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I’m looking to book a one-way flight from the UK to a European city. The airline [I don’t think it matters which one specifically; this question is really about the principle] wants to charge around £400 for a one-way ticket, but only around £100 each way if I book a return. I can select different tariffs for the two legs, so it looks like it would be possible to book the (low-cost) “advance/saver” tariff for the outbound leg and a (refundable) “flexible” tariff for the return leg.

So can I book a return like this, fly the outbound leg, then cancel the return leg for a refund? Or am I likely to hit some restriction in the small print that will prevent me?

(I don’t know whether this kind of thing is frowned upon as “gaming the system”, or if it’s simply “using the system to my own best advantage”…)

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You're saying that your round trip is cheaper than your one way ticket. You're not obliged to fly back, so it seems to me you are answering your own question. –  MastaBaba Aug 11 '12 at 12:02
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@MastaBaba: Indeed they can’t force me on to an aeroplane to make the return journey, but I wonder whether they could bill me for the remainder of the price of the single fare if they saw what I was trying to do. For example Eurotunnel, who also charge less for a (short stay) round trip than a standard single, explicitly say that if you do what I’m asking about here then you’ll be liable to pay the difference. –  Brian Nixon Aug 11 '12 at 12:27
    
Similar: Price-hacking a one-way flight? –  Brian Nixon Aug 14 '12 at 9:49

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

No, this will not work.

Buying a return ticket and only using the first leg of it will certainly work - just make sure that you don't skip any of the legs before the one(s) you intend to use to avoid the ticket being canceled.

However what will not work is trying to book a refundable fare class for the return, and then obtaining a refund for that leg. The reason is, as you've guessed it may be, in the "fine print" - or specifically in the fare rules.

All airlines will have something like this in their fare rules and/or Contract or Carriage (CoC) :

OPEN JAWS/ROUND TRIPS/CIRCLE TRIPS NOTE -
  WHEN COMBINED WITH HALF ROUND TRIP FARES TO FORM
  ROUND/CIRCLE/OPEN JAW TRIPS **THE MOST RESTRICTIVE
  CONDITIONS APPLY.**  THESE INCLUDE MINIMUM/MAXIMUM
  STAY /RESERVATION/TICKETING REQUIREMENTS/STOPOVER/
  COMBINATION PROVISIONS AND **CANCELLATION CHARGES.**

Specifically that example is from American Airlines, but the others will be similar.

This means that if only one of the flights on a ticket isn't refundable, then neither are any of the other flights booked on the same ticket - even if they are different fare codes that would normally allow for refunds.

If you were to ask the airline to cancel the return leg then they will normally "reprice" the entire ticket, which basically means that they will calculate the price again for the whole ticket - including legs you've already flow! This will put you back into the original situation of being after a one-way, and as the price of that will be higher than you've already paid, there won't be a refund due.

It's worth keeping in mind that whilst one-way flights will sometimes be more expensive, they often come with better conditions (eg, allowing changes and/or refunds) that the cheaper return flights do not. Booking a return and simply not using the return portion may make sense if you saves you money - but make sure that you're not taking a higher risk to save a small amount of money. In this case it looks like you're saving around £200 so it probably is worth doing, but if you were only saving £20 then you'd almost certainly be better off paying a little more for the one-way and the additional flexibility it probably gives you.

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What if you simply buy a return ticket and then "miss your return leg flight"? I'm sure the airline will have something to say in case you do it too often, but otherwise it should be fine right. Or do airlines have terms covering repricing in that situation too? –  Ankur Banerjee Aug 11 '12 at 20:52
    
I think you need to read paragraph 2 in my answer above again :) –  Doc Aug 11 '12 at 20:56
    
