Last updated: 04:46 PM ET, Wed December 02 2015

Why Gifting An Open-Ended Airline Ticket Could Be A Huge Mistake

Airlines & Airports | Rich Thomaselli | December 02, 2015

Why Gifting An Open-Ended Airline Ticket Could Be A Huge Mistake

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa … they all conjure up wonderful gift-giving fantasies, such as the proverbial car in the driveway with the big red bow, or the big-screen television for the man cave.

Airline tickets were once that way. It used to be a grand holiday gift gesture – buying someone an open-ended airline ticket so they could travel to anywhere in the world at anytime.

That has now gone the way of free checked bags and plenty of seat space, so if you’re thinking about it for Christimas, re-think that idea.

While some airlines still have a version of the open-ended ticket, it doesn’t make a lot of sense financially.

“The thing with open-ended tickets is, it’s always going to be the most expensive ticket on the flight,” Chris Robinson, an assistant team leader at Liberty Travel in New York City, told “Even if you’re buying an economy ticket, you’re buying the most expensive economy ticket. With the open-ended ticket the airlines more or less reserve a spot for you in case you go. The problem with that is, they charge you the highest amount for that courtesy.”

Kim Hoag, of the independently owned Hooker Avenue Travel agency in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., echoed those thoughts.

“Not only is it expensive even if you find an airline that does it,” Hoag said, “but if you ever had to change the flight after booking the change fees could run you into the hundreds, if not more, on European flights.”

Both Hoag and Robinson suggested the tried and true Christmas method – gift cards. Even at Hoag’s small shop, they offer gift cards that can be redeemed for airline tickets or packages.

Robinson said he’s even seen people utilize travel gift cards at Liberty Travel in unique ways.

“It’s a regular gift card that can be used for anything – flights, hotels, packages, cruises, whatever,” Robinson said. “But we even had one couple that was getting married that bought a gift card for travel and told their wedding guests, ‘We have everything we need between the two of us. If you want to give us something, extend our honeymoon and put a contribution on our gift card at Liberty Travel.’ ”

Odd, but, OK.

Even some airlines are getting into the practice. While American Airlines does not offer open-ended tickets, it does have gift cards that can be purchased right on its website. Think of it as an open-ended ticket.

According to AA, “You can buy either a plastic card and have it mailed or a virtual card delivered via email. Both options allow you to send a personal message with your gift. You can use up to eight (8) Gift Cards at one time toward the purchase of a ticket to hundreds of exciting destinations throughout the world. And, with no expiration date or fees, American Airlines Gift Cards are perfect for any occasion.”

United Airlines has gift certificates in the amount of $25 to $10,000, Delta has them up to $1,000.

One notable exception? JetBlue.

Not only does the airline not have open-ended tickets, but it canceled its gift card program.

“That got real messy,” one reservation agent said.


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