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One-way air tickets. Why are they so expensive?  How to get them at a cheap price?


      A. The issue: one-way air tickets are mostly very expensive. 

      B. Why are one-way air tickets so expensive? 

      C. Airlines follow different pricing policies.  

      D. How can we get one-way air tickets at a cheap price? 

      E. Additional tips. 

      F. Open-jaw ticket, multi-destination air ticket, air pass, and round-the-world airfare.  

      G. Open-ended air ticket and changeable return ticket. 

      H. Entry requirements of foreign countries.   

See also: Top ten tips to get the cheapest air tickets.
                When is the best time to book a cheap flight? 
              When are the cheapest times to travel? High and low seasons in air travel. 


A. The issue. 


One-way airline tickets are usually very expensive. They are mostly charged at much more than half the return ticket. 


For instance, early February 2014, American Airlines offered one–way flights from New York to Rio de Janeiro in June at US$ 1418 while it charged US$ 2050 for the full return ticket. Similarly, at the same time, the one-way air ticket London to New Delhi in June was on sale at British Airways for £ 417 while the return ticket was available at £ 630 at the same airline. 


In the worst cases, one-way tickets may be much more expensive than full return tickets. This is not uncommon.  


For instance, mid February 2014, Air France sold one-way flights from Paris to Kinshasa in June at € 3 342 (about US $ 4600) while it offered the return ticket to the same destination at € 770 (about US $ 1060) only!


And don't expect that the airlines will offer one-way tickets at discount rates if the plane has still several available seats at the last minute.  The opposite actually happens. Most airlines consider that last-minute buyers have no choice but to buy expensive one-way air tickets. 


B. Why are one-way air tickets so expensive?   


The liberalization of air transport markets has led airlines to maximize their revenues in order to survive in a more competitive environment. Airlines have dramatically reduced costs everywhere it is possible. In addition, they develop pricing policies more suited to different cases. 


Selling return tickets fills up planes faster and more surely than one-way tickets. It ensures the airlines that the seat won’t remain unsold on the return trip. This important factor for the airline makes one-way ticket more expensive than half the return ticket to the same destination at the same travel date. 

This is not the full explanation. As a matter of fact, one way flights are mainly bought by expatriates, businessmen, and officials. These buyers are largely insensitive to price level.


Furthermore, some of them form a captive customer base of the airline since they are reluctant to travel with another airline.


This enables most flag carriers to offer one-way air tickets at higher rates than those of roundtrips.


C. Airlines follow different pricing policies.  


Airlines face different markets. They implement different pricing strategies so that the surcharge for one-way air tickets varies from one company to another. However, some trends may be identified. 


1. Whether in Europe, in the United States, or in another part of the world, one-way flights of a discount airline, also known as low cost carrier (e.g. Easyjet, Southwest, Ryanair, Vueling, Air Asia, and many others), are mostly charged at about the same price as the departing flight (i.e. the first leg) of the return ticket. Only a few budget airlines show slightly higher prices for one-way flights.


For instance, in February 2014, Easyjet sold one-way flight to Agadir from London Gatwick at £ 167 while the departing flight of the return ticket was on sale for £ 161 at the same airline.  


2. The charter airlines or budget airlines which are affiliated to a tour operator (e.g. Thomas Cook Airlines, TUIfly, Thomson, Monarch, Condor, Corsair, and many others) do not follow a common policy: some of them do not surcharge you for one-way flights while some other ones charge a rather large extra fee.


For instance, in February 2014, Thomson Airways offered one-way flights to Agadir from London at £ 324 when the full return ticket to the same destination at the same time was available at £ 209 only. At the same time, Monarch sold similar one-way flights without any surcharge at all. 


3. The prices of one-way flights with the classic European airlines, better known as European flag carriers (Lufthansa, Air France, British Airways, SAS, KLM, Brussels Airlines, Iberia, Alitalia, and many others) are mostly very high. They are often close to the full price of a round-trip. In many cases, they are even much higher .


For instance, in February 2014, British Airways offered one-way flights to Cape Town from London in June at prices as high as £ 1478 while the full return ticket was available at £ 868 only. Whether you travelled late February 2014 or in January 2015, British Airways sold the one-way air ticket to Cape Town at the same high price.


