I am planning a trip to Asia and then back to Rio. The thing is that I am traveling on flexible dates, so I am thinking of buying a one way ticket to Hong Kong, and I was planning to do the same when I want to come back.

But what I noticed is that, for example, a one way ticket from Melbourne to Rio costs no less than $2700 dollars for the month of May.

When I do a search for a round-trip from Melbourne to Rio and back, I can find flights for $2200.

I know I will not be using that return to Melbourne, but I'd still prefer to save those $500.

Can there be any issue with buying a round-trip with a return that I will never use?

  • 2
    Although not relevant for the question, I understand you're travelling from Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) to Melbourne (Australia); you're mentioning Asia, but Melbourne is not in Asia.
    – gerrit
    Jan 22, 2013 at 13:53
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    Yep, sorry about that. I meant I am starting my trip in Asia, but then I plan to end it up in Australia
    – JordanBelf
    Jan 22, 2013 at 14:10
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    "Is it posssible?" or "Is it risky?" might be fair questions, but "Is it fair" is outside the scope of the site.
    – choster
    Jan 22, 2013 at 16:56
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    @choster excuse me, english is not my native language, maybe I used wrong wording.In anyway I am trying to understand what are the possible risks involved ;)
    – JordanBelf
    Jan 22, 2013 at 19:39
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    @JordanBelf: FYI: When I search for one-way tickets from Melbourne to Rio in May (e.g. May 4th +- 3 days), I get $1485 (I used kayak.com). You might want to search again!
    – Briguy37
    Jan 22, 2013 at 19:46

9 Answers 9


You can do that. since one-way tickets are (almost) always more expensive. Booking a flexible return ticket will also be more expensive than the single ticket version, but you should look into it, since it should be cheaper than the double-return tickets in most cases.

But you better make sure that you know where and how to buy a ticket in Hong Kong and how much it will cost you AND you need to make sure which countries require you to have a home ticket before they let you in.

You will have to show return tickets on some immigration checkpoints or even airport check-ins. If you combine several stations and not have a valid return ticket, they will not let you travel.

Example: You fly to Hong Kong and stay there past the date of your intended ticket back home. You travel to Japan and then back to Hong Kong with the intention to buy a ticket back home in Hong Kong once you are there. At the check-in in Japan back to Hong Kong they will give you trouble already because you do not have a resident visa and you do not have an onwards trip booked.

Due to this issue, you might be better off to buy a flexible ticket where you can change the flight back from the beginning. Unless you can determine from the beginning which countries you go to, where you will buy what ticket and where you need an ticket back home or one for an onwards flight, you will have difficulties planning the trip without running into problems.

Or you book the flight back way past the intended return date - but close enough so that you are not indicating to an immigration officer that you will overstay your visa requirements. Then you just buy a new ticket to get back home instead of using your old one.

** Some more info regarding flexible tickets **

You have to know that for each flight, there are several different tickets with different prices - even if you buy at the same time from the same airline. The price depends on the flexibility of changing the ticket. If you want the cheapest ticket, you can get those, but changes can be VERY Expensive, up to the price of a new ticket. If you want to be more flexible, you will need to pay more for the ticket, but it you will be able to change it for a smaller fee.

I can only recommend you to call a travel agent to help you understand your ticket options. Since most online ticket sales are geared to sell cheap tickets, those often cannot be changed.

  • Thanks! I was not very aware of the issue with the 1-way tickets (besides the price). As my trip will start in Hong Kong but will end in Melbourne I am sure I won't be going up again to Hong Kong although I have a return ticket from there. My new issue is that now I have to buy return tickets for every destination I was planning to visit (Japan, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia) even though I have no idea how long I will stay. What happens if I have that return ticket from HK will that count or I need a return for each of the countries? Thanks a lot
    – JordanBelf
    Jan 22, 2013 at 14:24
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    I would strongly recommend you to talk to a travel agent. You do not need a "return" ticket for each destination. You only need a ticket that lets you leave the country before your visa expires. The immigration worries that you fly into their country and then they have to pay your flight home. That should not be a problem. If you start booking this by yourself you are going to spend 10x the amount than if you ask a travel agent for information on airlines, prices, and flexible bookings. You can then still go and buy the tickets yourself online.
    – uncovery
    Jan 23, 2013 at 3:09
  • Thanks.I will be visiting my agency tomorrow morning. Basically my idea for the trip was to get into each country and decide once there how long I would stay (inside the timeframe of my visa) I understand that is not a possibility now and I must say how long I will stay even before getting is.I think it is a little bit absurd but looks like it is how it works. Thanks a lot for all your help.
    – JordanBelf
    Jan 23, 2013 at 5:47
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    If you get the right tickets, you can still move them around. Keep in mind that Hotels in Hong Kong and Japan are quite expensive so you wont stay forever, and Hong Kong is not a place where you do sightseeing for 3 months. So some corner times can be set anyhow.
    – uncovery
    Jan 23, 2013 at 7:54
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    "one-way tickets are always more expensive". Not always. I have found many instances where the one way ticket was significantly cheaper. It pays to check.
    – Sylverdrag
    Jan 21, 2016 at 5:13

