Roundtrip airfare cheaper than one way--can I just not go back?

For various reasons, I’m looking at getting out of Russia earlier than I had originally planned. (Various reasons include I’m just not enjoying it much, and since I’m just doing this for myself, that doesn’t leave much reason to stay.) Looking at flights, I’ve noticed the well-known discount for round-trip fares–about $400, along with many more options for departure times. (Note: Comparing apples to apples, the same flight on the same airline is actually $1200 more as a one way than a round trip.)

So I’m wondering… what is keeping me from buying a round trip ticket and just not going back? It’d be really nice to save that $400…

Nothing’s stopping you at all. You have no obligation to go on a flight you’ve bought a ticket for.

Could he sell the other ticket, or would that be a crime?

Airline tickets are non-transferrable, so there’s no selling it.

What I’m finding out there on the web is that the airlines call this “throwaway ticketing,” and include clauses in the contract of carriage to prohibit it. The penalties they wave around include canceling frequent flier miles, canceling the remaining legs of a ticket, and charging the difference between the ticket as issued and a one-way ticket on the same itinerary.

The first two don’t trouble me–I’m not a frequent enough flier to collect miles, and while I’d like to get the miles on a ticket from Helsinki to the states, it’s not necessarily worth the $400 or more extra for a one way ticket. Especially since that ticket will be on multiple carriers anyway. Nor is canceling the rest of the ticket–that’s kind of the whole point. :slight_smile: What I don’t want is to have them coming after me for god only knows how much more once I’m back home. It’s hard to tell how likely that is–it seems like their primary concern is the person who makes a habit of this, or strings such bogus round-trips together, or other more exotic practices. And an article notes that they have a hard time detecting the person who just doesn’t go “home” and nothing more.

Maybe what I’m really looking for is someone who’s had experience with it–it’s pretty clear that the airlines don’t want you doing it and that normal people think the airlines are full of BS.

I know lots of people who have done this with impunity. I am not aware of any evidence of any airline ‘chasing’ these people to get them to pay extra money, after the event, to make up the difference between the two fares. If it came down to a legal battle, how would they prove the difference between wilfully choosing not to take the return flight and something beyond your control such as sudden illness or similar emergency, a bona fide reason for having to stay on at your destination for reasons beyond your control, or something mundane such as an administrative mix up (e.g. you only ever wanted a one way ticket but a spouse / partner / friend / employee / employer bought the ticket for you and accidentally purchased ‘return’ when you only needed ‘one way’).

I do think it’s possible that airlines will, over time, start to block this kind of thing more strenuously - for example, by initiating a policy that effectively says if they don’t see you on the return flight, and unless you offer a good excuse, they still have your credit card details and they’ll charge you for what would have been a one way fare. But this doesn’t happen yet, so far as I’m aware.

Note that airlines still retain the right to cancel your return flight at any time. So long as they have the right to cancel my return flight, I think it’s fair that I retain the right not to turn up at the gate to take that flight.

Back when I was flying every week (1996-2006), I occasionally had to do this. Maybe 2 or 3 times a year. Never had a problem with any sanctions by the airlines. On the other hand, I did hear about some frequent flyers who did make a regular practice of it losing their miles; it was only anecdotally, though.

But, as has been mentioned, that’s not to say that airlines won’t be more aggressive about it in the future.

I encountered the same thing taking the Eurostar train from London to Paris. It was cheaper to get a round trip, and since my name was on the ticket it was non-transferable.

Do it.

That an since our courts are not going to smile on “we are charging you extra for failing to use what you already paid for”. Its the same for them even if they flew a whole airliner full of empty no shows on round trips.

One thing I discovered when I did this once. If the journey you drop is inside a longer journey you must cancel the booking. My example is this. I was flying from Oz to the UK (on points) but wanted to fly to Scotland - where I would take a hire car and slowly drive south - and fly back to Oz out of London LHR. The one way flight London to Edinburgh was over £300. A return flight - on the same plane and the same class - less than £100. But if I failed to turn up to the return flight - the airline system would automatically unravel the rest of my return journey. So the travel agency that booked the flight - cancelled the return flight as soon as they had booked it. Which sounds insane - but they did it all the time. What is even more interesting - the travel agency was Qantas, and the flight on BA, which at the time esentially ran Qantas. So it was hardly as if this wasn’t SOP. YMMV.


Why would the airline get mad at someone who pays for a service (i.e. the return leg of the trip) and then doesn’t use it? They get to overbook the flight, and sell your seat (which you paid for) to someone else who will actually sit in it. Sounds like a win for them.

