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Maximizing Stopovers and Open Jaws on Award Tickets in 2016

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When it comes to the points and miles hobby, “free” award flights are often the goal. However, knowing the ins and outs of each frequent flyer program’s rules can help you maximize your redemptions by adding in additional destinations via stopovers and/or open jaws. TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen explains how below.

If you’re reading this post, chances are you’re interested in making the most of your hard-earned points and miles. For many, this involves splurging on fantastic first-class flights or luxurious hotel rooms. However, others may be interested in traveling to and visiting more than one city on a single trip, and one of the best ways to do this is by including stopovers and/or open jaws on your award flights. Today I want to update my 2014 post and go through this strategy for the major carriers to help you maximize your redemptions in 2016.

Airplane wing tip over ocean and island featured shutterstock 137460476
How can you take advantage of stopovers and open jaws on award tickets? Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

What Are Stopovers and Open Jaws?

Before getting into the analysis, I thought it would be useful to define these terms, as they may be unfamiliar to readers who are new to the hobby. Let’s begin with a stopover, which is a stop en route to your final destination. This is different than a connection, which typically is just a brief layover in an airport. Think of it as hitting pause on your itinerary. Generally speaking, any stop of more than 4 hours on a domestic itinerary and more than 24 hours on an international itinerary is considered a stopover rather than a connection.

An open jaw works a bit differently and likely causes a bit more confusion. There are three different types of open jaw itineraries:

  1. Fly from City A to City B, then fly from City C back to City A. In this case, you destination (B) is different than the city you use to return home (C). The open jaw is between City B and City C, and it’s up to you to “fill in” that open jaw with your own land, air or sea travel.
  2. Fly from City A to City B, then fly from City B to City C. In this case, your departure gateway (A) is different than your final arrival city at the end of the trip (C). Once again, it’s up to you to “fill in” that open jaw between City A and City C.
  3. Fly from City A to City B, then fly from City C back to City B. In this case, you have a double open jaw. You need to make your own way from City B to City C during the trip and then make your own way from City D to City A at the end of the trip.

It may be easier to illustrate these options on a map. I love using Great Circle Mapper for this purpose, as it shows not only the geography but also calculates the distances of your flights (which can be great for distance-based award charts). Here’s an example of the first itinerary above, with an open jaw at the destination:

Open Jaw #1
In this example, you start and end in the same city (Washington) but land in London and fly back out of Paris (or vice versa).

Here’s an example of the second itinerary, with an open jaw at the departure/return airports:

Open Jaw #2
In this example, your destination is Sydney but you start and end in different cities (LA and San Francisco).

And here’s an example of a double open jaw:

Double open jaw
This is an example of a double open jaw, where you fly from Dallas to Miami and then Cancun to Houston (though note that this is the least common type).

Now it’s important to note that an open jaw isn’t totally flexible. In order to qualify as a valid open jaw, there are two typical conditions that must be met:

  • The open jaw needs to be within the same region (which is defined by each airline’s program).
  • The unflown segment needs to be shorter than the distance of the flown segments.

As a result, while any of the above itineraries would be valid open jaws, here’s an example of an invalid one:

Invalid open jaw

In this instance, both rules are violated: The distance of the unflown segment (Buenos Aires to New York-JFK) is greater than one of the flown segments (JFK to London) and the open jaw spans two regions (North America and South America).

Can’t You Just Create Open Jaws with Multiple One-Way Tickets?

This is one of the more interesting aspects of building in open jaws on your award tickets. Technically this is correct — the vast majority of carriers now allow you to book one-way awards, so even if your desired airline doesn’t allow open jaws, you could create your own open jaw by booking a one-way award ticket from City A to City B and then book another one-way ticket from City C back to City A.

However, there are a few reasons why this may not make sense:

  • Stopovers: As you’ll see below, many carriers do not allow stopovers on one-way tickets, so you must book a round-trip award ticket to qualify. Note that an itinerary with an open jaw does count as a round-trip ticket, even though there are multiple cities involved.
  • Change fees: I’m sure many of you have been forced to pay change or cancellation fees before, with most starting at $200 per ticket. If you need to cancel your trip and have booked two one-way tickets, you’re looking at double the fees.
  • Origination surcharges: Other carriers tack on fees when you begin your trip in certain regions. For example, Delta adds a “carrier-imposed international surcharge” when you start an award itinerary in Europe. This is generally in the neighborhood of $100-$150 for economy and $150-$200 for business class. However, you’d avoid this by booking a round-trip award flight.
  • Infant-in-arms: The final reason why booking one-way award tickets may not make sense is if you’re traveling with an infant-in-arms. Most carriers require you to pay 10% of the adult fare when you travel internationally with a lap child, and one-way tickets can often be exorbitantly expensive. I’ve seen many cases where the price of a round-trip flight is less than half the price of one of the legs booked as a one-way.

