How to Book Free Stopovers on Domestic Award Tickets
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Stopovers can take a one-destination trip and give you the ability to experience multiple locations on a single award ticket. A stopover is arguably the most under-utilized and misunderstood tool in the award travel space as you can get two (or more) trips for the price of one. For families, this could significantly help stretch miles and maybe even allow you to visit grandparents on the way to your vacation destination. Often the process to book a ticket with stopovers seems difficult, and while it’s true that associated routing rules can be complex, I’ll give you several examples of how easily it can be done.
Here are a few airline loyalty programs that make it possible to enjoy a stopover on domestic award tickets within the United States without spending additional miles.
What’s a Stopover?
Simply stated, a stopover on an award ticket is physically stopping (and likely leaving the airport) in a city other than your destination without paying additional miles. A stop of more than four hours on a domestic itinerary, or more than 24 hours on an international itinerary, is considered a stopover for most programs. This is not the same thing as a quick connection at a hub to get on the next flight. Nor is it the same thing as an open-jaw, where you fly into one city and out of another.
The simplest example of a stopover would be a flight from New York to Los Angeles, that connects in Chicago. Instead of a few hours’ worth of layover in Chicago between flights, you spend two days enjoying the city before continuing on to Los Angeles and eventually returning to New York. It is possible to book this itinerary for the same number of miles as a New York to Los Angeles round-trip award ticket via select programs. Your award flight with a stopover in Chicago might look something like this:
There are a few basic rules you need to understand for stopovers on award tickets before we get into the specifics of this can work.
- The stopover must typically be en route to your final destination. In the above example you couldn’t stopover in Portland, Maine on your way to California from New York.
- American and Delta do not allow stopovers of any kind of award tickets. In the above example, you’d need three one-way award tickets if using American Airlines AAdvantage miles or Delta SkyMiles.
- United only allows stopovers as part of an Excursionist itinerary.
- Many airline loyalty programs do not allow stopovers on itineraries within a single zone, country or region (depending on how their award chart is defined). We’ll discuss ones that do allow domestic stopovers below, but that rule is why the list of programs that allow included stopovers on domestic awards is quite short.
- Some programs actually allow multiple stopovers on a single award itinerary, which we will discuss below.
All that said, depending on the loyalty program whose miles you are trying to redeem, these rules bend a bit from time to time. This next bit is jumping a little ahead, but along a related chain of thought, there are a few things to keep in mind when you are looking to get a bit more advanced with your domestic stopover itinerary:
- How do you really define if a city is en route to your destination? Georgia could arguably be on the way to California from New York.
- Is it always possible to say which city is the destination and which city is the stopover on an itinerary?
- Are Alaska and Hawaii considered domestic for a particular loyalty program? How about Guam, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands or American Samoa?
- Some programs have maximum permitted mileages (MPMs) for award itineraries which cannot be violated. Adding stopovers risks hitting the limit of this permitted mileage.
- Backtracking, stopovers in third regions and stopovers in your city of origin may or may not be allowed depending on the program you are using, the agent that answers the phone, the current lunar state and whether or not it’s high tide — if you get my drift.
Programs That Allow Stopovers on Domestic Itineraries
According to Paragraph 28 of the terms and conditions of Air Canada’s up-and-down loyalty program, Aeroplan allows one stopover on round-trip itineraries within the Continental US and between the Continental US and Hawaii/Puerto Rico/Caribbean when the flights are operated by United.
Aeroplan’s online search engine allows for a multi-city itinerary, and you can easily find and book a domestic stopover itinerary, such as the one I mentioned above. If there is United saver award availability (and not the expanded type of award availability that United cardholders and elites see), you can book your United-operated flights via Aeroplan, Newark – Chicago (stopover) – Los Angeles (destination) – Newark for 25,000 miles and $11.20.
You can’t really get more creative on a domestic award trip than a simple stopover itinerary with Aeroplan, but as it’s a 1:1 Amex transfer partner via cards that earn Membership Rewards points such as The Platinum Card® from American Express, it should be the first place you look if you need a domestic stopover itinerary where United operates.
