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Simon Calder's Holiday Helpdesk: The logic behind proportionately higher one-way flight costs

Every day our travel guru answers your travel questions

Q Why does it cost 50 per cent more to fly one way from the USA than a return fare? I am going on a cruise that drops off at Fort Lauderdale; I want to explore Florida, and come back from Orlando or Tampa to Gatwick, but the best price flying back in business class is around $7,000 and the return is $5,200. It seems wrong to me.

Fred Lee

A I agree it looks absurd, but the airlines would point out that these are significantly different products. The one-way fare, aimed squarely at business travellers, is flexible - you can switch flights, change airlines, or even demand a full refund. In contrast, the cheapest return flights are heavily restricted, with little opportunity to change flights or get a refund. Across the Atlantic, most airlines adopt the same policy - presumably they don't like the idea of cheaper one-way business-class flights, because some of their high-spending passengers could surrender a little flexibility in return for a lower fare.

Many travellers before you have saved cash by booking a round-trip and throwing away the return half; while technically this breaks the contract, and the airline could in theory seek the fare difference, I have never heard of anyone ever being pursued. The savings are higher for booking business class outbound from Florida/economy class return, which most airlines will allow you to do, and which would reduce the fare to around $3,500. But if you don't mind changing planes along the way, two airlines will sell you a one-way ticket from Orlando - Aer Lingus via Dublin and Icelandair via Reykjavik. Expect to pay around $1,300-$2,000 for the one-way flight. You will get excellent service, but don't anticipate quite the same degree of luxury as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic deliver with their Club World and Upper Class offerings respectively.

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