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Can I buy a round-trip ticket but only use one leg?

Dear Editors,

I’ve been shopping for a one-way ticket to visit my sister, and I noticed that the one-way is actually higher than round-trip fare. How could this be? If I go ahead and buy a round-trip ticket, can I just use one leg?

Stephanie

 

 


 

Dear Stephanie,

The short answer: no, you can’t use just one leg. The practice is called throwaway ticketing, and it’s actually prohibited by most carriers. When customers do this, most airlines reserve the right to cancel any remaining part of the itinerary or even charge the customer for the remaining value of the ticket. That said, you should always read the fare rules and the Contract of Carriage before you purchase your airfare because rules do vary from airline to airline. (Although, not that much in most cases!)

There are a few things you should understand about this particular policy including why it was put into place. Airlines rely heavily on the business traveler as a way of generating revenue. Because many business travelers began “cheating” the system to essentially get a leisure fare for a business route, airlines implemented the throwaway ticketing policy to make it harder for customers to circumnavigate their very complex revenue management principles. In short, the airlines want to maximize their profits.

In your case, if you were to purchase a round-trip fare with the intention of only using the return portion of the ticket, I’d bet my favorite new dress that you’d get stuck in your destination without a ticket because you were a no-show for the first leg. (Hopefully you can read between the lines.)

Unfortunately, sometimes this policy inadvertently screws over leisure travelers. Take this hypothetical scenario for instance: you are traveling from New York City to Los Angeles for business, and you decide to take a little getaway to Las Vegas on the way back. It happens to be cheaper to buy round-trip flights between NYC-LAS and another round-trip flight on a different airline from LAS-LAX. As luck would have it, your flight from NYC to LAS is delayed causing you to miss the first leg of your LAX flight. Guess what? Your entire itinerary, including your return, will likely be canceled because you’re a no-show, and you may be forced to buy other flights. Don’t count on the airline being nice about it either.

The bottom line is that as a customer, you agree to use tickets as issued when you make the purchase. So read that fine print and understand the rules of your carrier.

Happy Travels,

Jennifer

Find me on Twitter @jenngaines.

Editors’ Note: We’re here to help our fellow travelers, so if you have a travel question of your own, just ask! Each week, we’ll publish a response to our very favorite question from one of our readers. Need travel help now? Peruse Travelocity’s frequently asked questions.

Jennifer

My name: Jennifer Gaines, but my friends call me Gaines, Jenni-Dallas or just plain Jenn.

(Find me on Twitter @jenngaines)

Travel ambitions: It's my mission to visit each of the New 7 Wonders and to step foot on every continent before my next milestone birthday.

Greatest travel lesson learned: Find the local hangouts to experience the real, true culture of a place. During a trip to Europe, my friends and I spent several days with a French family in the small town of Vichy. We had a private party in their family-run creperie, feasting on cheese-stuffed crepes and sampling wine that we picked up in the Bordeaux region a few days earlier. Their English wasn’t much better than my French, which is limited to a few well-known phrases from Moulin Rouge and the question: Parlez-vous anglais? (I'm proud to say that I can spout this question off in several different languages, and luckily most Europeans do indeed speak English!) After a few bottles of wine, the language barrier was hardly noticeable (slurring actually sounds the same in French!), and we managed to swap stories about life in other places. What a slice of local flavor!

My most beloved place in the whole world is: My grandparents place in Texas. It’s a 10-acre oasis in between two sprawling cities: Dallas and Fort Worth. A creek runs through their enormous backyard, where Granddad built a deck over the water. The entire place is shrouded with all types of trees (mainly pecan), blocking the Texas sun in the summer. Dusk is the best time to sit on the deck, drink a glass of ice tea and watch baby raccoons from the spring litter surround their back porch as Gram feeds them bread (no lie!). There will be dozens of raccoons eating on any given night. In the fall, my family gathers in the courtyard in front of their house for an annual “weenie roast.” Granddad lights the bonfire, and we roast dogs and s'mores. Yes, y’all, we’re from Texas!

Favorite way to get around: Well, I’m not much of a driver. I get lost easily and my tires have never come across a curb they didn’t want to get to know a little better. But, I do enjoy cruising around and listening to music. That said, I much rather explore a place by foot (with my iPod in tow) for a more intimate encounter.

View that took my breath away: Coming from Texas (where the view is wide but there’s not much to see), scenes from my new home of San Francisco never fail to amaze me. The city is a pedestrian’s dream, but don’t forget to turn around and look behind you as you meander through its neighborhoods. You won’t realize it, but you’ll be at the tip-top of a hill and the ocean will suddenly seem to be at eye level. Take a drive through the Presidio and over the Golden Gate Bridge where even more stunning views await!

Comments

Gary Leff
Reply

United’s Contract of Carriage does not prohibit throwaway ticketing.

Jennifer Gaines
Reply

It does! See Section C under Ticketing. It states: The purchase and use of round-trip tickets for the purpose of one-way travel, known as “throwaway ticketing” is prohibited by UA. Here’s United’s Contract of Carriage.

Gary Leff
Reply

Indeed, thank you.. that’s a new addition to the CoC, something not there a few months ago! Oh well, not suprising that United would add this clause since in general other domestic carriers had it.

Jennifer Gaines
Reply

Yeah, they pretty much copycat each other! Well, at least the biggies. Virgin America and Southwest don’t have these policies.

Gary B
Reply

Jennifer raises an interesting point. Have you checked specifically http://www.southwest.com? I’m not necessarily one-way or the other on Southwest Airlines, but keep in mind they DON’T sell on websites such as Travelocity or Expedia, and I think they have one-way that may be more attractive. Southwest is not currently a big player at my home airport (our airport is dominated by Delta being it’s a hub) so I’m not completely familiar – just know enough to suggest this option.

Jennifer Gaines
Reply

I would also recommend checking out Virgin America, JetBlue and even AirTran if you have those options at your airport. Like Southwest, they started as point-to-point airlines, so they offer some great one-way fares. Definitely fly Virgin when you can — you’ll have a great experience!

Alice Chanel
Reply

since you can not just use one leg. i am wondering if you can sell the other leg to others who need it? in that way, you can take some money back and benefit others.

Jennifer Gaines
Reply

Unfortunately, Alice, it doesn’t work that way! A round-trip fare can be ticketed under one name only, and that person has to use it or lose it.

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