The Pros and Cons of One Way Flights


Man watching airplane arrive in aiport. Nopphon1987/Depositphotos.com

Booking one-way flights can be a great way to get the lowest price and maximize flexibility when perpetually traveling as a remote worker, digital nomad, or during retirement.  While round trip tickets have their benefits like special flight deals, reward redemptions, ease and decreased cost of reservation management and changes, one-way flights may still be preferable depending on your situation.  This article discusses the pros and cons of one-way international and domestic flights and the use of temporary return tickets to help avoid problems when using one-way tickets.

Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to constitute professional advice. You should obtain professional advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. Deskless Nomad makes no representations, warranties, or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete, or up to date. Please see the full Deskless Nomad Disclaimer

The pros of one way airline tickets

1. Lower cost

A one-way ticket can be cheaper than a round-trip ticket, especially for domestic flights within the United States and with budget airlines.  Booking two one-way flights with two different airlines is sometimes cheaper than booking a round trip with a single airline.  This is more common for domestic flights within the United States than international destinations like Europe or Asia.  Airlines set prices differently for certain destinations popular with business travelers who are more likely to book last-minute one-way tickets.  For this reason, it is often cheaper to buy round trip tickets with the same airline for Europe or certain parts of Asia.  

Booking multiple one-way flights can be cheaper for multi-destination trips, especially if you will occasionally travel between destinations by train, car, bus, or ferry.

You are more likely to find the best one-way flight deals on low-cost airlines.  To find the best deals, use Google Flights to compare the costs for both a round trip and the one-way flight segments on multiple airlines.  If you are considering booking with rewards miles or points, do the same search for both round trip and one-way flights for your various points and miles programs.  You can use the points valuation guide from The Points Guy to compare the equivalent value of the rewards miles to the cash price.

2. You can spread out your costs

Booking one-way tickets can be preferential when you are traveling long term because you don’t have to pay for multiple flights at once.  You can book a ticket to one destination and then book your next onward travel ticket at a later time.

3. Increased payment type flexibility

Booking one-way tickets allows you to pay for flights in multiple ways.  You can book one segment with a credit card and the other with points or miles.  Or you can use two different airline mileage currencies for each one-way booking.  This is helpful if you don’t have enough miles in a single currency to book a round-trip flight.  

4. Increased itinerary flexibility

With one-way tickets, you don’t have to determine the exact day you are leaving a destination.  This is great if you don’t want to have fixed travel plans. If you really like the destination, you can choose to stay longer without having to worry about changing your onward flight.  With round trip tickets, you can’t cancel or delete a segment of a ticket without obtaining airline approval and sometimes payment of a fee.

5. Avoiding automatic itinerary cancellation

If you miss an outbound flight on a round trip ticket, airlines will sometimes cancel every other flight on the same itinerary.  When you book one-way flights they are separate itineraries and if one is canceled they should not affect the others. 

Woman looking at arrivals board. Frantic/Depositphotos.com

The cons of one way airline tickets

1. Getting turned away at border control

The border control in some countries will require proof of onward travel to make sure you don’t plan to unlawfully overstay your visa or immigrate illegally.  Many countries pass the job of verifying onward travel on to airlines and thereby make them responsible for the cost of flying you back to your home country if you arrive without proof of onward travel.  For this reason, some airlines make it difficult to purchase one-way international tickets.  Other airlines may allow you to purchase international one-way tickets but require proof of onward travel when you arrive at the check-in desk.

2. Higher cost

One-way tickets can be more expensive, especially for international flights to Europe and Asia.  Destinations that are popular with business travelers may have higher one-way ticket prices.  Some mileage programs may also penalize you for one-way flights by adding origination surcharges.

3. Change and cancellation fees multiplied

If you have to change multiple one-way flights you’ll likely get stuck with multiple change and cancellation fees.  Round trip tickets will only require a single change or cancellation fee, even if you change both the outbound and return flights.

4. One way frequent flyer award restrictions

Some airlines don’t allow one-way awards at all.

5. Difficulty getting refunds

If one airline cancels your one-way ticket and you have booked a return ticket on another airline, it can be difficult to get a refund from the return airline if you haven’t purchased a refundable ticket.  If you book a round trip on a single airline and they cancel one segment, that airline is responsible for refunding or rebooking for both segments of your trip.

6. Travel insurance restrictions

Some travel insurance companies require you to have a return ticket in order to purchase a policy.  Companies marketing to digital nomads and expats generally do not have these restrictions.

People waiting in airport. FjvSoares/Depositphotos.com

Ways to avoid problems with one way international tickets

1. Plan your travel in advance

Book your actual onward travel from your next destination (whether it is flight, bus, train, or ferry) so that you don’t enter a country without an onward booking. Consider round the world tickets as an option to save money, especially if you plan to travel to multiple far-flung destinations around the world.

2. Buy a one way refundable return ticket then cancel it

At the time of booking your outbound ticket buy a one-way refundable return ticket so you have proof of onward travel for border control.  Then cancel the ticket once you have arrived. Look for a cheap morning return flight with no luggage on a budget airline.  

