One of my favorite things about frequent flyer miles (besides the saving money part) is that airlines often allow stopovers at no extra costs. Revenue tickets will change the price if you stop somewhere for more than 24 hours, but with miles you can often add an extra stop for free.
I therefore spend a lot of time talking about stopovers; it’s the ability to see two places instead of one. But unfortunately, I have spent little time explaining how to actually book them.
This post will take you from how many stopovers you’ll be allowed, all the way to how to use the online multiple-destination search to book it yourself online.
A stopover is a stop that’s more than 24 hours, basically giving two destinations. And an open-jaw is when you fly into one city and out of another, where the airline isn’t responsible for your transit.
If you don’t completely understand stopovers or open-jaws please read more here: Airline Stopovers InfoGraphic. This infographic is a short visual that explains how stopovers work. (Although we need to change the AA and Delta section).
Stopover and routing rules are always specific to the airline miles you are using, and not the airline you are flying on.
First I’ll walk you through an example that’s probably most relevant to many tricks talked about on this blog – booking United stopovers.
Booking Stopovers with United Miles
There are so many reasons to love United. The miles are easy to earn from credit cards (United Explorer card, United Business Explorer card, Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus, etc…), United does not pass on any fuel surcharges, and they allow stopovers in a very generous way. I’ve spent a great deal of time talking about the different routes you can do, and will mention them at the end of the section. But in order to book these things, you have to understand a few key concepts.
1 Stopover & 2 Open-jaws
The first thing you need to know is that United allows 1 stopover and 2 open-jaws on international roundtrips. If you want to see the full details you can read the Complete Guide to United Routing Rules.
United.com searches almost all partner airlines
There are only a few airlines missing on the United.com search results, and that still leaves over 30 airlines bookable on United.com! The main airline missing is Singapore Airlines. There are a number of other partner airlines in east Asia but Singapore is one of the biggest and most desired airlines to book on.
Because Singapore doesn’t show up on United.com, you would have to call to book flights with them. Now you can search for the availability on partner sites (like Aeroplan), but you still have to call United to book your flight using United miles.
United.com allows multiple destination searches
All the routes that I ever talk about with United, I always price out or book online. This is because they allow you to customize your search with multiple destinations.
Let’s say we want to book a route from Chicago to Istanbul with a stopover in Rome – spending a week in both Istanbul and Rome. We need three active parts. A flight to Rome, a flight to Istanbul, and a flight back to Chicago.
Booking this trip is as easy as finding the award availability.
Actually doing the booking
I’ll try the multiple destination tool first, often. But if it errors out or it’s a complicated route I then make sure I use the oneway search. This way I piece everything together with dates that actually have award seats.
I’ll search a oneway with Chicago to Istanbul, then another oneway from Istanbul to Rome, then again from Rome to Chicago. I make sure I find dates and seats on each flight so that I can have an easier time on the multiple destination tool this time around.
With United it’s pretty easy.
1) Click “Award Travel”
2) Click “Multiple Destinations”
(You can also click multiple destinations right before hitting search.
3) Fill out your desired route
Chicago to Rome to Istanbul to Chicago, with a week in each, would look like this.
4) Select which flights you want
Go ahead and select which flights and which class of service you want.
The price will be based on the class of service of both to and from the destination, in this case Istanbul.
So if we click economy all the way though it should show up as 60,000 miles for the entire trip, the same as a regular roundtrip to Istanbul with miles.
And that’s it. It will show the price and the dates on the last page.
This was a total of 60,000 miles to see both Italy and Turkey, plus another $123 in airport taxes… which will happen when you route through too many expensive European airports.
Booking Stopovers with Other Airlines
1) Check the stopover rules chart
When using miles to book stopovers, the first thing you need to know is whether or not the miles you are using allow stopovers. Remember the rules are not based on who you are flying but which miles you are using.
Check out: List of Airline Stopover & Routing Rules
2) Check the Fuel Surcharge post
I never ever book a flight using miles if it’s going to pass on fuel surcharges, and have always found a way around it. I either use miles that don’t pass on fuel surcharges (which pretty much leaves United and AA), or I book on airlines that don’t have fuel surcharges to pass on.
Check out: Master Chart to Avoiding Fuel Surharges
3) Does the airline search partner awards?
One reason that United.com works, is because it likely already searches award availability for the flight you need. Obviously you can’t book a flight online that won’t show up online.
Plus, either way you’ll want to find award availability to know whether or not your flight is bookable.
4) If the website does search partners, does it have a multiple destination search?
The other reason that you can book on United.com is because it allows you to search multiple airlines and multiple destinations. Like I showed above you can add at least three destinations in.
5) If it doesn’t search partners or multiple destinations, you need to call
You can always call.
The agents have the ability to book multiple destinations and on every partner that the airline has. There is nothing more powerful than calling. A few airlines have a $25 phone booking fee, but if you can’t book online, in light of that, they often waive the $25 fee.
Make sure you really understand the stopover rules before you go demanding some impossible route that the agent can’t physically route. An open-jaw for example doesn’t actually get you another stop, but it can be added to a stop. All it means is that you fly out of a different airport on the stop. But people call and demand 3rd and 4th stops because they “also get open-jaws”. No. It doesn’t work like that, and demanding it won’t get you far with an agent.
United, Air Canada, and Alaska are the main mileage programs that come to mind in regards to booking stopovers online. They all have their pros and cons and they can’t all do everything online. They might not search every single one of their partners, or Air Canada might not have all the multiple destination options technically allowed in their rules, but they can all do the basics. For most people their sites are enough.
Then there are airlines like Lufthansa/Miles and More and Flying Blue which neither shows many of their partners, nor multiple destination searches. You know that if you want to book a stopover on most partner awards that you need to call. You can search on other websites to find the availability, but at the end of the day, calling is more powerful.
I hope this is a comprehensive look at booking stopovers and if you have any questions, please comment below.
If you’re interested in some of the crazy routes I’ve been able to book online just with United, check out some of the following posts:
- United Stopover Secrets
- Pacific Hopper
- Caribbean Hopper with United Miles
- Latin Hopper with United Miles
There are many more but those are some fun ones to start with.