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I am planning to move to a new country this autumn. (In my case from Switzerland to Singapore) However I am not sure, which is the most cost-saving way of buying my air tickets. I can think of the following alternatives:

  • Buying a one-way ticket. This would obviously be the easiest method, but then in the past I made the experience, that this is more expensive.
  • Buying a return ticket with a flexible return date. I could then use the return ticket for a home-holiday. However that sounds like a organisation nightmare, since then I'd have to do the same for the next return flight etc.
  • Buying a return ticket and then get a refund for the return (Is that even possible?).

I would be interested to hear how other people have tackled this problem.

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This question appears to be off-topic because it is about traveling, and could be better answered at Travel.SE. –  Flimzy Mar 28 at 15:35
    
I was wondering about that, but I don't think this is about traveling, as it is a question specific about long term stay. If I ask the same question at Travel.SE, it'd get closed because it's about long-term stay and immigration. –  drat Mar 28 at 15:49
    
@Flimzy: FYI, I've created meta question regarding that: meta.expatriates.stackexchange.com/questions/183/… –  vartec Mar 28 at 15:49
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@Flimzy: true, however if it's asked here, it's crystal clear that you want to travel one-way. –  vartec Mar 28 at 15:56
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@Flimzy: ok, odd number of legs, vs typical even ;-) –  vartec Mar 28 at 15:58

6 Answers 6

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Last year, I returned from Asia to Europe and had a similar dilemma. What I did, on Excel spreadsheet I had copied prices from airlines websites and compare the prices for return flight and one-way flights. It takes a bit of time, but it's well worth it. One of the airlines charged only 50% for one-way ticket compared to round-trip ticket. That was not the case with other airlines, where the one-way ticket way quite expensive compared with a round-trip ticket. Before I did this calculations, I was assuming to pay round-trip ticket and then forego the return part. In my case, airline that won was Turkish Airlines.

There are some advantages of going to Asia on a one-way ticket. Many plane tickets with the return flight of three-week period are much cheaper than a ticket with a flexible return date (you can also compare such prices looking at airline deals). Three-week period is often what you can get your time off for holidays. Sometimes, you can get better deals from Asia. Also, you're free to spend your vacations / holidays in Asia/Australia, without any worry if your return ticket will loose validity or other things...

On the other hand, with the return flights, sometimes airlines stop flying on a given route and you're kind of stuck with a return flight. Also many times, if you want to re-book tickets, airlines ask you to contact the place from where I bought the ticket - meaning you calling Europe. A bit of a nuisance, if you want to get something done quite quick.

I'd go for the one-way ticket. Going abroad to live and work, opens for you much different perspectives. Explore the area there, spend some time there - it's well worth it. Make Singapore your starting point.

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Are there any websites which list both one way and return ticket fares in the same search results page? –  happybuddha Apr 2 at 23:04

If you're talking long-haul, then round trip is in most cases cheaper than one way, and significantly so (eg. fares I've checked recently would be $1000 round-trip vs $3500 just the first leg of the exactly the same trip with same carrier). Exception from the rule I've stumbled upon was Aer Lingus, which has long-haul flight with one-way cheaper than return tickets. Unless you find option like that, it absolutely makes sense to book return ticket. Even if you don't plan to use return flight, make sure to book it for quite some time after the to flight. Airlines try to detect business trips and overcharge for them, and they usually consider few days trips to be business.

As for getting a refund for unused return leg of the trip, the issue is that in order to be able to do that, your ticket must be bought with (semi-)flexible fare, which cost significantly more than the cheapest one. With cheapest fare you have no option to rebook or get anything for cancelling. Thing is that flexible fare might be more than twice the cheapest one. In which case it makes economical sense to just go for the cheapest, throw away the return and buy another return ticket as needed.

Example same outbound/one-way trip:

round trip one way


Things are different when you're considering short-haul. In that case you have option of using low-cost, and some low-cost don't even have a concept of return ticket, they just sell two one-way tickets.

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Be careful, long-haul one-way flights are not always more expensive, even if this is often the case. It depends on every airline. –  Vince Mar 31 at 6:59
    
this is not what I observe. For most tickets I checked, the one-way trip will still be cheaper than a round-trip. –  drat Apr 1 at 7:53
    
@drat: I was looking at direct flights leaving Europe, going to Australia and US. I imagine that for other routes it might be different. –  vartec Apr 1 at 9:53

It comes down to you. Sometimes a return ticket can even work out cheaper than a one-way ticket. Then depending on how you felt, you could just drop the return ticket. Usually, however, a one way ticket is cheaper than a return, so that should be the easiest option.

I've moved countries several times now, and apart from when I knew I was only going to be in the US for two 3-month stints, so the return ticket was obvious, the other times I've always bought one-way tickets. It's always been cheaper, even if only slightly, and it frees you up - if you have a return ticket, you also don't feel like you're really committing to that other country. Sounds odd, but it's almost a good thing not to have that 'escape' option when you get homesick.

Then once you're settled, trips to see relatives or back at your old home can be done with a return ticket, you don't have to worry about flights expiring, and you have the flexibility to even go somewhere else if this new place doesn't work out (as I've done, lots).

Long version short, one-way tickets are simpler, usually cheaper, and afford you some 'commitment' to your destination.

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Here is what I did during my 7 years as an expat, and I used to go home at least twice a year:

  • For the first time I am leaving home, I bought the cheapest one-way ticket I found, it was a 2 stops ticket. Do not buy a round trip ticket with a return in the far future. This will usually cost more.
  • When I want to go back home, I bought the cheapest round trip ticket, usually I stayed for short periods at home which allowed me to find very cheap tickets.

An exception to above would be if the round trip ticket is cheaper than one-way ticket when leaving home, then get the round trip ticket and throw the return leg ticket as it is usually will be non-refundable. Or if you are planning to stay for short periods and visit home more frequently, then get the round trip ticket starting from home.

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If you decide to book a return ticket and not travel back, check the terms and conditions very, very carefully. If a return ticket costs $1,000 and a single ticket costs $3,500 then it is quite possible that the airline might have a hidden clause somewhere stating that you will be charged for a single ticket if you don't return. Otherwise, who in their right mind would pay the $3,500?

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Many low-costs offer one-way tickets. I know that this option applies mostly inside Europe, but EasyJet operates some Middle East destinations. Other companies that offer cheap one-way tickets are RyanAir, WizzAir, TravelService, ... (While this is not applicable to Europe--Singapore, it's IMHO useful for further reference).

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