Why are one way tickets so expensive?
April 21, 2009 5:29 PM   Subscribe

Why are one-way tickets so much more expensive than a round-trip ticket for airline travel?

I'm in a situation where the organization I work for here in Japan will buy my ticket home at the end of my contract. The catch is that it has to be one way (even though I plan on returning to Japan after only visiting home for a couple weeks).

I was looking at the costs today, and the rate for a one-way ticket one month from now (two months from now, and four months from now as well) was about 400,000 yen. Whereas a round-trip ticket was running about 140,000 yen or so.

Why is there such a huge difference?
posted by snwod to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Because it's harder to find someone other than you to fill a return seat.
posted by fire&wings at 5:34 PM on April 21, 2009

Well, the short answer is because that's what they think the market will bear. Their objective isn't for ticket prices to make sense, but to charge as much as they can for every seat on every flight.

So why do they think they can charge more for a one-way ticket than a round-trip? One-way ticket buyers will often be business travelers (company's paying so why do I care what it costs?) or have some other kind of odd situation going on where they've just got to get somewhere and don't know when they are coming back.

So they think that as a class, one-way ticket buyers will be willing to pay more. Same with charging more without a minimum stay (probably means a business traveler) and many other apparently strange pricing policies.

People sometimes have the idea to buy a round-trip ticket and just throw away one of the tickets. This tends to actually be against the terms and conditions. But in your case you would prefer a round-trip ticket. Could you ask the organization if they would be willing to buy you the cheaper round-trip ticket? You'd be saving them money.

If you think they might say "well, if you're only coming back here anyway, we're not buying you any ticket"... could you tell them you're going to do the "throw away one ticket" trick to be nice and save them money, but then actually use the return ticket?
posted by FishBike at 5:39 PM on April 21, 2009

Airline ticket prices are sort of a black magic, controlled by untold algorithms. It really boils down to demand, though. There isn't as much of a market for one-way tickets, since it's usually people who are moving far distances, so the airlines feel they can charge more for these once-in-a-while occurances than the deep discounts they offer for vacationers.

Airline fares have very little to do with how much it actually costs to move you from point to point, as it does trying to eke every last penny out of every seat.
posted by hwyengr at 5:40 PM on April 21, 2009

While traveling domestically, I haven't always found that to be the case. I've bought several one-way tickets from CA to NY/PA (or vice versa) and they are usually about 1/2 of the RT price (sometimes just 100$).

But I'm under the impression that your problem with the one-way ticket price is because you will be paying out of pocket for your return trip to Japan. If this is the case, perhaps you can tell the organization that you're working for that you don't need the ticket that they will be paying for, and just buy the RT for only 140,000¥.
posted by Brachiosaurus at 6:12 PM on April 21, 2009

You might as well buy 2 round trip tickets and visit home again in a year seeing as its already cheaper than one return! (you;d either face the same dilemma again or you could ditch the second return)

Keep in mind I dont think you can really throw away one of the tickets, with many airlines you must throw away the second i.e. return ticket, throwing away the first of the round trip might cause problems. If it matters you probably wont get the miles either if youre not physically on the plane.

I think its usually just a... because they can type of reasoning
posted by nzydarkxj at 7:08 PM on April 21, 2009

I'd like to note that I've moved internationally and "thrown away" the second half of a round-trip ticket because it was cheaper than flying one-way and nothing bad happened to me. I have successfully flown on the same airline again without getting hit in the head with a brick or anything like that. I don't think this would work for the *first* half of a ticket, but not using the return worked out fine for me.

(And yeah, it was a HELL of a lot cheaper to buy a r/t ticket. By about $1000US.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:24 PM on April 22, 2009

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