If we emptied out our (sadly under attended) mail bag with this question- we’d have a lot of virtual paper. It’s so exciting to see a deal with a city you could actually utilize– but absolutely gutting when you realize it’s one way and not the other. So why don’t deals work in both directions?
It’s All About One City
In practicality- deals involve two cities, but the people making those deals are only worried about one city at a time. Airlines create deals to capture competitive travel markets. Sometimes it’s playing defense, like when an opposing airline group offers really low prices from said airlines’ main city. Other times it’s offense- like tempting people to travel when they otherwise wouldn’t, or to book early to head off the competition way in advance. These needs are unique for each place so that’s a good basic explanation of “why” they don’t work the other way. Often the best deals are for: new markets for an airline, off peak season or an attack from competition.
By offering super low fares airlines tempt people to travel. This “incremental” business makes it easier for them to ramp up prices for those not clever enough to get in on the very limited time deals. The incremental needs of one city have nothing to do with the other, so that’s one of the main reasons why Stockholm to New York round trip may be half the price of New York City to Stockholm. New York may just have a steadier flow of sales at that time. Interestingly, we rarely see great deals to smaller, non hub cities- because airlines know that anyone going here is going out of necessity. They’ll have to pay up, since there’s less opportunity for incremental travel…
With these factors in mind- sometimes deals do work both ways. In rare occasions, when an airline launches a global sale, they may offer very similar deals starting in either direction, such as last week when Icelandair offered $299 round trip flights to Europe or the U.S, starting in either location. Asking if the deal works in the other direction is an age old inside joke amongst frequent flyers, but sometimes the joke is on anyone that doesn’t at least check.