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I need to book flights that leave on July 9 and return on either July 15 or July 19 - the return date depends on whether I am accepted to a certain conference or not. I will know this only months from now. I can wait with the booking until then, but the tickets might be more expensive. I can also book a two-way ticket with a modification penalty, but then I will have to pay the price difference in addition to the modification penalty, which creates uncertainty in my planning.

My main goal is to ensure that I know in advance the exact flight expenses, with no surprises due to increasing prices. So, I thought of the following scheme:

  • Buy two two-way tickets: one from 9/7 to 15/7 and another one from 9/7 to 19/7. Each such ticket has a pre-specified cancellation fee.
  • Once I know the return date, I just cancel the other ticket and pay the cancellation fee.

While this scheme might be more expensive than paying the price difference, it might also be cheaper, and it gives me a known, risk-free price.

My question is: is this possible? One travelling agent told me it is impossible to do with the same airline, since they do not allow overlapping bookings for the same person. But what if I buy the two tickets from different airlines? Is this possible then?

  • It depends on where you are flying and with which airlines. Overlapping bookings should be possible wherever the airline knows nothing else about you but your name, as the bookings could also be for two different persons with the same name. The cheapest option depends on the airlines' cancellation fees. It may also be cheaper to buy two non-refundable tickets and simply not use one of them than to buy two (often much more expensive) tickets, of which you can cancel one of them. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Jan 14 '18 at 10:09
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    There are so-called open return tickets for purposes similar to yours. Contact a good (!) travel agent to get more details and price estimates, and then compare to what you would pay now for other options. Honestly I assume you would be notified of acceptance plenty in advance so that you just make your booking once you know. Or just get the first flight now and book the return leg separately? Much of this depends on your risk aversion. – mts Jan 14 '18 at 10:46
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    In some areas, one-way flights added together to form a return trip cost the same as booking a return trip to begin with. If this is the case for the route you want to fly, there is no issue with booking two one-way flights for the return trip, on a separate ticket. Just cancel the one you end up not needing. Sometimes, a fully-refundable ticket may be cheaper than what two semi- or non-refundable flights will cost, so you should check this out too. – Jim MacKenzie Jan 14 '18 at 13:40
  • @mts are open return tickets usually free from price-change fees? – Erel Segal-Halevi Jan 14 '18 at 13:44
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    Out of interest, if you are not attending the last 4 days, are there touristy things you can do instead, and catch the later flight home? – CSM Jan 14 '18 at 15:06
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+50

If predictability and price is your main concern, by one round trip returning 15 July and a one way returning 19 July. Buy whichever itineraries are less expensive. For the segment you don't fly, you should still be able to use some of the fare for future travel, minus any fees.

This is not an overlapping itinerary, which isn't usually a problem, so you can book this with the same airline, but you will probably find the airline offering a reasonable one-way fare will not be the airline that offers the best round trip fare.

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