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I live in the US and want to see my family in Europe, so I considered two options: I fly to Europe or they fly to US. When I was comparing tickets with Turkish Airlines I noticed that the round trip from the US to Europe costs 960$ and the round trip from Europe to the US costs 600$.

I understand that pricing for airlines is some sort of modern art, but it still makes little sense to me since both options require the same 2 flights.

My guess is there is no way for me to game the system here, since I need only one round trip.

  • Possible duplicate of travel.stackexchange.com/questions/6304/… – JonathanReez Jul 22 '18 at 2:02
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    It's not unusual for people to travel a lot more in one direction than the other (i.e., there're a lot more people making the A-B round trip on a given day than there're people making the B-A round trip). Pick any popular holiday destination and time. – muru Jul 22 '18 at 8:45
  • "both options require the same 2 flights" --- This is not true. In one case you are doing (say) LAX-IST on Jan 1 and IST-LAX on Jan 7, in the other case the other way round. It might well be that those flights are booked to a very different extent, leading potentially to a significant price difference. – npl Jul 22 '18 at 10:26
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There is a large number of effects that influence the price of a flight, and not all of them are logically sound or even reasonable. Aside from pure arbritrariness from the airline, some reasonable ones are:

  • Prices are often reflecting the local buying power; people in Turkia have (in average) less money, so to sell flights at all, they are offered a bit cheaper.
  • weekdays have a large influence, as have times of day (typically, weekends are higher priced)
  • stay time for roundtrips - the longer, the cheaper
  • flights typically get cheaper when you have longer connection times or more stops
  • offer and demand
  • Local holidays, school break, and typical vacation periods
  • Number of searches for a flight. If you repeat your search several times over days (from the same IP address), they sometimes increase the price, as they consider you are in need.
  • many more.

All of those overlay each others, and many change daily or more often.

Try www.google.com/flights or http://matrix.itasoftware.com/, and check for date and duration ranges. You can also save searches and get emails when they change, within two weeks you will get an idea of the best possible price.
Try also to search for (two separate) one-ways; sometimes that is cheaper, as you can use unrelated airlines.

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I understand that pricing for airlines is some sort of modern art, but it still makes little sense to me since both options require the same 2 flights.

The second part of this sentence shows that the first part is false. Welcome to the world of yield management.

Airfares do not have much to do with what it costs the airline to provide the transportation. They have everything to do with what the airline thinks the particular traveler is willing to pay for it. The only relation that has to what it costs to operate the flight is that the flight will not be offered at all unless the airline thinks the sum of what it can extract from all the various passengers will be enough to allow them to turn a profit.

Since it wouldn't be cost-effective (and potentially illegal in today's climate) to launch a detailed investigation into the personal circumstances of each individual traveler, airlines instead use other factors which are more easily available to them as proxies of how much they think a customer would be willing to pay. One of these factors is certainly whether the customer is an American looking to go to Europe or a European looking to go to America.

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