News Singles vs Return – which is cheaper?

All articles

Singles vs Return – which is cheaper?

I looked at a number of carriers and found three in particular where two single tickets were much cheaper than the return package.

One of the Skyscanner team mentioned to me that she had come across a variety of examples where, for a number of destinations, two single flights were cheaper than a return ticket. This seemed strange so I did a bit of digging around on the websites of some of the major carriers and in some instances she is absolutely right.

At this point we need to make a distinction between the so-called “budget” or “no-frills” airlines (like Ryanair and EasyJet and so on) and the “scheduled” airlines (like Qantas and Air France for example). For the former, this single ticketing will not work because in a sense, you purchase two single tickets from them anyway; but with some of the major airlines, savings do appear to be possible.

I looked at a number of the big carriers and found three in particular where two single tickets were, in some cases, very much cheaper than the return package. Where this would probably not work is when flights are taken over a weekend period since this tends to make the returns more economical.

As such, I picked a random week in May 2008, flying out on the Monday and back on the Friday – as many business people do. The table shows a brief selection of the results:

Airline Route Out single In single Total Total return You save
British Airways Heathrow to
Beijing 892.10 347.73 1239.83 1733.00 493.17
Virgin Atlantic Heathrow to
New York 502.60 386.05 888.65 942.40 53.75
Aer Lingus Dublin to
Chicago 201.38 202.75 404.13 436.79 32.66

Note All prices in GBP and correct as at 11 February 2008

This was just a cursory search with no scientific method to it and these were just several of the prices which came up. I assumed there would be restrictions on ticket purchases, so I called a nice man on the sales desk at one airline who told me that I was wrong and it was not possible that two singles were cheaper than a return. I explained that I was fairly sure I was right and asked if there were any reasons why I couldn’t book my flights as singles. He said that there were not, but that I was still wrong. We parted company – agreeing to disagree and I then hypothetically pocketed the saving.

I then spoke to our friendly travel agent from a leading British travel firm who confirmed that he regularly puts together “construction tickets” where he buys two single tickets for his customers. SITI and SOTO is how they are termed – Situated In, Ticketed In (where you buy the ticket from the country you are leaving) and Situated Out, Ticketed Out (where the ticket is bought from your destination country). He also suggested that using a different carrier for each single leg of your journey might save you money too.

A word of caution: an airline may not allow you to purchase tickets in this way since there may be restrictions on buying single tickets from a country where your credit card isn’t registered. However, you should be able to check this prior to booking.

This trick is not going to always work but regardless of whether you are flying short or long-haul, it might be worth looking at the difference – to bastardise the old saying a little, two tickets could be better than one.