Maximizing stopovers and open jaws on award tickets
Understanding the complexities of stopovers and open jaws on award tickets can be overwhelming, but they can be a great way to visit two or more destinations for the price of one.
Some airline programs have lenient routing rules that you can leverage to create a tour of Europe or Asia and sometimes even a mini-round-the-world itinerary. Today, we’ll explore the stopover and open-jaw rules of some of the most popular airlines to help you make the most informed decision on how you could transfer your points and subsequently maximize your rewards.
Let’s dive in.
What are stopovers and open jaws?
If you’re unfamiliar with stopovers and open jaws, start here.
At a high level, a stopover is a long stop in a city en route to your final destination where you leave the airport. That differs from a layover, which is generally a short connection during which you stay in the airport. The definition of a stopover vs. a layover can vary depending on the route, but for international award tickets, it’s usually any connection lasting at least 24 hours.
Meanwhile, an open jaw means flying into one city and then departing out of another to fly home. For example, if you want to fly from Orlando International Airport (MCO) to Dublin Airport (DUB) and then return from Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) to Orlando, that is an open jaw.
You could book each leg as a separate one-way ticket, but it may result in extra fees if you need to change your plans. In almost all open jaws, you’re responsible for your own transportation between arrival and departure airports (Dublin and Paris in the above example). You could buy a one-way ticket on a low-cost airline or use a different mode of transportation, like a train or bus, to fill the open jaw.
Related: What are stopovers and open jaws on award tickets?
Can’t you create open jaws with multiple one-way tickets?
Generally, yes. Most airline programs allow you to book one-way awards. You can create your own open jaw if your desired airline does not allow open jaws. Using the previous example would mean booking a one-way ticket from Orlando to Dublin and then another one-way ticket from Paris to Orlando.
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But here are some reasons you might not want to do that.
You could be turning down a ‘free’ flight
As you’ll see, some programs allow stopovers, enabling you to use a city as a stopover before continuing to your destination.
So you could use Dublin as a multi-day stopover before continuing to Paris. The flight from Dublin to Paris could be available for little to no extra points. One example is the United MileagePlus excursionist perk, where the inter-region flight on most long-haul round-trip or multi-city itineraries is no extra miles — you’d only need to pay the taxes and fees from Dublin to Paris.
Changes can get messy
Although the major U.S. airlines no longer charge redeposit and change fees on most award tickets, having two one-way tickets often means double the fees and double the headache when changes occur.
Some programs are also known for long hold times, so if you have a ticket booked with two programs, more effort will be required.
You may pay more in surcharges
Some carriers add on surcharges when you begin your trip in certain regions. For example, Delta SkyMiles generally adds a “carrier-imposed international surcharge” when you start an award itinerary in Europe. On a round-trip, economy-class ticket from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Brussels Airport (BRU), you’ll need to pay just $66 in taxes and fees (plus the required number of miles). However, booking a one-way ticket that starts in Brussels tacks on 120 euros (around $130) per person.
An infant-in-arms could be a lot more expensive
If you’re traveling with an infant-in-arms (also known as a lap child), some carriers require you to pay 10% of the adult fare on international flights. One-way tickets are often exorbitantly expensive, so booking a ticket as a round-trip or multi-city could save you money when it comes to this fee.
Related: 25 airlines that allow families to pool miles
The best programs for stopovers and open jaws
The U.S. legacy carriers once offered generous routing rules for award tickets, but that’s no longer true. Remember that airlines can modify their award routing rules without warning.
Here’s a list of the best programs for stopovers and open jaws in your travel plans.
Air Canada Aeroplan
We’ve written a lot about the Aeroplan stopover.
For 5,000 points, you can add a stopover to any one-way ticket, and you can add up to two stopovers to a round-trip ticket (for 5,000 points apiece). You can also have an open jaw on your ticket, but only between one-way flights and not between connecting cities or stopovers.
In addition to Air Canada metal, you can use the Aeroplan stopover on Star Alliance partners like United, Lufthansa and ANA. The Aeroplan stopover also works with non-alliance partners like Emirates, Gulf Air, Oman Air and Vistara. Between all of Aeroplan’s partners, you can book plenty of creative flights.
