If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of “stopovers” we have a great InfoGraphic that you can check out: Airline Stopovers and Open-Jaws InfoGraphic. I also recently did a Complete List of Airline Stopover Rules, but it’s been awhile since I’ve had a more in-depth post on stopovers as an overview.
Here I’ll be starting with “what is a stopover?” and “what is an open-jaw”? and progressing to booking more extreme tickets online or over the phone. If you’re getting your feet wet in the stopover world, this will be a great overview for you.
Stopovers are longer layovers. Basically, a “layover” is when you waste time in an airport (under 24 hours, but a “stopover” is an intentional break in the ticket that’s more than 24 hours. A “stopover” is an extra destination.
Stopovers are more than 24 hours.
Stopovers are as long as you want – as long as it’s not too far out in advance.
Stopovers are free on award tickets – in that they don’t cost extra miles.
This is a way to book a ticket to two places instead of one, and sometimes even more.
An example of a stopover:
I’m going to use United miles to go to Rome, but I want to stopover in Paris on the way. I simply ask the agent to book me a week in Paris and a week in Rome (or I do it online).
Who allows stopovers with miles?
I mentioned above that stopovers are free (in terms of miles), but when I say that, I’m referring to the mileage programs who allow them to begin with. Remember that not all mileage programs will let you book them. Check out my Complete List of Stopover Rules by Airline.
This will tell you the basics of every single program that allows or doesn’t allow stopovers. But here are a few common examples:
- United miles allow 1 stopover and 2 open-jaws on a roundtrip award.
- Lufthansa miles allow 2 stopovers and 2 open-jaws on a roundtrip award.
- Alaska miles allow 1 stopover on oneway award tickets.
I list way more options in the stopover rules post, but these are common examples. And I’ll explain more about stopovers in a second.
But what this means is that when I’m using United miles to book a ticket on any one of their airline partners, I get 1 stopover on my roundtrip in addition to my destination.
If you don’t understand partnership check out this visual explanation: Airline Alliances InfoGraphic.
One other thing you’ll need to know is if the airline miles you are using will pass on fuel surcharges or not. You don’t want to be connecting a ton of flights and racking up huge fees. It’s a stupid thing to have to worry about, but some airline miles pass on these arbitrary fees and some don’t. See: Master Chart to Avoiding Fuel Surcharges.
This is why United miles are a great example. No fuel surcharges to pass on, 28 airlines in the Star Alliance that you can redeem on, and you get 1 stopover on any international roundtrip you book.
How Crazy Can A Stopover Be?
This is largely dependent on the airlines own “routing rules”. It’s a bit of a complicated subject but I’ll overview it.
1) Stopovers can be added way more generously than you think.
For example a trip to Norway could have a stopover in Spain. Now in no situation is a stopover in Spain “on the way” to Norway. And in no situation is a stopover in Norway “on the way” to Spain.
It gets way more insane than this too. India on the way to Kenya for instance, or Hong Kong on the way to Sydney. These things might not seem “on the way”, so forget the phrase.
2) If a ticket can be routed through a city it can be a stopover.
This is basically what routing rules are… you’re route.
Routing rules get complicated. With United it’s completely region based. You can always stopover anywhere in Europe on the way to anywhere in Africa. It’s totally region based. Because of this, you can do some really odd things. In fact I have a post dedicated to this, The Complete Guide to United Routing Rules.
But what’s complicated is that other airlines’ routing rules don’t resemble United’s at all.
AA’s routing rules are even more complicated as they have region restriction and mileage restriction and you need to use a site like ExpertFlyer.com just to figure out how many flown miles your route is allowed to include.
While an award ticket with AA miles won’t allow stopovers, you can book AA flights with a stopover using Alaska miles – although the rules are a little different. But it’s just an example.
All this to say, you can do some crazy unintuitive routes, like Africa on the way to Japan. If the mind can conceive it, you can probably route it. You just have to know the rules to work around.
For most people though, you don’t have to worry about it. Most people want to know if they can stopover in Rome on the way to Prague… and the answer is almost always yes.
