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I travel to Milan about three times a year from San Francisco. I have never understood why the round trip flights are almost double if you originate in the US? For example, Milan-SFO-Milan in June is US$ 1,003. But SFO-Milan-SFO is US$ 1,956. It almost makes sense to purchase a SFO-Milan-SFO ticket and not use the return part. Then I would buy tickets Milan-SFO-Milan, right? And save lots of money.

So why is there such a discrepancy in pricing depending what is the originating country?

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Buying a round trip without using the return is known as "throwaway ticketing" and carries risks; see my answer here. –  Nate Eldredge Jun 6 at 20:02
    
I just tried Aug 18-25 2014 on matrix.itasoftware.com. Cheapest MXP-SFO return flight it shows is 1037 EUR (or US$1398) while the cheapest SFO-MXP return is US$1381. So it seems that the premise on which your question is based is not always true. As for your experience, my guess is that for whatever reason, it so happens that those times of the year that you go to Milan are precisely when most US citizens on the West Coast want to visit Italy (and relatively few Italians or Europeans want to visit the US west coast). –  Kenny LJ Jul 22 at 10:35

2 Answers 2

It depends on the demand for those tickets - perhaps more Americans want to go to Europe, so the airlines can charge more?

Here is a tip that will help you. The origin of your flight means nothing. It's not where you live, it's not where you are for months before the flight, it's just an airport. And where you fly to is also not where you live or where you are committing to stay the whole time. It's just an airport. So, you want to go SFO-Milan-SFO a lot? Don't throw anything away, just think differently. Let's say you want to spend January, April, and August in Milan.

Look at the price of a one-way ticket SFO-Milan Jan 1st, a one-way ticket Milan-SFO Aug 31st, and a return ticket that combines those two. Buy whichever is cheapest, the two one-ways or the return.

Buy a return ticket Milan-SFO Jan 31st and SFO-Milan April 1st. As though an Italian wants to visit the US for 3 months. Similarly Milan-SFO April 31st and SFO-Milan August 1st.

Presto - you have saved $953*2. In some cases, such as trips for less than a week on airlines that changes less for "Saturday night stays" the savings can be even more impressive. This technique is called "nested returns" and while it's only useful to people who make the exact same trip a lot, it sure is useful. Some people recommend you don't do the first set of tickets (Jan 1 and Aug 31) on the same airline as the others; some say it doesn't matter.

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I can understand that demand would affect prices in certain directions at certain times of the year, but it doesn't make a lot of sense that there would be a year-round difference, since almost everybody eventually goes home, so flights there = flights back (close enough). –  Spehro Pefhany Jun 6 at 20:01
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@SpehroPefhany You misunderstand how much airlines manipulate their prices depending on who wants to go where. A return ticket SFO-Milan is NOT interchangeable with a return ticket Milan-SFO, as you have seen, without a lot of work. If one is in demand more than the other, then it will have a higher price. The fact that it consists of flights over exactly the same route is irrelevant to the airlines. –  DJClayworth Jun 7 at 1:37
    
@DJClayworth I think we're in violent agreement- it's more willingness to pay than physical "demand" in terms of total flights per year. One cannot assume that they will be the same price even if the demand is the same. I think economists refer to this as the 'purchase price parity fallacy'. –  Spehro Pefhany Jun 7 at 3:53

I see flights leaving SFO->MXP on June 16 and returning MXP->SFO June 30 for $1,009 (Delta), $1,100 (KLM), $1,069 (AA) which is not significantly different from your $1,003.

We're already a week into June. If you try to book too close to departure time, you may not get the best price, because of demand and supply. School holidays and other peak travel times are going to attract premium prices.

September is a nice time to go to Europe.

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