Can I skip my outward or return flight?

Airport view on aircraft

There are several reasons why you might want to skip a segment of the flight you booked. For example, tickets for a round trip usually are way cheaper than one-way tickets. So you could save big money if you book a return ticket but only use it for your outward flight.

Sometimes, you get better deals if you check for flights departing in other cities or countries. Maybe you found a great fare for a trip to New York. But it includes a feeder flight from a city far away from where you would really want to depart from.

In such situations one might come up with the idea of skipping one or more some segments of the booked flight. Why travel to another country, if the actual flight to your desired destination departs from an airport nearby? Book the cheap ticket and just use the segments you really need.

This might sound compelling but isn’t always a good plan. Many airlines prohibit the partial use of tickets. If you change your travel itinerary, the airlines will most likely recalculate the ticket price. And this could be terrible news for you. There was a reason why you decided to book the unconvenient routing in the first place. Probably because of the low price. And a recalculated fare or a new ticket will ruin those savings. Not unlikely that you’ll end up paying more than you would have if you booked your ideal routing right from the start.

Here’s an excerpt from British Airways ‘Conditions of Carriage’:

3c2) Subject to the provisions of this clause, your ticket is no longer valid if you do not use all the coupons in the sequence provided in the ticket. Where you change your travel without our agreement, we will recalculate your fare according to your altered routing.[…]

Why is this a problem for airlines?

One-way flights are often way more expensive than return flights. Airlines are aware of the fact that especially business travelers who only need to get to one place and not necessarily back again are willing to pay extra to do so. Ordinary tourists will always need a return flight for their vacation trips. So you’ll typically get the return package for the competitive price.

Also, the fact that direct long-haul flights are often more expensive than the same flight that’s preceded by a feeder flight makes sense, in a way. Airlines are trying to lure passengers away from each other and therefore make cheap offers for trips from other countries. British Airways might make an afford to get Lufthansa customers by offering great fares from Germany to the US via London. Lufthansa could do the same thing by flying to South Africa from Amsterdam via Frankfurt, to get KLM customers. And sometime Airlines just want to be present in another country and become the carrier that people notice most.

Flight Deal from CPH to JFK
A flight from Copenhagen to New York via Brussels for 224€ instead of 550€ for the direct connection from Brussels.

To prevent passengers from taking advantage of this system – by skipping the flight from Copenhagen and get on board the long-haul flight in Brussels, for example – airlines particularly point out that the price will be recalculated if your trip is not completed in the sequence provided in the ticket.

How do airlines really react if someone skips a flight?

Until now we covered, in theory, what could happen if you skipped a segment of your flight. But is this how airline react if you decided not to get on one of the flights of your booked itinerary? Will they charge you for the recalculated difference or not?

Skipping the outbound or feeder flight

The general rule is: if you skip the first or a middle segment of the flight, all the other segments will be canceled. So, if you choose not to get on the first outbound flight, the airline will most likely refuse to let you on board of your next flight.

Even if the airline would be obliged to keep its part of the transportation contract – and therefore fly you to where ever your ticket says – it has been settled in various lawsuits that the airlines can recalculate the price.

Skipping for return flight or the last segment

It will get you into serious trouble if you tried to skip the first segments of your flight. But this may not apply to your return flight or the feeder flight on your way back. In theory, the airlines could recalculate the price, no matter which flight you skip. Yet, since there is nothing left for the airline to cancel and you’re not using the ticket for anyways, they usually won’t bother going after you.

Because it’s always better being safe than sorry, you can take some precautions. If you book a flight from Copenhagen via Brussels to New York and you’re planning on skipping the last flight back from Brussels to Copenhagen, you should try to book the last segment on the day after you arrived in Brussels. That way it will be hard for the airline to prove that you never intended to get on the last flight of your trip.

Needless to say that you shouldn’t try to get back any fees or taxes for the flight you didn’t take. This will never work in your favor;)

Low-cost carriers as an alternative

Many so-called low-cost airlines (e.g., Ryanair, Easyjet,…) only offer one-way tickets. If you want a return trip, you have to combine two or more one-way fares to one round-trip. If you skip one of those flights, it will have absolutely no effect on all the other trips you booked.

What will happen with my luggage if I skip a flight?

Getting our bags checked through to your final destination usually is a very convenient thing. But if you’re planning on skipping the last flight you don’t want this to happen.

Preventing the airline from checking your luggage through can be challenging. You should definitely be prepared for being asked questions by the staff at the check-in desk. And have a right answer or excuse (‘My stopover is so long, and I really need XYZ from my bag if I have to wait for so many hours’ often does the trick). Sometimes you’ll be told that it is not possible to get your bags during a stopover. This is not true. Yet, even complaining to a supervisor is no guarantee that you’ll see your bag on the luggage belt in your self-chosen final destination.

The two safest options would be:

  1. Just don’t check in any bags but travel with hand luggage only. No need to as anybody to make exceptions.
  2. Schedule for the last segment for the next day. This way you can be sure that your luggage won’t be checked through. In many cases booked a stopover with a duration less than 24 hours is possible for a reasonable surcharge.
Flight from CPH to JFK with layover
The same flight as seen above but with the last segment changed to a day after arrival in Brussels

To book your last connection flight on the day after you arrived, you’ll need to use the ‘Multi-City’ option that most travel search engines (e.g., Kayak, Momondo, …) offer.

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