No, I meant NOT asking for any refund / asking the airline to cancel the return leg. Just...don't show up at the airport. Surely that's covered under standard airline overbooking scenarios etc and they won't charge you for not showing up. –  Ankur Banerjee Aug 11 '12 at 21:03
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like he said - paragraphy 2 - "Buying a return ticket and only using the first leg of it will certainly work - just make sure that you don't skip any of the legs before the one(s) you intend to use to avoid the ticket being canceled." - I'm about to add an answer with some examples. –  Mark Mayo Aug 11 '12 at 21:37
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@Doc: Exactly right: it’s in the fare conditions. While the return leg is listed as permitting cancellation for a refund, there’s a note: “In case of cancellation after departure, refund the fare paid less the applicable normal class fare for the sector travelled.” What’s still not clear, if I booked the £100 “saver” tariff outbound and the £200 “flexible” tariff return, is whether they’d bill me for the remaining £100 of the “normal” [single] tariff. Or simply refuse to fly me again. On this occasion I don’t think it’s worth the risk trying to find out... –  Brian Nixon Sep 4 '12 at 22:01

So the way I see it, there are two parts to this question then:

1 - Can you just drop the second leg - and 2) can you get a refund on this second leg

Can you drop the second leg of a flight

I've done this once, and I assure you, it's possible. However, there are several factors to consider:

  • say you have a flight with several legs - five for example. If you miss the second leg, depending on the conditions of carriage, the airline will often cancel the other legs - after all, you in theory won't be there to catch the third, fourth and fifth legs.

  • if your flight has only two legs - from A to B (maybe with stops), and from B to A, and you miss that second half - B to A, you can do it, but again it depends on the conditions of carriage. I did this once with a flight where A and B were London and Buenos Aires. I'd worked my way up to Colombia and decided to hop across to the US and fly back to London that way, so just dropped that second leg. And that was fine. HOWEVER, and this is important - some have an extra clause where you can be PENALISED for missing that second return flight. So it's VERY important to read those terms and conditions carefully.

  • a friend had to get a flight from La Paz, Bolivia to Santiago, Chile. He found that it was in fact CHEAPER to buy a return than a one-way (this happens occasionally). Fortunately, once more he was able to do this without penalty.

  • in addition to possible financial penalties, there are some other possible penalties. If you're a frequent flyer member with the airline, it's possible they may cancel this. It's also possible they may refuse to fly you again. It's rare, but remember, they're usually pricing flights like this for a reason, and you messing with their plans doesn't go down well :)

Can you get a refund on the second leg

Again this will depend on the airline, and reasons.

  • You almost certainly won't get a refund, unless their conditions of carriage include refunds for emergency situations, which you'd have to prove. A friend did this on an emergency trip - he cancelled the second leg of a different flight he'd have to take.

  • if for some reason the flight time gets changed to one you can't take (even though you never intended to take it) you may be able to argue for a refund.

  • If the flight was somehow not as described, you may have a right through your travel agent for a refund. The airline, however, probably not.

  • in general, flights are priced as such because they don't want people taking one way flights. They want them taking two. Otherwise there's unnecessary airport taxes, staff costs and all that, for potentially empty planes coming back to pick up the people on a popular route. Sometimes it's also to encourage you to come to their hub. For example, it could be worth Qantas's while to give you a discount on a leg into Australia, because all other flights you take internally are likely to be on Qantas then, and they can make their money back. For comparison, a return flight from SYD to LON is generally more expensive than a return flight from LON to SYD.

Bottom line - read those conditions of carriage. Again. And again. Make sure you won't accidentally shoot yourself in the foot by dropping that leg. Make sure you CAN get a refund, if that's the only way it's worth doing for you. Check with your travel agent, if you're using one. Then book it and enjoy!

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This is a good answer, but to a different question! The specific question was whether you can get a refund on the return part of the ticket if you book it as a fare type that allows refunds. –  Doc Aug 11 '12 at 22:14
    
That's what I get for only reading the title and scanning the question :) I'll update my answer now. And then may update their title... –  Mark Mayo Aug 11 '12 at 22:24
    
Another possible reason for the LON->SYD fare to be cheaper than SYD->LON might be prevailing winds. E.g., it's actually cheaper for the airline to fly from London to Sydney than Sydney to London because the average prevailing winds over the route are West to East (they could stay in the jet stream for a good portion of the trip, for instance.) This would be particularly true of Asia->North America and vice versa or North America->Europe and vice versa, though I'd suspect it's true to some extent on Europe->Australia, too. –  reirab Sep 10 at 20:09

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