Stopovers And Open Jaws On Award Tickets

I know plenty of you are very competent travelers, but I’m often asked questions about redeeming miles that I had just assumed everybody already knows the answer to. So in addition to some of the more advanced stories that I write, I’ll also be writing some ‘Back to Basics’ articles from time to time, for those of you who may be new to this game.

Today’s topic is stopovers and open jaws.

Every frequent flyer program has very specific rules about stopover and open jaws when it comes to redeeming miles, and they can be a blessing, or a curse, depending on which program you are looking to redeem with and how you are wanting to travel.

Transit

Most programs will allow you to ‘stop’ for up to 24 hours in between flights for no additional cost/miles. The program doesn’t call this a stopover, but rather, a transit or connection. I am a huge fan of the <24 hour stop, and have regularly booked itineraries that allow me to have almost a full day to explore a new city. Some cities work better than others for this.

Depending on how much time you have to travel, even if you don’t want to explore the city you are stopping in, it can be nice to fly in at say 8pm, sleep in a proper bed (even if it is at an airport hotel), and fly out at 10am the next morning rested and refreshed, rather than landing at one airport and moving straight to your next flight.

Note that this won’t be possible in all regions. For example, on a domestic award ticket exclusively within the US, you’re often limited to transits of four to six hours.

Stopover

A ‘proper’ stopover is where you ‘stop’ somewhere between flights for more than 24 hours, up to as long as you want. Some frequent flyer programs allow this, while others don’t. If they don’t allow a stopover, most will allow you to book two separate legs with a stopover for as long as you like, but will charge you for two separate awards (which will cost you a lot more miles), which is frustrating.

Where programs allow stopovers, there are usually restrictions on their location (which may range from generous to seemingly unfair), such as that they must be at the hub of an alliance member, or they must be geographically on the way to your final destination, so you couldn’t book New York to London with a stopover in, say, Istanbul, because this would involve significant back-tracking from your stopover of Istanbul to get back to London — you’re flying over your destination to get to your stopover.

Your program of choice may only allow a stopover on a return redemption, which I think is fair enough.

Here are some of the stopover policies of some of the most popular loyalty programs:

  • Alaska Mileage Plan: Probably the most generous of any program, with a stopover allowed on a one way award
  • American AAdvantage: No stopovers allowed
  • Air Canada Aeroplan: Two stopovers allowed on a return redemption
  • ANA Mileage Club: One stopover allowed on a return redemption, except for itineraries ex-Japan
  • Avianca Lifemiles: No stopovers allowed
  • British Airways Executive Club: Redemptions are priced per flight on a distance basis, so you can have as many stopovers as you want
  • Delta Skymiles: No stopovers allowed
  • Japan Airlines Mileage Bank: Extremely generous, up to three stopovers allowed on a return partner award
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer: One stopover on a return saver redemption allowed on Singapore Airlines metal, one stopover allowed per each way standard redemption on Singapore Airlines metal; you can pay $100 for each additional stopover
  • United Mileage Plus: Complicated stopover rules which you can read more about here

When booking a revenue fare, you will often see the price jump significantly where the ‘transit’ stretches to more than 24 hours (and thus becomes a stopover). I’ve never really understood the reason for this as I would have thought airlines (especially those that are government owned) would want you to stopover in their home city for as long as possible as it would benefit the local economy.

For example, here’s a return revenue fare from Singapore to Los Angeles, transiting Taipei for less than 24 hours.

If I change the search so that the stop in Taipei is more than 24 hours (on the two Taiwanese home carriers), for the same dates suddenly the price jumps up.

Single open jaws

A single open jaw is where you fly into one city in a region, but out of another (so A to B, and then C back to A). Australians especially love an open jaw when they go to Europe, to the point where airlines with big European route networks such as Emirates actively advertise this as a feature of their revenue fares.

If you are exploring a new continent then it is unlikely you will want to start and end at exactly the same place, so you might want to fly into, say Paris, and out of, say Athens, as you work your way Southeast through the continent.

