Extend Your Vacation for Free With Open Jaws and Stopovers

By Nick Wharton on 8 April 2016 0 comments

If the words "open jaw" and "stopover" are new to you, you're going to want to read through this post when cashing in your miles from your travel rewards cards for your long awaited vacation. If you're planning a vacation in Rome, why not fly to Paris first and stay a week or so? The flight will be free. I’m going to break down what open jaw and stopovers are, what their limitations are, and how you can utilize them to enjoy free flights. Let's get started.

See also: Which Credit Cards Have the Best Travel Redemption Value?

Introducing Open Jaw

Independent Traveller says "an open jaw flight is one that, in the simplest terms, flies from Point A to Point B, then from Point C back to Point A."

Example: You take a flight from New York to Paris, then you travel overland (or by sea or by air) from Paris to Morocco, and then you return to New York from Morocco to complete the loop on your awards ticket. The ticket you booked is New York to Paris and then Morocco back to New York and booking this way will not cost you any extra points.

Open jaw tickets (while not available on all airlines) are only available for those booking flights with their awards, meaning that you can not take advantage of this method of travel if you are paying for your flights with cash, credit, or whatever.

If you were to draw this trip on a map, the flight portion of the journey would look like an open jaw and that is where this method of booking gets its name. In the photo below, I added some teeth to better illustrate the analogy.

The black lines indicate the flights booked on an "open jaw" ticket. The blue line indicates overland travel.

When Is an Open Jaw Ticket Useful?

This type of ticket can come in very handy when you want to add a long road trip, overland journey, or cruise into the middle of your itinerary. It can also save you a lot of money because in places like Europe and Asia, you can get on a discount carrier flight to fill your open jaw for very little (Ryanair flights in Europe and AirAsia flights in Asia for example). Alternatively, you could fill your open jaw with another awards flight.

Return flights are often cheaper than open jaw tickets, but if you're planning to backpack around the region for a while before returning back to your arrival point, you may want to consider open jaw.

For example, if you are planning to fly from New York to London, then backpack around Europe for three months before returning to London to fly home to New York, open jaw is probably a better option for you. The money you'll spend backtracking to make your way back to London is likely more than the difference between an open jaw and a return ticket.

Instead, book an open jaw flight from New York to London, and then back to New York from Istanbul. This way you can travel overland from London to Istanbul and then fly home from Istanbul to New York.

Introducing Stopovers

According to Airliners.net: "A stopover is loosely defined as a connection time exceeding four hours on a domestic itinerary or 24 hours on an international itinerary."

Example: You fly from New York to Bangkok, but you stop in Hong Kong for three weeks on the way. This is free and doesn't cost you any extra miles, but can sometimes incur fuel surcharges (see more about these and how to avoid them below).

If you are flying from New York to Bangkok and your flight stops in Hong Kong for five hours, that's technically called a "layover" or a "connection" not a "stopover." A stopover exceeds 24 hours and it gives you time to actually leave the airport and explore. The cool thing is that a stopover can be a week, a month, or even up to a year, so basically it can be an extra vacation rolled into your flight itinerary.

Let me explain. Let's say you want to fly from New York to Barcelona, but you've always wanted to see Paris. By booking a stopover in your itinerary, you can easily take your flight from New York to Barcelona, but add a one week stopover in Paris... for free.

How is it free? If you booked with United Miles, a round trip awards ticket from New York to Barcelona will cost you 60,000 miles. Add in a one week stopover in Paris and it would cost the same, 60,000 miles. You're essentially seeing two destinations for the price of one.

This wonderful loophole is only available for those who book their flights with awards and stopovers aren't possible with all rewards programs.

When Is a Stopover Useful?

A stopover is perfect for anyone who wants to add a bonus destination into their itinerary. Surprisingly, you can get very crafty with these as well. The stopover doesn't always have to be "on the way" to your destination.

You can sometimes have a stopover in Hong Kong on the way to Sydney, or stopover in Spain on the way to Iceland. Get the words "on the way" out of your mind because a stopover can basically be in any city that a flight can be routed to.

The possibilities would be endless... if it weren't for the individual airline reward program’s limitation and guidelines.