ANA Mileage Club
Japanese carrier and American Express transfer partner All Nippon Airways allows one stopover on Star Alliance partner itineraries, which must be booked as round-trip tickets. The online booking engine is very easy to maneuver after you sign in, and it operates using a region-based award chart. The United States (minus Hawaii), Canada and Mexico are all in the same zone and require 30,000 ANA Mileage Club miles for a round-trip ticket.
The easiest way to use this stopover is to search the United award search engine to find saver availability and then enter your desired routing leg by leg into the ANA online booking engine. The same itinerary found on Aeroplan above will cost 30,000 miles and $11.20 when booked via ANA. For comparison purposes, the same flights would cost 37,500 United MileagePlus miles + $11.20 if booked directly with United.
With ANA, you can book awards from the contiguous US and Canada to Hawaii round-trip in economy for 40,000 miles and include a stopover in North America on your way to or from Hawaii, which aligns well with Mommy Points’ strategy to spend the night on the West Coast at least on the way back from Hawaii if you want to avoid the red-eye flights home.
Alaska Airlines is a unicorn, as it has a domestic frequent flyer program that allows domestic stopovers at no extra charge — even on award tickets! That is very rare, and that’s one of the reasons it’s ranked as TPG‘s best overall airline. Alaska award flights start at 5,000 miles each way for a shorter flight such as Seattle to San Francisco.
However, for no additional miles you could fly from Seattle to Portland, stop and stay a few days, and then continue on to San Francisco all for the same 5,000 miles plus $11.20 in taxes.
In my test searches, your domestic stopovers on Alaska appear to need to happen at one of Alaska’s hubs, which limits the utility, but still offers amazing value if you want to spend time in an Alaska hub city.
Although you can no longer transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to the Korean SkyPass program, you can still transfer Marriott Rewards points or sign up for a US Bank co-branded Korean Airlines card to score this valuable mileage currency. Korean allows one stopover on both Delta- and Alaska Airlines-operated domestic itineraries. Here’s a round-trip Orlando to Minneapolis itinerary, with a stopover in Atlanta.
The Delta stopover itinerary will set you back 25,000 Korean SkyPass miles + $11.20 in taxes for an economy ticket. The award is bookable online with the SkyTeam multi-city search engine.
Don’t forget Hawaii, the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are all in the same zone as the contiguous 48 states for Delta itineraries as far as SkyPass is concerned. This can be powerful if you nest a Korean stopover ticket between two other tickets.
You could take a short-notice trip to St. Thomas for shoulder season, head to New York for seven months, fly to Atlanta for business, see friends, etc. and then continue back for a second vacation to St. Thomas next summer — the total cost is 25,000 miles and $52.
For Alaska Airlines-operated itineraries, round-trip flights in economy within the US/Canada are only 20,000 miles in economy and 40,000 miles in first and allow a stopover. Round-trip between the US/Canada, and Hawaii is 30,000 round-trip in economy and 60,000 in first. You must call Korean to book Alaska-operated flights — and don’t forget your free stopover.
It’s easy to earn KrisFlyer miles as you can transfer them from Chase, Citi, Amex and Marriott Rewards. You can then use your KrisFlyer miles to fly on Star Alliance partner United on a couple of different types of domestic award itineraries.
Canada, Alaska and the contiguous 48 states are all in the same zone on Singapore’s Star Alliance partner award chart. Round-trip itineraries within this zone cost 25,000 miles, and one stopover is allowed, but you’ll have to get the right phone agent who will check with their supervisor in order to get it booked.
First, find saver space on the United.com award search engine then call 312-843-5333 to book the itinerary once you have the exact segments in hand. I was able to quote Newark – Chicago (stopover) – Los Angeles (destination) – Newark for 25,000 miles and $130.
This is the same itinerary found above with ANA and Aeroplan, but it cost 5,000 fewer miles than ANA while charging $119 more in taxes than both programs. I personally would look to Aeroplan or ANA before KrisFlyer for single-stopover, contiguous 48 state itineraries and spend the 5,000 additional miles. The agent did give me a PNR (passenger name record) to hold the itinerary even though I have zero miles in my KrisFlyer account, but she could not guarantee the seats would still be there when I called back to book.
