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Why You’ll Want to Avoid Multi-City Itineraries

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In the past, if you were going on a trip and planning to visit multiple cities, there was a good chance you booked your airline tickets on a multi-city itinerary. This was usually the easiest way to book complicated itineraries — and often times, the cheapest. But now, all three of the major US airlines have unexpectedly changed their policies for these multi-city itineraries, making the same fares exponentially more expensive in many cases.

Flyers who plan on booking multi-city trips should now think twice about simply going through airlines’ sites or Google Flights with the multi-city option. Instead, it could now be best to book several one-way tickets in order to avoid the higher prices. Why? Because the airlines seemingly simultaneously decided to include only fully refundable fares instead of the lowest fares available when combining one-way tickets.

Here’s an example of the new fares and how expensive they’ve gotten:

EWR-ORD, ORD-LAX, LAX-SFO and SFO-EWR booked on a multi-city
When booked on a multi-city trip, United will charge you $995.

For this itinerary from Newark (EWR) to Chicago (ORD), from ORD to Los Angeles (LAX), from LAX to San Francisco (SFO) and the return from SFO to EWR, United is charging $995 for the ticket. However, if you book several one-way tickets, you’ll come up with a much cheaper ticket.

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 10.44.42 AM
One-way from EWR to ORD for $124.

A one-way ticket from EWR to ORD for $124.

Total cost for the trip: $124

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 10.01.32 AM
One-way from ORD to LAX for $36.

A one-way ticket from ORD to LAX for $36.

Total cost for the trip: $160

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 10.02.01 AM
One-way from LAX to SFO for $68.

A one-way ticket from LAX to SFO for $68.

Total cost for the trip: $228

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 10.03.42 AM
One-way from SFO to EWR for $149.

A one-way ticket from SFO to EWR for $149.

Total cost for the trip: $377

As you can see, the same multi-city itinerary booked on one ticket will cost you $995. However, the same exact trip booked on four one-way tickets will cost just $377 — a $618 or 62% difference! Although this example is with United, the same goes for American and Delta under their new policies. In some cases, this is just the tip of the iceberg — prices of multi-city itineraries booked on a single ticket skyrocket past those same itineraries booked on several one-way tickets.

However, it’s worth noting that this seems to only apply to flights originating in the US. So if you’re planning on booking a multi-city ticket originating overseas, it could still make sense to book a multi-city ticket as opposed to several one-way tickets. Of course, it’s best to check this yourself, but several itineraries we’ve tried seem to work out to the same price or less expensive when booking multi-city tickets.

Bottom Line

In the end, the consumer usually comes out behind with this change. For the unexperienced traveler, they might think they’re getting the best fare by booking a single multi-city ticket without realizing there’s a better deal in booking multiple one-way tickets. In addition, the traveler loses if they need to make a change to their itinerary with change fees on multiple tickets, rather than a single fee on one ticket. That being said, it’s always best to try a few options to make sure you’re getting the best fare on a multi-city trip.

H/T: AP (via CBS)

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