Home >> Travel Troubles >> You should not buy two one-way airline tickets to save money. Here’s why

You should not buy two one-way airline tickets to save money. Here’s why

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Consumer reporter and ombudsman

Airline passengers can sometimes save money by booking two one-way tickets instead of a round-trip flight. But Sharon Sanborn found out the hard way that there’s a downside to this practice.

Now she wants to know if our team can do anything to fix the financial headache in which she’s landed.

Sharon’s case serves a warning to all airline passengers who knowingly (and sometimes unknowingly) buy one-way tickets to save a little money. It’s a gamble those travelers may end up losing.

Trying to save money on this trip

“I bought two one-way tickets for my granddaughter to fly to Colorado. One ticket was on Delta with the return on United Airlines a week later,” Sharon recalled. “But Delta canceled the outbound flight entirely, so my granddaughter could not get to Colorado Springs. Delta refunded the canceled flight, and I want United Airlines to give me a refund for the return ticket.”

Of course, when an airline cancels your flight, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect a refund for that flight. The Department of Transportation requires the airline to return your money if you choose not to fly after an airline-inspired cancellation.

But there were multiple complications with Sharon’s request for the United Airlines refund.

First, she purchased her granddaughter’s trip through Travelocity. In doing so, she immediately added a layer of difficulty to any issues that she encountered with the reservation. Booking directly with the airlines will always make any problems you may encounter with your ticket easier to fix.

“We combined two one-way airline tickets to get the best deal.”

The second problem: Travelocity created Sharon’s itinerary by combining the two one-way tickets. Even worse, the trip was built with two different airlines: Delta Air Lines and United Airlines.

But the way Travelocity confirmed Sharon’s reservation could give an infrequent traveler the impression of having purchased a single, contiguous ticket. That would mean that if one part were to be canceled by the airline, the entire trip could be refunded.

However, at the bottom of the reservation, Travelocity spells out the terms of the ticket and clarifies:

We have combined two one-way tickets to get the best deal. If you need to make changes or cancel, you’ll need to do it twice — once for each one-way ticket.


Surprise! Two cancellation fees when you buy two one-way tickets

What Travelocity doesn’t explicitly say is that if the traveler needs to cancel this nonrefundable ticket, two cancellation fees will apply. And if an airline cancels one of the flights, there is no policy or protection that would force the second carrier to refund the unrelated one-way ticket.

If Sharon had purchased this ticket as a round-trip flight, she would have qualified for a full refund. Because she didn’t, she only received a refund for the canceled Delta flight. That stuck her with the non-refundable basic economy return ticket.

That one-way ticket was worthless, and Sharon lost several hundred dollars.

In the end, we couldn’t help Sharon recoup her losses. Unfortunately, the way she purchased this itinerary through Travelocity made it impossible.

Why you should avoid buying two one-way airline tickets

You may find savings by booking two one-way airline tickets. However, before doing so, you should weigh the cost and benefits against the potential loss that could result.

  • Consider booking direct: Booking directly with the airline will always make your life easier should problems happen before, during, or after your flight. When you don’t, you’ve immediately added a third-party wall-of-customer service between you and the airline.
  • Multiple cancellation fees for one-way itineraries: Keep in mind that many third-party booking agents build your itinerary with one-way fares — often with multiple airlines. Although a creative set of one-way flights might save you money initially, if you need to cancel, multiple cancellation fees apply.  Make sure to check the terms of your ticket carefully.
  • Multiple fare differentials: Remember, if you end up changing your dates, not only will more than one change fee apply, but multiple fare differentials will also apply. You’ll need to pay the new fare for each flight segment.
  • Point to point airlines: Be aware that some airlines (including Ryanair and EasyJet) identify as point to point airlines. This means that the company only sells individual, non-connected flight segments — even if it appears you’ve booked a round-trip ticket. So if one part of your flight is delayed or canceled and you miss another part of the itinerary you’ll be considered a no-show and lose the value of that next segment. The terms and conditions of these types of airlines claim no liability in these cases and recommend passengers who choose to buy “self-connecting flights,” insure their trip. Travelers should proceed with caution when booking on a point to point airline. You can use a site such as InsureMyTrip to compare various travel insurance policies that fit your needs — free of charge.
  • International one-way ticket problems: International passengers who travel on a one-way ticket may have trouble at the immigration window at their destination. Many foreign countries require proof of your intention to leave the country after your visit. A round-trip ticket provides that evidence. If you’re traveling on two one-way tickets, be ready to show proof of your return ticket to border agents. Check with the Department of State for entry requirements to any international destination you plan to visit. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)
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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle Couch-Friedman is the founder and CEO of Consumer Rescue. She is a consumer advocate, ombudsman columnist, mediator, writer, and licensed psychotherapist. Michelle is a public speaker, and her expert guidance has been cited in MarketWatch, Consumer Reports, Travel & Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Popular Science, CNN, CNBC, Boston Globe, CBS News, National Geographic, Travel Weekly, Reader's Digest and more. You might even catch Michelle on TV reporting on a situation. :) Michelle is also the travel ombudsman columnist for The Points Guy and is the former executive director of the nonprofit Elliott Advocacy. During her six years in that position, she resolved thousands of cases for troubled travelers and other consumers. You can read hundreds of 5-star reviews Michelle earned during her service to the nonprofit since 2016 here on Great Nonprofits. She is also a member of the Society of American Travel Writers. Today, she continues to spend as much time as possible fiercely defending consumers and traveling the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Couch-Friedman or on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook.