One-Way Tickets, Round-Trip Tickets – Which are Cheapest?

One-Way Tickets, Round-Trip Tickets - Which are Cheapest?

Sometimes what you really need are one-way tickets. Maybe there's an emergency; you need to fly but don't know when you'll return. Or maybe you want to do a fly-and-drive vacation so you can hop a plane to your destination then leisurely drive back home. What to know before you buy.

Best airlines for one-way tickets, round-trip tickets

There’s a common misconception that one-way tickets are 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. Some general guidelines. Note: All airfare prices were found in February for travel in March.

Discount carriers (such as Frontier, Spirit, Ryanair): One-way tickets on what are called discount or low cost airlines are often half the price of round-trips fares. Here's an example from Spirit; note that the one-way fare is precisely half the price of the round-trip ticket:

  • Baltimore-Chicago
    Round-trip: $102.60
    One-way: $51.30

Legacy carriers (such as American, United, British Airways): One-way tickets on these major airlines can be a little or a lot more than half the price of the round-trip fare. Here's an example from American; the one-way fare is significantly higher than half the round-trip price:

  • Los Angeles-New York
    Round-trip: $352
    One-way: $204

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

What to do if plans are uncertain

Many airlines 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 have 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 the website before you book the flight.
  • Southwest has no change fee: If you need to change or cancel tickets, 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 so you'll know for sure.
Rick Seaney
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