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.

“I purchased a ticket for my granddaughter on Delta with a return on United a week later,” she told our advocates. “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.

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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What it doesn’t explicitly spell out is that this means 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 this ticket were purchased as a round-trip flight on the same airline, Sanborn 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.

In the end, our advocates couldn’t help Sanborn recoup her losses because of the way she purchased this ticket through Travelocity.

There are savings that can be had by booking two one-way tickets, but before doing so, you should weigh the cost and benefits against the potential loss that could result. Because it is a gamble that you may not win.

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is a consumer advocate, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. As the managing director of Elliott.org, she leads the advocacy, editorial and production departments. Read more of Michelle's articles here.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Better headline would be “what you should consider before booking two one-way tickets to save money.”

  • Bill___A

    Yes, it is worthy of consideration. There are many options and many implications.

  • Pegtoo

    I didn’t realize the “multiple carrier” options Travelocity lists would have this wallet draining potential. Thought the phrase just referred to code-share flights. Yikes. Travelocity has “Important Flight Information” to click on under the trip total, but you need to click once more on “Details” to get the part explaining how it could cost more money. Shaking my head…..

  • Lindabator

    in a lot of cases you win — example was a roundtrip fare for a client was over $900, while 2 one ways was just $435 – you just have to weigh the pros and cons

  • Mel65

    Depending upon how far out they cancelled her one-way outbound trip, why couldn’t she have just purchased another one way outbound trip. It might have cost her a little more but at least she wouldn’t be out the full price of the other ticket.

  • sirwired

    I’d say this is definitely on Travelocity for not making the implications clearer. It’s certainly not on United; as far as they are concerned, you booked a flight, and now you want to cancel, end of story. The fact that a different airline failed to get you to your starting point isn’t their problem.

  • Jeff W.

    I have booked many trips using multiple non-aligned airlines. Usually it because the flight times are better for me than the costs. But there is a risk/reward and infrequent travelers may not know all of the finer points.

    United is not going to issue a refund on a non-refundable ticket because Delta canceled a different flight. One would need to go through Travelocity, since they are the “travel agent”, but they seem to have protected themselves with their disclaimer.

    It is unfortunate that the money was lost.

  • Dennis Lewis

    Odd that only one arrival time would work for a week-long trip to Colorado Springs. Did she reject Delta’s suggested alternate flight because she thought she’d be able to get out of the trip?

  • polexia_rogue

    “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.”

    so Travelocity did it automatically? Travelocity is who she should be going after.

  • Jeff W.

    I first read this as the flight was canceled like the day (or before), maybe because of weather related issues and the next available flight for her would be several days out.

    If the route was canceled, then that would certainly be a different story. But I think that would unlikely. Delta does not have that many flights into Colorado Springs.

    But purchasing another one-way ticket to get to Colorado Springs would most likely be pretty expensive. It would have been a last minute / walk-up fare. And not on Delta, since that was the airline that originally canceled her flight.

  • Noah Kimmel

    two one-ways, on two different airlines, through an intermediary… lots of opportunity for problems

  • Lindabator

    frankly, they could have written the ticket over to United, but if she did not know this was an option, and took the refund, might have been jumping the gun

  • Lindabator

    she booked two different airlines – so of course would be on two different tickets — frankly, she should have used an agent. For one, would have been able to get the ticket signed over to United on the outbound, so she would not have lost the ticket

  • AAGK

    Why not just take the next Delta flight at no additional cost? If the savings are significant, I don’t see a problem with booking on 2 airlines, so long as the pax intends to travel and not bail entirely over cancellation of the outbound.

    Also, the default in booking travel on OTAs is a round trip on one airline so the OP intentionally made this kind of booking, suggesting she was airline savvy.

    Do airlines automatically refund the return when it cancels the outbound if booked as a classic round trip?

  • Chris_In_NC

    Unfortunate for the OP, but if this was a week long trip, why cancel an entire trip just because the outbound flight was cancelled? If there weren’t any flights to COS? why not fly into DEN?

  • BubbaJoe123

    Personally, if I had seen these on Expedia, I would have booked them directly with the respective airlines to remove the intermediary.

  • Annie M

    Why didn’t she try to rebook the granddaughter on another flight to Colorado?

  • Annie M

    If she could get a flight back on United, one would assume you can book a flight on United TO Colorado Spring.

  • pauletteb

    My dad’s widow used to buy two one-way tickets all the time for herself and my dad, and they frequently got selected for additional screening, once missing their flight because of it. I wonder if her buying pattern raised a red flag.

  • ctporter

    Cases like this show just how much information people should have before they make travel plans. It involves so much more than being able to find an affordable airfare.

  • jsn55

    WHEN will the travelling public realize that online booking agencies are a really bad way to book anything? If I pick two different airlines for a trip, I understand the risk of my purchase. People who don’t know all the ins and outs of flying these days need to book direct with the airlines. At least then they have a chance of getting things straightened out.

  • Daddydo

    There may have been a far simpler solution. Buy a new one way ticket going to Colorado with the refund from the cancelled flight. Any agent would have suggested that. Tons of options to travel to Colorado Springs or a hop skip and jump to Denver with local shuttle services.
    Every person’s travel decision is going to be different. There is no correct answer to this type of situation. I can assure you that you NEVER want to mix airlines on the same airline ticket unless they are part of the dreaded “code share” world.
    I issue 2 one way tickets 50% of the time to save the customer money for domestic USA tickets based upon cost and schedule; there are very few benefits to a round trip. People are going to book on convenience, non-stop vs changing planes, price, and unfortunately their damn mileage points; in no particular order. So travelers have to know how to plan.
    That’s why agents are still around; we think you through the reservation, rather than sell you something with 1000 rules and exceptions. Travelocity is a computer, just takes orders and money.

  • joycexyz

    When did they tell her this, before or after she accepted? Makes a huge difference.

  • Maria K. Telegdy

    Penny wise and pound foulish

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