Flying roundtrip on a one-way ticket

Say what?

I feel a bit like Sheldon Cooper today (if you don’t know who that is, you’re missing out), in that I’ve made a discovery that has me giddy, yet at the same time I acknowledge it has very few practical implications.

In many ways American is very generous with their routing rules on award tickets, given that they let you exceed the maximum permitted mileage (MPM) for a city pair by 25%. As I wrote about in this post, that means you can fly from Los Angeles to Hong Kong via New York, and American also allows a free stopover at the North American gateway city on an award ticket.

So while I’ve often written about maximizing free stopovers and routings on award tickets, here’s something that made me pretty excited — you can fly roundtrip from Vancouver to New York on Cathay Pacific on a single one-way award ticket. That Vancouver to New York flight on Cathay Pacific is one of the coolest “fifth freedom” routes, since I don’t think there’s a more luxurious way to fly within North America.

Now, I found exactly one scenario where this is allowed, and it’s one I’m seriously considering taking advantage of. American’s MPM between Vancouver and Colombo (Sri Lanka) is 10,494 miles, and American’s MPM plus 25% is 13,117 miles.

Obviously most people would route from Vancouver to Colombo either directly via Hong Kong or with a connection somewhere on the west coast, but I wanted to see if there was any way to find an allowable routing that incorporates the Vancouver to New York segment on Cathay Pacific.

Flying from Vancouver to New York to Hong Kong to Colombo is a total of 13,014 miles, which is roughly 100 miles under the MPM for the city pair.

But here’s the cool thing — American has a “direct” flight from New York to Hong Kong which routes via Vancouver. Because it’s a single flight number they use the direct distance between New York and Hong Kong for calculating the MPM.

This means you could conceivably fly Vancouver to New York (stopover) to Vancouver to Hong Kong to Colombo for 55,000 miles in business class or 67,500 miles in first class.

Again, I don’t find this especially useful since I’d probably rather fly nonstop from New York to Hong Kong and enjoy a 15+ hour flight, rather than breaking it up in Vancouver for an hour in the middle of the night, but for the sheer novelty of traveling roundtrip on a one-way ticket I’m almost tempted.

So how cool (and useless) is that? 🙂

Filed Under: Advice, American
  1. You tried booking the same flight number on 2 different dates as part of a roundtrip award ticket? that can work, too…

  2. @Rajnish
    If you are able to get the “direct” NYC-HKG routing, with a stop in YVR, you will have the YVR-JFK flight, followed by the JFK-YVR-HKG flight (HKG-CMB also), so it is one way (YVR-CMB), but you get to do YVR-JFK-YVR-HKG-CMB.

  3. At a certain point, isn’t this getting a little silly. Your time is worth something. You’ve flown CX F and J numerous times, so your not trying something new, your just exploiting the system to maximize the time on a plane, granted its a nice one… I just don’t get it.

  4. I think this is pretty clever. Does not apply to me as I am in Texas, but the more we can fight the lileage devaluation, the better off we all are… love my 12,500 mile ticket from SAT to Asia with Avianca.

  5. it is pretty cool except i don’t quite understand what you’re gaining by taking the JFK-YVR-HKG flight instead of just taking the non-stop JFK-HKG. it’s not like you could stop over in YVR… the “novelty” kinda escapes me…

  6. Interesting, but it’s not really a useful roundtrip because you don’t get a chance to go back into Vancouver, it’s just a quick stop. Did you actually book this though?

    I think the other point you mentioned is much better, the stop in NY for example from the west coast to Asia.

    I tried similar through the reservation center and the agents won’t let me. I called and tried to do LAX – JFK (stop) – NRT on JL, has to be booked on the phone, the agents said it’s over the MPM. Tried twice, charges me two separate awards,

    But LAX – JFK (stop) – HND on AA metal, booked online is not restricted by the system and was ticketed fine as one award.

  7. @ Lantean — Well it’s probably cool to some and not to others. The concept of a one-way is that you’re going from one place to another. The fact that you can literally fly roundtrip to your city of origin as part of a one-way is pretty cool to me. 🙂

  8. Lucky, how about more exciting destinations. Hong Kong and Vancouver are old for an expert like you.

    How about Cape Town, Nadi, Tahiti, St Petersburgh, etc.

    We love your blog and would like more variety.

  9. My time is worth a lot to me since my vacation days are finite and could be cashed out if not used. I’d never take indirect routes like IAH-SVO-SIN just so I can spend more time on a plane in F, let alone these convoluted routings.

