book one-way flights

Why You Should always book one-way flights

Airline pricing is complicated. But instead of digging into the nitty-gritty nuances of airfare algorithms, here’s a real-world application.

When I’m booking a flight, I care about the lowest price and maximum flexibility, among other factors. Sometimes I want to pay in cash but often if I have miles to spare or want to fly in a premium cabin, I’ll redeem miles. By strategically booking one-way flights, I have been able to maintain half the cost of a round-trip ticket and still give myself options to pay how I want.

In fact, I almost always book one-way flights. And it makes even more sense to do so now during the pandemic. Here’s why I book one-way flights — and why you should consider the same when planning your next trip.

It can be cheaper

When traveling within the U.S., airlines typically price one-way flights at exactly half the cost of a round-trip. There certainly are exceptions, especially for those that fly out of smaller, regional airports.

However, with my home base in New York City being a major hub, I can’t recall the last time I saw a one-way at more than half the cost of a round-trip when flying domestically.

Booking a one-way vs. a round-trip

When paying with cash, my first rule of thumb is to always search and compare the costs for both a round-trip flight and the one-way flight segments. I typically do this with a simple Google Flights search. There have been many cases where booking two one-way flights — with two different airlines — is less expensive than booking a round-trip with a single airline.

When traveling within the U.S., airlines typically price one-way flights at exactly half the cost of a round-trip. There certainly are exceptions, especially for those that fly out of smaller, regional airports.

However, with my home base in New York City being a major hub, I can’t recall the last time I saw a one-way at more than half the cost of a round-trip when flying domestically.

I get maximum booking flexibility

Whenever I search for flights, sometimes I use points and miles, sometimes I pay with cash and sometimes I do both. Booking one-way flights allow me to have the most flexible options when it comes to my method of payment.

If I want to use airline miles for a flight, there often may only be availability or a low-mileage option for just one portion of an itinerary. This is often the case for holiday periods or long weekends.

A one-way, flexible booking example

If I planned to leave from my home in New York to head to Miami on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I could use 10,500 American Airlines AAdvantage miles for the flight.(Screenshot courtesy of AA)© The Points Guy (Screenshot courtesy of AA)

However, if I wanted to return back to New York on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, a peak travel day, it could cost up to 51,000 AAdvantage miles for the flight home.(Screenshot courtesy of AA)© The Points Guy (Screenshot courtesy of AA)

I wouldn’t spend a whopping 51,000 miles on this return flight (which TPG considers to be worth $714), so would explore three other options instead:

  • Search for lower mileage opportunities with another airline
  • Search for cash fares using Google Flights and paying with one of the best cards for airfare
  • Search for fares using a credit card travel portal and paying with credit card points

This is where the power of booking a one-way flight comes into play. It provides you maximum flexibility to mix and match the flights of your choosing using a variety of payment methods.

To continue with this hypothetical Thanksgiving weekend trip example, I found a one-way JetBlue flight for $221 from Miami to New York. I’d much rather pay this cash fare than redeem 51,000 AAdvantage miles.(Screenshot courtesy of Google)© The Points Guy (Screenshot courtesy of Google)

And lo and behold, now I have two one-way flights between New York and Miami — one using miles on American and one using cash on JetBlue.

It works for some international flights, too

What I’ve discussed so far only applies to domestic flights. What about international flying? Many airlines will price international one-way tickets more than a round-trip ticket (or close to it) even though you’re flying half the amount.

As an extreme example, here’s a one-way business class ticket between New York and London on American for $5,119.Photo courtesy of Google© The Points Guy Photo courtesy of Google

Now, let’s take that same outbound flight to London and add in a return flight to New York. It’s still far from cheap but a round-trip only slightly increases the total cost.Photo courtesy of Google© The Points Guy Photo courtesy of Google

This is a very common practice and is often found on premium cabin tickets. One of the main reasons that one-way tickets can be so expensive for international flying is because they’re often purchased by business travelers who have rigid date and time requirements and are generally less sensitive to price.

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