Most airline programs that allow stopovers have a pretty simple way of figuring out the price, they make some zones/regions more powerful than others. Okay but what does that mean?
Before I explain, let’s just say this entire post assumes two things: 1) we’re talking international flights and 2) we’re starting from the USA (the lower 48 states), even though it applies differently in different places. Okay, so what that means is that if you’re flying to Europe the computer prices 60,000 miles round trip and if you’re going to Africa it prices 80,000 miles. But what if you create a stopover in a different region and touch three region, how does the computer price it? That is what we’re going to be taking advantage of.
Because the computer does not say IF the ticket goes to [this zone] AND [that zone] then it is ____ price, it’s much more simple than that. It just says Africa is a more powerful zone than Europe, and Africa is a more powerful zone than South America. So who ever coded the pricing mechanism designed it so that when you go to Europe and Africa it ignores Europe and prices it like an Africa ticket. It doesn’t combine both and figure it out, it just prices the higher zone. Because Africa is a higher zone priority, this means that when you fly to Africa via South America, it ignores South America and prices it like an Africa ticket. Right?
If you want to go to SE Asia and Europe, SE Asia is a more powerful zone and it will be priced like a ticket to SE Asia, 65,000 miles.
Oceania is an even more powerful zone. If you go to an island in the Oceania region like Guam or Fiji, it will be priced at 70,000 miles. Even if you stop in Asia, it will be 70,000 miles. Even if you stop in Europe and Asia on the way to Oceania, it will price at 70,000 miles because Oceania is a more powerful zone than Asia or Europe.
All that is logical… so far. Right? After all if you look at the award chart, Asia costs more miles than Europe and Oceania costs more miles than Asia. So they’re just taking the most expensive zone and making it the most powerful in terms of pricing? Wrong. That would be logical, but it’s just not true.
How about this for starters. Oceania is more powerful of a zone than Australia. Even though the award chart prices Australia as more expensive, if you touch both zones, Oceania is more powerful and Australia is ignored when pricing. In other words, if you go straight to Australia and back it will cost 80,000 miles. But if you go to Fiji and create a stopover in Australia it will cost 70,000 miles. Understand why? Because Oceania is the more powerful zone.
I made a little tree to show the order powerful zones, or what would be called a list of the most powerful zones. Whatever you want to call it, I’ll show you a list of zones and the order they are in for pricing. Then you’ll see which zone you could add to make your next trip cheaper and then we’ll talk more about these examples of routes made cheaper by adding a more powerful but cheaper zone. Many of you already got “the list” in the last newsletter on “how to find mistake fares”, but this will be a much more in depth explanation and has some more creative ideas on how to use it.
The order of more powerful zones (originating in North America) is as follows:
- Central Asia – 80,000 miles
- Oceania – 70,000 miles
- Australia – 80,000 miles
- North/South East Asia/Japan – 65,000 miles
- The Middle East – 80,000 miles
- Africa – 80,000 miles
- Europe – 60,000 miles
- South America – 60,000 miles
- Central America and Caribbean – 35,000 miles
Notice that Oceania is higher up the award pricing chain the Australia, so routing to both instead of just Australia would save 10,000 miles. So we’re looking for lower numbers up the chain.
Notice North/Southeast Asia/Japan are cheaper than The Middle East. This means that if you are doing a roundtrip ticket to The Middle East, you could make a stopover in SE Asia (or make The Middle East your stopover, it doesn’t matter as long as you touch SE Asia) and you will save 15,000 miles. And you’ll get to see more. So stop in Bali on your way to The Middle East, if you have time. Or Bangkok or Hong Kong… it doesn’t matter, just spending two days there makes the ticket cheaper. And Bali makes anything better.
The same applies for Africa! I have personally priced out and seen that it is possible to fly from New York to South Africa to Bangkok to New York, spending a week in each place for 65,000 miles in economy. (There are direct flights for JFK – JNB and JNB – BKK). Save miles and see a lot more. Although for that much flying you may prefer business class but the point is the same. Route through Asia and Africa and you’ll get the Asia price because it is higher on the order of powerful zones list. Gosh, and didn’t you know South Africa is on the way to Bankok? :-p
Similarly if you can book a ticket via Africa or The Middle East and Oceania (most likely Guam) it will make your ticket 10,000 miles cheaper and Guam is not a bad place to layover really. Even Tumon Bay, which is like a mile from the airport, is quite pleasant.
Also, you should understand that in the case that you open-jaw, returning to a different region than the original place from which you left, it prices each half of the trip separately. For example if you go from NA to Eastern Asia and then use an open-jaw to return from Eastern Asia to Hawaii, it will price the first half (US to Asia) 32,500 miles and it will price the second half (Asia to Hawaii) 25,000 miles for a total of 57,500 miles.
Which reminds me. You should look at the award chart and the generous award pricing to/from Hawaii. It is possible to route to Hawaii via the US in some situations, thus making your trip back to the US cheaper. And you could always get off the plane and dump the last leg of your trip… if it is indeed your last leg of the entire ticket.
It’s mostly a North America list
The list of this order of more powerful zones award pricing does not work everywhere, this is based from North America! But it can sometimes work similarly from other places.
For example, if you go from Southeast Asia to Fiji with a stopover in New Zealand, the price will be 30,000 roundtrip in economy. This is despite the fact that Asia to New Zealand is priced 60,000 for a roundtrip in economy. But by touching both Oceania and New Zealand it prices it as Oceania (which is 30,000) instead of the higher zone. Same with business/first class.
BUT if you start in Japan and do the same stop in New Zealand on the way to Fiji it prices it as 50,000 (for economy roundtrip). Take a look at the award chart here and see if you can figure out why it prices it as a 50,000 mile ticket when clearly a roundtrip from Japan to Oceania should be 25,000 miles.
The answer is… for some reason New Zealand/Australia is a more powerful zone than Oceania when you start from Japan. In many ways this makes sense, as it would be too good of a redemption option to start from Japan and go to Fiji and New Zealand for only 25,000 miles or 40,000 miles in business class.
YET, when you start in Oceania, suddenly going to another Oceania region is more powerful than going to New Zealand. This is the concept behind the Pacific Hopper, which I wrote about and did. We started in Guam and went to Singapore (for a day), New Zealand (for two weeks), Rarotonga (for two weeks), Sydney (for a night) and back to Guam via Tokyo… where we got out of the plane.
What we did here was take advantage of the fact that 1) Oceania to Oceania is a huge region and there are no directs from Guam to Rarotonga. Heck, you couldn’t do it in two or possibly three connections. 2) When going from Oceania to Oceania it ignores the fact that New Zealand/Australia and Asia are higher zones. And 3) Oceania to Japan would have been a possible open-jaw but for some reason Oceania to Japan via New Zealand, as just stated, would make the ticket more expensive. So we routed through Japan on the way back to Guam and got off the plane in Tokyo. Enjoy something like a third stop on the trip, and it’s cheaper to go home from Japan (especially with off peak AA award pricing to/from Japan).
Will this ever change? All good things will come to an end it seems. I can’t imagine an overhaul on their pricing engine anytime soon as they’ve got one of the more advance award search engines. The real things about it is that most people don’t use their miles well. I imagine the number of people who have used a stopover is very small, and a very very small percentage. So I’m not too worried about anything changing any time soon.
Anyways, I could go on and on with this particular subject but the word count is getting high. But I’m curious whether or not this is the kind of content people would like to read more about? I know it’s a little more complicated… But if you find this content helpful please comment below! Ya know, reinforce the good writing and discourage the bad. Eventually all my content will be good if I adjust according to what you like… assuming I know. 😉