Flying one-way with many of the major carriers is normally far more expensive than half of a return due to the way airlines price flights. That leaves you with three options :

  • Find a major airline that doesn't bump prices for one-way (as much). SAS is one that springs to mind, and their one-way flights are normally cheaper than other major airlines. Also look for airlines that are doing "tag" routes, or routes that are an extension to their normal flights. For instance, LHR-LAX one-way is almost always cheapest on Air New Zealand

  • Use frequent flyer points, if you have any. Most airlines allow one-way flights on FF miles, and they are frequently one of the best way to use your miles.

  • Check out the discount carriers, who normally price flights the same regardless of whether it's one-way or return.

If you're finding that the return ticket is cheaper than the one-way (not as unusual as you might think!) then you do have the option of buying a return and simply not using the trip back, however keep in mind that the one-way ticket will most likely have better conditions than the return. eg, the one-way - being a more expensive fare - will possibly be refundable and/or allow free changes (date, routing, possibly even cities). If there's any chance you're likely to use these benefits then it may be worth paying for the one-way - especially, if it's only a little more expensive.

If you do decide to go ahead with a return, keep in mind that the return leg doesn't need to be the same as the outbound. You might be able to book ZRH-AUS on the outbound, and a cheaper/shorter flight such as JFK-FRA for the return which may give a cheaper overall flight. Given that you're not going to fly it anyway, it doesn't really matter where you're "flying"! Try a few options and see what you can come up with.


One major concern is that some airlines don't like it when you drop tickets (legs or entire flights) because it's cheaper for you. As a result, not turning up can be held against you and any frequent flyer program that you might hold with them.

I don't know of anyone personally that's had theirs cancelled or penalised, but have seen it mentioned frequently elsewhere online (like flyertalk or reddit's travel subreddit).

But then again, that's quite a saving. It might at least be worth looking into whether or not you can get a flexible return, so that you could change the date to perhaps use on the way back. Or at the least, cancel it with the airline to lessen any chance of them getting upset with you, rather than just not showing up.

  • 3
    Wait, why would they penalise this? He's already paid for the fuel and taxes, it's not like he'll be able to get this cash back.
    – skolima
    Jan 22, 2013 at 9:55
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    Because they can. Jan 22, 2013 at 11:21
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    If they catch you doing this regularly, they can put you on a kind of watch-list where they will at some point treat you differently when it comes to reservations etc. It's the same for e-commerce in countries where returns are free and people always buy a shirt in 3 sizes in 4 colors just to send all except one item back.
    – uncovery
    Jan 22, 2013 at 13:06
  • What if I just then cancel it instead of not showing up, maybe that will keep a clean record?
    – JordanBelf
    Jan 22, 2013 at 15:12
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    This answer feels a bit like uncharacteristic scaremongering. If you're not aware of any cases of anything like this actually happening; or even know what an airline might do to a lucrative frequent customer; I'm not sure how helpful it is to warn that there is speculation on some forums. Also, if Mark Mayo has never heard of a customer actually being penalised, that seems like a point in favour of it not happening. Aug 25, 2019 at 21:21

Yes. You can and often should do that.

In some instances, you are actually legally required to have a return flight (for immigration) even if you plan to travel to a 3rd country. Of course, this depends on the country and your citizenship/visas &c.

If you have an A to B return ticket and you have now arrived at B and do not plan to use the return to A, call the airline and cancel. You will probably not get a refund on the ticket itself, but you can often get a refund on some of the airport fees. which is a nice piece of change for a 10 minute phone call.


Throwaway ticketing is against the rules, but it is rarely worth the airline's effort to pursue occasional violators. The sanctions, for the most part, are to withhold services or benefits. I've never heard of anyone being criminally charged in any country for skipping their last segment.

The airline has priced the round trip ticket below the one-way because it believes it can maximize its revenue this way, and when you purchase the ticket from them, you are agreeing to a contract with the airline that says you will obey the fare rules and the airline's Conditions of Carriage. For example, United Airlines explicitly forbids your scenario under Rule 6:

J. Prohibited Practices:

  1. Fares apply for travel only between the points for which they are published. Tickets may not be purchased and used at fare(s) from an initial departure point on the Ticket which is before the Passenger’s actual point of origin of travel, or to a more distant point(s) than the Passenger’s actual destination being traveled even when the purchase and use of such Tickets would produce a lower fare. This practice is known as “Hidden Cities Ticketing” or “Point Beyond Ticketing” and is prohibited by UA.
  2. The purchase and use of round-trip Tickets for the purpose of one-way travel only, known as “Throwaway Ticketing” is prohibited by UA.
  3. The use of Flight Coupons from two or more different Tickets issued at round trip fares for the purpose of circumventing applicable tariff rules (such as advance purchase/minimum stay requirements) commonly referred to as “Back-to-Back Ticketing” is prohibited by UA.

