When One-Way Tickets Are Cheaper Than Round-Trip Fares

“From Salt Lake to Jacksonville, it’s like $450 one way,” Mr. Sommer said. “So, instead I’m going Salt Lake to New York for $119, and then New York to Jacksonville for around $100, both one-way tickets.”

That sounds convoluted and also counterintuitive. Aren’t round-trip tickets always cheaper than one-way fares? “No, you’d be surprised. You have to work the system,” said Mr. Sommer, a technology consultant who flew about 200,000 miles on business last year.

There are lots of people out there who are very good at booking flights, and flying around the world for very little. I am not one of those people, so I depend on my obsessive deal-watching friends to alert me to $250 round-trip tickets to Spain. I’m especially interested in how this frequent flyer buys affordable plane tickets, because I too prefer to buy one-way plane tickets instead of round-trip flights, even though that’s generally a more expensive thing to do—but apparently not if you plan your trip right!

But buying a bunch of different one way tickets to get to your destination also sounds like a bit of nightmare to me, especially since I don’t like to be at airports any longer than absolutely necessary. Still, I am intrigued! Does anyone else fly in roundabout ways to get cheaper fares?

Photo: Greg and Mellina/Flickr

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12 Comments / Post A Comment

It’s not quite the same, but I fly out of a distant airport instead of the one a single metro stop from my apartment building. Costs me an extra hour fifteen, saves me approx $250.

I flew to Dublin FREE (not counting the $80 tax, but PRACTICALLY)from California. The key is standby, essentially rolling the dice and taking a seat that is either unsold or the person who bought it is a no show. This will not work if you fly on a weekend, Friday, or any kind of holiday (this includes entire seasons depending on where you are going), you must be at the airport 4 hours before your flight to get a good spot on the first come first serve list (your flight will be at an hour that people tend to miss, like 6am dep), and dressed in business casual in case you get a seat in first or business class. HOWEVER, what was supposed to be an 11 hour flight became a horrible 27 hour flight. Let’s retrace: John Wayne to Long Beach (if you are familiar with SoCal, I KNOW RIGHT?!), Long Beach to Dallas, Dallas to Chicago (my thought the entire time, “It is taking 4 hours to get NOWHERE.”), Chicago to Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania to New York, New York to London, London to Dublin. It involved A LOT of running from one end of various airports to the other, with a body bag of my life’s possessions (I was staying for a year)that weighed 80 lbs. It was like crossfit across timezones. BUT…hey, you get what you pay for.

DrFeelGood (#401)

@Pim Robert@facebook I’ve always been intrigued by standby. Besides the logistics of flying and getting to the airport… how do you get in? Like how do you get on the “list” and through security? Do you have to have a particular airline/destination you’re looking for? These are probably really stupid questions but I don’t understand it at all, especially now that you can’t just walk to the gate like its nbd.

@DrFeelGood I would recommend calling some airlines direct to see if they offer standby to the public (oftentimes you either have to work for the airline/related to someone who does/be buddies with a person that works for the airline so they can put you temporarily on their list of peeps who can fly standby. I am related to someone who works for the airline, but even so, because I am not married to that person my rating is pretty low on the list (overbooked passengers, airline workers on standby, spouses of airline workers on standby all get on before they even look at the list I’m on, assuming I’m closer to the top then the bottom). I would call larger airlines in the off-season of your destination (generally Oct-Mar, but it is very dependent on where you’re going), and smaller airlines(http://travel.usatoday.com/deals/inside/story/2012-04-12/The-10-best-airlines-youve-never-flown/54178736/1)the rest of the time. You generally can’t really plan round trip, but one leg at a time and plan to have a couple days on each end in case you can’t make a flight. I did all my standby’ing in college, when I could just email a professor about arriving a day later. Not so easy now with specified vacation days.

I’m the king of making my travel a living hell to save a few bucks. Last time I moved overseas, I booked a redeye flight out of a regional airport (requiring waking up at 5am and a 1.5 hour drive), with a layover in Newark until my international flight at 6am the next morning (slept in the airport, outside the terminal as I couldn’t check in until a few hours before the flight) and then a bus ride to my final destination — dragging all of my worldly possessions after me the whole way. Total savings: maybe $200?

I’ve finally decided it’s just not worth it.

@stuffisthings Oh, and I totally forgot about the long layover in Shannon, Ireland. And that during this time I was waiting for a big money transfer to go through, and had not one red Euro cent to spend on even a Guinness. (Also, wtf on the no-edit thing, guys?)

@stuffisthings Shannon Airport is hilarious. Flocks of sheep yards from the runway and the laxest customs of all time (“Business or pleasure? Ooh, pleasure! Enjoy your stay in Ireland.” [smiles, waves us through]). Probably not a great place for a long layover, though. Oof.

@Vicky Johnson@twitter It’s also a huge military stopover — the place was jammed full of returning soldiers when I was there (many of whom didn’t seem to have much idea even what continent they were on). The smoking area was brilliant, a weird fenced-in area with a bunch of soldiers — who weren’t allowed to drink — shooting the shit with this completely wasted older Irish couple who had truly incomprehensible accents.

jfruh (#161)

But wait, if you buy two legs as separate bookings rather than a single itinerary with a layover, they won’t transfer your checked luggage, right? (Cue everyone making fun of me for checking my bags, but guess what, I CAN CARRY MORE THAN 3 OUNCES OF EVERYTHING AND I’M NOT THE ASSHOLE SCREAMING AT THE FLIGHT ATTENDENT BECAUSE MY BAG DOESN’T FIT IN THE OVERHEAD)

jane lane (#281)

@jfruh the other day Airtran made me gate check my appropriately-sized carry on bag before I even tried getting on the plane. The advantage was that it was free, I guess, but I’d already limited my liquids and having to wait at baggage claim wasn’t really on my agenda.

smack (#307)

Expertflyer and ITA travel matrix can help but then you have to subscribe to them.

ujas2134 (#4,045)

I tried this strategy when I had to travel to Phillip Island and I managed to save 50$. My nephew travels a lot and he gave me this idea, it is interesting and fun to work the system and save some money.

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