(Video) Sunday Reader Question: What Are Stopovers and Open Jaws?

by on May 27, 2012 · 37 comments

in American, Delta, Sunday Reader Questions, United, US Airways, Video Blog Post

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TPG reader Amy asks:

“My husband and I have tried to accumulate miles so we can head to Europe next summer.  I am reading about ‘open jaw” flight and am clueless.  Could you possibly explain in an entry how to maximize miles on these flights?  We’re looking at booking on Delta; when I input our information for a multi-stop flight, it is twice the price/miles as a round trip flight. Color me confused.  I’m not seeing how this is a great deal.”

Well, Amy, you’re not alone. stopovers and open jaws confuse a lot of people, but they can be one of the best ways to reap value from your miles. First, have a look at this video I made explaining what they are and how to maximize them, and then let’s talk further about what each of them is below.

As I said in the video, a stopover is a stay of over 24 hours in a destination (or 4+ hours when traveling domestically), and an open jaw itinerary is one on which you fly home from a different than you flew into at the start of your trip (this is a great option for cruise passengers who often leave the ship in a different city from which they embarked, or for folks who want the flexibility to visit a couple of destinations while still just using the amount of miles necessary for a regular roundtrip ticket.

Your Delta flight should not be pricing at double the price, unless you are combining multiple tiers of awards- in which case Delta will greatly increase the amount of miles that you need. I recommend searching for all low-level awards one by one and then piecing together the flight. Your best bet is sticking to partner airlines, since they are always at the saver level. Check out this post for tips on booking a SkyMiles award.

I’m not exactly sure what your routing is, but say for instance with Delta, you could fly from New York to Istanbul to catch a cruise. Then let’s say it ended in Rome but you didn’t want to fly back to Istanbul to get home. By using an open jaw ticket, you could simply fly home directly from Rome. That’s an example of an open jaw. Let’s take an example of a stopover. Eric, the managing editor of TPG, just took advantage of this (that’s why he’s in France). He flew from New York to Istanbul (destination) via Paris on Air France using Delta SkyMiles. He spent a few days in Istanbul (stopover), then caught a flight back to Paris (destination) and spent several weeks there, and will fly directly back to New York from Paris. It’s basically like a roundtrip itinerary where one of your layovers is a few days (or weeks, months, etc!), and is basically like getting an extra destination thrown in for free.

I’ve been able to take some incredible trips by maximizing both open jaws and stopovers on the same itinerary. Last summer, I used Delta SkyMiles to go to both Spain and Mauritius by  flying from JFK- Madrid, Stopover (Air Europa), Barcelona-Paris, Open Jaw (Air France), Paris-Mauritius, Destination (Air Mauritius), Mauritius-Paris (Air Mauritius), Paris-Newark (Air France) all legs in business class for 120,000 SkyMiles and $450 in fees.

The summer before, I took a trip to the Seychelles in business class that went from business class JFK-CDG Stopover (2 nights), CDG- SEZ Destination (5 nights) – CDG (1 night), and then CDG- JFK all on Air France for 120,000 miles (the number of miles required for a roundtrip in business class from North America to Africa) and $245 in taxes. It was a great way to get to both an exciting new destination (the Seychelles) as well as to spend some time in Paris.

You can check out the links in the text above to read my past posts on exactly how I booked those tickets and maximized Delta’s open jaw and stopover rules.

Those examples were both on Delta (hey, it’s me!), but you can also out these posts on maximizing routing on the major US legacy carriers: American (most strict), Delta, United, US Airways where I talk about the specific rules of each of those programs as well.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • cody braunschweig

    Thanks for all the info Brian. Last year I used the information to book a trip to Washington, argentina, chile, panama and back using 100k united miles. I currently have 15k us airways and 10k delta. Is my only options to use the miles towards upgrades/shopping/magazines? I would like to use them towards flights but i dont have enough.

  • Dbennett

    I tried a domestic stopover/open jaw trip on delta and it was a no go because it was not a “normal” route. Not real sure what a “normal” route is but I may have been hindered because I live in the boonies.

  • thepointsguy

    Yea awards have routing rules so you can’t just build in extra stops to wherever you want. Generally if Delta won’t sell the route as a paid ticket, they won’t let you book it as an award, though there are always exceptions

  • thepointsguy

    I’d recommend building up your account balances via promotions/shopping/dining to get them to a point where you can redeem for a valuable award vs liquidating them for magazines

  • Mike

    Do i need to call the airline to reserve open jaw and stopover route? can I book these legs online?

