Book multi-city itineraries as one-ways and save

If you're booking a multi-city trip by air, you should really price it out as a series of one-way flights, rather than as a single ticket. As Mike Masnick discovered, the arcane airline ticketing rules require ticketing agencies to stick random, high-priced business-class tickets into multi-hop itineraries, which can double the cost of your trip. The ticketing websites -- Expedia, Travelocity, Hipmunk, Kayak, and Orbitz -- all either failed to show this information, produced suboptimal itineraries with unnecessary overnight layovers, or obscured the best flights in some other important way. Masnick got a spokesperson for Hipmunk to explain it all:

After going through all of this, I reached out to folks at Hipmunk, to see if they could explain the result. Hipmunk's Adam Goldstein kindly explained the basic situation, noting that airlines have all sorts of rules about what tickets can be combined with others. If you've never dealt with the insane details of fare classes (which go way beyond seating classes), you can spend way too much time online reading the crazy details. Given that, it seems that it is these kinds of "fare classes" that are the "culprit" -- and by "culprit" I mean the way in which the airlines force you into spending much, much, much more than you need to.

That said, Goldstein also argues that there are downsides to buying individual flights. He brings up, as we discussed above, the issue of connecting flights (and also having bags checked all the way through to destination) -- but as noted, that doesn't apply in this situation. He also points out that if you have to "change or cancel your whole trip, you have to pay separate change/cancel fees for each booking, instead of one for the whole thing." That's absolutely true, but is that "insurance" worth paying twice as much? I could rebook my entire trip with different times and dates... and basically pay the same total amount. So... that argument doesn't make much sense.

In the end, it really feels like a scammy way of making fliers pay a lot more than they need to, without them realizing it. What I do know, however, is that if you're looking for the best deals, do not assume that a multi-city search will turn up the cheapest prices -- and also recognize that the different search engines can give out extremely different answers. For example, if price was the only concern, and short flight times/non-stop flights were less important, then obviously that British Airways option at the end is by far the best price -- but it turns up on none of the other search engines. However, I'd imagine that most casual fliers have no idea, and I wonder if many people end up booking multi-city flight options, not realizing that they could save a ton by booking the exact same flights individually.

Flight Search Engines And The Multi-City Ripoff



  1. Also, search for flights in incognito/private mode so that airlines can’t adjust prices based on their assumptions about your history and urgency. 

  2. Oooh, very interesting stuff! As a personal experiment, I went to and priced a flight similar to the one I’m already taking from Halifax to Vancouver. The multi-city function priced it at $407 one way with a layover in Toronto. Booking the flights separately through Toronto came to $205 + $321 = $526. I also checked flights with Calgary connections but they were no cheaper. So at least in this instance I didn’t miss out!

    I remember a time I booked a weekend trip to Toronto with Porter but due to weather delays, I got out a day late. I called their customer service and argued that my short trip was now hardly worth the travel, so they rescheduled me for a Monday flight home at no charge. I’m sure if I’d booked one flight with AC and the other with Porter, I would not have gotten any sympathy from either of them.

  3. Any time I’ve done a multi-city itinerary search, the prices were clearly outrageous compared to regular single-route tickets. I did this once to make a round-the-world trip out of a research trip to Asia, stopping in London for a couple of days instead of going back the way I went (over the Pacific), and when I looked for a multi-city ticket from Bangkok to London to NYC it came up as several times as much as what I ended up paying (utilizing three different airlines), not merely twice as much. For an already-expensive trip like that… it’s something you notice.

    I suppose if you fly infrequently enough to not be familiar with what regular tickets cost (and this describes most people) it would be easy to assume that a multi-city booking would be cheapest, though, and for most of those people it will probably be relatively inexpensive domestic flights where it might not be obviously outrageous. I am not sure how many people like that book multi-city trips, though; I feel like infrequent and inexperienced fliers are far more likely to be making relatively simple trips.

  4. Airline pricing strategies are obviously game playing, but I’d hardly call it “scammy”,  Any business with a large fixed cost faces the challenge of trying to extract *some* sales from the items that didn’t sell at a higher price, without cannibalizing the sales that actually keep the company alive.

    To do that, companies typically make it difficult to get the lowest prices, either by hiding them, adding conditions (typically limited time sales).  The catch is that if they removed those conditions, they couldn’t offer that price to *anyone* (and still stay in business).

    It’s a bit like calling any store that holds a sale a scam.  Obviously they *can* price it at that level, so there’s no excuse for them to *ever* make it hard for the consumer to get that price.  The logic doesn’t hold, and criticizing them for it is tantamount to objecting they every offered it at the lower price.

  5. I pity the fools who have to fly on a regular basis. Flying has become the DMV of the new century.

  6. Ticketing agent? I buy tickets directly from the airline’s website, unless they just don’t fly to my destination. I *usually* get best prices that way, plus I get the convenience of choosing my seat immediately and not having to go through a third party when plans change.

  7. This trick only works when you’re flying routes that have reasonably priced one-way fares available.  If you’re flying routes that are served exclusively by legacy carriers (United, AA, Delta in the US), the one-way fare can actually cost significantly more than certain kinds of multi-city itineraries.

  8. Yeah, I always try everything before buying- one-ways, multi-city, round trip to international destinations with both one-way and round trip domestic flights, and when you calculate how much a one-way international is, it’s always been lots more dollars than a multi-city.  I think the one-ways only work on flights within the same country.  

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