New rules from American, Delta and United often make it much more expensive to book a multicity trip. Previously the booking tools on the airline websites would display the cheapest available fare for each leg of a journey whether you were booking a simple round-trip or a multicity trip—that is, from City A to City B and then from City B to City C before returning to City A. Now the lowest fares often are not offered for each leg, which can result in massive price increases for the overall multicity trip.
Example: When I recently tried to book a trip on American from Los Angeles to New York to Sarasota, Florida, and then back to LA, the lowest price for an economy-class seat was around $2,200. If American’s booking tool had quoted me that airline’s lowest available fare for each leg, the total would have been less than $600.
What to do: Before booking a multicity ticket, use airline booking tools to search separately for one-way fares on each leg. Buying several one-way tickets separately will often be cheaper than booking the entire trip as a single unit. That reflects the fact that in recent years, the major airlines have dramatically reduced the cost of many one-way tickets to compete with the low one-way fares offered by discount airlines. Buying separate one-way tickets also lets you travel on multiple airlines, increasing your savings if different carriers have the lowest fares on different legs.
Alternatively, you could book multicity itineraries through a third-party travel website such as Kayak.com, which does a good job of combining one-way trips to complete an itinerary. But if you use a third-party site, also check Southwest.com—Southwest Airlines does not offer its flights through any third-party sites.
Helpful: Sometimes it’s possible to save money by searching for one-way fares before booking simple round-trip tickets, too. The lowest round-trip fare for a weekend trip from San Antonio to Chicago recently was $400…but one-way tickets were available on two different airlines for $109 apiece.