  • mike

    JFK- Madrid, Stopover (Air Europa), Barcelona-Paris, Open Jaw (Air France), Paris-Mauritius, Destination (Air Mauritius), Mauritius-Paris (Air Mauritius), Paris-Newark (Air France)

    I don’t understand this. Was this all in ONE round-trip award booking?
    I don’t understand this segments at all. How do you have an Open Jaw and end at Newark? Aren’t you supposed to come back to JFK?
    So you did JFK-MADRID, hung out at Spain for a while, then continued from BARCELONA to PARIS. then OPEN JAW? But from PARIS to MAURITIUS? I’m totally lost. Please explain. Thank you. Oh, how can you also go from PAR to MAURITUIUS then Back to PARIS to Newark. This is dizzing. How do you do this in 1 ticket?

  • Brian Kocis



  • Mitch

    First, JFK and EWR are co-terminals (along with LGA), so you can interchange them freely without creating an open jaw. Second, Brian doesn’t actually have an open jaw on this ticket, he has an embedded surface sector (MAD-BCN) that comes as part of his stopover. The ticket prices with the outbound fare component as JFK-MRU and the return MRU-EWR. As I said, this is not an open jaw, since it’s really NYC-MRU and MRU-NYC. The segments on the first fare component are JFK-MAD-BCN-CDG-MRU, with JFK-MAD operated by DL, MAD-BCN by Brian’s alternate means, BCN-CDG by AF, and CDG-MRU as MK for AF. The return is fairly straightforward. The thing to be really careful of is not going over Delta’s eight segment (possibly four each direction, but some have claimed to get five in one and three in the other) limit, as the embedded surface sector is counted.

  • Scotti Mac

    Brian, do you actually have a post where you show how to book these trips? I’m trying to book a trip from JFK-PVR-JFK on AA but can’t figure out how to add on extra legs. Thanks!

  • Pattonroberta

    What are the easy to book open jaws/stopovers for Europe on United?

  • Lwestbirch

    Open jaw is fairly easy…booked Delta PHL to GVA and then return AMS to PHL but did it six months out…no problem

  • Mahluw

    If you have a one way ticket from DC to DEL by United partner, how do you get a free domestic flight out of that in USA?

  • Zz

    What are the AA hub cities?
    A few “smaller” airport such as RDU have stright flights to LHR. Is it possible to go HNL->RDU->LHR and separate these into two trips (stop over)?

  • Eva Grudin

    Hi. I do love your advice! Thanks. Here’s a question: I see you’re taking your stopovers on your way to your ultimate destination. Is it possible to to stopover on a return flight?

  • Heidi McGall

    We did open jaw for our honeymoon on AA: DFW-ZRH, traveled around via Eurail to Vienna, Florence, and Paris, then did CDG-DFW. All on AA miles and stayed in Hilton hotels using points. The nice thing was on the DFW-ZRH leg, the plane for that particular departure had no First Class, so we got to use Biz class points and get top tier treatment. It made flying to Europe so much more comfortable. All told, it probably cost us $500!

  • Carol G

    I get the concepts, but like Mike, can’t figure out how to book it. Last Dec, tried to do SFO-AMS-LON w/ a 3-day stopover in AMS. I could see that there were available flights but couldn’t make it work using Delta’s FF reservation engine. Should I justmpay the fee and do it on the phone?

  • Mitch

    How did you go about trying it on the DL site? If you do multi-city and tell it to search by schedule (not price), selecting the flights that you already found that should price as low, it works just fine.

  • thepointsguy

    Depends on the airline.. most you need to call. Delta will allow them on, but you need to finesse it. Your best bet is probably calling in knowing what segments you want booked

  • thepointsguy

    Do the multi-city as Mitch says. It make take a couple times because its buggy, but if its a valid itinerary, it should let you book

  • thepointsguy

    Nicely done! I hope you added segments on like extra Dallas-Honolulu legs in the future since they are free and you can change the dates at no cost

  • thepointsguy

    It’s really the same thing. If you build a stop on the return, that still means your first “stop” was your stopover. The second place you go is always the destination- even if you stay longer in the stopover… if that makes any sense!

  • thepointsguy

    It’s not just AA cities (JFK/ORD/DFW/MIA/LAX).. Oneworld as well.. so for example if you take the BA flight from San Diego to London, you can tag on a Honolulu-San Diego leg before and after it.

