Twenty years ago (20!), I learned of a strategy to find cheaper fares for many trips.
It was 1991, just a year or two before I could book my own fares on the internet. I wanted to fly this itinerary: Monterey to Los Angeles, Orange County to Las Vegas, Las Vegas to Monterey. I was not sure this itinerary was feasible or economical.
I used a decent travel agent at the time who was patient and tolerant enough to let me experiment and test the computer boundaries and limits. For this trip, she said it would have to be one-way fares but not all routes had competitive one-way fares. Luckily, these routes did. The second issue was that no carrier operated all of these routes. She had to use different airlines–different ticketing computers, different reservations. At that time it was more complicated.
She said that it was very unusual for anyone to want to fly this type of itinerary. Nearly all of the airline tickets she booked were roundtrip flights with a small percentage of one-way flights.
This was a huge paradigm shift for me.
My thinking that day changed, wondering why most people fly simple round trips and do not take these type of trips.
Today, it is easy to create complicated itineraries but I am still surprised that more people do not take advantage.
What Are Multi-City Flights?
Most trips fly from one airport to another and back. It is just a typical round trip (or return) flight.
A multi-city flight uses three or more airports.
An open jaw flight is one example. Instead of flying between the US and London, an open jaw itinerary will fly into London and back from Rome (or Dublin, Paris, Madrid, or any other airport). I have set up open jaws in the USA, such as into Los Angeles (or Long Beach) and back from San Francisco (or Oakland), to Detroit and back from Minneapolis, and others.
Split tickets are another example. I could book separate round trip flights, such as DC to Los Angeles and Los Angeles to Honolulu. With multi-city flights I could fly DC to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Honolulu, Honolulu to San Francisco, and San Francisco to DC. Some would call this a circle trip.
A series of one-way flights is another example. A few months ago, I flew into Key West and returned from Miami. With these one-way flights plus the one-way car rental between Key West and Miami, I saved hundreds of dollars compared to flying round trip into either Key West or Miami (and renting/returning a car to the same location).
For another Spring Break trip, my family flew from Dulles to Long Beach and back from Los Angeles to DC National (four airports and two different airlines). Another trip we flew from Baltimore to Seattle and back from Calgary to Dulles.
Why Use Multi-City Flights?
In some of the above examples, I show how to save money. It often costs less to use different airports compared to flying a standard round trip.
You can visit more places for the same (or less) money than a standard round-trip, such as with a split ticket itinerary.
You can save time, as with the Key West and open jaw examples. Instead of doubling back to the arrival airport to return home, I can create trips where I spend more time seeing new destinations.
How to Book Multi-City Flights?
OK, you savvy travel consumers have either already played with the multi-city feature or at least seen it.
Every booking engine–whether you use Expedia, Kayak, Orbitz, Travelocity, ITA Software, Vayama, or any other–has an option for searching for Multi-city flights (along with One-way and the default Round-trip options).
When you are doing a flight search, click the Multi-city option and enter the desired airports.
For example, using Kayak, I can click Multi-city, type Long Beach for From, Miami for To (for the first flight), Orlando and New Orleans for the second flight, and Kansas City to Long Beach for the third–and appropriate dates for each. I can select the Nearby Airports for any or all; maybe I only want to fly from Long Beach on the first flight but am willing to return to Los Angeles or Long Beach.
Add this travel strategy to your tool box and find cheaper flights in the future.
Have you used multi-city flights? Do you think you might try them in the future? Let me know by leaving a comment.
Charles McCool is an independent consumer travel advocate.
© 2011, Charles McCool