  10. So I guess the point here is that if you do want to fly RT YVR-JFK, you could book this trip and then just get off at YVR on the way back? It would be an odd case of throw-away hidden city ticketing, to be skipping the overseas segments. But you’d end up paying only 5K more miles than a regular RT AA award would cost, in exchange for which you get the CX service and a nonstop routing.

  11. @ Swag — Nope, sorry if I wasn’t clear, that wasn’t my point. You’d keep flying, but my point is simply that in a one-way ticket you can backtrack to exactly the same city you started with if played correctly.

    Again, geeky awesomeness, but not all that practical.

    @ Jorge — I’m working on it!

  12. @Lucky,

    Well I’m situated in Singapore. If I want to go to Melbourne on UA miles, it makes more sense to route a final destination to the South Pacific for 25k each way in business via Melbourne than 45k each way outright to Melbourne. In that way I can then use my “stopover” in Melbourne. Which would be useful if I’m gonna start a new degree course there sometime next year, because stopovers can last for pretty long 😉

    Some of the South Pacific places served by Air NZ and bookable on include Rarotonga (RAR, Cook Islands), Nadi (NAN, Fiji), Apia (APW, Samoa) and Nuku’alofa (TBU, Tonga). What I could do then would be:

    SIN-SYD-AKL-RAR leaving SIN on a Thursday and arriving in RAR on Friday (overnight in AKL on Friday)
    RAR-SYD-AKL-MEL leaving RAR 1h after arriving on Friday (overnight in SYD on Saturday, overnight in AKL on Sunday)
    Stopover in MEL

    And when I book it that way, I get 2 SYD-AKL flights. NZ currently runs their new 77Ws on NZ104 on Friday and Sunday, and UA allows me to book NZ104 for the SYD-AKL leg each time. It so happens that the 2 SYD-AKL legs in the planned itinerary are on Friday and Sunday too. NZ runs a once weekly RAR-SYD-RAR so the timing for RAR-SYD is crucial to get the 2 NZ104s.

    Just found that amusing 🙂

  13. Other things to play around with include NRT-NAN/RAR/TBU/APW, which cost 20k each way in business. 20k each way is sure worth it to fly NZ’s 772s in J.

  14. How is a stopover possible on one-way awards? Won’t they just book it as two awards, eg yvr-jfk (25k in business) & jfk-hkg-cmb (55k in business)?

  15. @Lucky

    Thanks! I learn from the masters like you 😉 Just that I don’t have access to that many miles so I’ve got to learn to be a real mile stretcher.

  16. @ Peter — You’re allowed a free stopover at the North American gateways through American, even on one-way awards.

  17. UA MP is even more generous with the routing rules lately. I’ve gotten a +87% mileage over a direct flight route on a one-way with four different first class products along the way (as soon as LH opens up their space that is).

  18. Ben, I have a question: Isn’t Colombo part of S Asia/Middle east?? So practically AA wont let you go through Asia?

    Anyway, I did YVR-JFK-LHR-JNB-CPT on CX/BA F before. Also did YVR-JFK-AUH-BOM-CCU on CX/EY F and booked on PER-SYD-LAX-JFK-YVR on QF/AA/CX F.

    The last one I was surprised that the system let me do it. The agent checked many times and still it was ok and ticketed. Thing is QF (over the water carrier) do not publish MPM but have the routing rule (btw PER and YVR) which obviously wont have CX889 JFK-YVR on it.

  19. @ Lack — Okay, dying to know the routing. 😀

    @ concorde02 — Oddly American considers Sri Lanka to be part of “Asia 2.”

  20. Lucky, am confused by your response to Peter; why isn’t YVR (as the last stop before HKG) the North American Gateway in your example?

  21. @ DBest — The North American gateway city is the last city you transit before departing North America. However, on a “direct” flight you don’t count the city the flight stops in, since direct flights are for all intents and purposes nonstop as far as the airline is concerned.

  22. @Ken Y. Actually the shortest path between 2 points on the sphere is different from what people conceive from the world map drawn on a 2D which is a cylindrical projection from a sphere. However, shortest time on the plane is affected a lot by wind, that’s why when you fly east bound over the Pacific, many flight do not fly over to Alaska (which is shorter in distance) but direct into the middle of the Pacific because the wind could be as fast as 200+mph. I am pretty sure that flying IAH-DME-SIN is faster than going west bound (but not sure the other way around SIN-DME-IAH).

    Also, the time is worth a lot for me as well, that’s why I would love to spend a lot of it on a plane in F. I love being at the destination too.. but love to be on a plane a little more. People are different 🙂

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