It is also handy to be able to book an open jaw if there is only availability into one particular city, but not out of it. I would also definitely consider an open jaw to avoid the UK APD tax, for example, flying into London but out of say Brussels or Paris, which can both be reached easily by train, to avoid this additional cost.

Most frequent flyer programs (that don’t allow one way redemptions) will allow you to book an open jaw as part of a return ticket provided that the ‘jaw’ is in the same region, i.e. Europe, so you could fly into Madrid and out of Barcelona, but not into Madrid and out of Cairo, for example. If you are redeeming your British Airways 2-4-1 Voucher (which must be a return redemption), you can book a single open jaw provided the distance of the surface sector is shorter than the distance of both the outbound and return journey.

If the program allows you to book one ways for half the cost of a return, it’s not an issue because you can just book two separate one ways, and they will not be concerned which cities you are flying in or out of.

Double open jaws

A double open jaw is where you fly from A to B, and then fly from C to D, rather than back to A. Here’s a visual illustration.

But why would you want to book this?

I managed to book one of these back in the old US Airways Dividend Miles days, but I think it was more to do with the agent’s vague interpretation of routing rules than my own savvy geography because I don’t it was actually allowed at the time.

I was wanting to book a return redemption from Australia to Europe, starting my European trip in Iceland, which is an island on just about the western-most point of Europe. It was part of a five week Europe trip (heading Southeast) so I understandably didn’t want to fly out of Iceland at the end of the trip, as I would be in continental Europe instead and wouldn’t want to backtrack to Iceland.

But compounding the problem was that while there was availability out of Sydney, there was no availability into Sydney, only Melbourne. So I proposed flying Sydney to Reykjavik, and then back from Zagreb to Melbourne. Fortunately the phone agent obliged.

This created a double open jaw where I was flying from A to B and then back from C to D.

Fortunately as most of the popular loyalty programs allow one way awards, you can book a single, or double open jaw by simply booking the awards separately in the following programs.

  • Alaska Mileage Plan
  • American Airlines AAdvantage
  • Air Canada Aeroplan
  • Avianca Lifemiles
  • British Airways Executive Club:
  • Delta Skymiles
  • Japan Airlines Mileage Bank
  • United Mileage Plus (but note their complex Excursionist Perk)

In regards to ANA Mileage Club you are technically only allowed to book a single open jaw, though some people have been able to book double open jaws.

Bottom line

Unfortunately the number of programs that allow a free stopover on a return award seems to be decreasing every year. However I do value the ability to book a one way award at half the price more than only being able to book round trips, with a stopover, as this will allow single, or double open jaws, if you wish. These can be enormously beneficial if you are restricted by availability, or are wanting to avoid backtracking as you travel throughout a particular region.

Depending on the method of booking your redemption, you may be subject to two booking fees if you book two separate one way redemptions in order to book a single or double open jaw, however I consider this is be a fair price to pay for the flexibility open jaws can provide.

I was all ready to book a one way redemption on Royal Air Maroc using my newly acquired Iberia Avios miles, but was advised by Iberia Plus that Royal Air Maroc could only be booked as a return redemption, meaning more miles and more fees and taxes. So unfortunately Iberia Plus is not nearly as generous as the major loyalty programs I have listed above.

Do you value the ability to book stopover and open jaws?

Comments

  1. Thanks for this solid article. As this is an article for beginners, you may wish to note that what you call a “return,” we in the U.S. call a “round trip.”

  2. Also just wondering – is it possible to book a (single) open jaw with IB? (without trnsferring to BA).

    Thanks

  3. The <24-hour stopover is especially valuable for London, because the exorbitant APD isn't charged if you're a transit passenger, defined as spending less than 24 hours in London. I just booked a trip this way, flying into LCY, spending just under 24 hours there, and flying out of LHR.

  4. Even within programs, stopover rules can vary based on the metal on which you fly. You mentioned Singapore’s rules above being pertinent for Singapore metal. Emirates actively encourages long transits in Dubai by its business model, so the four hour limitation for transits in other cities are often suspended for DXB with Emirates.

