One-Way Tickets or Round-Trip Tickets – Which are Cheaper

UPDATED February 2017

Ever find yourself needing a one-way ticket? Maybe you’re called away for an emergency and not sure how long you’ll stay. Maybe there’s a great deal to Europe from a big airport 500 miles/800 km away, which allows a return to your city for a reasonable price but you still must fly to that big airport airport. Whatever, here’s what you should know.

One-Way Tickets or Round-Trip – Best Airlines

There’s a common misconception that one-way tickets are always half the price of a round-trip or return ticket. Sometimes this is true, sometimes it’s not. It often depends on the kind of airline you fly and here’s some general guidelines followed by real airfare prices found in February for travel in March.

  • Discount carriers (examples: Frontier, Spirit, Ryanair): One-way tickets on these low cost airlines are often half the price of round-trips fares.
  • Legacy carriers (examples: American, United, British Airways): One-way tickets on these major airlines can be a little more or a lot more than half the price of a round-trip fares.

Fares from legacy carriers:

  • American: Los Angeles to New York
    Round-trip: $371
    One-way: $220
    The one-way price is cheaper, but not by much.
  • British Airways: New York to London
    Round-trip: $516
    One-way: $1841
    The one-way fare costs a lot more than round-trip.

Fares from discounter carriers:

  • Spirit: Baltimore to Chicago
    Round-trip: $100.38
    One-way: $50.19
    One-way is exactly half the round-trip/return fare
  • Ryanair: London to Dublin
    Round-trip:£48
    One-way: £26
    In this case, one-way costs a little more.

Tip: Airlines constantly tweak prices for both round-trip and one-way fares so no matter how you fly, you must compare fares – every time you shop.

What to Do If Itinerary is Uncertain

Many airlines around the world charge a change fee to cancel any part of a flight (unless you purchase the significantly more expensive refundable fare). In the U.S., change fees cost up to $200. If you’re not sure you need a one-way or round-trip ticket, some things to consider:

  • The change-your-mind rule: U.S. airlines allow a 24 hour grace period in which you can cancel a flight with no financial penalty. Some airlines in other countries do too; check your carrier’s policy on its website before you book the flight.
  • Southwest’s no change fee: If you need to cancel tickets or any part of a fare, Southwest is the lone U.S. carrier that does not charge a change fee.
  • Book one-way on discount carriers: As we’ve noted, it won’t always be half the price of a round-trip ticket but it’s often a better deal for one-way fares. Again, always compare fares.

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Updated: February 14, 2017