a view of the wing of an airplane

Your trip is cancelled.

Picture this: life is perfect, you’re enjoying the best trip of your life, you’ve booked a really cheap one way ticket; or a great deal using points and you’re ready to discover your next destination. But as you check in for your flight, you’re asked a simple question: “may I see your return flight?”.  If the answer is no, you may not be going anywhere at all, forced instead to spend big on a last minute ticket, or abandon current travel plans. Here’s what you need to know to avoid this sticky flight situation…

a bed and chairs in a planePlaying The Onward Flights Game

When you play the points and miles, or savvy travel cheap flight game, sometimes you just buy one way tickets. Maybe you know availability using points only opens up a few days in advance, or you’re not quite sure when you plan to leave the next city, but either way you don’t have an onward ticket. The same story rings true for the amazing flight deals we’re seeing, with one way flights to Europe often under $150!  One way tickets create amazing flexibility, but if you don’t do a little bit of research, they can also create serious headache.

a group of people standing in front of a signProof Of Leave

Some countries, in fact – many countries, demand proof of exit before your arrival. The UK, US, New Zealand, Indonesia, Brazil and Peru are particular sticklers on this subject. Let’s say you’re in Australia, having an amazing time and want to hop over to New Zealand for a side trip. You’ll need proof of a flight departing the country before you’ll be allowed to board. If you can’t come up with one in time for your flight, you’ll be stranded. Naturally, last minute flights are painfully expensive, and being forced to quickly scrounge around the internet to find a quick ticket out can set you back a whole lot more than hoped.

a city street with many tall buildings and people crossing itWhat To Do

It’s imperative to check any proof of leave, or onward travel restrictions well in advance of your travels. Some countries are quite relaxed about these policies, while other countries will simply deny boarding with no compensation. Using resources such as the U.S. State Department Travel website, or UK Foreign Travel Advice website help to reference each country you plan to visit, and are a great first step. On simple round trip flights booked at once, you’ll be just fine, but if you aren’t quite sure how to play it and don’t have a current onward flight, there are still a few very good options.

a view of the wing of an airplaneOnward Travel Tips

You must always stay within your visa allowance visit limitations, but if you’re not quite sure when you’ll leave within that time frame, there are a couple easy ways to show proof of the onward travel required. If you have points, you can book a ticket with points, paying just a minor fee to cancel. Many airlines charge $35 or less to cancel, making this a relatively small investment for a lot of flexibility! Just be sure to check cancellation policy. If points are not in the equation, buying fully refundable airline or train ticket on your credit card is the next best option. These tickets are incredibly expensive, but since you’ll cancel for a full refund, you actually spend nothing. Other than that, your last option is to book the cheapest onward cash ticket you can find, to a place you may or may not actually go to.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Don’t you have 24 hours to cancel a flight you’ve reserved on a US airlines?

    Wouldn’t it work to make this reservation when questioned at check-in, then cancel within 24 hours?

  2. Quick question because I am doing this in August when I fly to Spain from the US with no return yet, as I am waiting for Singapore F award space to open up on KrisFlyer. Can’t I book a ticket, show proof and cancel within the 24 hour grace period?

    1. I think that is a good plan as well. book any ticket and cancel within the 24 hr period. EU has a 24 hr full refund on any fare class and ticket type as well.

  3. most of the time it’s so easy to circumvent that requirement …. like quickly using BA Avios to get a low tax low mileage award departing that country, and once you’re in, cancel and redeposit, and you’re out either the taxes or $50, whichever is smaller

    BA avios can ticket within 10 minutes, so you can even finish that while waiting in the check in queue

  4. hi guys. i am planning to bok 2 one way tickets, cause i have points to travel to USA from argentina, and then return from mexico buying the ticket. by doing that i wont have any problems right? just buying the 3 tickets one way but everything before i fly.

  5. I think that world governments need to enforce the rule of the onward ticket, and if one cancels it the way that the writer suggests, that should be ground for secondary inspections. Notification to a global database for those who do this repeatedly need to be put on such a list. I work in the security field and what we are trying to do is force software companies to not be able to encrypt data and to make the cloud available for world governments to look at which would act similar to a TSA lock. This way, your phone will be linked with your identity and thus your biometrics. The upside is that the customs agents won’t need to take your phone but can see every dirty little sights you went to, every single conversation you had, just by logging into your social ID. Passports and cash will no longer be necessary because one will simply use ones biometrics. People won’t be able to run from alimony payments because it will automatically be deducted from the deadbeats accounts. No more tax cheats will occur because everything will be logged. In fact, tax returns will no longer be necessary because the deductions and credits will occur automatically thus there will be no such as cheating because you will no longer be required to file. Citizenship will fade over time because governments will eventually merge and people will be under one big government under a police state.

  6. Good Day Gilbert

    You’re one of the very few people that ALMOST actually addressed (at least somewhat) something that concerns me on any given subject whatsoever lol. Paraphrasing you said “you’ll need to show proof of a return flight”. BUT, you didn’t say WHAT THE PROOF ACTUALLY WOULD BE lol. I ran into this before and did have to book a return flight at the counter because I didn’t know. But, here’s my circumstance now: I leave on 18 June to go overseas on Delta. However, I return to the states on 25 June on Jet Blue. What is the ACTUAL PROOF that I need to provide at the Delta counter for the Jet Blue return? Thank you sir

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