Popular routes have many inbound and outbound flights per day with times to suit. Less popular routes may have a limited number of flights per day, and to meet your travel needs it may look more inviting to fly out with one airline and back with another – but is this possible?
The good news is that it is possible to fly out with one airline and back with another airline. To do this you simply need to book two separate flights. One for the outbound flight and one for the inbound flight.
You may find though that the cost to fly single routes is considerably more expensive than flying return on the same airline.
This is a frustration for many travellers. There are ways to work around the prices, find the best deals and a plan B if you can’t find any cheap single flights. I’ll show you a couple of these in this article to help you save as much as possible.
Why it’s more expensive to fly one-way
If you’ve searched for a one way flight before, you may have noticed the fare price quoted it isn’t exactly half the price of a return flight.
In some cases, the cost of a one way flight is more expensive than a return flight!
Here’s an example of a return flight to New York, alongside the exact same flight but just a single outbound ticket
Yes, the one-way fare is more than 6x the price of the return fare – but why is it more expensive to fly just one way?
This is simply because airlines can get away with charging such a high one-way price because they are usually sold to customers who are less sensitive to price such as business travellers who will book those seats, nonetheless.
It’s ok if you’re a successful company with very deep pockets, but it hits casual customers and solo travellers hard.
Cheapest options for single flight tickets
One of the best ways to search for the cheapest single price tickets is to use a flight comparison search engine such as Google Flights.
You can use Google Flights to search for single flights across a number of days, if your travel plans are flexible, and gives you a chance to check the routes of a number of airlines simultaneously.
You may find that one airline is charging a high single fare, but another airline leaving the same airport may be cheaper.
Google Flights also allows you to check multi-airlines. The power of search may allow you to a stop-over flight, i.e. you fly to one destination and then join another flight to your chosen destination.
As an example, we may want to fly to New York. A single fare to New York from London may be very high, if demand is high, but you may find a different airline that fly from Lisbon to New York much cheaper. It can therefore work out cheaper to fly from London to Lisbon, then change plane and join the cheaper flight from Lisbon to New York.
I must though stress a caveat for this tactic, and that is if you are delayed for your first flight you may then miss your second connecting flight.
Booking the single trip with one airline with connecting flights mean a delay on the first leg will ensure you either make your connection or if heavily delayed and the connecting flight has departed, the airline will arrange for you to travel on the next connecting flight for free.
Miss a connecting flight with two single tickets and you have no such cover and will need to purchase a second flight from the connecting airport. This is far from ideal.
You may find your travel insurance covers you for missed connecting flights if the delay. If you plan to do this, it’s worth checking with your travel insurance provider to see if you were covered.
If you do opt for this option, make sure you leave adequate time between the flights to allow for delays.
Do I need to prove I have a return flight?
Some countries will insist you show evidence of a booked return flight upon arrival. Which airline you choose to fly back with is down to you though.
Choosing one airline to fly in on, and a different airline to fly out from is perfectly fine and legal.
Just be prepared to show evidence of the return journey fare confirmation.
Can I book a return flight but only fly one way?
As you may already be asking yourself – can’t I just book a cheaper return flight but just not travel the return leg and save money?
The answer lies hidden in the very depths of airline carrier’s terms and conditions. Almost all airlines, if not all of them, stipulate that you must travel all legs of your flight.
This ‘could’ mean in theory if you book a return flight and not show up for your return flight, the airport could penalise you for future flights or technically they could contact you to pay the extra for just the single flight cost.
I’m not sure in principle this has ever happened and would be a PR nightmare for the airlines if they did, but it’s important you know the rules.
You also need to make sure that part of your journey isn’t affected by a later leg with the same airline that may be cancelled.
Let me try and explain this point with an example.
On a recent trip to the US I wanted to fly into Chicago but back from Nashville. The cost of the one way fares where particularly high. I noticed though that if I booked a much cheaper return flight to Nashville, the connecting airport was in Chicago!
I thought I could fly to Chicago, miss the connecting flight to Nashville – while I stayed in Chicago, hired a car and headed to Nashville – and then fly back from Nashville.
This though came with risk as an airline is within their rights to cancel all remaining legs of the journey if one of the legs isn’t flown by the traveller.
Meaning if I skipped the internal flight between Chicago and Nashville, my return flight from Nashville to London could be cancelled by the airline, without refund, even though I had paid for the seat!
A couple in London had a similar experience flying to Scotland. They missed their outbound flight from London to Glasgow because of traffic and instead of booking a different flight they decided to hire a car, drive to London, and fly back.
After the couple had finished their holiday and arrived at Glasgow airport to fly home, they found out that the airline (British Airways in this case) cancelled the return leg of their flight because they missed their outbound flight – and they were within their right to do so.
The airlines have these clauses in the terms and conditions of carriage because of fare avoiders, looking to circumnavigate the high single price fares – but of course travellers only look to avoid these single fares because of airlines hike up single fares because they know their prices will be met.
The moral of the story is if you decide not to turn up on one leg of your flight it may have repercussions on ongoing legs or journeys with the same airline.
Flying out on one airline and missing a flight will not affect any ongoing flights with another airline.
Flying out on one airline and back with another – The Insider’s Notes
It’s perfectly possible and legal to fly outbound on one airline and have your return flight booked with a different airline.
Some countries insist you show evidence of a booked return flight when you enter, so check the countries visitor entry rules, but this doesn’t matter if it’s not with the same airline you entered in with.
It is possible to book a return flight and not show up for the return leg if cheaper, but it is against the airline’s terms and conditions of carriage. In theory it is possible for them to penalise you for this or restrict future flights although it’s not often heard of.
Not showing up for just part of a return leg with the same airline could end up with ongoing legs of the same return trip cancelled.
If you do book a multi-airline single route and a delay causes you to miss your connecting flight, you are liable for booking an extra ticket at the airport for another flight. You may be covered until your travel insurance for this eventuality, but it is worth checking your insurers fine print before you travel.