One-way vs. round trip

I’m planning a trip home to NY from the West coast in a few months. My plan is to fly there and drive back, but when I was buying my ticket, I found that a one-way ticket was about 3 times the price of a round trip ticket. Can dose anyone know why this is? It seems the height of absurdity to me. I hate to fly, anyway.

I don’t know why this should be, but it is, and I have from time to time wound up buying the round-trip ticket and throwing away the other half.

I think they give you an effective rebate on the round trip ticket because it helps them plan their sitting and booking. I.e. they know when you will be coming back and on what plane.

Definitely a WAG though.

What more could you expect from somebody who lets people kick him to the head?

Note, I am not saying this makes any sense.

I have wondered that too; I am sitting on the back half of a ticket I bought last December, because the round trip was cheaper than the one-way. I didn’t have any immediate plans to return, so when they asked for a return date, I said October 23rd, 1999. I now have plans to travel on November 20, so I just changed my reservation. The travel agent said I might have to pay a $75 service charge when I check in, but that sometimes the airlines don’t even ask. Even so, it is still cheaper.


“Believe those who seek the truth.
Doubt those who find it.” --Andre Gide

I just got off the phone with American Airlines and asked them.

According to “Jen”, it is because they are “Not competitive”, to which I replied “No Duh - WHY is it not competitive?”

“Jen” then informed me that it’s because they knew they weren’t getting the business on the way back.

I personally find that hard to believe in that I really don’t think the couple of beers I had coming back from Arizona last month pushed American Airlines profit margin over the top, but hey, that’s what she said.

My humble interpretation is “just one more way to screw the public”.

does Southwest fly in your market?

ALL of their flights are one ways (ie a round trip costs twice as much) Note: they don’t have assigned seating. But they’re cheap.

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And don’t even think about buying the round trip and bailing on the return. The slighted airline will keep a special slot open for you in Reservation Hell–even though you paid for the ticket in full. An acquaintance of mine gets so much trouble from a certain American airline for pulling that stunt that he can’t fly them three years later.

Unless of course you can pick the next airline to go under–then go for it!

Flying international is even worse. I’m in a year-long running battle with an un-named British arline (Anyone familiar with Austin Powers? Ahem.) over an unused ticket. I think the airlines in a sense have a monopoly, because they are the only way to get somewhere fastfastfast. At least on the ground you can choose from bus/ train/ car. I hate to fly.

Make sense of airline ticket prices? Try something easier, like defining “love”. Atlanta’s Hartsfield International is my airport. Connection capital of the universe (when you die, whether bound for heaven or hell, you must make a connection in Atlanta).

I once needed to fly to Nashville (~350 miles). I was quoted a price of $850. My colleague, flying from Tampa, was quoted $158 with a connection in Atlanta. I could have flow one way to Tampa, caught the connection in Atlanta (same plane as my $800 direct flight), and paid about $400 less. Instead, I rented a car and drove. At least the food was much better that way.

The overwhelming majority of people have more than the average (mean) number of legs. – E. Grebenik

Airline ticket pricing is simple, much simpler than you all are making it out to be.

Fact 1: The price of a round-trip ticket is not necessarily less than a one-way ticket. For example, a couple years ago, one-way SFO to ORD was about $800, round-trip was $1,600. These were the full price coach tickets. I once actually had to pay those prices… it is to make one cry!

Fact 2: The fare most non-business travellers obtain is a reduced fare, with restrictions. For example, buy 14 days in advance of travel with Saturday night stayover and get your ticket SFO to ORD for $400 (about 75% off).

Fact 3: The airlines set aside a certain number of seats on a scheduled flight for ‘sale’ tickets like the one mentioned above. This is all done MONTHS in advance. The remaining seats are priced at the full fare for one-way travel.

Fact 4: Many more people travel round-trip than one-way, meaning that one-way travellers have less financial clout.

Fact 5: The airline does NOT want you flying one-way one their airline, the return leg on another airline!

Keeping this all in mind, it is easy to understand the difficulty in getting reduced-price one-way fares. If AA (for example) sells person 1 a one-way from SFO to ORD, they have a slot from ORD to SFO that isn’t sold. Now they have to find someone to use that slot. If they can sell that slot to a round-tripper, they know they have it already sold. By offering you a discount, they know you aren’t going off to United to make the ORD to SFO flight.