With the usual caveat that I am not a lawyer and the following is not legal advice, the chance that you would be charged with a crime and an arrest warrant issued for you is essentially zero. Your contract with the airline is generally treated as a civil matter, not a criminal one. While the airline may have the right to pursue an individual customer for the occasional violation, it is unlikely they would make the effort.

People do get penalized for breaches, but the cases I have heard about are serial offenders— people who deliberately book multiple nested tickets or show a pattern of doing so over several years, or who are travel agents doing so for multiple customers, resulting in significant lost revenue to the airline. If you get flagged as a violator, the airline has several avenues of recourse; United spells these out under section K:

UA’s Remedies for Violation(s) of Rules- Where a Ticket is purchased and used in violation of these rules or any fare rule (including Hidden Cities Ticketing, Point Beyond Ticketing, Throwaway Ticketing, or Back-to-Back Ticketing), UA has the right in its sole discretion to take all actions permitted by law, including but not limited to, the following:

  1. Invalidate the Ticket(s);
  2. Cancel any remaining portion of the Passenger’s itinerary;
  3. Confiscate any unused Flight Coupons;
  4. Refuse to board the Passenger and to carry the Passenger’s baggage, unless the difference between the fare paid and the fare for transportation used is collected prior to boarding;
  5. Assess the Passenger for the actual value of the Ticket which shall be the difference between the lowest fare applicable to the Passenger’s actual itinerary and the fare actually paid;
  6. Delete miles in the Passenger’s frequent flyer account (UA’s MileagePlus Program), revoke the Passenger’s Elite status, if any, in the MileagePlus Program, terminate the Passenger’s participation in the MileagePlus Program, or take any other action permitted by the MileagePlus Program Rulesin UA’s “MileagePlus Rules;” and
  7. Take legal action with respect to the Passenger.

Simple: Book a cheap return ticket, throw away the other half. You're not supposed to do this, of course, but unless you make a habit of it the airlines will not care.

Flights are cheapest when nobody wants to travel. Low season, midweek, departures and arrivals at inconvenient times, and awkward transfers all lower the price. Problem is, you're looking for a ticket for July (high season) with only one month's notice; it would've been better to book 3-6 months ago.

  • "You're not supposed to do this, of course, but unless you make a habit of it the airlines will not care" - probably not a good idea if you want to keep frequent flyer miles with that airline though?
    – e100
    Aug 31, 2012 at 12:10
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    For a one-off, it won't be a problem, you'll get miles for the segment you actually flew and nothing for the one you didn't. But yes, if you keep doing this repeatedly with the same FF number, they'll eventually twig on. Sep 3, 2012 at 1:34

There is no issue and I personally often do this.

Try to book the flight back for the most plausible date of return. It may be eventually useful. Also note that even without specific flexible tickets, it is often possible to change your flight schedule any time for a little extra money.


Be careful about having both round trips originating from the same location. for example, your first ticket set may be round trip Hong Kong to Melboure. You discard the return ticket of that set (Melbourne to Hong Kong). If your second ticket set is also round trip Hong Kong to Melbourne, obviously you only want the return ticket.

However, not showing for the outgoing ticket (Hong Kong to Melbourne) while expecting to use the return ticket (Melboure to Hong Kong) may lead to an unpleasant surprise. The airline may cancel the entire second ticket set when it determines that you are a no-show on the outgoing flight.

  • Thanks I will take that into account. It is hard to plan when you also have to also plan what they will eventually do.
    – JordanBelf
    Jan 22, 2013 at 20:45

You can try to buy a multi-destination ticket, it should be less expensive than a one-way and the money will be more useful.
But the company needs to fly to both destinations.
(Or try with a traveling agency.)

  • But for a multi-city I have to know my dates, which I don't, is that right? Or I can buy a multi-city with open dates?
    – JordanBelf
    Jan 22, 2013 at 19:38
  • Open dates tickets are VERY expensive. You better assume a date, and buy a ticket that you can change without paying a fortune. If you buy a very cheap ticket, you will have to pay for changes. Sometimes you cannot even change on cheap tickets. For more expensive tickets, you can change as long as there is a free seat.
    – uncovery
    Jan 23, 2013 at 3:14

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