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I often run into this problem on intercontinental flights. I have to book a ticket and I am not sure about the return date, which might be after 2-6 months. So I set the return date based on what I know at the moment, already knowing that there might be some changes.

Then I have to change my return trip and usually the change fee is a good % of the original price of the ticket, and these fees have been rising. Example, ticket cost $1000, change fee is $300. This has happened more than once. Then I have a choice of making the change and pay the fee, buy a one-way, or simply not use the return ticket and buy a new return ticket. Is there some formula, or strategy to minimize monetary loss and deal with uncertainties? Unfortunately one-way tickets are often not competitive to the price of a return ticket.

  • I wouldn't know about the prices, but it seems to me your scenario is the reason open-ended tickets exist. When offered (not all airlines offer them) that might well be the cheapest option. – AVee Sep 6 '14 at 22:50
  • @AVee as far as I know open ended tickets can only be booked by a travel agent. And I am not sure which airlines offer them. – Herman Toothrot Sep 7 '14 at 6:17
  • Airlines aren't stupid. They know that flexibility is something they can charge extra for whether through more expensive initial ticket prices or through change fees. – Peter Green Jul 28 '16 at 0:30
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First, understand that you're not the normal customer and airlines really aren't set up to serve your particular needs well; they've oriented themselves towards the majority. It looks like your options are:

  • buy a no-change fee fare. Typically, this will cost two or three times the cheapest fare, or even two or three times [cheapest fare plus one change fee]
  • buy one way tickets. This may cost more (or may not) and may cause issues with immigration and visas
  • pay the change fee
  • reorganize your life so that you can make travel plans and stick to them
  • use reward tickets for these uncertain trips (assuming you have a source of miles to redeem) - one ways are often just half the miles, and change fees can be lower
  • take multiple trips - go for 2 months as planned, but if it becomes clear a few weeks in that this visit will take longer, book another 2-month trip that starts just a few days or weeks after you come back. That way you're getting 4 months in your destination, but not throwing away unused tickets. (This will also generate miles you can redeem later)

In the end you have to decide whether the freedom to stay a random amount of time is worth the change fees. If you're traveling for business, chances are it will be. For personal reasons, it's a harder call but it's your call.

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