Is there any substantial disadvantage to booking two one-way tickets, versus a round trip ticket?

Booking vacation travel with family of four for winter, from Northeast US to Mexico. Round trip is pricy and no preferred travel times. Two one ways is slightly cheaper with much preferred timing.

Different airlines there and back, both reputable national US carriers.


Leaving aside the question of round trip versus one-way fares, there are some potential disadvantages to booking your outbound and return flights on separate one-way tickets as opposed to a single round-trip (aka return) ticket— unless all tickets happen to be fully flexible, fully refundable, full-fare tickets, which you won't be buying if you care at all about price.

Using separate tickets for each leg is not unlike booking connections on different ticketsyou assume all risk if there is a problem with one leg that prevents you from boarding the next. If you find you need to fly into and out of PBI instead of MIA, you face two change fees instead of just one. If your outbound to OXR is canceled and you get rebooked to LAX for free, you'd need to change your return in a separate call and pay a change fee with the second airline.

Furthermore, if your first flights gets canceled or you get bumped and they can't reschedule you until after your trip becomes pointless, you won't be able to claim a trip-in-vain refund. And while you might be able to find a sympathetic agent for adjusting two separate one-ways on the same airline, it would be most extraordinary to find an agent sympathetic to changes made by another airline. (Of course, the longer the time between your flights, the less the above is a serious concern.)

Secondarily, you may lose some advantages built into round trips, though this is largely dependent on the particular fare rules of the tickets you do buy. For example, a round trip award ticket on United Airlines allows a stopover or an open jaw in each direction, but no stopovers are allowed on one-way tickets, severely reducing the benefit for travelers like me. Additionally, some coupons and other promotions may require a round trip fare.

  • I would also assume that buying 2 one-way tickets instead of a round-trip ticket would significantly increase your chances of being dragged into an interrogation room. Apr 18 '17 at 0:53
  • @pacoverflow: Why would that be? Any source for that?
    – user541686
    Sep 25 '17 at 3:33
  • 1
    @Mehrdad zdnet.com/article/… Sep 25 '17 at 7:41
  • @pacoverflow: That was chilling to read, thanks for the link. Hopefully combining one-way flights is more common now than in 2013?
    – user541686
    Sep 25 '17 at 8:22
  • I've bought separate Canada/US tickets multiple times, several times one way on Air Canada and the other on United. and once one-way on United and the other on WestJet, and I never had a whiff of a problem with US Customs. Having evidence of the return trip with you is never a bad idea, but no one even broached the question with me. Aug 27 '18 at 21:54

There's generally only one major disadvantage to booking two one-way tickets in situations like this - Change/Cancellation fees!

If for some reason you have to cancel your trip, instead of paying a single cancellation fee you'll have to pay two - one to each airline - and odds are that each fee will be the same as the single fee would have been so in effect you'd end up paying twice as much.

There's a number of other minor disadvantages, such as the possibility of check-in taking longer as you'll potentially need to show proof of your return ticket (I don't believe this is required for Mexico, but it will be for other countries) as the airline won't have the details of your return trip. You may also have additional questions at immigration/customs - but these will be easily answered - Just make sure that you are carrying details of your return flight with you!

A single ticket can also be advantageous in the event of delays. eg, if your outbound flight was delayed by a day or two (eg, due to weather) then the airline will normally be fairly flexible in allowing you to delay the return by 2 days as well to keep the total length of your trip the same. Obviously if you've got 2 one-way tickets this isn't going to happen.

Many travel websites will allow you to book one itinerary with flights from different carriers on it, so you could at least book both flights at once - but keep in mind that many times these will simply be booked as two separate tickets so other than only having to enter your credit card number once you're not gaining much over purchasing the two one-way tickets separately.

  • Thanks @Doc. Clearly it is worth extra as insurance to book round trip. Excellent point about keeping itinerary handy at customers. Two really good answers in minutes and can only accept one, I'm deeply grateful for your help!
    – prototype
    Mar 28 '14 at 4:08
  • I can think of a time where it might be advantageous to book two one-ways: if the trip is fairly long and you might need to be flexible on the return, you could buy a more flexible ticket for the return and still get a good discount on the outbound. Apr 1 '14 at 1:11

Realizing this thread is 3 years old, I just wanted to add a difficult experience I had.

Booked RT airfair for my family and myself. We all boarded the departure flight, but our passes did not scan. Instead the ramp agent was collecting the slips from everyone.

At our destination, half way through the trip I checked on our return flight info to see that my seat had been cancelled. I was told over and over by the airline that their policy on RT tickets is to cancel the return one when a person fails to take their departure flight. I took a lot of calls for me to get through to them that I was on the plane (though they still doubted it) and to restore my flight home. Great way to ruin the relaxing benefits of a vacation.

I now book all my airfare separate unless there is a connecting flight. (Which I avoid as this same airline has lost my luggage twice due to connecting flights at BWI.)

  • 1
    It is the policy of all airlines that if a passenger skips any flight segment, all subsequent segments are canceled. I've also had this happen before, but this is one-time human error that should not really govern how everyone buys future tickets for every airline for every route, because one-ways have their own downsides as several answers have mentioned.
    – choster
    May 18 '17 at 14:44

two one ways are definitely becoming more and more the choice to take! With online search engines and direct booking with airlines, it is now possible to re-arrange things on a moment's notice.

But if you bought a return-trip and happen to miss the first leg you are likely to lose the return flight, simply due to the airlines' stiff "no show" rules. They do not recognize that severe weather might have been preventing you from reaching the start airport. They do not care that you had a whole bunch of other things on your mind at the time. They just point to your not-telling them in advance. Ergo, the whole trip gets cancelled.

This is the most stupid rule ever. Any other service sector that denies rendering services you already paid for (the return trip) on grounds that you failed to use the first half of purchased services???


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