The dreaded question from airline check-in personnel.
You arrive at the airport, armed with bags, passport and your one-way ticket, ready for a big adventure exploring your next new destination. And this question pops up at check-in. Most round the world travelers and digital nomads have faced this question at one time or another, and if you aren’t prepared for it, it can ruin your trip before it even gets started.
People are denied entry into countries all the time. Visa problems, not meeting certain financial requirements, or previous criminal activity are just a few of the reasons. So is a suspicion that a traveler is planning to move permanently to the new place without the necessary approvals.
When a person is denied entry at immigration, it becomes the airline’s responsibility to return their passenger to their previous destination. For this reason, while the rules regarding entry are set up by a country’s government, in most cases the airlines are the ones that are checking and policing the policy.
If you travel on a round trip ticket, as most people do, that ticket is essentially your proof that you are planning on leaving the country you are visiting. A one way ticket, however, will often prompt the airline worker to ask for your proof of onward travel before you even get on the plane. And if you don’t have it, they can refuse to let you board the flight.
So, what are your options for proof of onward travel if you have a one-way ticket into another country? Buy a cheap throwaway ticket Low-cost airlines can offer fares so low that can be worth it to purchase a ticket that you don’t plan on ever using. Budget airlines are notorious for charging you for every add-on: You have luggage? That’ll be extra. You want a seat assignment? Extra! But if you’re only using the ticket for proof of onward travel you don’t need any of these extras and you can score a deal. Use a service like Onward Ticket Visa that can provide you with legitimate and confirmed onward ticket from their website or app. The onward ticket has PNR – booking reference – with your name, and the ticket is good for 48 hours. One nice feature of this service is that they advertise that you will receive your ticket within two minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They charge $9 .00 for each ticket.
Mock up a fake ticket. First of all, we are NOT recommending that anyone attempt to defraud an airline or immigration service. That said, our research has shown that a lot of travelers use variations of this method. Some people we talked to use an old ticket, and change the dates and departure using Photoshop.
Others have faked an email from a travel agent, mocking up an itinerary. Travel blogger Wandering Earl even provides a how-to article on mocking up a ticket on his blog.
In preparation for this article, we reached out to a number of travel communities to see if anyone had actually been caught with a fake ticket, and couldn’t find a single person who had. So, the risk seems low, but I’m not sure this option is worth it.
Also, keep in mind that particularly suspicious airline personnel can look up your reservation number and flight on their own system while you wait.
Purchasing a round trip ticket pricing is a very strange beast. Rarely is a round trip ticket twice the cost of a one-way ticket. We’ve even seen one way fares that are basically the same as the round trip. So, if you can find a cheap return fare (look for terrible/unpopular flight times or multiple stops on the return and you’ll probably get a deal). It might be worth it to purchase it since you’re not planning on using anyway.
Plan ahead and buy a real ticket
Of course, this is what most airlines and governments expect – full-time travelers or digital nomads aren’t the norm, and they expect vacationers and business travelers to always book a round trip or onward ticket. If you’re planning a couple of months in advance, you can already know your next destination and book a real ticket, that you’re planning on using.
We have our next destination planned about half of the time, and it certainly makes things easier. Just make sure to have a hard copy or a pdf of your ticket on your phone available if asked.
Shell out for a fully refundable ticket A full fair ticket is usually refundable, though you might want to check the fine print on the specific airline you’re doing this with to be sure you don’t get stuck paying some nonrefundable tax or fee. It also might take time to get the money back, so if you’re short on cash it might not be an option.
In the U.S., the Dept. of Transportation requires all carriers for flights booked in the USA to be canceled within 24 hours. Most airlines offer this cancellation as an option, with the exception of American Airlines, which instead allows you to “hold” a reservation for 24 hours without a purchase.
Make sure to read the fine print when using this option. It doesn’t apply to tickets not purchased in the USA, and the terms may be different if the actual flight is on a partner airline rather than the airline site you are booking on.
What’s the best option? That’s really up to you, and your level of comfort with risk. After trying many of these over the years, and looking into the options further for this post, I think some of the services that allow you to “rent” a ticket are our best bet. Ten bucks is a small price to pay to not worry, and to not have to do battle with the airlines trying to get your money refunded.