Others amass such large amounts of miles and don’t travel often, which means they don’t have to use their miles as intentionally or sparingly. However, we are full-time travelers and using our miles creatively is not only a fun hobby it’s necessary for us. (We essentially booked a one way to the opposite side of the world…) Maybe you too would like to learn to use your miles as creatively, whether it is to be frugal with your miles or just to visit more places with what you’ve got. This post is really just to explain my upcoming flights (which I’ve already talked about here). That way when I’m posting pictures of us sipping wine on Singapore Airlines business class you can understand how I did it and how you can do it too!Lets break this down into a three part series that will all be focusing on United miles but the concepts can be used on any airline that allows stopovers (for example, US Airways allows a stopover or an open-jaw and Delta also allows both).
- Part 1 – First we’ll look into what the rules are for using our miles.
- Part 2 – Next we’ll take a a detailed look at how to route and book your dream trip.
- Part3 – Then, we’ll talk about how to collect enough miles for your dream trip.
Why United miles? Because they have low fees, great prices for using miles, great availability, great global partners (Star Alliance is the largest airline alliance) and they have very generous rules for stopovers. It is important to understand the rules and what they mean. When using miles on a round-trip ticket you are allowed both a stopover and an open-jaw.
I’ll explain each piece using my recent booking from Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands to the Rarotonga, Cook Islands (I explain that trip in more depth here as well as some of the concepts). Although this is an unusually complicated route.
- A stopover simply means that on the way to your destination you can turn a layover into a second destination. Stopovers can be as long as you want. In my trip, we would have had a layover in New Zealand anyway but I choose to make it 3 weeks long, thus making it a stopover. These stopovers can be as long as you want. The only limitation is that generally airlines don’t have seats available more than 330 days in advance.
- An open-jaw is when you resume your flight from a different airport than you left off. To be honest, it was hard to work in an open-jaw in the middle of the pacific islands so I don’t have a good example. What we ended up doing is booking our ticket back to Guam (in order to get routed through Japan) instead of Saipan. This also counts as an open-jaw: changing the destination of your roundtrip ticket to complete a flight at a different airport than you flew out of originally. In our case, we fly from Saipan to Rarotonga and then back to Guam instead of Saipan. You can add an open-jaw to a stopover but traditionally open-jaws are applied to a destination.
- A layover is anything less than 24 hours. So we decided we wanted to see Singapore but didn’t actually want to “vacation there” so to speak. Instead, we fly into Singapore at 530am and don’t fly out until 1130pm. 18 hours is plenty. We scheduled a similar layover in Sydney and a small 6 hour layover in Seoul.
One starting point, one destination, one stopover, two open jaws and nearly as many layovers that are under 24 hours that you can stand. (These layovers are a great way to break up airport time if you make them long enough to go sight-seeing for a bit).
What are some great stopover options?
(First visit United’s award chart). Anything relating to Oceania is a good option. Because most StarAlliance routes to the pacific islands take you through New Zealand (as Air New Zealand runs most of those flights). New Zealand seems like a nice place to stopover and NZ has a sweet business class. Plus the prices to Oceania are almost too good to be true.
– Oceania to/from another Oceania destination costs 12,500 miles (or 20,000 business is what we did).
– Oceania to/from Southeast Asia costs 15,000 miles.
– Oceania to/from New Zealand costs 17,500 miles.
– Oceania to/from USA for 35,000, which is still a good deal considering where you can get routed through. And actually, it’s cheaper to fly to New Zealand as a stopover on the way to an Oceania island (as a flight from USA to New Zealand/Australia is 40,000 miles).
Asia in general is another really great option for stopovers because you can get routed the long way to/from Asia. Really you can get routed a number of ways but the “the long way” refers to flying to Asia via Europe. That’s right: you could book a flight from the States to Bali and have a stopover in Europe. This allows you to fly on many of the best Star Alliance partners, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways (get your free massage in the lounge), Lufthansa and Swiss, to name a few.
Almost all flights from the states to the Middle East, India, or Africa have to be routed through Europe. This means that your intended trip to Europe could be booked as a stopover if you want to tack a quick visit to Africa, the Middle East, or India onto the end of your vacation.
What I did was a bit more clever (not to brag) because I get to visit Asia, New Zealand and two Pacific islands for a cheaper price than to fly from Oceania to Asia or Oceania to New Zealand (or even Asia to New Zealand.) In other words, If I had booked any piece of this complex flight on its own, it would have been more expensive than booking each location as I did in a flight using stop-overs, open-jaws, and layovers. Actually Continental allowed a similar loophole from Africa to South America. You could route through Europe and North America for 30,000 economy or 60,000 first class (it was priced this way because there are direct flights to Buenos Aires on South African Airways from Johannesburg). It was an insane deal that only ended with the United merger but hard to take advantage of since most of us don’t live in Africa or South America. All that to say that eventually, creating a stopover in a more expensive zone may change the price of a ticket, but for now there are still routes to take advantage of.
With a reasonably attainable amount of miles, suddenly the world feels smaller and we find ourselves saying, “why don’t we create a stopover in Jordan?” Places I would have never dreamed of visiting and places that have extremely expensive prices for revenue tickets are completely doable with miles. Miles also make it possible to see multiple places at no extra cost. Now that you know the rules, jump on United.com (check “One Way” and “Award Travel”) and see where you can get routed through and start dreaming up your dream trip. By the end of the series you should have all the tools you need to make it happen.