.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to your willingness to spend the time to do your research. If you take the time to look into one-way ticket options versus roundtrip, you could end up saving some serious cash, and having more flexibility to extend that dream vacay.

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