Hacking Award Flights: How Combining Open Jaw And Stopovers Leads to Ridiculous Redemptions

Hacking Award Flights: How Combining Open Jaw And Stopovers Leads to Ridiculous Redemptions
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Most people think of award tickets as taking them from one place to another on a simple one-way ticket, or as a basic roundtrip, from home to somewhere and back again. There are plenty of cases where these kind of awards can represent great value, but room for greater creativity exists.

What if you’d like to fly into and out of different airports, or perhaps return to a different city than the one you left from? Maybe you’d like to stay for a few days in Tokyo on your way to Bangkok. Maybe you’d like to fly to London from San Francisco, but return to Los Angeles from Munich on the way. These itineraries are possible, and by booking them while harnessing open-jaws and stopovers, they can be had for far less money and far fewer miles than you might expect!

Open-Jaws and Stopovers

Open-Jaws

An open-jaw is when a portion of your itinerary either departs from or returns to a different airport than during the other half of your trip. For example, my recent trip to Portland and Las Vegas utilized a single open-jaw: I flew from JAX to PDX, but then returned to JAX from LAS. I booked a cheap Southwest fare from Portland to Las Vegas with a few thousand RapidRewards® miles while allowing my Delta award booking to do the heavy lifting for the long legs of the trip.

Single Open-Jaw Itinerary

Departing from Jacksonville for Portland and then returning from Las Vegas to Jacksonville might not appear to constitute a roundtrip flight, but thanks to open-jaw rules, it does.

This is the most typical kind of open-jaw, but it’s also perfectly possible to return to a different location at the end of a trip. For example, if we departed from New York to London and returned from Paris to Orlando, this would count as a legal “double open-jaw” routing. As it happens, that’s what’s happening on our trip to London and Paris.

Double Open-Jaw Itinerary

Departing from New York for London and then returning from Paris to Orlando is a double open-jaw flight, harnessing four different airports on one “roundtrip” flight.

Open-Jaws not only allow travelers flexibility in their award redemptions; they often-times allow travelers to take advantage of award bookings that might not otherwise be possible.

Availability for our flight to London was thin out of Orlando unless we flew on British Airways and paid several hundred per person in fuel surcharges, so by first flying to New York and then beginning our award journey from there, we were still able to save more than $1,000 per person on our booking. Getting from Orlando to New York cheaply is easy; getting from the US to the UK for nearly free was the goal, even if it required making our way to a gateway airport with availability.

Stopovers

Everyone’s familiar with the concept of a layover. It’s often a dreaded term, as flyers wait patiently for a few hours and pray their connecting flight isn’t delayed, or make a mad dash for a flight set to depart from another concourse mere minutes after arriving at their connecting airport.

Layovers don’t have to be something to dread, though. If you stay on the ground for more than 24 hours, a layover officially becomes a stopover, and can represent an excellent opportunity to tack on the equivalent of a free flight to many itineraries.

On Monday, for example, we’ll be featuring an itinerary to Australia and New Zealand from Los Angeles. Smart use of a stopover means a traveler on this itinerary could choose to add a few days in Honolulu on to the end of their trip. Let’s say you wanted to go to Moscow; why not spend a few days in London on the way? If your itinerary is already set to connect through such a gateway city, or can be, then this is possible with many airlines.

Perhaps most powerful of all is the ability to use this feature to effectively create free one-way flights as part of many award bookings.

Let’s say you were traveling from Miami to Cancun and had a business trip a few weeks later taking you from Miami to Seattle. Believe it or not, this can constitute one roundtrip on many carriers. Miami to Cancun is the first half of the itinerary; on the way back, you’re effectively going from Cancun to Seattle, with a stopover in Miami for a few weeks.

Using Stopovers for Free One-Way Flights

Let’s say you leave Miami for a trip to Cancun. You have a business trip in Seattle three weeks after you return. Stopovers mean your flight to Seattle can be had for nothing.

Rules By Carrier

The rules for stopovers and open-jaws differ from carrier to carrier. Here’s a breakdown of the rules for some major domestic carriers:

American Airlines

American allows stopovers only at North American transoceanic gateway cities. Let’s say you’re flying from Kansas City to Tokyo via San Francisco; in that case, you’d be allowed a stopover in San Francisco on the way.

Because all American award tickets are booked like one-way flights, you can actually have stopovers on both ends of transatlantic or transpacific flights. Fly back into Seattle on your way home, for example, and you can enjoy a second stopover there on the way.

Layovers of up to 24 hours are allowed en route at any connection stop, so if you’re feeling adventurous, you could always turn an afternoon arrival into an early departure the next day, leaving the airport to do a bit of exploring along the way.

Double Open-Jaws are perfectly doable with American, since award travel is booked in one-way increments.

Delta Airlines

Delta books by roundtrip, allowing one open jaw and one stopover per award ticket. For example, you could fly from Atlanta to Moscow via London, taking a week in London along the way, then fly home to Atlanta from Paris, and this would count as a legal roundtrip award.

United Airlines

United’s award rules allow for a double open jaw and a stopover. This is an awesome opportunity, especially given the breadth of United’s Star Alliance partnership. As we’ll see on Monday, this allows an itinerary such as Los Angeles to Sydney via San Francisco followed by Auckland, New Zealand to Los Angeles via Honolulu and Phoenix with a stopover in Honolulu.

The trick is making certain that availability at the correct award level and for the correct seat class is available for each leg of the trip. This can be accomplished with fair success through United’s online award engine, especially when searching each segment of the trip as a separate one-way fare and taking note of specific flight numbers and times, then stitching it back together as a multi-city itinerary. United’s phone representatives can also be helpful in this regard; although there’s a $25 fee to book by phone, it can often be worth it to rely on their expertise.

US Airways

US Air allows awards to be booked with either a stopover or open jaw, but not with both. So, stopping in London on your way to Rome from Charlotte is doable, so long as you return to Charlotte from Rome. In theory, stopovers are only allowed in cities listed as a Star Alliance hub, but there are so many Star Alliance partners that you’re likely to find yourself in a hub for one alliance airline or another for most major destinations.

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Casey Ayers is a consultant and entrepreneur with a passion for travel. After amassing enough miles and points to travel anywhere in the world for almost free in less than six months, he developed PointsAway as a way to help others make travel dreams big and small come true.
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