Is It Better to Book Round-Trip or 1-Way Award Flights?

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Million Mile Secrets reader Trent emails:

Is it more beneficial to book 1-way versus round-trip flights?
Is It Better To Book Round Trip Or 1 Way Award Flights
Which Is Better, Round-Trip or 1-Way Flights?

Trent is referring to the fact that with some airlines you can book the outbound and return parts of an award flight in the same reservation or as separate 1-way tickets.

So which is better?

The answer is, it depends

Booking Round-Trip Award Flights

Let’s say Trent wants to book an award flight from Washington, DC, to Tokyo using his United Airlines miles.

Is It Better To Book Round Trip Or 1 Way Award Flights
If Trent Thinks He May Make Changes or Cancel His Trip, He Can Save Money on Fees By Booking a Round-Trip Award Flight

Here are the some of the advantages and disadvantages to booking his trip as a round-trip award flight:


  • Pay only 1 change or cancellation fee:  United Airlines charges up to $75 to $200 (unless you have United Airlines Premier status) to make changes or cancel award flights.  Since a round-trip flight is 1 reservation you only have to pay 1 fee.
  • Get a free 1-way flight:  United allows a stopover and 2 open-jaws on round-trip tickets, which you can use strategically to book a free 1-way ticket to use towards a 2nd trip.
  • Pay only 1 booking fee:  United Airlines charges $25 (unless you have 1k status) if you need help booking over the phone.  You will only pay this fee once if you book a round-trip flight.


  • Less flexibility:  With a round-trip ticket, Trent’s only options will be the routings offered by United Airlines and their partner airlines.  He can’t mix and match among alliances.

For example, let’s say Trent finds a flight to Tokyo that works for his schedule but the return flight options all have 3 stops.  If he books a round-trip, he won’t be able to book the outgoing flight with United Airlines and then use his American Airlines miles to book a return trip which offers a more convenient flight.

  • Making changes or canceling could cancel the entire trip:  For instance, if Trent needs to change the date of his outgoing flight, depending upon the airline, he may have to rebook his entire trip.

Booking 1-Way Award Flights

But if Trent can’t find the dates and times he is looking for, he can try booking two 1-way awards instead.  This will give him much more flexibility.

Is It Better To Book Round Trip Or 1 Way Award Flights
Booking Separate 1-Way Tickets Opens Up More Possibilities
Note:   Some airlines, such as Delta and US Airways, do NOT allow 1-way award booking. 

Here are the pros and cons to booking separate 1-way awards:


  • Book each segment with a different airline:  If Trent finds a great outgoing flight on United Airlines but the return flights aren’t desirable, he could book the return flight using a different airline’s miles (say, American Airlines), which will give him more options.
  • Book your 1st segment right away: Trent can book his United Airlines flight ~1 year in advance.  Booking right away may give him more options.  But if he books a round-trip flight he would have to wait until booking opens on his return flight to book his entire trip.  And he could lost the seats for the outbound portion of the trip.
  • Book different classes of service: To save some miles, Trent could fly to Tokyo in First Class and return in coach if he books each segment separately. 


  • Fees:  If Trent needs to make changes or cancel his trip to Tokyo, he will have to pay the fees on the outbound and return ticket!  For example, if Trent needs to cancel his trip, he will have to cancel the outbound and return tickets separately.  So if he wants his miles refunded, he will have to pay a re-deposit fee of up to $400 ($200 fee X 2 tickets)!

Bottom Line

Round-trip and 1-way flights each have their own advantages and disadvantages.  Round-trip flights give you the option of booking a free 1-way flight on some airlines  and could save you a lot of fees if you need to change or cancel your trip.

However, I typically prefer to book 1-way awards because they offer more options and flexibility.  But I wouldn’t book 1-way awards if your travel plans are likely to change because this could end up costing you quite a bit in fees!

Thanks for your question, Trent!

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