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, making it difficult for beginners to take advantage of the opportunity.

So, what are stopovers and open-jaws? That’s what we’ll cover in this post. What they are, how do 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've previously covered this topic, but we'll break it down using 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
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 on 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 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 a single award fee.

combine stopover and 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.

What Happens if I Book a Stopover or Open Jaw when it isn't Allowed?

Let's say you book a one-way international ticket that has a connection of more than 24 hours. If the program whose miles you used to book the ticket doesn't allow a stopover, you'll be charged for each trip separately. For example, if you book a flight from New York to Paris and Madrid using American miles, you'll pay the one-way rate from New York to Paris (30,000 miles in economy) and then you'll pay the one-way rate from Paris to Madrid (12,500 miles in economy). The secret of maximizing stopovers is to book your ticket using miles that will let you pay 30,000 for both flights together using a stopover.

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.

Until changes to the program, 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.

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 Boundless™ Credit 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.'

open jaw example award

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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Comments

  • Wow! This kind of information is not for the faint-of-heart beginner, but is just so useful and interesting.

  • Excellent post! I love using these methods!

  • Wow! This is incredibly useful and money(miles) saving. And it can add tremendous flexibility to a travel schedule. Thank you ever so much!

  • Thanks! It is clear for me now!

  • Extremely enlightening article and especially illuminating aspects in general poorly explored by travelers for lack of knowledge. Thanks for this helpful info!

  • Always find it difficult to book stopovers on paid tickets

  • What are the new rules for MileagePlus starting in November.?

    • MileagePlus is using dynamic pricing instead of an award chart for travel after November 15th. No changes to stopovers or open-jaw rules in November.

      • So we should be seeing “new pricing” if looking at end-of schedule? Or will we not see “new pricing in the matrix until after 11/15/2019? At least as of this yesterday PM, end-of-schedule partner travel to Asia was still pricing the same as always at “Saver” level.

        • Yes. It’s not consistent, but I’m seeing plenty of dynamic prices on a trip I’m planning to Brazil over Christmas and New Years. As far as I have seen personally, this is mostly affecting UA flights and not so much with partners.

  • Thank you for this chart and pictorial examples of stopovers and open- jaws.

  • I love using Alaska stopovers on one-way awards in addition to round trips.

  • Always good information, especially when comparing reward benefits like those UA used to provide and what Alaska provides today.

  • Steven William Van Meter says:

    Open jaw seems to be my preferred form of travel. First by accident, then by desire. Any awards that can further my travels is/are most welcome.

  • Good to know! So with the carriers who don’t allow a stopover or open jaw would it be best to have it all on one ticket or do multiple tickets?
    I believe that if I was planning a big trip that I should try pricing it out all together and then maybe separately to see which is better? I’ll have to bookmark this post.

  • What a joy to read such detailed explanation!! Being dummy I’ll save this post for future use

  • This is great information for those of us that are new to the points game. Thanks.

  • Thanks for the guide! I always try to take advantage of stopovers when booking.

  • The only downside of using miles that allow stopovers is that I feel like I’m being forced to use the stopover to “maximize” the miles, and most of the time I really don’t need the stopover, haha.

  • “Combining Stopovers and Open-Jaws”

    As far as I know, the new MileagePlus intercontinental awards will not allows these invaluable perks.

    What a shame.

  • Thank you, very easy to understand. As I see British airways isn’t allowing stopovers?

  • Wow! I should bookmark this post!

  • This is an article well worth bookmarking. I definitely want to take advantage of Alaska Airlines stopover rules soon.

  • Awesome post; the OJ is a tool we often like to use when travelling, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen this info summarized, as this post does, in the table above. Bookmarked!

  • A great article – Very informative. Thanks.

  • Excellent info, thank you!

    I have bookmarked it for future use.

  • I have a son that will love this article because Stopovers and Open-Jaws could help him to face this situations that are more common in his travels than the average travellers. While I and the majority prefer more direct flights he enjoys get to know better places along the way and make different round-trip routes.

  • Great explanation as we work out our summer travel plans

  • Once you understand these concepts you will only have to pay for one trip but you should be getting two or three trips for the $$$

  • Definitely good reference info for everyone!

  • Too complicated for an average miles collector.

