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.
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.
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.
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?