Need that last minute one way flight. You can get it cheaper than you think.
Been stuck in a place where you need a one way flight out? I recently helped a client who was in this predicament, they were unable to find an economical option to fly out from Athens, Greece to Toronto, Canada. I did some research and found out that they could purchase a round trip ticket where the first segment is the Athens to Toronto flight they needed and the second segment a flight from Toronto to Athens for a very far out date which could go unused. The round trip ticket ended up being 40% cheaper than the price of a one way!
Long haul (6+ hours) one ways are priced more than long haul round trips. The reasons for this have been discussed widely online. In this article we will discuss when and how you should book these round trip flights and how you can claim credit or money back for the unused segment (i.e., Toronto to Athens).
For the scope of this article, I will ignore flights that would require booking two or more separate tickets on a journey, for example, first booking with Ryan air from Athens to London and then booking on Air Canada from London to Toronto. This makes the journey complex as the client would have to exit and re-enter the airport, pick up baggage, and check in again. We will only consider flights with layovers that are booked with the same ticket/airline.
To make this fun lets assume I ended up in Athens, Greece for New Years Eve and after an incredible night of partying I missed my flight back to Toronto on January 1st 2023. Lets also assume that the airline is unable to cooperate and rebook me on another flight due to my 'No show'. Now I need to find another flight to get back into work for January 3rd 2023.
A search on Google Flights from Athens to Toronto displays the cheapest flight is $861 CAD however that requires us to book tickets separately which we will not consider as it is not in our interests (requires rechecking bags).
Written by K. Amjad
A screenshot of Google flights displaying the cheapest one way Athens to Toronto ticket where the tickets are booked separately
Once I filter out separate tickets, the results show me the cheapest ticket is $1242 CAD which is pretty expensive compared to its neighbouring dates.
A screenshot of Google flights displaying the cheapest one way Athens to Toronto ticket on a single ticket
A screenshot of flight prices for a single ticket one way from Athens to Toronto ticket during the first two weeks of January
Book this journey as a round trip instead
Let's assume we search up a round trip ticket:
1) Athens to Toronto on January 2nd, 2023
2) Toronto to Athens on January 24th, 2023
The price of the cheapest ticket is $999 CAD which over $200 CAD cheaper than the one way. A more convenient option is a one stop option in Frankfurt costing $1118 CAD which is $100 CAD cheaper than the one way.
A screenshot of Google flights displaying the cheapest round-trip flight from Athens to Toronto ticket on a single ticket with the first segment departing January 2nd 2023
A screenshot of the round-trip itinerary that is more convenient and cheaper than the one-way option
The return date of January 24th may seem random but the process to pick the return date is more systematic. The return date should be the date whereby the overall price of the ticket is cheapest. Since you are inflexible with the date of your first segment (2nd January) you must locate a return date that prices your cost cheaper than a one way. The steps to locate the cheapest flight is as below:
1) Launch Google Flights
2) Click on round trips
3) Set your destination
4) Click the date you need the one way for. As soon as you click that date, Google flights will automatically populate the future dates on the calendar with prices. These prices are what the costs of your ticket would be if you were to fly the second segment on that date. As you can see in the screenshot below, if we were to book the return portion on January 9th, 2023 the cost of the flight is $861 CAD (which is cheaper than the example above). I chose not to use this close of date for a return for a very good reason. The proximity to the original flight on January 2nd 2023 may mean that you would forfeit any mileage or points if you cancel the second flight so close after flying the first flight. This may also raise suspicion with the airline. Instead, it's always better to book the return for a date that is at least 14 days away.
Claim some credit...
Even though we were able to fly cheaper than the cost of a one way we can make this journey even cheaper. If I proceeded with the roundtrip flight via Frankfurt I would purchase and have my ticket issued through Air Canada (even though the flights are with Lufthansa). I'll proceed to Air Canada's website to book this flight.
When we select the flights, we see the prices that Air Canada charges for each route. The prices displayed are for the lowest fare. For Air Canada, the lowest fare is called Basic, and that fare is not eligible for credit or for a refund. The price $1116 CAD is for the Basic fare, therefore if you do not want to claim credit back for the unused portion and need to fly then it make sense to purchase the basic fare.
Air Canada on long haul flights offers four classes:
Basic, Standard, Flex, and Latitude.
Latitude allows you to get a cash refund (or back to your original form of payment) without a fee whereas flex and standard allow you to receive a cash refund as well but charge a penalty of minimum $100 CAD, Due to the pandemic however, fare tickets other than Basic issued on or after July 6, 2022 can be cancelled and the full value can be transferred to an Air Canada Travel Voucher. These vouchers are usually valid for 2 years from date of issue. Other major airlines have similar procedures in place. This makes our strategy a lot easier to execute.
When making a reservation, I always suggest booking at minimum a standard-type fare. In this example, since the standard fare isn't available, I will book the flex fare at $837 CAD from Athens to Toronto. I will then proceed to book the standard fare for the throwaway Toronto to Athens flights which cost $449 CAD.
The total cost of booking the more flexible fares comes to $1285.41 CAD (837 + 449) however once you fly the first sector and the miles for that flight have been credited to your account you can call Air Canada and ask for the remaining value of the flight to be converted to an Air Canada travel voucher. Therefore the $449 CAD is a temporary hold. Therefore, value of your one way was $837 CAD.
$1242 - $837 = $405 (¬ 32% saving)