Limitations of Stopovers

Airlines sometimes limit the stopovers by region. With United, you can always stopover anywhere in Europe on the way to Africa, for example. Their system of stopovers is completely region-based. But other airlines are different (and more complicated).

American Airlines routing rules can be a bit tricky to figure out as they include restrictions on mileage and regions. You can use sites like ExpertFlyer.com to navigate these confusing routing rules.

Delta and American rewards both don't allow stopovers, but you can book a ticket on an American Airlines flight using your Alaska Miles and land yourself a free stopover. (See also: The Secret to Redeeming Travel Rewards Through Airline Partners)

Each and every airline has its own limitations and guidelines for stopovers. Some of the major ones are:

  • US Airways = one stopover or one open jaw
  • United = one stopover and two open jaws
  • Air Canada = two stopovers
  • Delta = n/a
  • American = n/a

Check out this post by welltraveledmile.com for a full list of airline stopover and open jaw limitations.

Extra Fees and Fuel Surcharges

It's important that you watch out for hidden fees and extra charges. There's not much use in landing yourself a "free" flight to Paris if you end up spending more in booking fees and fuel surcharges than you would've spent on a cheap discount carrier flight.

Again, every airline rewards program is different, but if you're booking your flights with United Miles, you'll never pay any fuel surcharges. If you pay for the flight with different awards program miles, you may have to pay the fuel surcharge.

For example, if you book a flight on an Air Canada plane from New York to London with a stopover in Barcelona and you use your United Miles, you won't pay any fuel surcharges.

If you were to book the same awards ticket using your Air Canada Miles, you'd have to spend $320 in fuel surcharges! Travelisfree.com has put together this incredibly useful list to help you calculate fuel surcharges on different airlines using different rewards programs.

There are also some extra charges when trying to book stopovers domestically. United, for example, charges 10,000 extra miles for stopovers on domestic U.S. tickets.

Stopover + Open Jaw = Free Flights

Some airline rewards programs allow for an open jaw and a stopover. What this means is that you can essentially have a holiday in Europe, and then get your next one-way flight paid for to another destination.

Example: You book an open jaw ticket for a holiday in Europe. You fly from New York to London, you travel overland from London to Madrid, and then you return to New York after a wonderful three week holiday. But you can actually call your home town (New York in this case) a "stopover" on a flight to, let's say, Los Angeles.

Don't worry, you don't have to go to LA right away, you can plan to fly there up to a year later. That's right, you can "stopover" at home for a year, and then a year later fly to LA for free.

When Is a Stopover + Open Jaw Flight Useful?

Anytime you have two trips planned in a year, you can use this handy little hack to enjoy a free one-way flight on your second trip. Go on a vacation in Europe, fly back to your home airport but call it a "stopover" to your next holiday destination (LA?). By doing this, you've essentially landed yourself a free one-way ticket. Now you just have to book a cheap awards flight back from your holiday.

This secret method of landing a free one-way flight is great, but it requires some advanced planning because you're essentially booking one and a half holidays at the same time.

How to Book Stopovers and Open Jaws

Booking stopovers and open jaw tickets online can be difficult with some airline websites. Basically you're looking for two things in the flight booking engine that you're using.

  1. The "rewards flight" check box to ensure that you're only viewing flights that are available for awards customers (these are usually more limited than regular paid fares).
     
  2. Multiple-destination search will allow you to find flights to one destination and then to another before returning home.

If the Website Is Fussy, Call

Not all websites allow you to search multiple destinations and awards flights only, so the easiest way to book your stopover and open jaw flight is simply by calling an agent. They have a better booking interface to work with and they'll be able to better help you find the right flights for you. The only problem is that you may not have the same flexibility as if you were to piece together the journey yourself.

By booking open jaw tickets and adding stopovers to your awards flight itinerary, you can save a lot of money. By combining the two, you can actually piece together an amazing trip and even land yourself a free one-way flight to your next holiday destination. Awards flights may not always have the same availability as regular paid fares, but you can take advantage of lucrative loopholes like the ones listed in this article. Give it a try. Book open jaw and stopovers on your next awards flight and watch the free travel add up. (See also: Best Credit Cards that Transfer to Airline Miles)

Have you ever taken advantage of stopover or open jaw flights? Where'd you go?

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Guest's picture
Chester Field

Don't travel and save THOUSANDS of dollars!