5 reasons why I book one-way flights almost exclusively
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As usual, the more effort something takes, the bigger the payoff.
If you’re trying to book a free trip with just a few mouse clicks, that’s entirely possible with miles and points. Booking award flights isn’t intrinsically difficult — at all. But taking that same amount of points and stretching them into multiple trips instead of just one — scavenging for award chart sweet spots, off-peak travel discounts, etc. — that’s a little more complex.
When I book any travel, I book one-way flights every chance I’m able. I’ll give you five reasons why you should do the same. You can conserve points you’ve racked up from the best travel credit cards, protect yourself from missed or canceled flights and even save actual cash.
Why you should book one-way travel instead of round-trip
If you miss a flight, the rest of your itinerary is salvaged
Ever miss your outbound flight? That totally sucks, because every other flight on the same itinerary will likely be canceled. The airline brazenly presumes you decided not to go on your trip.
When you book one-way flights, you insulate yourself to disasters like these. If you were to miss your outbound flight, your return flight remains intact, because it’s completely unrelated to the flight you missed. This has saved me on a few occasions.
I like to build international flights as a collection of one-ways. I’m usually flying out of hub airports (those are where the cheapest flights are), so I’m booking separate “positioning flights” to catch my outbound international leg. If something were to happen and I miss my international flight, booking one-ways ensures minimal damage to the rest of the trip.
If you cancel your trip, flight credit balances will be low
Many carriers, particularly in the U.S., have adopted a policy of free flight changes if you’ve got to alter your trip. You can also cancel your trip, with a big caveat: If you didn’t book a flexible fare, you won’t actually be reimbursed for your flights — you’ll instead receive a flight credit of some sort, only valid for travel on that particular airline. And depending on the airline, it’s more beneficial if your trip credits are in small increments.
United Airlines is a great example of why this is important. With United, if you use your flight credit to book a new flight:
- You’ll pay the difference if your new fare is more expensive than your flight credit
- You’ll forfeit the difference if your new fare is less expensive than your flight credit
That second bullet is important. If you booked a round-trip flight for $600, but had to cancel, you’ve got a $600 flight credit in your account. If you re-book your flight for a later date, and the price is $400, you’ll forfeit a $200 chunk of your United flight credit!
However, had you initially booked two $300 one-ways instead of a $600 round-trip, you’d have two $300 flight credits. You could use one towards your new $400 flight, pay the $100 difference, and still have a $300 credit left!
You can mix different award currencies
There are a number of scenarios in which you might use more than one airline miles currency to book your flight, such as:
- You don’t have enough miles in a single currency to book a round-trip flight
- You’re traveling with a friend, and you don’t have enough miles in a single program for two round-trip flights. You can book two one-ways with two different airline currencies so you can travel together
- Some airlines have award sales and off-peak dates at varying times
We’ll examine that last point for a second. Delta has an insane sale to Peru right now, just 9,000 miles one-way! Let’s say you jump on that deal.
But the day you want to return costs 30,000 Delta miles. That would mean booking a round-trip flight with Delta would cost 39,000 miles.
However, flying home on the same day with American Airlines costs just 15,000 miles. You’d save 15,000 miles over a round-trip with Delta by booking one-way with Delta and one-way with American — 24,000 miles all-in! Pretty amazing for visiting another continent.
Cash prices can be lower
This is not a rule, but it closely resembles the previous strategy. If you’re searching for round-trip flights, any single-carrier itinerary on the results page may have one leg that costs significantly more than the other. This could be due to one of your flights having very few available seats.
For example, if you’re flying American Airlines from Los Angeles to Miami, you may pay $350 round-trip. Your outbound flight may be relatively empty and sell as low as $43, while your return flight is nearly full, costing $300+! By booking one-ways, you could jump on a $90 JetBlue flight on the way home, and save $200+ on your ticket.
Google Flights is pretty good at sniffing opportunities like this out (they give you the ability to book with multiple carriers), but they don’t include all airlines in their search — most notably, Southwest!
You can build as many stopovers as you want
As you can see, whether you’re booking paid or award flights, you can sometimes find cheaper deals by utilizing one-ways. And while you’re at it, it’s possible to build some fun stopovers along the way!
As a real-life example, I visited Saint Lucia a few years ago with friends. I booked three one-way flights to get there, building stopovers along the way. Here’s what it would look like: Cincinnati – Fort Lauderdale – Trinidad – Saint Lucia. The price comes out to $323, and I get to hang out in Miami and Trinidad as long as I want.
I just used Google’s multi-city tool to price those out. If I wanted to book, I’d reserve them all separately (in case I missed a flight).
Now take a look at a single one-way itinerary that’ll get me to Saint Lucia at the same time.
Without any stopovers, the route is $107 more expensive. That is to say, if you’re into visiting more than one destination during your vacation, investigate stopovers.
Here’s another example of how adding a stopover may also save you points: British Airways charges 51,500 points to fly nonstop between Los Angeles and Sydney (you can transfer Chase and Amex points to British Airways). But if you instead add a stopover in Honolulu, you’ll pay just 38,750 points. In other words, you’ll save 12,750 points by giving yourself a free trip to Hawaii.
Booking one-way flights can help you travel with a partner when you perhaps didn’t think you had enough miles. It can protect your trip from falling apart if you miss a flight. It can ensure your flight credits don’t go to waste. It can save you points and money on various routes. It can turn one vacation into many — for equal or less the cost!
There are certainly pros to booking round-trip flights as well. It’s easier to keep track of than a pile of one-way confirmation numbers. There are a number of award chart sweet spots for round-trip itineraries on certain airlines (like Emirates). In fact, some airline currencies only allow you to book round-trip award flights:
- Virgin Atlantic (on ANA)
- Korean Air (for partner awards)
- Iberia (for domestic travel)
Barring anomalies like that, there’s no downside to booking one-way flights — it can only do you good. Let me know your opinion in the comments. And subscribe to our newsletter for more travel tips and tricks delivered to your inbox once per day.
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