Here are some of our favorite Aeroplan stopovers in business class:
- Stopover in Oman: Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport (AMM) to Muscat International Airport (MCT) to Dubai International Airport (DXB) for 25,000 points.
- Stopover in Japan: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Tokyo’s Narita International Airport (NRT) to Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) for 90,000 points.
- Stopover in Switzerland: Miami to Zurich Airport (ZRH) to Naples International Airport (NAP) for 75,000 points.
- Stopover in Turkey: Washington’s Dulles International Airport (IAD) to Istanbul Airport (IST) to Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport (DPS) for 92,500 points.
Just keep in mind that stopovers are not allowed for trips entirely within North America, including the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America.
You can book Aeroplan stopovers using the multi-city search function on aircanada.com.
Related: Complete guide to Aeroplan’s stopover and routing rules
Air France-KLM Flying Blue
Flying Blue is one of the most recent programs to start offering stopovers. Best of all, Flying Blue stopovers don’t require any extra miles.
You can add a stopover for up to one year on Flying Blue award tickets that are wholly operated by Air France and/or KLM. For most travelers, that means you can stop in Paris or Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) for a few days before continuing to your final destination.
To book Flying Blue stopovers, you’ll need to call Flying Blue at 1 (800) 375-8723.
Related: The ultimate guide to earning and redeeming with Air France-KLM Flying Blue
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan offers attractive premium cabin award rates, particularly for travel to Asia. It also provides generous rules for stopovers and open jaws.
You can have one stopover per one-way flight and use an open jaw for international award tickets. However, when using the Alaska stopover, you can only use one partner airline per award ticket, plus Alaska. To avoid this restriction, you can book two one-way tickets on round-trip itineraries and use different partners on the outbound and inbound flights.
Generally, Alaska stopovers are only allowed on long-haul international flights in the hub of your partner airline. For Cathay Pacific, this would be Hong Kong International Airport (HKG). Meanwhile, Japan Airlines would allow stopovers in either Tokyo airport — Narita International Airport (NRT) or Haneda Airport (HND).
Here are some of our favorite Mileage Plan stopovers in business class:
- Stopover in Finland: LAX to Helsinki Airport (HEL) to Rome Fiumicino Leonardo da Vinci Airport (FCO) for 70,000 miles.
- Stopover in England: Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to Heathrow Airport (LHR) to Edinburgh Airport (EDI) for 65,000 miles.
- Stopover in Fiji: LAX to Nadi International Airport (NAN) to Sydney Airport (SYD) for 55,000 miles.
You can book Alaska Airlines stopovers using the multi-city search on alaskaair.com.
Related: 6 things to know about the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program
ANA Mileage Club
ANA Mileage Club has a stopover program that works much like Alaska’s by allowing one stopover and one open jaw, but it only works on round-trip award tickets. Luckily, ANA has some of the lowest award rates out there.
You’re allowed one stopover on ANA tickets, except for itineraries wholly in Japan. Likewise, you’re only allowed a stopover on ANA flights if your itinerary originates outside Japan. Stopovers can either be on your ticket’s outbound or inbound leg, and you’re allowed an open jaw on both the inbound and outbound leg.
When you opt for an open jaw at your destination, the cities you choose must belong to the same “Area” designated by ANA. ANA divides the world into three areas, so as long as you finish your ticket in the same general area, this shouldn’t be a problem.
To book an ANA stopover or open jaw, sign in to your Mileage Club account, select “book a flight,” then “award reservation” and then “multiple cities/mixed classes.” You can enter your city pairs and desired travel dates here.
Call ANA Mileage Club at 1 (800) 235-9262 if you face issues or are trying to book a partner that doesn’t appear online — like Philippine Airlines.
Related: Everything you need to know about ANA Mileage Club
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
Despite devaluations to its KrisFlyer program, Singapore Airlines continues to offer exceptional premium-class products. On Singapore Airlines-operated award tickets, KrisFlyer members can book stopovers and open jaws on award tickets. One-way Advantage awards allow for one stopover, while round-trip Advantage awards permit two. Saver awards only allow one stopover on a round-trip ticket and none on a one-way ticket.
