Is it Cheaper to Book My Flight as a Round-Trip? – United Seems to Think so

A penny saved is a penny earned. Sadly, airlines try their hardest to scoop as many of your pennies as possible. My job (though I don’t get paid, hehe) is to help you figure out which booking tricks save you the most money.


Does it make any sense that an airline would charge more for a one-way ticket? My opinion is, no. United is [apparently] doing what they do best, increasing prices and keeping service near the lowest in the industry.


I was poking around on Google Flights today, per usual, and noticed an odd trend with some United flights. One-way flights, using the same flight numbers, were only 40% cheaper than the round-trip price. What gives, they should be exactly 50% less than the round-trip, right?


The question remains, is this becoming a new normal? Do all airlines do this?
No, all airlines do not practice this. Southwest, for example, has never charged less for a round-trip versus two equal one-ways. This has been my experience with shopping SWA flights for 2+ years straight. Is this becoming the new normal with United? I sure hope not!


One-way from Boston to Phoenix
One-way from Boston to Phoenix for $148


Round-trip for
Round-trip is $52 cheaper than two of the same one-ways


One-way flight from Phoenix to Boston
One-way flight from Phoenix to Boston for $148



When shopping for the same United flights you can see that it was $52 cheaper by booking the same two flights as a round-trip. That is lame!


When does it make sense to book flights as a round-trip?

  • If you think you may have to cancel the entire trip, it would make sense to book as a round-trip. If you booked two one-way flights and needed to bail on the trip, you would have to pay the cancellation penalty (on airlines that charge them, like United) for each flight. Since they were booked separately you would receive two confirmation numbers.


  • Another time is makes sense to book as a round-trip is if you are making a quick turn. If you were flying somewhere for a very short time (quick turn-around), you may want to book as a round-trip. If for some reason your first flight was extremely delayed, they would have to accommodate you on the return leg. If you booked separately, they would not be obligated to re-book your return flight. Not a likely scenario, but something to keep in mind if you are doing a day trip.


  • International flights are almost always cheaper as a round-trip. This isn’t the case for every airline, like Norwegian Airlines, but it is the case many of the times. Delta charges fuel surcharges on Europe to US award one-way flights. If you book as a round-trip originating in the US you won’t be charged fuel surcharges since you began in the States. If you are paying cash for an international ticket, you will notice that sometimes it is actually more expensive for a single one-way ticket than the full price for round-trip. Check both scenarios before booking.


  • If I only need to go one-way to Europe, can I just book the cheaper round-trip and not catch the return leg? Yes you can absolutely do this. Keep in mind, if you book a one-way flight to a foreign country, you will want to make sure you have plenty of paperwork showing that you are welcome to stay. Your best bet, if pricing makes sense, is to book your return leg 3-6 months later that way you could potentially take the flight in the future versus just missing the return leg all-together. In case you get home sick 😉



Make sure you understand the implications when booking one-way overseas
Make sure you understand the implications when booking one-way overseas



When does it make sense to book as a one-way?

  • The most obvious reason would be for price. One airline might be cheaper for the return leg, so it would make sense to book two separate legs. You can book with different airlines in each direction, if you were wondering. Another reason would be for flight selection. It may be wise to book two one-ways since airlines operate different flights times that are more convenient for you.


  • I like to book as two one-ways because it makes it easier to change flights on Southwest. With Southwest Airlines you can change your flight with no fee. If the flight is cheaper or more expensive, you either get the credit or pay the difference (same rules apply for points and cash). I usually check my flight everyday to see if has become cheaper. If it is cheaper, I will just cancel the ticket and re-book.


  • If you are planning on returning from another city or planning to return to another city, it is a bit easier to book two separate flights, in my opinion. Most airlines will allow you to book multi-city flights for no extra charge, but sometimes it can get messy trying to find the flights in this way. I will just book the first leg and then book the second, just make sure you check the pricing, especially with United.



So tell me, do you notice many domestic flights that are more expensive if booked as separate one-ways? United has just been deducted one more merit in my book for this move. Do they have any merits left?



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