4. The prices of one-way flights of the classic American airlines, better known as American legacy carriers (United Airlines, Delta Airlines, American Airlines,…) are sometimes half the price of the return ticket. They are more frequently fixed between 50% and 75% of the price of the full return ticket.  


As for long-haul flights, the extra cost of one-way trips is mostly much lower at the U.S. airlines than at other airlines. This may lead to strange situations in codeshare agreements. 


When an intercontinental flight (e.g. London to New York) sold by an American company is actually operated by a European airline, it is charged at the high price applied by the European company. The tariff of the American airline shows then variable airfares depending on whether the flight is operated by the American company or its European partner. 


On the other hand, the European airline offers always one-way tickets at the high rate, even when the flight is operated by the American company at a lower price. 


For instance, early February 2014, British Airways offered one-way flights from LHR to JFK on June 13th at US$ 1.780 (= £ 1073) whether the  flight was operated by British Airways or its partner American Airlines, while American Airlines sold the same  flights at $ 1265 or $ 1540 depending on whether the flight was operated by American Airlines or British Airways respectively. 


5. As for airlines in other parts of the world, the surcharge for one-way flights is usually rather similar to that of the American legacy carriers. In many cases, it may however be close to the high rates practised by European flag airlines.


In summary, the extra charge for one-way flights varies significantly depending on the airlines. It is mostly rather high, except at low cost airlines.


D. How can we get one-way air tickets at a cheap price? 


As we explained in another article, alternative options, such as open-ended air tickets or open-jaw tickets, are usually very expensive. Is there then no alternative but to pay exorbitant prices for one-way flights?  Definitely not.


You can find and book easily cheap one-way flights provided that you follow the right way. The method we apply is quite simple. Using a price comparison tool is not necessary. However, it helps you find more quickly the best deals. 


The examples we provide are just illustrative. They concern airfares quoted early February 2014 for flights four months later. When you read this article, the price will have changed. However, the recommended method remains fully valid.


1. First tip 


In many cases, your destination is served by different airlines. You will definitely save quite a lot of money if  you always compare prices of different airlines.


Usually,  American legacy carriers offer cheaper one-way flights than European flag carriers on the same route. Similarly, low cost or charter airlines offer cheaper one-way flights than American or European legacy carriers to the same destination city.

For example, if you are looking for a one-way air ticket from London (LHR) to New York (JFK), non-stop, book it from airlines such as Delta Airlines or American Airlines at about US $1260 instead of  British Airways at US $ 1780.


If you travel in May 2014, you may even buy such a flight with Kuwait Airways at prices as low as US $ 600, the third of the airfare charged by British airways at the same time!  This flight is however available only 3 days a week. 


Another example: if you are planning a simple trip Chicago to Las Vegas, Spirit Airlines (a low cost airline) offers one-way air tickets at $ 150 while United Airlines and American Airlines sells them at $ 190. 


If you search the best deals with an online travel agency or another airfares comparison tool, keep in mind that they do not include the flights of all low cost airlines (e.g. Southwest, Ryanair, and many more). Therefore, you need sometimes to visit the website of the low cost airlines and check the price by yourself. When doing so, be careful: many low cost airlines such as Ryanair and Spirit charge extra fees for luggage and any additional service.

Compares prices, all charges and taxes included.


If needed, you may find which airlines fly to your destination e.g. by visiting the web site of the destination airport.


2. Second tip 


Consider travelling to or from a nearby airport at a cheaper rate. 

For instance, if you are preparing a trip from Los Angeles to Miami, consider travelling to Fort Lauderdale International Airport (FLL) instead of Miami International Airport (MIA). Flights to FLL are mostly significantly cheaper than those to MIA which is located 43 km (27 mi) away from FLL.  


Another example: one-way flights to Istanbul from London are usually cheaper from Gatwick Airport with Turkish Airlines than from Heathrow with British Airways. 


This happens much more often you might expect. You may often find other airports in the same city, in a nearby town, or even not too far in nearby states/countries (e.g. Brussels versus Paris or Amsterdam). 

In Europe, regional airports are cheaper than most nearby international airports. That is why many low cost airlines fly to and from regional airports.

3. Third tip

If no other direct flight is available at a cheap rate on your itinerary, do not hesitate to buy a cheap return ticket, instead of the more expensive one-way airfare, and simply skip the second segment (i.e. the inbound flight) of the return ticket. 