In all of these cases, there’s no charge to add stopovers to an award ticket booked through Singapore KrisFlyer.
For U.S.-based flyers, the best use of the KrisFlyer stopover may be on fifth freedom Singapore Airlines flights, where you can stop for a few days in a city before terminating your journey in Singapore. Singapore Airlines operates these U.S. fifth freedom flights:
- LAX to Tokyo Narita.
- Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) to Manchester Airport (MAN).
- JFK to Frankfurt Airport (FRA).
To book KrisFlyer stopovers, go to singaporeair.com and select “redeem flights.” Enter your travel criteria with your origin and final destination — for example, LAX to SIN. You’ll see a place to add a stopover on the next page.
Related: Deal: Book discounted Singapore Airlines awards with KrisFlyer Spontaneous Escapes
United MileagePlus doesn’t explicitly permit stopovers or open jaws but offers the Excursionist Perk. You should refer to our guide on the Excursionist Perk if you’re unfamiliar with it, but here’s the basic principle:
The first route wholly within a single MileagePlus-defined region different from the region where your itinerary begins and ends is free.
You can use this to create several stopovers and/or open jaws, and there’s room to get very creative here, given how few rules United has about the perk. However, the most common use would be something like this:
- Flight one: Newark to Frankfurt on United or Lufthansa.
- Flight two: Frankfurt to Brussels on Lufthansa or Brussels Airlines.
- Flight three: Brussels to Newark on United.
As you can see, the intra-Europe flight prices out at 0 miles (the taxes and fees are part of the overall award ticket, not an added cost for the stopover).
To book the MileagePlus Excursionist Perk, go to united.com, click “advanced search,” “miles” and then “multi-city.” Enter your travel details. The first sector wholly within a single MileagePlus-defined region different from the region where your itinerary begins and ends is no extra miles.
Related: How to get maximum value from the United MileagePlus program
Other programs that allow stopovers and open jaws
Asiana Club, Japan Airlines Mileage Bank and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles are three other programs that either allow open jaws or stopovers. That said, Asiana and Japan Airlines miles are difficult for U.S.-based travelers to earn, as the programs aren’t transfer partners of the major credit card currencies. That said, you can transfer Marriott points to Asiana and Japan Airlines.
Asia Miles, on the other hand, is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Bilt Rewards, Capital One and Citi ThankYou Rewards — though the program has a number of complexities that can make these challenging to book.
Meanwhile, British Airways calculates award tickets based on the distance of each leg. So if you book a flight from JFK to Vienna Airport (VIE) with a stop in London, it’s the same number of miles as a flight from JFK to London (with a stopover in London) and then London to Vienna.
Lastly, Emirates Skywards generally allows one free stopover on round-trip saver tickets in business and economy class, but Skywards is known for outrageously high fuel surcharges.
Related: These airline and hotel programs offer free points when you sign up
How to maximize stopovers and open jaws
Now that you know how to make the most of stopovers and open jaws on award tickets, here are a few extra tips to consider while planning your next trip.
- Consider a connection of ~23.5 hours. When traveling internationally, you can generally connect within 24 hours of your arrival without it counting as a stopover. If you can schedule an overnight layover close to 24 hours, you can add another city to your itinerary without using up your stopover.
- Add a “free” side trip. If you plan to use your miles for a trip, consider adding a free side trip with a stopover and/or open jaw. For example, say you want to vacation in Canada but also have a wedding to attend in New York around the same time. Instead of booking two separate trips from your home airport, you can fly from your home to New York (stop for a wedding) and then continue to Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL). After a week of vacation, you can return to your home airport from Montreal.
- Diversify your rewards. Diversification is the key to having more options when booking award tickets and filling in open jaws. Transferable point currencies are excellent for this. You can wait to transfer points until you know your redemption needs, giving you greater flexibility.
Related: How to plan a free stopover on your next trip abroad
Adding stopovers and open jaws to your award tickets is an excellent way to maximize your rewards and potentially visit another city without incurring additional award expenses.
You can even leverage some program restrictions, such as Alaska Airlines, to have a stopover in the partner’s hub city. Now, you have the skills to begin utilizing stopovers on your next award trip.
Additional reporting by Nick Ewen and Andrew Kunesh.