  5. I think you’ve got the BA open jaw rule wrong ?- I thought it was something like the “surface” sector can’t be longer than the flight rather than a fixed mile distance

  6. @ Sam G — I apologize, that was bad editing on my part. You’re absolutely correct about the “surface” point, so updated the post to reflect that.

  7. I was always told you could add a stopover to ANY singapore award if you pay a $100 fee? Even if its a one way saver award.

  8. Aeroplan allows overseas itineraries to have either two stopovers, or one stopover and one open jaw. However, the open jaw segment must occur at the furthest point.

    Wanted to book YUL-AKL, CHC-MEL, MEL-YUL, but couldn’t because MEL was the furthest point from YUL, not CHC. Ended up booking the CHC-MEL leg on a separate ticket, which allowed a direct flight, instead of having to connect in WLG. Also, the total price came out to just a little more in cash than the award fees, because it meant fewer airport fees, and saving on the $35 per passenger (2 pax) booking fee when calling Aeroplan.

  9. Another excellent article James. Thank you.

    I already know about where i want to travel with my 90k Iberia avios and availability on my dates seems ok.

    Now, does IB allow a single open Jaw? Sth like MAD-MEX and returning GRU-MAD? Much thanks.

  10. Great informative post! Too bad there’s no easy way to bookmark blog posts like this one.

    Oh, better watch it on the top photo. Someday, the People’s Republic of China may force you to label the photo as Taipei, China, not Taiwan and certainly not Republic of China.

  11. Just a heads up, you cannot book a stopover using Iberia Avios. Tried booking a trip on Iberia metal with a stopover in Madrid and was told no.

  12. Using our 90k IB+ avios (each), I booked Business seats in May 2019:
    MIA – MAD – LIS and return MAD – JFK with 4500 avios remaining for each of us.

  13. United did away with stopovers, and replaced them with what they call an “excursionist perk”, where one gets a free segment for travel within a region that is different than the one where a reward trip originated.

    Last year, I did:

    Shanghai -> Chennai (India) -> Colombo (Sri Lanka) -> BKK

    and got the Chennai-> Colombo segment for free, as an “excursionist perk”…

  14. I love your website. Unfortunately you guys forget that we are not as well versed and proficient as you. This leads to a lot of frustration when doing complicated searches. I think you need develop a chart that has all the major airlines and shows which ones allow 1 ways, stopovers, open jaws, free one ways, fuel surcharges and maximum segments allowed. This chart should also show which Alliance each Airline is in where to search for availability and which credit card points are transferable to that Airline. If all this information could be put together in one spot it would make things a lot easier for us Layman. Thank you

  15. Definitely agree with Kenny.

    What about Emirates? Recently read a blog that the person booked 4 segments all on 1 ticket. I am confused on how they made that happen. Multiple open jaws and srop overs?

  16. Thanks James, too bad you don’t cover Miles-and-More in your review. It is an important program for Europeans . . .

  17. The news we got in the UK this weekend is that IB has backtracked and is allowing transfers to BAEC now. But nobody knows what happens once your IB account ends up 90k avios in the red…

  18. @ RF – I’m not able to list every single program in the world as there are probably 100 of them, so I tried to limit it to the most popular and talked about programs on this site. Next time I will try and expand it to cover Lufthansa, Emirates etc.
    Cheers.

  19. @ Kenny D – that’s an excellent idea for a long-term project. Please be aware it will take a LONG time to research and prepare so would be something we would look at doing down the track. If there are any ‘Back to Basics’ single topics you would like me to cover in a simple post like this please let me know.

  20. A friend of mine explained this to me before but not nearly as well presented as this post. All the visual examples along with texts describing what was going on was extremely helpful.

    Thanks!

  21. How about an explanation on how to use the Cathay pacific website. If you don’t use their planes, its extremly hard to find a flight with stopovers or open jaws on line. You have to fill out your destinations, but it never gives an answer, especially when trying to go to south east asia and Thailand. It seems like you have to submit a request and suposedly they will get bck to you.

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