For frugal flyers, it’s a golden age for the one-way ticket

Image: Reuters/Edgar Su
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For wander-lusters, the one-way ticket has always held a certain kind of allure. For that romantic open-endedness, travelers have historically been charged a premium, with a one-way itinerary often costing more than round-trip flight, as airlines hoped to to disincentivize the practice.

But a one-way ticket no longer has to come with the markup. A slew of low-cost long-haul carriers have begun offering one-way tickets with no penalty, with many of these flights falling on the transatlantic route. Data from the Airlines Reporting Corporation reported in the New York Times (paywall) shows that the fare premium for one-way tickets dropped to 11% in 2018, down from 44% 2014.

So, how can a one-way ticket itinerary benefit your trip, as well as your bank account? One of the big advantages is the ability to fly into one city and out of another. If you’re visiting Europe, for example, you could fly into London Gatwick on Norwegian Air, take a train or short haul flight to Paris, and then fly home on Primera Air from Charles de Gaulle (CDG) from there. (By way of example, a Google flight search for one way flight from CDG to Newark airport on August 31 shows $180 on Primera air, versus nearly $2,000 on United). By shopping around on the various airlines that offer one way flights on the cheap—in addition to Norwegian and Primera, Level and WOW Air operate transatlantic routes—you can pack more destinations in for less money.

It’s worth noting that while there are low fares to be found, your expectations should be lowered to match them. These low-cost, long-haul airlines offer cheap fares in part because of lower fuel burn due to aircraft type, but also offer bare bones service to match. Some, like Norwegian Air, include entertainment systems, but others, like Primera, do not. If you turn up expecting an old school, full-service flying experience, you definitely aren’t going to get it. These are very much a BYO snacks, blanket, water bottle, and headphone affair. In addition, make sure you pack light, as paying for checked baggage on all those flights will quickly offset your savings.

Another pitfall to watch out for is entering a country without an onward ticket. Rules vary by country—some explicitly prohibit it—but even in destinations where you’re not required to have proof of an onward journey, you could arouse more suspicion from immigration officials without one. Even if it’s just a train ticket, it’s generally a good idea to show up with some documentation of where you’re going next, unless your visa situation allows you to stay in the country indefinitely.

It’s unclear whether these fares will remain as is—the business models of these airlines are strikingly dependent on low fuel prices continuing, which is far from a guarantee—but if you’re looking to go long haul on the cheap and work in a few destinations along the way, now is the moment to do it.