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Here's some creative ways to think about booking your next award ticket
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Some programs, such as ANA Mileage Club, require you to book a round-trip award, and sometimes booking a round-trip award comes with an additional free flight or a free stopover—when using United Airlines Excursionist Perk, for example. But what should you do if booking flights there and back with points and miles just doesn’t make sense?
There are several instances where flying on one-way flights can be a great redemption strategy. Let’s look at a few examples of when you’re better off booking one-way flight.
Booking one-way awards or separate positioning flights often makes sense, especially if you don’t live near a major airport. Separate bookings can help save money or points and miles and give you more flexibility.
If you live near a small or secondary-market airport, it might be hard to find award space from your hometown to far-flung destinations, such as Europe, Asia or Hawaii. What if flying out of a larger airport will save you a lot of points and miles or cash? This is where booking a separate flight will make sense. Let’s look at a couple of examples.
I’ll start with an actual recent booking. A few months ago, my husband and I went to Paris. For my return, the only award flight that I could find at a reasonable redemption rate was the nonstop flight from Paris (CDG) to Chicago (ORD), which isn’t my home airport.
I booked the one-way ticket anyway with Flying Blue miles and flew on Air France for just 43,500 miles in business class. To get home, I bought a cheap flight on United Airlines to my home airport of Cleveland, Ohio (CLE).
Booking the whole itinerary as one ticket would’ve cost me tens of thousands more points, so buying a one-way flight made the most sense.
And here’s another example. I’m going to Stockholm in a couple of months, but I couldn’t find any good redemptions from Cleveland to Sweden. Then I remembered that Finnair flies a fifth freedom route from New York (JFK) to Stockholm (ARN).
Finnair is part of the Oneworld alliance, so I used 57,500 miles American Airlines AAdvantage miles for this one-way flight in business class. Finnair is a new airline for me, so I’m excited to try out another airline’s premium product.
I booked this international trip months ago and figured I’d find an inexpensive flight to New York-JFK closer to my departure date. I kept checking flight prices to New York and came across an AA’s Web Special award from Cleveland to JFK for just 8,500 AAdvantage miles.
If you have the Southwest Companion Pass, you can fly two people for the price of one to a larger airport and continue from there on a separate ticket to your final destination.
A word of caution: You need to leave enough time in between flights booked on separate tickets, especially if you’re checking luggage. Depending on the airline you’re flying, you might have to change terminals. If you check a bag, you might need to claim and recheck it, and that could take time. Also, when returning from abroad, leave yourself enough time to go through passport control and customs. If you’re late and miss your second flight, the airline has no obligation to accommodate you.
This is where having Global Entry and TSA Precheck will come in handy. With so many credit cards offering up to $100 credit for either of these trusted traveler programs, there’s no reason why your entire family shouldn’t be enrolled in one of these programs.
If traveling with a checked bag, you might be able to check it all the way through to the final destination if both the positioning flight and the main flight are on the same airline or on airlines that are in the same alliance, such as Oneworld or Star Alliance. I’ve had success every time I tried to do this with my United/Star Alliance flights, but it’s not something an airline can guarantee.
Booking Two One-Way Flights
When I book flights, I look for the most optimal way to get to the final destination. For my travel patterns, when I often visit more than one country, that means booking two one-way awards. I check which airline or alliance can get me to my destination and then back home in the most efficient way.
With cash reservations, I compare the price of a round-trip flight to two one-ways. Sometimes booking two one-way flights (with two different airlines) is cheaper than booking a round trip with a single airline. This could be especially true if a low-cost carrier, such as Frontier Airlines or Spirit Airlines, serves your origin and destination airports.
This strategy allows for maximum flexibility, and you can mix and match cash and award tickets on a single trip. Let’s say you’re traveling during a major holiday when it’s hard to find award space. In that case, you can buy a revenue ticket one way and use miles for the return segment.
For example, if I wanted to jet off to Miami for the Fourth of July weekend, I can get there on the Thursday before the holiday for 10,500 American Airlines miles.
However, the return would cost me a wooping 27,000 miles!
That’s almost enough miles for a one-way flight in economy to Europe, so I’ll definitely be looking at other options to get home.
I checked Google Flights and found a one-way flight for just $93 on a nonstop flight home.
Returning from Another Destination and Using Different Programs
Let’s say you’re going to Europe and looking to visit more than one country. You want to start your trip in Germany, continue to Austria and then make your way to France. The most efficient way to get from the United States to Germany is most likely going to be with a Star Alliance member airline, such as United or Lufthansa, or a combination of the two.
If your last stop is Paris, it would make sense to fly back home on a SkyTeam airline, such as Air France or Delta Air Lines, or a combination of these two. If you were trying to book your trip home with a Star Alliance carrier, first, you’ll be hard pressed to find any award space, and second, you’ll be adding unnecessary stops and layovers in one of the Star Alliance hub cities in Europe.
Added Flexibility with One-Way Flights
Many airlines have recently eliminated or reduced change and mileage redeposit fees on award tickets. By booking two one-way flights, you have more flexibility if you need to change just one leg of your itinerary.
Every change to an award booking implies that there’s still award space on the route you want to fly. If I booked a round-trip flight and wanted to make a change to one segment, I’d have to find award space for both the outbound and the inbound tickets. Award space is never guaranteed, so if a change was needed for one leg of my trip, I’d just need to find award space for that segment.
If an airline makes a change to your flight times or moves you from a nonstop flight to a flight with connections, you don’t have to accept those changes.
How much of a change is needed to cancel and get your money or cash back depends on each airline’s rules, but let’s assume the airline moves up your flight by eight hours and instead of leaving at 6 p.m. you now have to leave at 10 a.m. If you planned to get to the airport after work, a 10 a.m. departure isn’t going to work.
If you booked a round-trip award, you’d have to cancel the entire itinerary and look for a new round-trip award ticket. However, if you booked two one-way flights, you’d just have to find award space on the outbound flight.
When Should You Book a Round-Trip?
As previously mentioned, some frequent-flyer programs allow booking round-trip awards only. If the price is right and the flights work for you, then booking a round-trip flight makes sense.
A flight deal is another exception when booking a round trip is the right way to go. You might find an incredible cash fare for a round-trip flight, or, some airlines, such as Delta, might offer great deals on round-trip award redemptions.
For example, Delta has a whole section of its website dedicated to flight deals. I played around with different destinations and was able to find this itinerary from Cleveland to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (PVR), for 36,000 SkyMiles on Delta’s Flight Deals page.
When I tried to price out two one-way flights on the same itinerary, the outbound flight was 31,000 miles, and the return flights were at least 18,000 miles.
In this case, it definitely is more beneficial to book a round-trip award.
Final Thoughts on One-Way Flights
Booking one-way flights or separate positioning flights often makes sense, especially if you don’t live near a major airport. Separate bookings can help save money or points and miles and give you more flexibility.
Be mindful of the connection times and take into account the time you’ll need to go through passport control and security. If you’re checking a bag, allow yourself sufficient time to claim it and recheck it for the next flight.
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Editors Note: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.