Is It Better to Book a Round-Trip or Two One-Way Award Flights?
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“Reader Questions” are answered twice a week by TPG Associate Editor Brendan Dorsey.
Booking award flights can be a complicated process. TPG reader Ashley wants to know if there’s any benefit when booking two one-way awards…
Assuming the number of miles is the same, is there any reason not to book two one-way award tickets vs a round-trip award ticket.TPG Reader Ashley
One-way flights purchased with cash can sometimes be prohibitively expensive compared to round-trip itineraries — making the option of booking two one-ways with miles more attractive if the situation calls for it.
But what are the pros and cons of booking two separate one-way award flights vs. one round-trip itinerary? We’ve laid out a few reasons why you might want to consider one or the other.
One of the biggest benefits to booking two one-ways is that you can use two different mileage currencies when planning your travel. That added flexibility can help a lot when planning a trip. You might only be able to find award availability on the outbound leg using American miles, while the only way to get home would be using United miles. Holding flexible points currencies like Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards can help in these situations, since you aren’t locked into a single program. You can instead transfer points to a variety of carriers that let you book across any airline alliance or even with non-alliance partners.
Another positive for two one-ways may come up if you miss the outbound flight, as you’d run the risk of the remainder of a round-trip ticket getting cancelled at that point. This would force you to find a new outbound and return flight. If you book two one-ways, you won’t have to worry about that.
Some mileage programs actually penalize you for one-way flights — Delta, for one, charges a Europe origination surcharge when booking award flights starting in Europe with SkyMiles. This fee can be avoided if you book a round-trip award.
Another issue with two one-way flights comes up if you need to change the dates of your travel or even cancel the trip entirely. You’ll likely be stuck with double the amount of change and cancellation fees if you have two one-way flights (unless you have elite status that waives or discounts these fees). A round-trip award will only come with one change, cancellation or mileage redeposit fee, even if you change both the outbound and the return flights.
Family travelers with babies who are flying as “infant-in-arms” may also want to avoid booking two one-way awards. Most mileage programs will charge lap infants 10% of the price of the paid ticket on international awards, and because one-way flights are usually more expensive than round-trip ones (especially to Europe), you’d potentially be looking at hundreds of dollars in additional fees for bringing your little one.
Bear in mind too that some programs won’t even allow one-way awards at all. For instance, you can fly in ANA business class from the mainland US to Japan for just 90,000 Virgin Atlantic miles round-trip, but the Flying Club award chart doesn’t allow for one-way awards on the Japanese carrier. And ANA itself only allows you to book round-trip award travel as well. You can fly during off-peak dates from the US to Tokyo using ANA miles in business class for an incredible 75,000 miles round-trip, but you wouldn’t be able to book that as two one-ways — even though that rate is even cheaper than if you booked a partner award through United’s MileagePlus program.
As you can see, there are positives and negatives to booking both one-way and round-trip award travel. If you don’t think your plans will change, it can definitely make sense to book with two one-ways — especially if you need the added flexibility of booking through two different loyalty programs. Just be sure to consider the risks before locking in those award tickets.
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