Intro Airline pricing Shopping rules

Your itinerary is uncertain; you know your departure date but are not sure when you’ll return. Should you buy a one-way ticket or guess about when you will return in order to buy a roundtrip ticket?

The question is, which are cheaper – one-way tickets vs. roundtrip tickets. We’ve got answers.

One-way Tickets vs. Roundtrip Tickets

It used to be that you actually saved money overall with a roundtrip ticket, but thanks to cancellation fees and new pricing methods, that’s not always the case.

Pricing varies by airline: Discount carriers like Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit often price fares so a one-way flight costs half of a roundtrip ticket. In other words, you’ll pay the same price – per flight – whether you travel one-way or to and from your destination. Larger airlines often charge more per-flight if you only travel one-way so on most trips it makes sense to buy roundtrip fares. Some examples for weekday flights in June:

Spirit – Chicago to Boston

  • One-way, $77
  • Roundtrip, $154

American – Los Angeles to Denver

  • One-way, $133
  • Roundtrip, $227

As you can see, American gives a price-break on the roundtrip fare, while the Spirit customer pays the same per-flight whether flying one-way or roundtrip.   This is fairly common pricing for legacy carriers and ultra-discounters but be careful because airlines sometimes break their own rules! Which leads us to the most important shopping rule of all.

Shopping Rules

Always compare airfares: No matter how you fly, compare the cost of one-way flights and compare the cost of roundtrip fares. You can do this on the FareCompare and other sites.

If considering a roundtrip fare: Keep in mind that in most cases, changing a ticket – even a single portion of it, such as the return flight –  will usually cost you an expensive change fee (up to $200). The only airline that does not charge a change fee is Southwest.

Buy fares in advance: Whether you buy a roundtrip or one-way fare, buy in advance. On large airlines, purchase tickets at least two weeks before departure (ideally a month before). On smaller discount carriers, you’ll usually get a better price if you buy at least seven days in advance. If you can’t buy in advance, at least compare airfares.

Buy fares for cheaper days: Cut costs on every kind of ticket by flying cheaper days. On U.S. domestic flights, cheaper days are usually Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays. On international flights, weekdays are typically cheaper than weekends.

Let technology work for you: A handy tool to find cheaper days within a particular month or season is the Getaway Map. Another handy tool is airfare alerts. Both are free, simple and take just seconds.

Final thought: The more flexible you are, the better deals you’ll find. Safe travels.