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open ticket means

What is an open ticket?

When speaking of an airline ticket, I have heard the term open ticket which has to do with dates not being fixed I believe.

  • What exactly is an open ticket?
  • How do you get an actual flight from one?
  • What are typical restrictions?

2 Answers 2

Open ticket means that the return date is not fixed. The date of the first flight is set (although typically this can be changed for a fee). Assuming that it is an unrestricted ticket that means that you can get a return flight on any date usually up to a year after your outbound flight.

You will need to call the airline to book a specific date once you know when you want to use the ticket. This will, of course, be subject to availability. You can not use it for a flight that is already fully booked. Assuming the flight isn’t full, you could do this at the airport at the last minute.

To buy an open ticket you will usually have to go through the airline or a travel agent (i.e. not a website).

Restrictions vary with price. All open tickets must be used within a specific timeframe (at best 1 year). They are often only available for business class etc. Some have a fixed return date that can be changed for a nominal (or not so nominal) fee (useful if you have a ‘I wont be longer than this’ date but would like the option to return earlier). Ask before you purchase the ticket.

I should add that as these tickets are mostly used by business travelers, they are priced accordingly. They are rarely cheap.

There are two parts to an itinerary: an entry in a reservation manager (a Global Distribution System or GDS such as Sabre or Galileo) which contains all reserved flights and is called a PNR (Passenger Name Record) or locator, and a ticket, which has a set of coupons, each good for travel from one place to another. Typically, there will be one coupon per flight (but there are cases where there are extra coupons, called open jaws, for which no flights are purchased). In the old days, all tickets were paper, but for many years most tickets are electronic. Each flight coupon is for purchased air travel from one airport to another, and in most cases lists the date, departure time, and flight code of the flight.

An open ticket is a ticket where some coupons only list the two airports flown from and to, they do not list a specific time, date, or flight code. On some airlines, open tickets must be paper tickets, not electronic tickets.

Open tickets used to be fairly common in the days when all tickets were paper, all fares were flexible and permitted changes, and more people traveled without fixed dates in mind. However, now that almost all tickets are electronic and most fares are highly restricted, they are rare.

I’ll answer the three specific questions:

What exactly is an open ticket?

An open ticket is a ticket with at least one coupon that does not list a specific flight on a specific date.

How do you get an actual flight from one?

You have the airline or a travel agent make a reservation for the specific flight you want, and in the PNR list the ticket number you have. The corresponding coupon in the ticket is then validated by filling in the reserved flight.

Depending on the airline, it may need to be a paper ticket, which is a big restriction. You have to purchase the ticket using a fare that permits open tickets, which these days may also be a big issue.

Open tickets used to be used for multi-segment trips such as around-the-world fares, as well as simple round-trips on fully-flexible fares.

One case where they were especially useful is when a ticket is purchased but some intended flights are too far in the future to be loaded into the reservation system and hence are not bookable. People could get around this by leaving the last few flights specified only by from airport and to airport. Later, when the desired flights were bookable, they reserved them and used corresponding coupons of the existing ticket. Because of the limitations of open tickets, it’s becoming more common for people who want to achieve the same thing to book their itinerary with flights on dates they have no intention of flying (“dummy dates”). Then, when the real dates are within the booking window (which varies but is commonly around 330-365 days), they change the flights from the dummy dates to the real dates. This avoids ever having an open ticket, but it also reserves seats on flights that aren’t intended to be used, which airlines do not like.

What is an open ticket? When speaking of an airline ticket, I have heard the term open ticket which has to do with dates not being fixed I believe. What exactly is an open ticket?

Can You Book an Open Ticket for Flights?

Have you ever wanted to fly out on a specific day, without knowing exactly when you would return? The good news is that there’s something called an “open ticket,” which allows you to do precisely that. Or at least there used to be. The bad news is that while this ticketing arrangement was common in the days when travel agents booked flights, it has all but disappeared.

If you’re a traveler seeking flexibility, there are some workarounds for booking an open-ended airline ticket. Whether you browse for flights just above or continue reading to learn more, Skyscanner offers tools that can help you in your search for vacation bliss.

What is an Open-Ended Airline Ticket?

In the early days of flying–and well into the 1970s and 1980s after the US government deregulated the airline industry–fewer people regularly flew like they do today. Tickets were much more expensive compared to ticket prices today, but they also tended to be more flexible. One typical arrangement was the so-called “open ticket,” whereby a traveler could depart one day and return at an unspecified point in the future.

