Despite what you’ve heard, for most short haul trips, like those within a country or just to one nearby, booking round trip flights is often dumb. That may sound a bit crazy, but it’s really not. Just this week I was a victim of my own stupidity while booking a flight from New York to Washington DC. I’ll explain what happened to me, and why you may want to learn more about those “one way” and “multi city” buttons…

Compare First

Out of habit, most people search for round trip flights. When you’re flying long haul or intercontinental that’s often the right way to go, and is almost always much cheaper. But when you are booking flights within a country, or within a region, there’s often little or no difference in price between booking two one way flights and a round trip.

Google Flights is a great playground for this, and becoming a flight deal wizard is easy. Speaking of which, it can actually be a lot cheaper to book two one ways, even when you’re doing a simple round trip, so much so that Kayak launched “Hacker Fares” where it automatically turns your round trip search into two one ways in hopes of unlocking better deals.

What Happened To Me

Walk with me here. I had a trip to DC planned and needed to arrive and depart at a certain time. I booked a round trip with a perfect schedule. Woohoo! But then I realized I may actually enjoy getting in a day earlier, of course I realised this more than 24 hours after I booked, when changes would require a fee. There’s two things that suck about that.

  1. All change fees suck, and these days they are over $250.
  2. I wouldn’t have to pay the stupid change fee if I booked two one way tickets.

The Beauty Of One Way Flights

In the increased coverage of “skiplagging”, you may have learned that once you miss a flight, the rest of your itinerary gets cancelled. Period, no but’s, end of discussion. If I had booked two one way tickets, I could’ve simply no showed for my flight from New York to DC, and avoided paying a $250 change fee, and instead just paying $100 for a new one way ticket at an earlier date. But because the ticket back to New York would get cancelled, I’m not stuck with the choice of paying $250 to change that flight down to DC, or live with the imperfect schedule.

Another benefit of two one ways, is it can save you a ton of money.

Lets say American has the best deal to your destination but JetBlue is much cheaper coming back. Booking American both ways would mean overpaying, so this one way at a time method makes you a free agent, welcome to grab and combine the lowest fares at will. That’s good stuff.

Booking two one way flights also allows free flexibility. Most people only have scheduling issues on one side of their ticket and not both. Often its cheaper to just book a new one way ticket then pay a change fee too. If you want to arrive earlier or later, you can without screwing up your flight home. If your flight home is the only thing that needs to change, you don’t need to deal with changes to both.

The next time you go to book a simple trip, look at booking two one way tickets instead. It’s not only for the flexibility, but sometimes the savings too.

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. Sometimes booking a round trip gets you an extra leg, for free. When we went to South America last year I used United miles. With booking r/t (actually open jaw: Into Quito and out of Rio) we got one leg for free…so we went to the Gallapagós really cheap.

  2. One cavaet to this approach – trip delay reimbursement offered through credit cards such as Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve cards) requires that the travel be a round-trip booking in order to take advantage of this benefit. The excerpt below was taken from page 57 of the Chase Sapphire Reserve Guide to Benefits:

    “Trip Delay Reimbursement – Definitions
    A Covered Trip is a period of travel (meaning departing from
    and eventually returning to your primary residence)”

    1. But you usually are returning to your home eventually, be it 2 x ow, or a simple return ticket. It doesn’t say you must purchase. Return ticket. Just states you must be returning to your original departure point, eventually, you will.

  3. I enjoy reading your articles since I’m a frecuente flyer and a pro at getting more for the money. I often buy one way tickets even international, use points for everything.

  4. I booked a roundtrip saver fare on Alaska but made a mistake on the departure time(7pm vs 7am) of the outbound flight that I didn’t catch until after 24 hrs. Since you can’t change anything, the rebooking required two new flights both outbound and return. If I just skipped the bad outbound, I was informed the computer would cancelled the return flight. If I had booked separate one way flights, I could have just booked the correct outbound flight.

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