I always describe this as a gap in your ticket where the airline is not responsible for transit. Say you fly into London and out of Paris. The airline allows this gap but is in no way responsible for you getting there, so you have to book your own car/flight/train/whatever.
You turn any stopover or destination into an open-jaw, effectively adding an extra destination but adding the cost of transit.
Another example would be Chicago to Bangkok, then leaving a gap and then flying Hong Kong back to Chicago.
There are a number of ways to fill an open-jaw since they are added to a stopover or destination and can be as long as you want. While the options are endless, I tend to use a few.
Avios – If it’s a small flight I use the 4,500 – 7,500 Avios awards to go from places like Vienna to Rome.
Discount Airliners – We often use discount airlines in Europe and Asia.
Land – Bus, train, car, whatever…
Regardless of the method, be sure not to miss your next flight. I like to leave myself plenty of time anytime I throw different tickets together.
Depending on the airline miles you’re using, open-jaws can be bigger than you’d expect.
For example, with United I could fly into Europe, and continue my flight back home from India. Chicago to Paris, and then Delhi to Chicago. That’s one example.
For more details on how to price out those tickets, see the post United Stopover and Open-Jaw Secrets.
But the basic idea here is that you can use any miles (that allow oneways) to fill in open-jaws. I could use AA miles to go from Europe to India to make it a complete roundtrip. The price of the open-jaw is the price of the extra ticket.
Of course, if those are the only stops you don’t need to open-jaw as you could have just used a stopover.
Also, if you’re really advanced, read the post on using open-jaws to trick ANA’s pricing engine into thinking your ticket is a roundtrip (and allowing 3 stopovers) – ANA Stopover Secrets.
Open-jaws + Stopovers
As I mentioned earlier you can add an open-jaw to a stopover. Understand that it doesn’t actually create another stop in the ticket, it’s just added to a stop.
So you have a ticket with a stopover in Paris on the way to Rome. Well you can take that stop in Rome and make it an open-jaw and say that you’ll continue you’re trip from Vienna.
If you had the time you could slowly make your way up to Vienna over land. Or you could use Avios and book a ticket from Rome to Vienna. Either way, you created a gap in the section of the ticket that stopped in Rome.
Now the ticket would look like this. US – Paris – Rome / Vienna – US. That gap between Rome and Vienna would be filled with other transit.
For a few thousand Avios or a discount airline ticket you were able to add a third destination to your trip.
The price would remain the same as well. If it were United miles a roundtrip ticket to Rome would be 60,000 miles, period. If it were a ticket to Paris and Rome with an open-jaw to Vienna; the ticket would also be 60,000 miles.
With Asia you could do a stopover in Hong Kong and then for the destination spilt Bangkok and Bali.
US – Hong Kong – Bangkok / Bali – US.
How To Book Stopovers (Online vs Phone)
With United it’s relatively easy as they have a section that is a “multiple destination” search. You can use this and simply check the “Award Travel” box and you can put together one of these tickets and book online using miles.
The basics for booking stopovers online:
1) Does the airline website allow you to search and book partners with miles?
If the website (like the US Airways website) is really bad at showing partner availability it might not handle your ticket at all. Even if you can get to Europe with your US based airline, the flight for getting from the stopover to the destination won’t be possible without partners.
2) Does the website allow multiple destination searches online?
United’s “multiple destination” search looks like this:
Then just make sure “Award Travel” is checked and start selecting the flights you want for the cabin you want.
If you can’t book online, just call.
Agents always have a better computer system than you for seeing partner awards. You lose the ability to play around with things as much as you might want… but this is always a way to book. If you still want to play around and piece together your award flights, check other sites that find partner award space.
You need to have these basics of stopovers down before you can get into really complicated tickets. But even the basics offer enough for most people.
You’ve gotten the miles, now you have them, you should see two places instead of one. Turn that roundtrip ticket to Paris into a trip to Italy and Paris. Turn that trip to Thailand into a trip to Thailand and Bali.
Hopefully this is a good primer on stopovers and open-jaws that would explain a lot of the other crazy talk that goes on here.