  • award wallet posts like this one make for great reference material. thanks again!

  • Alaska has now eliminated the possibility of one stop over in Asia.
    There were several tricks applicable.

  • David Wenger says:

    These are great tips! Thanks!

  • Is your article somehow connected with Alaska’s move to eliminate stopovers on Asian routes? Those were terrific redemptions!

  • thanks for the post, exactly what I was looking for for our next trip to Europe.

  • thank you. very helpful!

  • Great information. The chart is very helpful.

  • This has been a great way for me to maximise my miles and get to see and experience more at the same time!

  • Very helpful… trying to incorporate this for a first time February whirlwind 10 day European trip from Boston-London-Paris-Italy-Boston. Any suggestions what would be best airline to pull this off as a rookie? I have noticed that it’s inexpensive to get to London (Norwegian); cheap lights to get around Europe; but expensive to get back.

  • I can see where this would be useful if you had an extended vacation of several weeks, especially for an international trip but I’m not sure if it makes sense for those of us still in a day job with limited time off work. I think this is a topic to file away as one of the things to learn more about after retirement in a few years! Does anyone here use this for domestic flights and where you might only stop for a day or two?

  • Helpful thank you. I thought I knew this topic well but a few extra bits of info to go away with.

  • Mahalo for this useful post. Got confused last time I booked a complicated routing with Cathay Pacific. Costed me another leg to a different destination. Thank you so much.

  • Thanks for a very informative article.
    Too bad most programs do not allow stopovers/ open jaw for awards.

  • Thank you, very informative.

    I wonder if it’s not an award flight but a paid one, is it fair to say the more stopovers you have the more miles you will earn in general?

    • Hey there, it depends on the program to which you credit the miles for the flight. Many programs still award redeemable miles based on how far you fly. But some programs (mainly the US legacy carriers) base the number of miles you earn on how much you spend. Ultimately, the miles you earn comes down to the fare class you book (which is a letter like A, F, Y, Q, B etc).

      You can compare earning rates at http://www.wheretocredit.com

  • Excellent explanation. The stopover is very useful if you can take advantage of them during the trip. We can save a lot of money, especially in Europe.

  • Dean Samuelson says:

    Great post. Thank you.

  • Very clear! I have a stopover in two months in New York.

  • Oliva Alberini says:

    What an amazing post! I thought I knew how the millage system works, but no! There is a lot to learn. The post is very interesting. I didn’t know the difference between layover and stopover!! I couldn’t imagine that there are different tips to take into account and make a good use of our milles. I always think about the possibility of travelling for free but I ve never payed attention to make the most of my milles when using them. I will pay more attention next time!

  • great guide!

  • maximilianozausi@gmail.com says:

    Very helpful. On the next trip I will try to apply it. Thank!

  • ROBERTO MAURO MAGAZZINI says:

    Very good analysis Generally on my trips to Europe, I always arrive at an airport (Madrid on the last trip), and return from another (Rome, Nice,) to maximize the trip and the ticket. Regards

  • Very usefull information. I traveled to Tel Aviv from Buenos Aires on June, and I could use an stop over at Paris, and stay 2 days without extra charge. I used Air France for that trip. Thank you!!

  • Cristian Der Torossian says:

    I loved my stopover of 36 hs in Miami traveling to Rome. I rent a ford mustang without roof and enjoy Miami as a Dandy… Great!!!!!

  • Melisa Salinas S. says:

    Excellent post! Specially if you want to save money & milles.
    I’ll save this post for future uses, for now i already have my tickets to Bolivia.
    Tranks

  • Just to followup on what seemed a reasonable open-jaw fare booked on my European trip described above through Iberia Airlines:

    Departure… Bos-LHR nonstop 6hr35min (British Airways)
    Return… FCO-MAD 2hr35min [3hr15min layover] (Iberia)
    MAD-BOS 8hr5min (British Airways)

    Fare RT two people: $1,315

    This allows us to maximize our vacation time by exiting Rome rather than going back to London And the flight times are minimal compared to most flights which involved double digit layover hours in this general price range. Required considerable effort to work this out but happy with the results nonetheless.

  • It remains the best and most enlightening article of recent times. Thank you.

  • You can have amazing value booking itineraries with stopovers using AS miles!

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