Open tickets were favored especially among business travelers, who might leave home on a Monday morning, but unable to return until they struck an important deal. A key reason for their ubiquity was the fact that professional travel agents booked most air travel in the days before the internet, which meant that the complicated work of constructing and pricing out an open ticket itinerary took place behind the scenes.

Does the Open Ticket Still Exist?

If you ride a bus or train in the US or abroad, you will likely be able to purchase an open return ticket, often at a discount when compared to buying a simple one-way. Unfortunately, open tickets are all but unheard of when it comes to flights these days, unless you book with a travel agent or have a special arrangement due to a classification you fall under. Student travelers, for example, can sometimes book open tickets.

There is an upside, however. As is the case in many other areas of life in the internet era, you can hack your way to an open ticket, more or less.

Alternatives to an Open-Ended Airline Ticket

Buy Flexible Fares

The surest way to book what’s essentially an open ticket is to purchase fully flexible fares. Although these are more expensive than normal flights (often, by several hundred or even thousand dollars), they typically allow unlimited date changes and even full refunds right up to departure, without a fee, and are basically today’s equivalent of an open-ended airline ticket. Learn how to search flights for the entire month on Skyscanner to find the cheapest days to fly.

Book One (Way) at a Time

Conventional wisdom states that booking two one-way segments is more expensive than booking a round-trip, but it’s not the case in reality. If you don’t know when you’ll be returning home from your destination, you could simply book your departing flight and then book the return flight as soon as you know when you need to come back. This requires you to roll the dice on price, but it’s usually cheaper than a huge change fee! Read more on booking one way vs round trip flights.

Fly Business or First Class

In many cases, booking the equivalent of an open ticket today requires spending much more than a typical economy class flight. As a result, if you’re going to drop a lot of dough anyway, why not live it up a bit? While it’s important to understand that not all business class and first-class flight tickets are fully flexible, many allow for date changes with no fee (or a small fee compared to economy tickets), so this option is worth looking into.

Use Miles and Points

Another hack to book what’s more or less an open-ended airline ticket? Use miles and points to book your flight! Although many domestic airlines’ frequent flier programs have started charging fees for date changes, these are still usually less than the fee to change a ticket you bought with your card. Additionally, foreign airlines often don’t charge a fee, and many US travel credit cards allow you to transfer points one-for-one to such carriers.

Book RTW Flights or Air Passes

One scenario that might necessitate an open ticket is a trip around the world. And although RTW tickets are not always the best bet, from a cost perspective, they do typically allow for a great deal of flexibility, at least in terms of dates (you usually need to fix destinations at the time of booking an RTW ticket). This also applies to regional “air pass” options popular airline alliances offer, where you can book a certain number of flight segments in a specific country or region for a set price.

No Open Ticket? No Fear—Skyscanner is Here!

Although Skyscanner is one of the world’s top online travel agencies, we don’t have open ticket functionality—at least not officially. But we do have some features that can help you work around this issue:

  • Use Whole Month search to find the cheapest ticket if you have flexible dates. Even if you have to pay a change fee later, this minimizes damage to your bottom line.
  • Skyscanner’s Best Time to Book tool helps you determine the best time to book travel for a certain date, which will let you know how long you can wait to decide on your return date
  • Browse Skyscanner for last-minute flights, assuming you book your departure in advance but wait to book your return until just before you leave. You’ll be surprised what kinds of deals you can find!
  • Book a multi-city ticket if your issue is not the date you want to return, but the fact that you need to fly home from a different airport

Another easy way to leverage Skyscanner for the best flight prices is to download our mobile app. Because there’s nothing more open-ended than finding flight deals while you sit on the bus or get a pedicure!

Conclusion

Does the open-ended airline ticket still exist? Technically no, though there are many ways to work around this. Whether you book individual one-way flights, travel on a flexible ticket (optionally, in first or business class) or use miles and points, you can hack your way to open ticket functionality, usually for a fraction of what you’d have paid in the bygone era (in today’s dollars anyway). Skyscanner also offers a number of money-saving tools, including the simplest one. Search flights below and let your inspiration run wild. 👇

Know when you want to leave on a trip, but not when you want to return? Here's everything you ever wanted to know about open-ended airline tickets.