Not all airline tickets are created equal and oftentimes, understanding the policies and restrictions of a standard ticket can be confusing. Yet, the open-ended ticket has some unique benefits, as long as the savvy traveler understands exactly what he or she is purchasing. While some may shy away from this option because the ticket can cost more than one with a standard/fixed date of return, the competition within the travel industry is great, so do not be afraid to explore the potential options with different airlines as the freedom to return when one feels ready can take wanderlust to the next level.
Here are the basics, keeping in mind that as the consumer, you have the right to ask as many detailed questions as needed to understand the specifics of any open-ended flight.
Step 1 – Keep it live
Not all airlines offer open-ended options, so take the time to call the specific carrier you are interested in and speak to a live representative.
Step 2 – The devil is in the details
Make sure to understand the exact timetable governing the return flight. Ask the customer service representative for details and ask to have them emailed to you or to be directed to a place on their website where you can refer to them in writing. A screen shot of any policies or limitations is a good idea just in case questions arise after the ticket is purchased. Time restrictions vary greatly so makes sure you are absolutely clear, as this is the single most important detail.
Step 3 – Think creatively
Shop around and think creatively, as this is a service and as such, prices vary based on many factors including time of year, and often overlooked opportunities based on credit cards you might already have or professional memberships and associations of which you are affiliated. Have an open mind. A fiscally creative alternative may be to “guesstimate” the return date and purchase a standard ticket. Despite change fees, if you are willing to be relentless with your line of questioning, you may find that this ends up being hundreds of dollars cheaper.
Step 4 – Understand visa and passport restrictions
The rules governing visas and passports are a fluid construct and can change without notice. Some countries require that you have a return or open-ended ticket purchased before you enter the country on a visitor’s visa, and places limitations on the length of your stay. Even with proof of an open-ended ticket, this is something almost all countries impose. A good rule of thumb when planning your itinerary is the three-month rule. After that you may need to apply in-country for a longer stay or simply return home.
Always stay in close contact with the airline with which you purchased the open-ended ticket. Especially prior to arriving at the airport to return home. An open-ended ticket does not always guarantee you a seat on the return flight of your choice so do not be reluctant to ask very specific questions when speaking to a representative regarding a the date you wish to return. Get everything you can in writing and most importantly, once you book your return get a confirmation email.