Travel experts share their advice for choosing which kind of reservation to book.
When you book air travel, the airline offers many ways to filter your search results ― price limits, preferred times of day, nonstop flights versus flights with layovers, and of course, round-trip versus one-way.
As the names suggest, a round-trip journey includes both a flight from your starting point to your destination and a flight back to your origin, whereas a one-way only covers one of those segments. While the former is generally the simplest way to book a trip, some people prefer to buy two separate one-way tickets when they travel.
But are there good reasons to choose one over the other? We asked a few travel experts to share their advice on whether it’s better to book two one-ways or a round-trip reservation for your next air travel excursion.
International travel tends to incentivize round-trip bookings.
“When you’re booking international flights, it almost always pays off to book as a round-trip, since airlines typically price one-ways at much more than half the cost of the round-trip fare,” said Zach Griff, senior reporter at The Points Guy.
Indeed, a cursory search on Google Flights while writing this piece found a round-trip flight option from New York to Paris for $522. But if you were to purchase the same two flights separately ― New York to Paris, then Paris back to New York ― the combined cost would be $1,670, more than three times the cost of the round-trip booking. The price discrepancy can get even more egregious when premium cabin fares are involved.
“In general, round-trip tickets tend to be cheaper than two one-way tickets, particularly if you intend on flying with a single carrier or alliance,” said Willis Orlando, senior product operations specialist at Scott’s Cheap Flights.
So if you’re all about airline loyalty, you’ll likely find better pricing options booking a round-trip journey for your international travels.
But domestic flights have better one-way pricing.
While airline pricing tends to incentivize round-trip bookings for international flights, there isn’t as much of a disparity with domestic air travel.
“When traveling within the U.S., airlines typically price one-way flights at exactly half the cost of a round-trip,” reporter Chris Dong wrote for The Points Guy in September. “There certainly are exceptions, especially for those that fly out of smaller, regional airports.”
Thus, if you’re flying domestically out of a major hub, you have better odds of finding good deals on separate one-way tickets.
Booking separate legs allows you to combine airlines.
Once you’ve determined you won’t lose money booking separate legs for your air travel, consider why you want to do it this way.
“Booking a round-trip itinerary as two one-way segments can make sense in some cases,” Griff said. “For one, it gives you the flexibility to choose between more than one airline in your searches. Sometimes, you can save money by combining flights on different airlines.”
Perhaps you have rewards points with two different airlines that service your destination and want to cash them in during one trip. Booking separately allows you to do that. You might even find a good deal for the outbound part of your journey with one airline and for the return flight with a different carrier.
“That said, you’ll need to pay attention to different fare rules when combining two airlines on one trip,” Griff noted. “For instance, if your outbound flight is delayed or canceled, you’d only be entitled to a refund for that portion of the itinerary, if you booked as one-ways.”
One-ways also offer more flexibility with return dates.
Another factor you may want to consider when booking round-trip or one-way is how sure you are of your dates.
Good one-way rates “can be useful if you’re not quite sure when you’ll be returning from your trip, which is particularly relevant in the age of remote work and extended AirBnB stays,” Orlando said.
So if you aren’t exactly sure when you’ll be ending your stay, you can make the process easier by simply booking a one-way ticket there. Then you don’t have to book your return until you’re ready, and you won’t have to spend time changing it to a later date over and over again.
Orlando said he’s even had some luck booking one-ways internationally with certain carriers, like TAP Air Portugal.
“I frequently travel to Europe for weeks, if not months, at a time, and try to make sure I end my trip in a city served by TAP, because I know I’ll be able to find myself a cheap one-way ticket home,” he noted.
Booking separate legs might help with a complicated itinerary.
Sometimes your travels might take you to multiple places and via different transit methods. For example, you might fly from Miami to New York and then take the train down to Washington, D.C. In this case, you’d want to fly back home from a different city than the one you flew into.
“In many cases, it will be possible to book an open-jaw ticket, coupling the two itineraries into a single ‘round-trip’ ticket, but occasionally that’s not possible,” Orlando said. “In that case, it can be worthwhile to look into one-way prices to see if they offer a competitive price, or favorable routing.”
When you have a more complex itinerary, it might feel simpler to break it up into one-way flights. Just make sure to compare the prices, and be prepared to manage the different airline bookings in your inbox.
As with most aspects of travel, there’s no one magic way to do things when you’re deciding whether to book two one-ways or a round-trip journey. But with research and experience, you can get better at figuring out what works best for your budget, itinerary and overall comfort level.
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