  • thepointsguy

    United doesn’t allow stopovers on one-way awards, so nothing you can do there

  • thepointsguy

    United is great because they have so many partners and most are bookable on Just use the multi-city search, but if you can’t get them to price out, then call. United also allows one way awards, so you can just book two one ways to create your open jaw (just know you’ll need to pay two change/cancel fees in that case if you decide to change the trip)

  • thepointsguy

    Does AA Have a nonstop from JFK-PVR? You could only build in the stover in the city that you leave the US, so if you are connecting in DFW, you could only stopover there.. so your JFK-DFW for example, would be your freebie leg

  • thepointsguy

    What Mitch said.. but Delta apparently does not have a limit on segments on awards (what official Delta reps have told me)

  • Mitch

    The official Delta reps don’t know their own fare rules then, as the international partner fare rules that you get on when doing a partner award booking (say LHR-CDG-LHR just for ease of finding inventory) say: “FARE RULES TEXT UNLESS OTHERWISE SPECIFIED 3 TRANSFERS PERMITTED IN EACH DIRECTION FARE BREAK SURFACE SECTORS NOT PERMITTED AND EMBEDDED SURFACE SECTORS PERMITTED ON THE FARE COMPONENT.” Three transfers means that you’re limited to four segments in each direction. It’s conceivable that this is poorly coded in their systems and can be defeated, but I’ve seen situations discussed on FlyerTalk where adding a fifth segment in one direction was leading to the fare breaking, so I’m inclined to believe it’s accurate.

  • Mitch

    The second place you go is not universally the destination. You have to have a valid routing between origin and destination, so if you booked JFK-CDG-MRU(one week-CDG(one week)-JFK, you could not argue that CDG was the destination. Otherwise, JFK-CDG-MRU-CDG would be a valid JFK-CDG routing, which is patently absurd. The destination is the stop farthest from the origin, essentially, and the stopover would be a stop on a valid routing between origin and destination.

  • Dave

    LOL, okay, every time you talk about “tacking on” a free trip on each end of your leg, I’m always a little baffled. If I add, say, Hawaii on each end of some other trip, don’t I still have to buy another Hawaii ticket? Isn’t my “free” trips there backwards? In other words, isn’t what I’m actually doing more like buying ONE trip to Hawaii and then getting *another* one free (from my trip to Europe?)

  • MCB

    TPG, Are you allowed a stopover from the Continental US (CLT) to Hawaii? I was hoping for a stopover in Vegas (LAS) on my way to Hawaii on UsAir or United. Or would an open jaw be better to Hawaii (HNL or OGG) from the Continental US? Does CLT being a UsAir hub help or hurt with this?

  • Andrew

    I still haven’t figured out how to book on Air France with Delta miles!

  • Mary

    Great Post! I have been trying to book several different scenarios and the pricing doesn’t seem to be right. We are thinking of going to London and have family in Portland, OR. I looked at each leg individually, but when I did the multi-city it priced at 75K miles. The route was ATL to LHR, LHR to ATL , then a month later ATL to PDX.

    Also, I tried to do a round trip to Seattle with an open jaw to Portland later, but it didn’t price right either. Seattle is 10 miles further than Portland, but I guess it is too close?

  • Tom Brennan

    I like the post. One thing that I’m still not clear on is how are you picking your flight segments and how to determine award miles required when booking a trip with a stopover. Are you just piecing together your flights by picking/ searching for one segment at a time? Do they have to be the same class/ type of award seat? Are the miles required to book an award simply just the what a direct route would have cost in miles?

    For example, I want to book an american airlines award for: Kona, HI (KOA) – LAX (stopover) – Lima, Peru (LIM).

    I can find my individual legs (KOA-LAX and LAX-LIM) by searching american/ british airways websites and I can see the respective miles required to book an award for each leg. Say for example the KOA- LAX was a business milesaver award at 30K miles for the award ticket. Would the LAX-LIM also need to be in the same business milesaver award class? or does the class not matter?

    Is there a way to figure out what would be the actual miles required for booking the award ticket with a stop over designation prior to calling? Since booking KOA-LAX (stopover)-LIM should only require miles for KOA-LIM as I understand it…. this is not just simply adding up the segment costs

  • Sam

    I’d like to submit a reader question: I like to plan my travel last minute or within a week from the travel date at most. Which airline has the most last minute (or last week) low level award availability? Thanks! -SAM

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  • Steve

    so if I understand this correctly, the airlines will allow you to change the dates of the added leg “DFW- Hawaii and back” to be able to depart up to a year after original flight legs? still not completely clear.

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