Beginners Guide: What is a Stopover & What is an Open-Jaw?

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Stopovers and open-jaws are a great way of increasing the value of points and miles. You can add extra destinations to award flights, often at no additional cost, allowing you to see and experience new locations without laying down more miles for the privilege. Unfortunately, award routing rules and restrictions vary widely by frequent flyer program, an enigma for those new to the award travel space and a pain to wrap your head around.

So, what are stopovers and open-jaws? That’s what we’ll cover in this post. What they are, how they work, and a few examples to help clear up any confusion.

What Is a Stopover?

stopover
Pic courtesy of ScribbleMaps

A stopover occurs when you make an extended stop at another airport while traveling to your ticketed destination. A stopover on a domestic flight is considered to be any scheduled time on the ground longer than 4 hours; an international stopover is a stop of more than 24 hours. While a stopover is traditionally en route to your destination, each award program has different rules and region classifications for a stopover, which can allow for complex routing if you understand the fine print of the program.

One of the most appealing aspects of stopovers is that you can extend the time spent in the stopover city for as long as the program's ticketing allows, typically up to a year. So you can fly from departure point to stopover city, stay for almost a year, and continue along to your ticketed destination.

What Is the Difference Between a Stopover and a Layover?

We previously covered this topic, but how about a quick whiskey analogy?

  • All Scotches are whiskey
  • All Bourbons are whiskey
  • However, all whiskeys are not necessarily Scotch or Bourbon. What about Irish Whiskey?

Bringing it back to air travel: All stopovers are layovers, but not all layovers are stopovers.

A layover is the time spent between connecting flights. For example, you’re flying LAX → JFK, but you have a 2-hour layover in ATL to switch planes before flying onwards to JFK. A layover is a short, sub-4-hour block of time for domestic travel and sub-24-hour block for international travel. Within that time window, you connect to the next scheduled flight to reach your ticketed destination. A stopover occurs when you exceed that 4 or 24-hour block of time.

The difference between a layover and a stopover is the amount of time spent in the connecting city. Frequent flyer award redemption rules outline how many stopovers, connections, or layovers you’re allowed on one-way and round-trip awards. A round-the-world itinerary boils down to one award ticket that includes a set number of stopovers and must be ticketed in one direction, i.e., continuously traveling east.

What Is an Open-Jaw?

An open-jaw is when you have a roundtrip airline ticket where the destination and/or the origin are not the same in both the outbound and return travel. There are a few different ways of putting together open-jaw itineraries:

  • Fly City A to City B – make your way own way between City B and City C – fly from City C back to City A. In this example:
    • City A is Chicago
    • City B is Paris
    • City C is Madrid
open-jaw-destination
Pic courtesy of ScribbleMaps
  • Fly City A to City B – fly from City B and return back to City C, either to make your own way back to the original departure point, City A, or continue your travels from City C. In this example:
    • City A is Chicago
    • City B is Paris
    • City C is Philadelphia
open-jaw-return
Pic courtesy of ScribbleMaps

Provided the open-jaw is within the program rules and follows the routing restrictions set out by the carrier it will cost the same as a standard award significantly increasing the value of your miles as you’re adding a destination for free.

Combining Stopovers and Open-Jaws

Where things really start to spice up is if a program allows you to combine several stopovers with one or more open-jaw segments. This adds substantial value to the award as you can add multiple cities to the itinerary, but still only pay the one award fee.

combine-stopover-open-jaw
Pic courtesy of ScribbleMaps

A classic example of this is Cathay Pacific’s oneworld® partner award chart, which allows up to 5 stopovers, 2 transits, and two open-jaws on a single award ticket. There are some pretty strict guidelines to follow, but if you can piece an itinerary together, and you get a knowledgeable reservations agent that knows what they’re about, you can extract tremendous value from a single award fare.

Airlines Which Allow Stopovers and Open-Jaws

We're not going to dig into the stopover and open-jaw policies of every carrier. Instead, we'll cover major airlines that allow stopovers and/or open-jaw itineraries.