What Do the Major Carriers Allow?

American Airlines plane over mountains.
Do all of the major airlines allow these options when booking award flights?

Now that you have an understanding of these two terms, let’s take a closer look at the major carriers’ policies surrounding stopovers and open jaws. I’ll start with an overview table that’ll provide a snapshot of your options. I’ll then follow up with additional details on each one along with some suggestions for how you can accrue miles or points in that program (aside from flying), since each airline partners with at least one of the four transferable point programs:

Here’s a high-level overview of these policies:

Airline

Stopover

And/Or

Open Jaw

Valid One-Way?

Other Important Notes

Aeroplan

0-2

And/or

0-1

No

Lots of variation by region and airlines; see details below.

Alaska

1-2

And

1

Yes

Stopovers only valid at limited international gateways.

American

0

1-2

You can create open jaw(s) by booking one-way flights.

ANA

0-1

And

1

No

Only valid on certain awards.

British Airways

Distance-based award chart.

Delta

0

And

1-2

You can create open jaw(s) by booking one-way flights.

Flying Blue

1

And

1

No

Open jaw must be in same award zone.

Japan Airlines

0-3

And

1-2

No

Not valid domestically.

Singapore

1-4

And

1

Only on full/standard awards

Varies depending on your award type.

United

1

And

2

No

Only valid on round-trip tickets.

Now let’s get down into the nitty-gritty:

Aeroplan

Air Canada’s award program is one of the most generous when it comes to stopovers and open jaws, though you’ll need to take this generosity with a healthy dose of confusion. This is because Aeroplan has different rules depending on the region(s) of travel and airlines involved. For starters, you can only utilize these options on round-trip award tickets. Then, if you’re booking a round-trip award, the following rules apply:

  • For flights within Canada or between Canada and the Continental US: one stopover OR one open jaw
  • For flights between Canada/Continental US and Hawaii/Puerto Rico/Mexico/Central America/Caribbean solely on Air Canada: Two stopovers OR one stopover and one open jaw
  • For flights between Canada/Continental US and Hawaii/Puerto Rico/Mexico/Central America/Caribbean with at least one flight on a Star Alliance carrier besides Air Canada: One stopover and one open jaw
  • For travel between two continents: Two stopovers OR one stopover and one open jaw
  • For travel within the same continent (excluding North America): One open jaw

Unfortunately Aeroplan does impose fuel surcharges on many partners, so keep that in mind when you’re planning your travel.

Earning Aeroplan miles: Transfer from Membership Rewards, transfer from SPG, TD Aeroplan Visa Credit Card

Alaska

Alaska is rebranding in 2016.
Alaska’s routing rules are among the most generous out there.

One of the most popular loyalty currencies took a big hit recently with the massive (and unannounced) increase in the mileage requirements for Emirates first-class awards. Nevertheless, the Mileage Plan program does still provide some great redemption options, and it too offers some generous routing rules with stopovers and open jaws. For international award tickets, you’re allowed to have one stopover on each one-way flight and can also utilize an open jaw.

However, the big restriction when it comes to utilizing stopovers and open jaws with Alaska is the fact that you are restricted to one partner airline per award ticket (plus any Alaska flights to get to your international gateway). As a result, you can’t fly from New York to London on British Airways and then return from Paris to New York on Air France. You could, however, do something like this:

  • New York to Paris on Air France (stop)
  • Paris to Rome on Air France (destination)
  • Zurich to Paris on Air France (stop)
  • Paris to New York on Air France

While the blanket policy is that stopovers are only allowed on international award tickets, there are two exceptions. From the Mileage Plan Terms and Conditions:

“An exception allowing an otherwise-illegal open jaw trip is permitted when travel is between the State of Alaska and the lower 48 states and a stopover occurs in Southeast Alaska. When award travel is redeemed solely on Alaska Airlines, one enroute stopover is allowed for each one-way award.”

If you’re looking to redeem your miles on Alaska or want to build in a stopover in a city like Ketchikan, this could be a great option! Just keep in mind that the vast majority of these more complicated itineraries must be booked over the phone.