In short, the airlines offer the Round-Trip fare ‘sales’ to get as many of the non-business travel as they can, helping cover the basic cost of the flight. This makes sense, as the number of such passengers is high, and they make their plans well in advance. The business traveller, who makes plans more ad hoc, and the one-way traveller, end up making up the profit on the flight with enormously over-priced tickets.

By the way, for a similar pricing structure, look at how hospitals price their services in relation to insured and non-insured procedures…

Something that I am a sorta authority on: The Mentality of the Stupid Airlines. Working for years as a travel agent and having to deal with the perennial question of, " Why is it cheaper to go roundtrip than one way?"
was a part of my every day.

Most one way tickets are refundable.Most people traveling one way are doing it at short notice. If you can afford to fly from NY to LA for $1100 one way for work then you can afford to buy the ticket. ( It makes no sense.)

Roundtrip tickets once purchased are nonrefundable.(With penalties for changes to the return. Changes to the outbound changes the entire ticket price, plus a penalty.) We sold a ton of these tickets at our agency for one way guys or guys going on circle trips. ( Detroit to St. Louis to Dallas to Detroit. We’d sometimes issue four seperate round trip tickets between the cities required and save a truck load. And sometimes it was cheaper to do four one ways. We always offered both options and told the clients the “rules”.)

I’ve never heard of a client getting black listed from an airline because he bailed on using the second half of his ticket like Sofa King stated. How can the airlines state that you didn’t use it on purpose. I think he opened his mouth at the airport and dug himself in deep. How do they know you weren’t called back home immediately and had to drive or took another airline. It sounds like he was doing back to back tickets which are a big fat no no ( our agency did them for years until we got caught and had to pay.)

Back to back ( Or nesting, as the airlines stupidly calls them) are like this:

Say you have to fly Detroit to LA on a Monday returning on a Friday and you have 21 days advance notice but no saturday night stay.You cannot stay over that weekend. Your airfare will be a bendover price, like $800-1200 depending one what carrier you use and if a connection is involved. Since this is Detroit, we are saying you are on Northwest Airlines, nonstop. The price is $1200, regardless if you buy it a day in advance or six months in advance, you are still screwed.Cheer up though, it’s refundable and changeable.

A round trip ticket stating you are staying over a saturday night could be as low as $250 ( in your dreams) or the average of about$400.

So you book two round trip tickets. One showing Detroit to LA with a throw away return date that you can/could change in the future for $75. And the exact reverse (LA to DTW) on the second ticket for your Friday return home to Detroit with a return portion that you won’t use again ( or save for another time.) You get your trip for $800 total and screw the airlines out of a few bucks. And most of the time the clients used the return portions for the $75 change fee x2 and doubly screwed the airlines. WHO DOESN’t like this game.

HOWEVER…a bunch of agencies (read: Most) did this ( never admitting it, naturally) and the airlines figured out how to catch people somehow by putting severe restrictions on the fares, stating that you have to use the return with in 30 days of the outbound flight ( or similiar) or buy a new ticket or pay a shit load of money to use the ticket you have for the readjustment of the fare.

Then the airlines got really smart and got a computuer program that enabled them to see back to back tickets and agencies that were caught issuing Back to Backs had to pay the full fare ( $1200) not once, but twice because two tickets were issued, and we inturn, had to pass that along to the client. Not a big hit with any body involved except the airlines.

If the big carrier in your market has outrageous prices, check with connecting flights on the smaller guy.

Trying to make sense of airfares is impossible. Now try to explain these fare rules about 50 times a day.

I know several people that book two round-trip tickets to get to and from their destination, one from the “home” base and the other originating from the “destination.” They key is to have the ficticious return date be following a Saturday. They never intend on using the return trip. You’d be surprised sometimes how two round trip tix (with a Sat. stay over) will be cheaper than one round trip w/o a Saturday, or two one-ways.

Stupid, stupid.

I did this once and have never been hassled because of it (different airline, though; I WILL NOT use the one you sort of mentioned simply because the few times I have done so in the past I have invariably had a bad experience).

