Competition may be a wonderful thing for cost-conscious travelers in the United States, but in many areas of the world, there are only one or two regional carriers. In such cases, says Lance Huntley, an actor and director from San Francisco, one-way tickets are the best way of making the trip more bearable. “In developing parts of the world, not all airlines are treated equally,” he says. “Sometimes it makes sense to take a one-way hopper flight on a bad airline to a destination with a better hub, where you can pick up a better airline, and fly to your final destination.” Now planning a trip to the Balkans, Huntley has booked a series of one-way flights to get around the region.
Randi Sumner, an association executive in Highland Park, N.J., knows all about booking a series of one-way flights to create a nontraditional trip. She’ll frequently schedule a family holiday to coincide with business travel. Such trips often require three or more flights, each of which she’ll book separately. “My business meeting is usually a set date, so I’ll book in advance to secure that portion of my flight,” she says. “But when I meet up with my family to drive home, or fly to another region first, I like to have the flexibility of booking the rest of the trip later, even if it’s last minute. A round-trip ticket would lock me in too much to plans I haven’t made yet.”
Restricted fares may cost less, but if you’re not entirely sure of your plans, booking a fare in advance can cost more in the long run than changing a single one-way ticket of a multi-stop journey or booking a last-minute ticket once your plans are set. Change fees can add up quickly. In 2011, Delta charged a staggering $587,800 in cancellation and flight fees, the most of any airline. American came in second at more than $373,000. By booking in one-way increments only after her plans are set, Sumner says, she avoids cancellation and change fees.
Seattle-based Alaska Airlines, which has ranked highest in J.D. Power’s customer satisfaction survey for the past four years, says that the industry is changing to welcome one-way travelers. “It used to be that airlines required a round-trip purchase on airfares, but that’s not the case anymore,” says Marianne Lindsey, a representative for the airline. “Passengers can get great one-way fares on Alaska Airlines to just about everywhere we fly.” Alaska charged a mere $7,944 in change and cancellation fees in 2011.
Post-recession air travel will continue to evolve as carriers struggle to both turn a profit and survive fierce competition. Whether it’s last minute or in advance, one-way or a series of tickets to create a longer journey for business or pleasure, travelers have more options than ever to create a trip tailored to their needs.
McCluskey is a freelance writer from Washington who is currently traveling one-way through Europe.