Earning Alaska miles: Transfer from SPG, Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card

American

Back in 2014, American eliminated the ability to include a stopover on award tickets, which previously was restricted to the international gateway on the trip. However, despite this devaluation, you’re still able to include an open jaw or two as a result of the ability to book one-way awards on American. Here’s an example of a double open jaw using AAdvantage miles:

AA double open jaw

This trip would cost the same number of miles and taxes and fees if booked as two separate one-way award tickets, but as I mentioned above, you may wind up avoiding extra fees by including both legs on one ticket. I recently redeemed my stash of AAdvantage miles for an open jaw itinerary and will be bringing our daughter Evy along. We only had to pay a couple of hundred dollars, even though our outbound flight by itself would’ve been close to $600.

Earning American miles: SPG transfer partner, Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard, Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard

ANA

Krug Champagne in ANA first class.
ANA offers fantastic first-class amenities and some flexibility with stopovers and open jaws.

This Japan-based airline has been a longtime favorite of points and miles enthusiasts, though the carrier did switch to a zone-based award chart in April 2015. This change also impacted stopovers, as you are now only allowed one on certain award tickets plus one open jaw (you could have three stopovers with the carrier’s old distance-based award chart). In addition, the new program doesn’t allow one-way award redemptions, so you must book a round-trip flight. However, ANA did lower fuel surcharges on award tickets earlier this year.

Here are the key restrictions on stopovers and open jaws:

  • On domestic flights within Japan, no stopovers are allowed.
  • On ANA-only international award tickets, you are only allowed one stopover on flights departing from overseas (no stopovers allowed for flights departing Japan).
  • On partner award tickets, you are allowed one stopover on either the inbound or outbound flight.
  • You can include an open jaw at the start and end of the award ticket, as long as the two airports are in the same country
  • You can include an open jaw at the destination, as long as the two airports are in the same “area.”

This last point is most confusing. ANA uses a zone-based award chart, with 10 different geographical zones spread across the globe. However, those zones are arranged into three “areas” that apply to open jaws:

Area 1: North America, Hawaii, Central America, South America
Area 2: Europe, Middle East, Africa
Area 3: Japan, South Korea, China, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Southwest Pacific

Your open jaw must happen in the same area, though you can’t have one between North America (including Hawaii) and South/Latin America.

Earning ANA miles: Membership Rewards transfer partner, SPG transfer partner

British Airways

British Airways 747-400 in Johannesburg
British Airways technically allows unlimited stopovers thanks to its distance-based award chart (though you’ll need to redeem separately for each leg).

The British Airways Executive Club program could be viewed as the most flexible or least flexible out there for stopovers and open jaws. It follows a distance-based formula for calculating how many Avios you need for a particular award redemption, and the total cost is based on the individual costs of your segments. As a result, you can build in as many stopovers as you’d like. However, since you’re charged on a flight-by-flight basis, you’ll wind up paying more to stop in London en route from JFK to Madrid (for example) than you would by flying nonstop from JFK to Madrid.

The only exception to this is when you’re connecting to a destination in the UK, as British Airways allows “free” stopovers in London before continuing onto a different city in England or Scotland. In fact, the BA search engine will even prompt you to include stopovers when you’re searching for award flights:

BA stopover

This can be a great way to visit London en route to another city like Edinburgh without incurring any additional mileage cost.

Earning British Airways Avios: Membership Rewards transfer partner (though now at a lower rate), SPG transfer partner, Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, British Airways Visa Signature Card

Delta

In 2014 Delta devalued its program, including the removal of stopovers and open jaws on award tickets as of January 1, 2015. I had used both tactics several times and was quite disappointed to see them disappear. However, since Delta now finally allows one-way award tickets, you can still build in either one or two open jaws by booking two different one-way award tickets on a single itinerary. Doing this is a great way to avoid the carrier’s absurd surcharge for award reservations that start in Europe.

Here’s an example of an open jaw itinerary:

Delta open jaw

If you booked these flights as two separate one-way tickets, you’d spend the same number of miles (60,000) but wind up paying over $300 in taxes and fees. By booking them on the same itinerary, you’re saving roughly $120.

Earning Delta miles: Membership Rewards transfer partner, SPG transfer partner (including Crossover Rewards), Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

Flying Blue

As the loyalty program of both Air France and KLM, Flying Blue has some intriguing redemptions, especially the program’s monthly promo awards that offer 25%-50% off select redemptions. In addition, Flying Blue allows you to include both a stopover and an open jaw on round-trip tickets (stopovers can’t be included on one-way award flights). However, if you include an open jaw, the two airports must be in the same award zone.

Earning Flying Blue miles: Membership Rewards transfer partner, SPG transfer partner, ThankYou Rewards transfer partner

Japan Airlines

Emirates-first-830x400
Emirates first class is one of the luxurious award options available through Japan Airlines.

