There are a few types of plane tickets that you can buy, including one-way tickets, round-trip tickets, and multi-city tickets.
Today, we will look at round-trip plane tickets and how they work. So what is a round-trip plane ticket?
Here is Merriam Webster’s definition of a round trip ticket:
a ticket that allows a person to travel to one place and then return back to the place he or she left
So with a round trip plane ticket, your flight from one airport to another then back to the starting airport is included for one price. Round trip plane tickets are most common with leisure travelers going on vacation for a set period of time.
For example, suppose you and your family are flying from Seattle to Denver for a week-long trip. You can buy a round-trip ticket for each person, covering the flight from Seattle to Denver at the beginning of your vacation and the flight home from Denver to Seattle at the end of the week.
This article explains how paying for a round trip ticket works, whether or not you can fly two different airlines, and if it is cheaper to book a round trip ticket or book your return flight separately. We also explain if you can buy a round trip ticket and only use one way.
Do you Only Pay Once for a Round Trip?
You only pay once for a round trip ticket, which is valid to take you to your destination and back to the airport you started at.
When you buy a round-trip ticket, you will see one price that includes your cost for both travel directions plus your taxes and fees.
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Can you Fly Two Different Airlines?
If you want to fly two different airlines on your trip, you need to book a one-way ticket with each airline separately. You cannot book a round-trip ticket if you want to fly one airline to your destination and a different airline home.
However, sometimes your round trip ticket will have flights from two different airlines. Even though you bought your ticket from one airline, that airline might book you on a flight with a different airline within their alliance.
For example, United Airlines and Air Canada are in the same airline carrier alliance, so sometimes, if you book a flight with United Airlines, you may end up on an Air Canada flight. An airline will book you on a flight with another carrier if they do not have a flight to where you want to go on the dates or times you are looking at.
Having one airline book you on a flight with another airline does not affect your round trip ticket, and it will not affect your cost. These situations are most common when you have a layover. And even though you have a layover and are flying on two different airlines, you still only need to book one round trip ticket and only pay for that ticket.
For example, say you are flying from Chicago to Vancouver with a layover in Toronto. It is possible that one of your flights will be with United and the other one will be with Air Canada.
The reason is that Air Canada has more flights in Canada compared to United. So, even though you are booking with United, they will put you on a flight with Air Canada because they have better flight availability to where you are trying to go.
Is it Cheaper to Book a Round Trip or a Return Flight Separately?
It is always cheaper to fly on a round-trip ticket if you are flying on the same airline. But, sometimes it is cheaper to fly on two one-way tickets if you are flying different airlines.
You might find a cheap one-way ticket to your destination on one airline, then find another cheap one-way flight home on a different airline. Since you can’t book a round trip ticket on separate airlines, you would have to book one-way tickets on two airlines for the best price.
Suppose you want to fly from Chicago to New York City and back, but all the round-trip ticket prices you see seem high. You can search for one-way tickets in each direction and see if two of those would be cheaper.
For example, every airline might have high round trip prices, but you find that United has good prices for your departing flight to NYC. Then, you can search for your one-way ticket home and see if another airline has lower prices for that flight.
If you find that Delta or American has a cheaper one-way flight home, and the sum of the two one-way flights is cheaper than the round trip ticket, you should book with this method.
When flying on domestic flights with the same airline, a round-trip ticket will usually be the same price as two one-way tickets. But, if you are flying internationally, a round-trip ticket is usually cheaper than flying with two one-way tickets.
One of the best ways to compare round-trip and one-way ticket prices and flights on different airlines is through Google Flights. We have an entire guide on how to use Google flights here.
Can you Buy a Round-Trip Ticket and Only use One-Way?
You can buy a round-trip ticket and only use one way, but only if the one way you are going to use is the first leg of your flight.
For example, say you have a round trip ticket from New York City to Miami and back. You can fly to Miami from New York City but skip your trip home from Miami to NYC. While airlines do not like it when customers do this, it makes sense if your plans change and the cost to reschedule your flight home is more expensive than simply buying a different flight or if the round-trip ticket is cheaper than the one way.
However, if you fly with an airline often, make sure you do not do this a lot because they will notice and may take away your flying privileges since this is frowned upon and costs them money.
On the other hand, if you are going to fly on a round trip ticket and miss your first flight, the airline will often cancel your return flight since you did not get on the first flight.
So if you are going to buy a round trip ticket and only use one way, make sure the way you are using is the first leg of the flight and not the second one; otherwise, you risk your entire ticket getting canceled.
If you want to learn more about missing a flight, check out our article that answers common questions about missing flights, including if you skip your flight on purpose.