I have heard that you can run into trouble if you use the “secret city” (is that the right expression?) trick: sometimes flying from A to C through B is cheaper than just flying from A to B. If you buy an A-C roundtrip and don’t use the B-C or C-B segments, you may find that your B-A return reservation has been cancelled. I’ve never tried doing this, so I don’t know from personal experience whether it’s true or not.

It’s officially called “hidden city,” torq.
Flights are priced with an eye to the competition. An actual example I used, this was a few years ago so exact figures are foggy: Dallas to Atlana was something like $350. Dallas to Memphis was closer to $600!
The airline had lots of competition heading for Atlanta. It had little competition flying to Memphis.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that it’s cheaper to get a flight to Atlanta that stops in Memphis…And when it lands you walk off.
But the airlines hate this. And it’s up to you to do some common sence stuff.
Like don’t check your baggage. Sure, it seems obvious that your checked baggage goes to Atlanta while you stay in Memphis. But you’d be surprised how many people get caught this way and are told that they now have to pay the full Memphis fare.

I had it narrowed down to “secret” or “hidden”, having ruled out “magic” and “forbidden” (though I think that’s a much better name for it), and I picked the wrong one. Thanks for the correction.

I’ve seen, somewhere, most likely in the fine print on the back of the ticket blanks, that if you fail to show up for a segment you risk having your reservations for all segments after that cancelled. Do they really do this, and if so, does that mean “You MIGHT get on the flight if there are seats available” or “Too bad, buddy; you need to buy another ticket now”?

Regarding the Hidden City tickets, the airlines will sometimes cancel the rest of your flights booked with them if you don’t tell them you are not making a given flight. They don’t always do it but I have had it happen to me.

Regarding the Back to Back or nested flights, I have used them for years. One way to avoid getting caught is to buy one round trip on one airline and the second on another. I don’t think they have figured out how to cross check between systems yet. Even if they do, the defense is “I am taking the flights with you as contracted, what I do and where I go and what other airlines I fly on isn’t any of your business.” Don’t know if they would buy it or not, but it sounds good to me…

Diver, the trouble is that if you start reading all the fine print on that ticket you buy, you will find you have pledged not to do anything that screws the airline out of money. Mind you, you might start suing over adhesion contracts, but fat lot of good that does you, though it might make some attorneys happy!

I’ve had some delightful short “free” vacations paid for by my company because of the Saturday-night-stayover thingie making roundtrip tickets so much cheaper. My employer encourages, but does not require, those of us travelling on business where the airfare is significantly lower with the Saturday night, to indeed stay over and fly home on Sunday. They will pay the hotel and meals for the extra one (sometimes two!) days if you are willing to do that. Thus, last year I (living in LA) had a deposition on a Monday in NYC. I flew out Friday; played on Saturday and Sunday, worked on Monday, came home on Tuesday. Even in a $250/night hotel room it was cheaper to do it that way than to fly in on Sunday.

What’s weird is what happened last March. I had to be in Chicago on a Wednesday and Thursday, and already had plans to spend that weekend in Sacramento – had bought my ticket and everything. I was able to get LA to Chicago, then Chicago to Sacramento, stay over Saturday in Sacramento, then fly home Sunday night, all cheaper than if I had flown out to Chicago and then come home on Friday. And my company was happy to pay for that weekend in Sacramento, too!

Crazy system.


I can see that maybe the airline fare pricing gurus studied some economics and realized that “inelasticity of demand” would allow them to squeeze must-travel-now consumers. But after all this time, haven’t any of their marketing people realized the incredible bad feelings this generates. I always thought the much ballyhooed deregulation of airfares in the late 70’s, was a boon to consumers but if you look at the way the majors have allocated their hubs among themselves, there is still a de-facto monopoly in individual cities. Ripe area for anti-trust if it can be proven. Wasn’t there a period in the early 90’s where the collective airline industry had losses that equalled all of the money they had ever earned since the Wright Brothers. I think we can make a safe assumption that the airline pricing policy makers are morons that are screwing the consumer intentionally and their own company by accident. Go Southwest Airlines.