Select the inbound flight in the proper way, i.e. at the cheapest date (e.g. midweek in the low season) in order to get the cheapest roundtrip. This has no drawback since you do not intend to use that segment. 


For instance, instead of buying a one-way air ticket LHR to JFK from British Airways at $ 1780, you may book a return ticket of the same airline at about $ 900. This is still cheaper than one-way flights of Delta Airlines or American Airlines ($ 1260). 


Similarly, if you are looking for a one-way air ticket Paris to Kinshasa (Congo), buy the return ticket of Air France at $1060 only, instead of paying the one-way flight at $ 4600!  


The practice of buying a return ticket instead of a one-way airfare, called throwaway ticketing, is mainly attractive with the European flag carriers, since most other airlines in the world apply better pricing strategies. It is actually prohibited by the airlines. However, a penalty is highly unlikely to be applied unless you repeatedly abuse this practice with the same airline. 

Keep in mind that the whole ticket will be cancelled if you intend to use only the second segment of a return ticket and you don’t take the outbound flight (no-show case). 

4. Fourth tip 


If all above options are still too expensive or do not suit you, check prices of one-way flights with one (or more) stopover. It may be a better deal for you if the duration of the flight does not trouble you.


For example, as for one-way air tickets from Paris (CDG) to New York (JFK), you can find cheap one-stop flights for only $ 500 at Icelandair with a short stopover in Reykjavik (Schengen area), while you would pay Air France more than $ 3000 for a one-way direct flight or about $ 900 for a whole return ticket. 


Another example: if you're planning a one-way trip from Chicago (ORD) to Copenhagen (CPH), you can buy a one-way ticket with Air Berlin with a short stopover in Berlin (Schengen area) at prices ranging from $ 750 to 950 while the direct flight from SAS - the only airline operating direct flight on this route - would cost about $ 1760 (one-way ticket) or $1100 (return ticket).


Similarly, as for one-way flights from Atlanta (USA) to Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), one-stop flights with United Airlines, American Airlines or TAM may sometimes be available at half the price of the direct flight with Delta Airlines. 


Of course,  you can’t always find one-stop flights that are cheaper than direct flights. This option is available mainly when you take long-haul flights.

5 . Fifth tips

Finally, if you are going to book two one-way flights because you plan to return from a different city than your arrival city,  you may often save money if you buy a classic round-trip flight and a junction flight between both cities.

For instance, if you are planning to buy two one-way flights because you will fly from London to New York  and return to London from Washington DC for any reason. You often save some money if you book a roundtrip Paris - New York  and a flight Washington DC - New York instead of two one-way flights (London - New York and Washington - London).

E. Additional tips

By following our additional advice, you will maximise your chance of finding a cheap one-way ticket. 


-- First, be sure to book the flight as early as possible. Then you can take advantage of some cheap alternative options which may be no longer available at last minute. Furthermore, the surcharge for one-way flights may increase over time. 


-- Whenever possible, move forward or delay your departure by one day or two in order to qualify for a better rate. Some cheap flights are indeed available some days of the week only. Furthermore, midweek flights are often less expensive than flights on weekends, even in peak seasons.


This is also of application when your flight is operated by a discount airline. For instance, early February 2014, the one-way flight Edinburgh to Tenerife South with Easyjet on Wednesday June 18th was sold at £ 90 while it cost £149 for a trip on Friday June 20th.  


-- Whenever possible, advance or delay your departure by a few hours if there are cheaper flights on the same day.


F. & G. Open-jaw ticket, multi-destination air ticket, air pass, and round-the-world airfares
           Open-ended air tickets and changeable return tickets.

           These special options are developed in the article here

H.  Entry requirements of foreign countries.

Anyway, if you travel to a foreign country, you have to comply with the entry requirements (visa) of your destination. The entry requirements usually depend upon whether you are going to work, study or simply spend your holidays in the foreign country.  

Many countries require a visa (an official document that allows you to enter the country for a specific period of time). Some of them require also tourists to have a return ticket.

February 2014  © WillGoTo.


Ten tips to get the cheapest air tickets
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When is the best time to book a cheap flight?
Airfares change continuously. When you are looking for the cheapest deals, it may help you to know the best time to book a flight.
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Open-jaw and multi-destination air tickets, Air pass, Open-ended air tickets
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Back to the previous page: click here
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One-way air tickets. Everything you need to know about one-way flights: Why are they so expensive? How to get them at a cheap price?