The second domestic itinerary to look at with KrisFlyer is rather odd. This award has to do with the Hawaii/Central America region, which includes the Caribbean and Puerto Rico with Hawaii. I found saver award space on the following itinerary on United.com.
The itinerary is San Juan – Newark (stopover) – Honolulu (destination) – Houston – San Juan. The agent came back and quoted me the correct price of 35,000 miles and roughly the same $130 worth of taxes and fees. That’s a stellar deal.
For both itineraries I had to talk the agent into checking the stopover policy for Star Alliance award tickets (one free and $100 for each additional stopover) with her supervisor. I like the second itinerary because it shows a stopover is possible in a third region (North America) when completing a round-trip itinerary within the same region (Hawaii/ Central America).
Distance-Based Programs — Avios, AsiaMiles, JAL Mileage Bank
The three programs below operate on a distance-based partner award chart and don’t necessarily fit the traditional mold of a stopover, yet they still make a multi-city domestic ticket possible without additional miles.
British Airways Avios — Because the program charges Avios per segment, you can book as many one-way tickets as you like, creating as many “stopovers” as needed. This isn’t a stopover in the true sense of the word, but if you have a lot of places you want to see, and American Airlines services all of them, it could make sense to use British Airway Avios (Iberia does not allow stopovers).
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles — The program underwent a large transformation on June 22 and — to the best of my knowledge — still has not released an award chart for itineraries consisting of a single partner airline. The already complex program has become much more opaque and, honestly, I am not sure what to make of it. Here’s an example of the online calculator showing roun- trip on American from Atlanta to New York (JFK) costing 30,000 Asia Miles in economy:
If I head to the multi-city itinerary calculator and add in Chicago to the Atlanta and JFK route, the price drops to 25,000 Asia miles required:
Again, we have no single partner award chart to compare this with, and there are large disclaimers with the online booking request form that the mileage required could be different than the calculator. You won’t know what it actually costs until someone responds to your request with seven business days.
That seven-day response alone makes the process and currency almost worthless, as availability changes all the time. If you’ve ever called Cathay Pacific, you know that it is arguably the most fruitless effort you’ll ever spend in the points and miles world. There seems to be a minimum 45-minute hold time and agents have been the least knowledgable of any airline program I routinely speak with.
I imagine stopovers are possible with Asia Miles, but I don’t know what it should cost and no one has responded to my online booking request form.
Japan Airlines Mileage Bank — JAL has an unsung, robust multi-city online award booking engine that continues to go largely unnoticed. You can book an all domestic, American Airlines operated itinerary with four stops online (even including open-jaws).
The program prices based on the total distance of all your sectors, so it’s up to you to find an American Airlines-operated domestic itinerary that maximizes the mileage bands in the partner airline award ticket chart. You can use the official JAL “mileage for distance scheme award ticket” calculator to see where your itinerary will fall on the award chart. I booked Atlanta – New York (stopover) – Chicago (destination) – Atlanta for 21,000 miles and $11.20.
The itinerary comes in at 2,082 miles in length, or just over the range of zone two in the partner award chart. The partner award chart has some zones which, quite frankly, don’t make much sense and offer extraordinarily good value if you can max out the distance of your domestic itinerary without going over.
New York – Chicago (stopover) – Seattle (stopover) – Los Angeles (destination) – New York comes in at 5,890 miles in length. With all flights in business class, the ticket would only cost 60,000 JAL miles or 37,000 JAL miles if you flew in economy. You can transfer Marriott Rewards points to Japan Airlines to earn Mileage Bank miles.
There are other programs, like Asiana Club, where booking stopovers on domestic itineraries is possible, but those miles are much better spent for transatlantic or transpacific premium-class redemptions. Until I did all the research for this article, I didn’t realize how many programs actually offer the ability to book a free stopover on a domestic ticket — and how easy it often is to book a stopover online. Even better, many of the above programs allow you to also add open jaws (even multiple stopovers paired with open jaws) into a domestic itinerary which could result in extraordinary value on your family’s next multi-stop domestic vacation.
If you have multiple stops to make on your next trip within the US (or the Caribbean or Hawaii), make sure to check with any of the above programs to see if you can make your miles go further.
Featured image courtesy of Andrea Bacle photography.
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