An in-depth study of airline tickets issued by ARC-accredited travel agencies reveals a significant growth in the number of airline tickets issued for one-way travel, despite the commonly held assumption that roundtrip tickets are a better value.
The report, released by ARC at the Global Business Travel Association conference, shows that the percentage of one-way trips has expanded to 42% of air travel so far in 2017, up a whopping 45% from three years ago.
ARC said it examined data going back more than three years, covering more than 350 million tickets issued. While more complex itineraries were included, ARC said that one-way and roundtrip tickets make up around 95% of all air travel it tracks.
In some major markets, like Newark, Dallas/Fort Worth, the average premium of the one-way option has shrunk to $10 from $125 when looking at each leg of the trip, ARC said. “Historically, the one-way premium could be as much as 50% more versus a roundtrip ticket for a similar journey,” ARC noted. “While some markets still have a premium, there are many markets where the premium is starting to or has already disappeared.
“The long-held belief that it is better to purchase round-trip tickets whenever possible to get the best fares is simply no longer true.”
The surge in one-way ticketing is being driven largely by leisure and unmanaged travelers, customers who have typically booked roundtrip tickets because of the price advantage, especially in booking farther in advance. One-way tickets were more suited to last-minute business travelers, where the difference in price was less of an issue. ARC said that explains why a parallel analysis of travel agencies doing mostly government and managed corporate travel showed the percentage of one-way tickets has remained fairly steady at about 30% of sales.
Of the top 200 markets sold by U.S. travel agents, 59 markets – or 30% – have seen a reduction in the one-way premium by at least 25% since 2014.
But whether it’s for business or leisure, the appeal of one-way tickets is fairly obvious: it gets around some of the restrictions, like Saturday travel requirements, that traditionally restrict the lowest fares to the most price-sensitive travelers (although a lot of these have fallen away in recent years). And it can give clients more schedule flexibility by combining different carriers for their itineraries.
“The number of the markets where the one-way premium is disappearing is big,” ARC said. “This is not a one-time or short-term event. Travelers and travel managers alike should take notice and re-think how they have viewed one-way travel in the past to take advantage of this long-term trend.”