Before you book flights, it's important to note the kind of flight you wish to book; open-ended flights (otherwise known as “open jaw” flights) can be a good option for those who are more last minute in their travel plans and prefer loose travel dates. An open-ended airline ticket allows you to control your travel schedule since this type of flight ticket does not have a set date for the return flight; but such freedom comes at a price. Not all airlines offer this type of flexible ticket, and the ones that do tend to charge more for the service.Still, people who want to linger longer on vacation or extend their stay for work can buy an open-ended ticket. Some airlines require you to purchase a round-trip ticket instead of a one-way ticket but allow you to reschedule or postpone your departure date. Be sure to read the fine print on the airline’s website, though, as airlines often charge a change fee and you don’t want to be blindsided at the time of check in.
This article will give you helpf travel tips on how to book open-ended plane tickets.
Enter the Flexible Fare
Some airlines allow you to purchase an open-ended ticket as long as the return flight is redeemed within one year from your departure. A few airlines allow only a seven-day window for adjustments. Flying internationally with an open-ended ticket is difficult because of tighter airline security. Some airlines charge large fees for the convenience of an international open-ended flight, so this type of flight is better for domestic flights rather than international flights.
Most airlines will happily sell you the same seat, whether it's in coach class or first-class/business class, at multiple price points. Each different fare class comes with its own set of perks. Buy the cheapest seat, and you'll have to pay hefty change fees for rebooking your flight. Buy the same seat at the full fare or highest price point, and you might earn extra frequent flier miles, be in line for free upgrades, skip change fees entirely, or even get your money refunded if you change your mind about traveling.
So while you do have to choose a return date when you book that pricey full fare ticket, you can just rebook it if your plans change. Look for keywords like "flexible," "unrestricted" or "fully refundable" as clues that you're looking at a ticket that can be easily changed. Make sure to read the fine print, because each carrier's terminology differs somewhat, and some of them are very good at still sneaking in hidden rebooking fees or limiting the time period in which you can rebook your flight. If flying back on an open-ended flight, you could get bumped multiple times. Prepare to wait and demonstrate patience.
Often, corporations that require a lot of travel will strike a deal with airlines for discounted flexible fares. Unless you're the one writing the corporate checks, this works out to a flexible, open-ended fare for you without any of the accompanying pain in your wallet.
The Gift Card Workaround
If you want to gift an open-ended ticket to someone else, try this clever workaround: Buy them a one-way fare for the outbound trip; then give them gift cards for booking a return flight at their convenience. Some airlines sell gift cards or gift certificates directly, while others will accept prepaid gift cards with the Visa or Mastercard logo. Obviously, this works best if they'll book the return trip early enough to get an inexpensive seat; otherwise, they might end up paying full fare prices anyway. This also puts the other person in control of – and makes them accountable for – any extra fees they incur on the return trip, such as checking a bag if their souvenirs wouldn't fit in a carry-on.
Here's another idea if you or whoever you're buying the ticket for will be booking the return date well in advance: if you're on a tight budget and a cheap seat plus the airline's change fee cost significantly less than a full-fare flexible ticket, it might be worth taking the calculated risk of buying a cheap seat and rebooking it later if need be. Be sure to look at the fare type and don’t select a non-transferable ticket.
Special Options for Students and Teachers
The last bastion of the open-ended fare structure is a multi-destination travel pass, such as through a travel club like STA Travel, which caters to students and teachers. If you qualify, you could get a great deal on flexible passes to travel around the world or internationally – but as always, pay close attention to the restrictions in the fine print. You may be allowed only a certain number of fare changes, or you may need to redeem them within a set period of time; and if you end up in a more expensive seat than the one you originally booked, you'll usually pay the difference in price.
You can purchase a standard round-trip ticket, change the return flight and pay the change fee. Airlines like Southwest do not charge change fees. Just be sure to read the fine print so you know whether there are restrictions on how you can use your ticket.
When you book your flight, if you do decide to get a traditional reservation and change it later, be sure you get a ticket that can be changed -- not a "non-transferable" ticket.
Finding an international open-ended flight is much more difficult than booking a domestic one, and different airlines have different rules when it comes to open-ended tickets.
When trying to book a last minute ticket (departure or return), it may be difficult to find the cheapest flights available for when you want to go. If you really want to save money on your flight booking, it is wise to plan a trip far ahead of time and explore the best prices.
If you are a frequent flyer traveling to multi-city domestic locations, open-ended flights are a real benefit. Business Travel Agent applications offer flexible fare rates that let you make changes to the date and time of your flight before departure.
For example, during one recent business trip I originally booked a return flight with a multi-city flight involving a layover halfway. Rather than risk a flight delay, I changed the flight through the flexible fare feature through my company’s travel application after I learned the business meetings ended in the early afternoon.