Here’s why you shouldn’t purchase two one-way tickets to save money

Many travel sites claim you can sometimes save money by booking two one-way tickets instead of a round-trip ticket. But is there a downside to this practice?

Sharon Sanborn recently discovered that the answer to that question is a resounding yes.

Sanborn’s case points to the fact that if you decide to try this “travel hack,” it is a bit of a gamble and you may end up losing.

Buying two one-way tickets

“I purchased a ticket for my granddaughter on Delta with a return on United a week later,” she told our advocates in her request for help. “Delta canceled the outbound flight entirely and my granddaughter could not get to Colorado Springs. So I want United to give me a refund.”

When an airline cancels your flight, it is perfectly reasonable to expect a refund for that flight. But there were multiple complications with Sanborn’s ticket, which ultimately prevented her from receiving reimbursement for that return segment.

First, she purchased her granddaughter’s ticket through Travelocity. In doing so, she immediately added a layer of difficulty to any issues that were encountered with the reservation. Booking directly with the airlines will always make any problems you may encounter with your ticket easier to rectify.

Two different airlines

Next, she purchased an itinerary that Travelocity created by combining two one-way tickets on two different airlines.

The way Travelocity confirmed Sanborn’s reservation could give an infrequent traveler the impression of having purchased a single, contiguous ticket — if one part were to be canceled by the airline, the entire ticket could be refunded.

However, at the bottom of the reservation, Travelocity spells out the terms of the ticket and clarifies: “We have combined two one-way tickets to get the best deal. If you need to make changes or cancel, you’ll need to do it twice — once for each one-way ticket.”

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Two separate tickets

What it doesn’t explicitly spell out is that if the traveler needs to cancel this nonrefundable ticket, two cancellation fees will be accessed. And if the airline cancels one of the flights, there is no policy or protection by which the traveler can ask for a refund of the other unrelated flight.

If Sanborn had purchased this ticket as a round-trip flight on the same airline, she would have qualified for a full refund of the cost of the ticket. Because she didn’t, she only received a refund of the canceled Delta ticket. She was then stuck with the nonrefundable return flight, which had a hefty cancellation fee.

The cancellation fee essentially made that one-way ticket worthless, and Sanborn lost several hundred dollars.

The bad news

In the end, we couldn’t help Sanborn recoup her losses. The way she purchased this ticket through Travelocity made it impossible.

You may find savings by booking two one-way tickets. However, before doing so, you should weigh the cost and benefits against the potential loss that could result. Because it’s a gamble that you may not win.

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is the executive director of Elliott.org. She is a consumer advocate, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Friedman Read more of Michelle's articles here.

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