The only oddity, to me, is that a round trip would cost less than a one-way. I could undstand the one-way costing almost as much, or even exactly as much, as a round-trip, but why would they sell two seats for less than the price of one???

I think it’s mainly because the round-trip tickets will go on sale, and the one-way won’t.

If you have the time, it might be worthwhile to show up for the return flight (don’t board though) and allow yourself to be “bumped.” You can end up with some very nice points or perks, and most airlines are way over-booking at the moment.

Airlines don’t particularly like it but it apparently isn’t rigorously enforced. In a related thread, this post gives American Airlines’ policy on the matter as one example.

Another point that was noted was that one-way tickets are usually unrestricted, compared to cheap round-trips that are nonrefundable, etc. This is because the typical target customer for a one-way is different than the typical customer for an unrestricted round trip.

As one anecdote, I did a throwaway around 1993 going from Spain to France on Iberia Airl at the advice of a travel agent with no ill effects. Lots of other people report a similar experience, and FWIW I haven’t heard of anyone actually being charged.

Tangentially, this article dicsusses throwaways, and also an ingenious ploy called back-to-back ticketing, which the airlines also don’t like even though you are flying both legs of two round trips. There’s also a related twist on throwaway ticketing, where you buy two round trips and take one leg of each. Both of these are workarounds to Saturday-night-stay requirements. It also describes the “hidden city” ploy, getting off a flight in a connecting city instead flying all the way to the final destination.

If you check into a flight but do not board it, it is possible that would raise all kinds of security red flags, delay the flight, call out the National Guard, etc. I can’t cite a case but I believe that is has happened and the passenger’s checked bags were removed out of concerns for bombs on checked baggage.

  1. They “get mad” as a threat for you to not do this so some people wind up not buying the cheaper, on-sale round trip ticket and buy the higher cost one-way. This threat probably works better if you’re using the one way to return to your starting point (which I have had to do before) instead of remaining at your destination

  2. There probably are some costs associated with this. Namely, they don’t get to sell a third ticket (the one-way you “should have” purchased, the seat that that freed up, and the overbook). Also, while overbooking seems like a plum deal from the airline’s perspective, it’s not without cost. They have to carefully manage their overbooking situation, because bumped passengers cost them extra money. Irrational behavior like not showing up for a flight segment (irrational to them; perfectly rational to you) makes it harder for them to predict/use their prediction models who will or won’t show up for a flight.

Not only have I purchased a return trip ticket but only used it one way, I have also purchased a ticket that had a connecting flight, and then got off at the connecting flight destination, because it was cheaper than purchasing the direct airfare.

Yeah, I’m cool.

If you’re bumped, there’s a record of it and no red flags. If you’re not bumped, five minutes before they end boarding, you say, “Oh my gosh, something terrible has happened, I can’t get on the plane! Please cancel my ticket.” Nobody is suggeting that you check in and then just don’t board without telling anyone.

Right, but checking in and checking bags are two different things. They’re probably not going to let your bags onto the plane without you, but i can’t imagine that the simple act of checking in and then failing to turn up for the flight would be much of a concern.

After all, virtually all airlines allow you to check in online now. I’d be willing to bet that every day there are dozens of people who check in for their flight online, and then manage to miss the plane due to traffic, disorganization, illness, or whatever.

They won’t chase you down for the airfare, the worst they may do is not allow you to book another flight with them until you pay the penalty fee for non-usage.

Or they may freeze all your airline miles with them or at worst put you on their “no fly” list. Not the government “no fly” list, but their personal “no fly” list.

This is not likely to happen, 'cause airlines are so competitive now they can’t afford you to go on another airline.

I’ve never known anyone to do more than lose the airline miles for that particular flight. But who knows? I’d hate to find out when I really need to fly something was wrong, then have to correct it then and there.

I think you should be fine. The only thing I would caution against is doing this on any leg of travel other than the last lest they refuse to seat you on the later legs. But that isn’t applicable to your situation.

My corporate travel agent did this for me when I moved from South Africa to the United States - they booked a round trip because it was cheaper. Interestingly enough the flight was changeable so I could change the date back for up to a year with minimal cost. In the end it just never got used and has long expired.

I do not recommend checking in for the return flight in the hopes of getting bumped. While posters have speculated that this will not cause security issues, I wouldn’t be so sure that is true. Checking in and missing your flight is one thing if you catch a later flight, but disappearing completely might make them nervous. Added to this would be any suspicion caused by checking into an international flight with little to no baggage, as well as quite possibly having to get back through immigration with a very unusual story. Maybe you would get lucky, but to me this just does not seem worth it.