General Question

Cartman's avatar

Why is it more expensive to fly one way than return?

Asked by Cartman (3032 points ) October 12th, 2009

Almost every time I book a flight I look at both one-way and return fares. One-way fares are always far more expensive than each way on the return, and sometimes more expensive than the entire two-way-return fare.

I just do not understand what the thought behind this is. Does anyone have any ideas, or more interesting, does anyone KNOW why it is like this?

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26 Answers

laureth's avatar

Buying in bulk is cheaper, whether it’s cellular minutes, ears of corn, a case of soymilk, or airline tickets.

Cartman's avatar

But a bulk order of two does not justify an increase in price of, sometimes, more than 100%. The product (or is it a service) is already manufactured and available. An increase in price might be motivated by an increased cost of sales, but it’s the same when I purchase online so I don’t feel this to be enough to motivate the difference in price.

laureth's avatar

For every one-way ticket sold, they have to sell another one-way ticket on the way back if they want to have a full seat. In case they don’t, you, the sole-ticket buyer, must subsidize the gas and lost revenue for that empty seat on the return trip – maybe not as much as if you were there eating the pack of peanuts and using their services, but something to help them cover their costs. Airlines are not in the best of financial health nowadays.

Cartman's avatar

Your reasoning suggest that people have to buy return tickets on the same outbound and return flights. That is not the case, any combination of outbound and return flights are available and prices vary but not by as much as when you buy a one-way ticket. Each flight is filled with passengers adhering to almost as many travel schedules. While your reasoning might hold true for chartered flights, regular traffic is not the same.

sandystrachan's avatar

Cause they want more money , they can never get enough of your money . Be it airlines , shops, wholesale , farmers they all want more money .

MissAnthrope's avatar

@Cartman – I’m with you.. I’ve always wondered the same thing. It makes no sense!

janbb's avatar

My husband figured it out a long time ago. If you’re going somehwere one way, you have to go there; i.e., you’re moving there or you have to be there for a length of time. If you must go there, they can charge you what they want almost, but if it’s a roundtrip journey, the trip is discretionary and you might not go if the price were too high.

MissAnthrope's avatar

That makes sense, but I think I’d be more likely to buy a RT ticket and not show up for the return leg, which screws them in the end because with that seat open, they’d have made more money overall.

janbb's avatar

Oh – but the roundtrip is usually still more expensive than one way. It’s just that the one way is much more than half the price of roundtrip.

MissAnthrope's avatar

I see.. I think the only time I looked at one-way tickets, absurdly, they were more expensive than round-trip. I can’t remember when or what the economy was like at that time, I just remember being flabbergasted.

missingbite's avatar

It’s because airlines in general use a “hub and spoke” system of air travel. In other words, the plane leaves the hub, say Chicago, then flies to an out station, then back to the hub. Southwest is one of the only airlines that flies place to place. If you buy a ticket on say, United, from Chicago to Houston, they want the seat sold each way. One way leaves the airplane in Houston looking for someone going one way to Chicago. The airline doesn’t really care when the seat is occupied, just that the seat is sold. If fact, it saves the airline money if you buy a ticket round trip and don’t use the return. It is cheaper to fly an empty airplane than it is to fly a full airplane.

Val123's avatar

@sandystrachan I want more money!

Shuttle128's avatar

Price discrimination. I’m fairly certain that statistics goes into a lot of the airline pricing. Somewhere along the line someone determined that one way ticket buyers were willing to purchase tickets at prices higher than round trip buyers.

Airlines are full of price discrimination. The different classes are a way of getting as much money as they can from those who are willing to pay. Also, those who buy tickets earlier get much cheaper prices than those who buy them at the last minute. This is because the person buying at the last minute is willing to pay a higher price for the flight. By doing this the airline claims the benefits that we would have reaped from a fixed price. The same goes for one way flights. Those who are purchasing one way flights are willing to pay higher prices than those who purchase round trip tickets. Monopolistic Economics 101.

sandystrachan's avatar

@Val123 i aint greedy , i just want some money .

Val123's avatar

@sandystrachan totally understand! Me too! I just wanna pay my bills!

sandystrachan's avatar

@Val123 Miss your bills this month give me the money , next month i will miss my bills and…..................... give myself the money

Cartman's avatar

Thank you all for your answers. I feel like I’m maybe a bit closer to understanding this. Maybe.

mirifique's avatar

Is it possible to buy a round-trip ticket and just use it as a one-way? why don’t people just do that

laureth's avatar

It is possible, but why would you do that if a round-trip ticket is more expensive than a one way?

It’s like this. One way ticket from A to B is, say, $60.
Round trip ticket is, say, $100.

The round trip is more than a one-way, but each one-way is more than half of a round trip. That’s why people don’t do that.

Val123's avatar

@laureth That’s just it…one way tickets are more expensive than round trip!

Val123's avatar

@laureth I just checked into a random flight from Wichita to Seattle on Travelocity.com. Round trip was $248. One way (same dates, time, everything) was $374!

laureth's avatar

Huh. Crazy.

laureth's avatar

Do you mean two one way tickets (Wichita—> Seattle—> Wichita) added together were $374?

Val123's avatar

Maybe they’re figuring that people are smart enough to buy round trip, even if they’re going one way. Then they’ll be able to resell that seat on the return flight….but….seems to me that if they were the same price they’d still have that option…IDK.

utzon's avatar

I’ve bought round trip tickets and used them as one way before – even internationally. It’s not a problem as long as it is the outbound part of the round trip ticket you use and the return part you skip. Not sure it will work the other way around as the airline might cancel the return if the outbound isn’t used.

missingbite's avatar

@utzon I know for a fact they will CX the ticket if you skip the first leg. What you have done is fine.

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