An open ticket, sometimes called an open-ended flight ticket, is a plane ticket with a set date of departure but a flexible date of return. It's like a round-trip ticket in which the date of the return flight can be set while you're still on your trip. Not all airlines offer open tickets. To figure out whether there is an open ticket available to your destination, you will need to contact the airlines that provide service to that location and be sure to register your ticket number when you book your airfare.
The main advantage of an open airline ticket is that you are not required to figure out when you will return from your trip ahead of time, so you only have to worry about the departure date. Since the return fare is already paid, this leaves your air travel schedule with enormous flexibility. For example, if you are on a business trip and are not sure when your business will be completed, an open ticket allows you to return immediately when you finish your work.
The downside to open tickets is that you may not be able to return when you want, if all flights are already booked. Having an open ticket is like being on standby, as you are not guaranteed passage on any particular flight, so your return date could vary. Additionally, you don’t have much say in the type of seats you end up with either. If fare type like first class, business class or seats with more accessibility are a big factor for you, you might be out of luck. People who have reserved seats on a specific flight have priority over people holding open tickets, so you may have to check-in early and wait for the first flight that opens up to get on. Furthermore, some open tickets have an expiration date, so you need to be sure to book your air ticket within the validity period to avoid additional hassle.
As an alternative to an open-ended ticket, you can buy a fully refundable return ticket. The downside is that these tickets are significantly more expensive and you may be charged a fee of up to $150 in change fees or for a cancellation. However, some airlines, such as Southwest Airlines, allow you to change flights with no fee. However, you will have to pay the fare difference. So, if the fare has gone up since you made your reservation, you may have to pay more money. Make sure to coordinate with your travel agent to get the best deals.
According to Ed Perkins of the website Smarter Travel, open-ended tickets, while formerly quite common, are now something of a rarity, with few airlines offering them. The only trips that do consistently offer open tickets are round-the-world multistop or multi-city "air passes," not simple round-trip tickets. Perkins recommends buying a one-way ticket for the first leg of the trip and then purchasing another one-way ticket as soon as you know the date on which you wish to return.