Lonely Planet Writer

Top US airlines jack up flight costs: here’s how to still get the best prices

Three of the largest American airlines have quietly changed how they price their multi-city trips, forcing some travellers to pay hundreds of dollars extra.

American Airlines has re-entered the New Zealand market on the Auckland-Los Angeles route by slashing fare prices this week
The cost of a multi-city trip could cost seven times more with some airlines. Image by American Airlines

Savvy travellers have long known multi-city tickets to offer the cheapest rates. But, following policy changes by American, Delta and United, booking a multi-city trip could now cost up to seven times more, according to some reports.

The changes aim to stop travellers from using the multi-city trip tool to find cheaper deals on single ticket flights with connections. Many travellers had figured out that booking two individual flights on a multi-city ticket often resulted in big dollar savings.

Previously, a single ticket flight from New Orleans to Los Angeles with a connection in Dallas could cost $289. But booking the same journey on a multi-city ticket could cost just $79 for the first flight and $94 for the second, a saving of $166.

Delta's regional concourse at JFK
Delta’s regional concourse at JFK Image by DearEdward

To put a stop to this practice, the airlines are preventing travellers from combining individual non-refundable tickets. Their websites now only allow fully refundable tickets to be book when combining one-way trips, often at a cost several times higher than non-refundable tickets.

But you can still beat the system. To get the best price, travellers need to book multiple single tickets. Booking several one-way tickets for a multi-city trip can save hundreds of dollars.

To fly from Orlando to NYC with a stopover in Detroit, most people would book one single flight for the whole journey. According to AP, Delta offered this trip at a whopping $2,174.70. But booked as three separate flights and the charge was a mere $282.30.

“They’re making you overpay,” Brett Snyder, CEO of air travel assistance company Cranky Concierge, tells AP. “Airlines for years have made it clear that when you book a roundtrip it would be cheaper or the same price as a one way. Now they are flipping that, penalizing you and not even telling you.”

The airlines insist they’re not acting shady. Both United and American have claimed the changes are to prevent fliers from booking fares lower than the airlines intended and which don’t reflect market conditions.

However, the Business Travel Coalition has accused the airlines of illegally coordinating on this “complicated and comprehensive scheme”, and have requested an investigated by the Department of Justice.