Airline Award ProgramStopovers (SO)Open-Jaws (OJ)Restrictions
Air Canada AeroplanYesYes

Not permitted on one-way awards or Calm Air award flights.
2x SO or 1x SO + 1x OJ - Intercontinental & Flying Air Canada Within North America (excl. Canada).
1x SO + 1x OJ - Partner awards within North America.
1x OJ Intracontinental outside North America.
1x SO or 1x OJ - Awards within Canada and to Continental US.
Alaska Mileage PlanYesYes1x SO - One-way awards.
2x SO - Round-trip awards.
American Airlines AAdvantage
NoYesOpen Jaws allowed as American prices all awards as one-way. A roundtrip is 2x one-way journeys
ANA Mileage ClubYesYes1x SO + 2x OJ - ANA international and partner awards (excl. ANA flights departing Japan).
Asiana Club
YesYesAvailable on one-way & round-trip.
7x SO - If there are eight (8) segments in total, without Open-Jaw segments.
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
YesYes5x SO + 2x OJ - Plus 2x transfers on oneworld® Multi-Carrier awards
Delta SkyMiles
NoYesAll OJ itineraries priced as One-Way Awards
Emirates SkywardsYesYes1x SO - Saver rewards.
2x SO - Flex and Flex+ rewards.
JAL Mileage Bank
YesYes7x SO + 1x OJ - On oneworld® award tickets.
Korean Air SKYPASS
YesYes2x SO + 1x OJ - On round-trip Korean awards.
1x SO + 1x OJ - On partner awards.
Lufthansa Miles & More
YesYesNo stopovers on one-ways.
2x SO + 2x OJ - Award must cover two or more regions and stopover can't be in region of the first flight
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
YesYes1x SO + 1x OJ - Round-trip saver awards.
2x SO + 1x OJ - Round-trip Standard awards.
Add 1x SO to one-way saver award fares for $100.
Thai Airways Royal Orchid
YesYesNo stopovers in Thailand or country of origin.
2x SO + 1x OJ - On international awards.
United MileagePlus
Yes (Excursionist)Yes1x SO + 2x OJ - United prices awards as one-ways.
Excursionist benefit is a free one-way award within select multi-city itineraries.

Up until the beginning of July, you could also book a stopover with Flying Blue miles, but in an unannounced change to their award policy, they changed the rules and stopovers are no longer permitted.

Of the programs listed, Asiana, JAL, and Cathay Pacific have some of the most generous routing restrictions, but can be tricky to navigate. Alaska will allow you to book a stopover on one-way awards, a rarity for U.S. programs, and you can also pull some pretty good value from United’s Excursionist Perk, although we still miss the United of old in that respect.

Example of an Open-Jaw Award

For our example, we’re going to run through a basic open-jaw award flying Vancouver — Tokyo — LA using ANA Mileage Club. ANA operates a fantastic award chart with some of the best value business awards across the Pacific into Asia at 75K round-trip in business (off-peak). Points transfer 1:1 from Amex Membership Rewards and 3:1 from Marriott Rewards so you can leverage points earned via The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express or the Marriott Bonvoy™ American Express® Card for ANA flights.

It's worth noting that ANA routing rules differ depending on the carrier you fly and your departure point, something we cover in more detail in our ANA sweet spots post. Also, the price you'll pay in miles fluctuates throughout the year as ANA's prices change.

The first step is to sign into your ANA account, and select ‘Award Booking‘ and click ‘Open-jaw.'

ana-open-jaw-award1

Select your flights.

ana-open-jaw-award2

And review your award booking before progressing to the reservations page.

ana-open-jaw-award3

Final Thoughts

Stopovers and open-jaws can be a little tricky to wrap your head around initially, but it’s worth investing your time to understand the routing restrictions of each award program. It can add an enormous amount of value to your miles and allows you to visit multiple destinations on just one award ticket.

If you have any questions about stopovers or open-jaws, please reach out in the comments.

Beginners Guide: What is a Stopover & What is an Open-Jaw?
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