Japan Airlines and its Mileage Bank program is an intriguing option for stopovers and open jaws, especially since it uses a distance-based award chart for partner redemptions. However, the rules are a bit different for flights on JAL vs. flights on partner airlines. Here’s a breakdown of how these strategies work:

  • For international flights on Japan Airlines, you cannot stopover in Japan but can include an open jaw, as long as the airports that form the open jaw are within the same country.
  • For flights on partner airlines, you can have up to three stopovers or two stopovers and one open jaw (called “surface sector” on JAL’s website).

Note that when you redeem miles for award flights on partner airlines, you can book a one-way ticket and still take advantage of these stopovers, giving you a wealth of opportunities to tack additional cities on to your trip. This is also the least expensive option for booking Emirates first class now that Alaska has significantly devalued that redemption option.

Earning JAL miles: SPG transfer partner

Singapore

Singapore's suites convert into beds dressed in Givenchy linens.
Singapore’s Suites are a coveted award, and you can include a stopover on round-trip award flights.

Singapore Airlines has some incredible premium-class products, and TPG himself loves flying in Suites Class. The carrier also gives you some flexibility to build in stopovers and open jaws on award tickets, though like many programs listed above, the exact policies vary depending on the type of award you book. If you are traveling exclusively on Singapore flights, you can have one stopover on round-trip saver awards. You can also have a stopover on one-way standard/full awards or two stopovers on round-trip standard/full awards.

For partner airlines, it gets a bit more muddled. You’re allowed a complimentary stopover on a round-trip ticket and can pay $100 apiece for three additional stopovers. However, the following restrictions apply:

  • Stopovers are not permitted on a domestic itinerary nor are they allowed within your country of origin on an international itinerary.
  • Stopovers are not permitted on itineraries solely within Europe or between the US, Canada, Puerto Rico or US Virgin Islands.

You can also include an open jaw between the starting and ending cities or at the destination.

Earning KrisFlyer miles: Membership Rewards transfer partner, SPG transfer partner, Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, ThankYou Rewards transfer partner

United

You could earn up to a 100% bonus when you purchase United miles.
United’s stopover and open jaw policies are actually pretty straightforward.

The final carrier on the list is the much-maligned United. Despite a massive devaluation in 2014, United still offers some solid value in its MileagePlus program, and flexible routing rules are one such benefit. When redeeming your miles, you can include two open jaws and one stopover on round-trip tickets, though unfortunately this isn’t available on one-way awards.

Earning United miles: SPG transfer partner, Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, United MileagePlus Explorer Card

Strategies for Maximization

Hopefully you’ve seen how to begin taking advantage of stopovers and open jaws on award tickets, as many carriers give you valuable flexibility to extend the value of your miles. However, there are a few additional suggestions I have to help as you’re planning your next trip:

1. Consider a connection of ~23.5 hours. When traveling internationally, most airlines will allow you to connect within 24 hours of your arrival and not count it as a stopover. If you can schedule in an overnight layover that’s close to 24 hours, you may be able to add yet another city to your itinerary without using up your stopover. My wife and I have done this with Paris, Oslo, Prague and Tokyo in the past.

2. Add a “free” side trip. If you’re already planning on redeeming your miles for a trip, why not look at adding a free side-trip courtesy of a stopover and/or open jaw? Back in 2014, my wife and I wanted to vacation in Canada but also had a wedding to attend around the same time. Instead of booking two separate trips from Florida, we flew from Orlando to Raleigh-Durham (stop for a wedding) and then continued onto Montreal, our destination. After a week of vacation, we flew from Montreal back to Orlando. This entire trip cost us the same number of miles as a single round-trip ticket.

3. Diversify, diversify, DIVERSIFY. One of the best lessons I’ve learned in this hobby is the importance of diversification. By having multiple pots of mileage from which to choose, you have incredible flexibility when it comes to booking award tickets but also filling in open jaws. This is one reason why I love transferable point currencies and think that all award travelers should have them. These programs allow you to wait to transfer points until you are sure of your redemption needs.

These are the top 10 busiest airports in the world.
There are many ways to make your points and miles go even further with stopovers and open jaws. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Bottom Line

Building in stopovers and open jaws on your award tickets can be a great way to make the most of your hard-earned points and miles. Hopefully this post has given you a solid understanding of what these strategies are but also (more importantly) how to begin utilizing them across the major airlines.

What trips have you taken with stopovers and/or open jaws on award tickets?

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