Buying two one-way tickets to save money can backfire. Here's how.

You should not buy two one-way tickets to save money. This is why

Travelers can sometimes save money by booking two one-way tickets instead of a round-trip flight. But Sharon Sanborn found out the hard way that there’s a downside to this practice.

Now she wants to know if the Elliott Advocacy team can do anything to help her out of the financial headache in which she’s landed.

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Sanborn’s case is warning to all consumers who knowingly (and sometimes unknowingly) buy one-way tickets for their travel plans. It’s a bit of a gamble, and you may end up losing.

Buying two one-way tickets

“I bought two one-way tickets for my granddaughter. One ticket was on Delta with the return on United Airlines a week later,” Sanborn recalled. “But Delta canceled the outbound flight entirely, and my granddaughter could not get to Colorado Springs. So I want United Airlines to give me a refund for the return flight.”

When an airline cancels your flight, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect a refund for that flight. But there were multiple complications with Sanborn’s request for the United Airlines refund.

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

“We combined two one-way tickets to get the best deal.”

The second problem: Travelocity created Sanborn’s itinerary by combining the two one-way tickets. Even worse, the trip was built with two different airlines: Delta Air Lines and United Airlines.

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

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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.

Two cancellation fees 

What Travelocity doesn’t explicitly say is that if the traveler needs to cancel this nonrefundable ticket, two cancellation fees will apply. And if an 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 trip. Because she didn’t, she only received a refund for the canceled Delta flight. That stuck her with the nonrefundable return ticket, 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, we couldn’t help Sanborn recoup her losses. Unfortunately, the way she purchased this itinerary through Travelocity made it impossible. (By the way, we list executive contacts for Travelocity, and its parent company Expedia, in our database.)

The bottom line

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.

How to avoid one-way ticket problems

  • Consider booking direct: Booking directly with the airline will always make your life easier should problems happen before, during, or after your flight. When you don’t, you’ve immediately added a third-party wall-of-customer service between you and the airline.
  • Multiple cancellation fees for one-way itineraries: Keep in mind that many third-party booking agents build your itinerary with one-way fares — often with multiple airlines. Although a creative set of one-way flights might save you money initially, if you need to cancel, multiple cancellation fees apply.  Make sure to check the terms of your ticket carefully.
  • Multiple fare differentials: Remember, if you end up changing your dates, not only will more than one change fee apply, but multiple fare differentials will also apply. You’ll need to pay the new fare for each flight segment.
  • Point to point airlines: Be aware that some airlines (including Ryanair and EasyJet) identify as point to point airlines. This means that the company only sells individual, non-connected flight segments — even if it appears you’ve booked a round-trip ticket. So if one part of your flight is delayed or canceled and you miss another part of the itinerary you’ll be considered a no-show and lose the value of that next segment. The terms and conditions of these types of airlines claim no liability in these cases and recommend passengers who choose to buy “self-connecting flights,” insure their trip. Travelers should proceed with caution when booking on a point to point airline.
  • International one-way ticket problems: International passengers who travel on a one-way ticket may have trouble at the immigration window at their destination. Many foreign countries require proof of your intention to leave the country after your visit. A round-trip ticket provides that evidence. If you’re traveling on two one-way tickets, be ready to show proof of your return ticket to border agents. Check with the Department of State for entry requirements to any international destination you plan to visit. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Elliott Advocacy)