What are the biggest misconceptions between one way flights vs. empty leg flights?
A one way flight is defined as a 1 and 1/2 trip. For example, a one way trip from Teterboro to Miami would be roughly 3 hours (3:00) in flight time, but the aircraft operator will typically charge for a 1 and 1/2 trip. What does this mean? It means the aircraft operator will bill the client for 4.5 hours of flight time (4:30) which is less than a full round trip of 6 hours (6:00) of flight time. In essence, the aircraft operator is discounting the one way flight as opposed to charging a full round trip rate. As a result, the aircraft operator is taking the risk of either selling that specific aircraft back for the reverse routing or a similar route originating from the drop off location of that one way flight.
An empty leg flight is typically defined as a paid repositioning leg or “deadhead.” An empty leg is billed for the actual flight time between city pairs. For example, a one way trip from Teterboro to Miami will be filed for the actual flight time of 3 hours (3:00). The aircraft operator can charge the actual flight time because of 2 reasons: 1) Either the aircraft operator has a paid deadhead between city pairs in which the aircraft has to move and arrive at a destination before a certain date to accommodate another scheduled flight; 2) Or the aircraft operator was able to sell ahead of time a return flight that matches up with a client’s request of the exact reverse routing.
The difference of booking firm one way flights compared to empty leg flights is that the firm one way price covers the aircraft operator’s cost being they will charge a 1 and 1/2 trip. As opposed to an empty leg price which is dependent solely on outside factors besides your flight (i.e. another client scheduled flight or the aircraft operator’s in-house owner’s schedule) both of which are subject to change. Ways that an empty leg flight can change would be another client cancels their flight and no longer has to travel in that direction which you would be heading in the opposite direction or an owner trip where the aircraft operator’s schedule shifts due to their priority to the in-house owner of that managed aircraft. That empty leg price then disappears and no longer exists.
That’s why it is extremely prudent that you book firm one way flights and not gamble so much on empty leg flights. Even though there are typical savings on empty leg flights compared to one way flights, for that minimal price difference, it’s not worth the hassle of the possibility of that empty leg being pulled last minute and having to pay more than a typical one way flight due to limited availability at that time.