3. Use the 24 hour cancellation policy

Use the US Department of Transportation regulation for 24-hour cancellation and buy a non-refundable one-way return ticket directly from an airline within 24 hours of your outbound flight for a departure date at least 7 days later and cancel the ticket for free within 24 hours of booking.  This regulation only applies to flights originating in or flying to the US.

4. Buy a cheap one way ticket to neighboring country

Buy the cheapest one-way ticket on a budget airline to a major city in the country next door (be careful with Schengen countries).   Use the ticket or eat the cost.

5. Buy a bus or train ticket

Book a cheap bus or train ticket out of the country and plan not to use it or cancel it.  This may or may not work depending on the airline and check-in desk agent.

6. Take the risk

Take the risk with a one-way ticket but arrive at the airport early so if the airline refuses to check you in you’ll still have time to buy an onward ticket.  Then if they require proof of onward travel you can buy a refundable one-way return ticket.

7. Be careful of throwaway tickets

Be careful of throwaway ticketing (or hidden city ticketing) where you purchase a round trip ticket or one-way ticket through a connecting hub ticket and then throw away the unneeded portion. This practice can be against the rules of some airlines and the airlines may charge fees or even deny boarding.

8. Book a reward flight then cancel it

Book a one-way return flight with your airline miles and cancel it later. Fees may apply depending on your frequent flyer status.

9. Try using a hotel booking in another country

Present a hotel booking you’ve made in another country as proof of onward travel.  There is no guarantee this will work.

10. Get travel insurance

Purchase travel insurance to protect you in the event that a portion of your trip is unexpectedly canceled, leaving you with change or cancellation fees on your other reservations.  Keep in mind that some travel insurance policies require the purchase of return tickets.

11. Buy a temporary return ticket

Use a travel agency that specializes in temporary return tickets to get an instant onward ticket reservation valid for 48 hours for a small service fee ($10-$19) without actually paying for the flight.  The company will automatically cancel the reservation for you once you arrive.  Continue reading to learn how these tickets work and the companies offering them.

Hand holding U.S. passport. Kritchanut/Depositphotos.com

What is a temporary return ticket and how does it work?

Temporary return tickets can be used to prevent problems at the airport check-in desks or border control at your destination if you are required to present proof of onward travel.  With a temporary return ticket, a travel agency books a real return reservation in your name and then automatically cancels the reservation at a later time.  You pay only a small reservation service fee and not the full price of the ticket. These travel agency companies mostly market to digital nomads, perpetual travelers, people unsure about their travel plans or not wanting to have fixed travel plans, and people applying for visas who need documented proof of flight reservations.  

After booking you receive a reservation PDF in your email that can be verified with the airline.  The tickets are valid for a set period of time, usually between 48 hours and up to 21 days depending on the company.  

Temporary return tickets can have several add on options including: 

  • Choose a direct flight
  • Choose to receive and activate a ticket later
  • Choose the destination
  • Avoid stopovers in select countries
  • Simultaneously booking a temporary hotel reservation

While many people have used this method successfully, there is still a small chance you will get turned back at the airport if you don’t have a true paid e-ticket and only have an unpaid reservation held in your name.  These services advertise that they provide a unique PNR (reservation) code rather than a true e-ticket number.  

Some people have encountered problems with their temporary return ticket reservations being auto-canceled due to overbooking, flight cancellations, and other problems so some companies recommend using their “buy now receive later” option to avoid last-minute issues.

Which travel agency companies offer temporary onward tickets?

Companies offering temporary onward tickets

Onward Ticket

This company advertises that it was created by nomads for nomads.  They charge $12 and promise an instant booking emailed to your inbox within 60 seconds which is valid for 48 hours or 14 days.  You can choose to receive and activate your booking later.  Other add ons include choosing direct flights and extending ticket validity to 14 days.

Best Onward Ticket

This company charges $12 and promises a ticket within 5 minutes which is valid for 48 hours but can be extended another 20 days.  They also offer round-trip tickets.  Other add ons include choosing flight destination and receiving the ticket later.  On Trust Pilot, there are some reports of people not being able to use their reservations when they arrive at the airport, delayed delivery (between 1-3 hours rather than the 5 minutes advertised), and receiving a reservation with the wrong name and wrong destination.  This company has the most reviews on Trust Pilot.

Top Onward Ticket

This company charges $10 and promises a ticket valid for 48 hours, delivered within 5-60 minutes during their office hours (6 am to midnight GMT+7, or 6 pm to noon EST).  Other add ons include receiving the ticket at a later date and round-trip tickets.  

One Way Fly

This company charges $19 and promises a ticket issued within 30 minutes to 12 hours which is valid for 14 days.  They advertise that this extended validity is useful for visa applications requiring a booking for more than the usual 48 hours offered by most websites.  Add ons include round trip and multi-destination tickets, avoiding stop-overs in specific countries, receiving the ticket later, and making a simultaneous temporary hotel reservation.  On Trust Pilot, there are some reports of reservations being auto-canceled and clients having to remind the company to rebook.  Customers recommend that you keep checking your ticket validity.

Jamie Dubois

I am a freelance writer, wanderer, kayaker, rock climber, and adventurer exploring the world on my own terms.

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