When discussing award flights, the subject of ‘stopovers’ and ‘open jaws’ inevitably comes up.
For most of you who are new to the miles and points scene, these terms are a little confusing. Usually, when you book a flight, you are traveling from one place to another, and then back – A to B and back to A. So all of this talk of crazy routings doesn’t seem to make much sense.
So what does it mean to get an award with a stopover or an open jaw, and how can you use them to your advantage?
To help illustrate how powerful and useful these are for travel, I’ll use a hypothetical example: let’s say you are planning your honeymoon, and you want to go to Europe for two weeks. You are especially interested in visiting Italy, but wouldn’t mind visiting some other countries, you just don’t know how you’d get around in the time you have and on your budget.
In most cases when you normally travel, you are only going one place, and your goal is to get there as fast as possible.
The starting point – a basic trip
So for our example of the European honeymoon – your main priority is to visit Italy, so you figure you’ll fly to and from Rome.
You look up some flights online, and see a bunch of options – but since you would prefer to spend as little time on the plane and in airports as possible, you book a 1-stop flight going from Orlando – New York – Rome, with the reverse on the return trip. You are only spending a few hours in New York, so that is just a connection.
Adding a stopover
But then you find out that your favorite Broadway show has tickets available right around when you’d be on your honeymoon, so you now figure you’ll spend a few days seeing New York as well!
Now, instead of immediately connecting in New York on your way to Rome, you want to book your New York to Rome flight for a few days after your Orlando to New York flight.
Now your flights would look something like this:
Orlando – New York (stop for a few days) – Rome, on the way out, then Rome – New York – Orlando on the way back.
New York is now a stopover.
So a stopover is when you stay in a city for an extended period while on your way to or from your destination.
In our example, you could have the New York stopover before or after Rome – the stopover can either be on the outbound or return part of your journey.
Of course, if you were buying your tickets with cash, you’d also notice that this itinerary costs more than your previous one – adding a stopover usually increases the cost of a paid ticket.
But how do the airlines decide what is a stopover and what is just a connection?
The answer is it depends, but usually, a connection is anything under 4 hours for a domestic trip, and anything under 24 hours on an international trip. Anything beyond those limits usually makes the connection count as a stopover. There are exceptions to this, such as when there aren’t any flights under those times and your only option is to connect longer – but most of the time those are the limits.
Pushing the limits
Especially when it comes to award travel, there are reasons you might want to push these limits to get more for your miles.
In our example above – what if we wanted instead to have a stopover in London, but still see a show in New York?
Since we are on an international trip, any stop in a city under 24 hours counts as a connection, not a stopover.
Once again, we change our flights.
Now, the itinerary looks like this: Orlando – New York – Rome (stop/destination) – London (stop) – New York – Orlando (I combined both the outbound and return journeys for simplicity).
For one (or both!) of the New York connections, we could book our incoming and outgoing flights so that we actually have almost an entire day to visit the city.
For example, our Orlando – New York trip we schedule on a Friday afternoon – we get into New York at 2pm. We can schedule our New York – Rome flight for Saturday at 1pm, and even though we have almost an entire day to spend in New York, it counts as a connection and not a stopover!
Now you’re feeling pretty awesome – for the same award cost as your original Orlando – Rome trip, you’ve added in a night in New York, and a few days in London!
But now, your fiancé has started looking a bit closer at a map of Europe, and decides that he absolutely certainly must visit Germany and drink all kinds of delicious, delicious beer (or you do, it doesn’t really matter since Germany is awesome). How can you fit that in?
One possible answer is the open jaw.
An open jaw is when you fly into one city and out of another.
Continuing to build on our imaginary awesome honeymoon above – you would change our itinerary to look like this:
Orlando – New York – London (stop) – Munich, Rome – New York – Orlando (you don’t fly between Munich and Rome!).
Since you are flying to Munich but from Rome, that is an open jaw.
In the case of your honeymoon, you would need to get yourself from Munich to Rome, but with the European rail system, you figure you can just take some trains down through Austria, and work your way south through Italy before ending up in Rome (more sights, and more efficient sightseeing!).
There are usually restrictions on awards that allow open jaws, such as only being able to have an open jaw at the destination, or not allowing both a stopover and an open jaw – the specifics will depend on the award program.
Multiple Open Jaws
With United, it is possible to have two open jaws on an award – how would that work?
The double open jaw happens when you have an open jaw both at your destination and at your origin.
For example, say your cousin was getting married in Atlanta right around the end of your honeymoon. Instead of flying back to Orlando, you could instead fly back to Atlanta (and maybe catch a ride home with your parents on the way back or something). That would give you an open jaw at Munich – Rome, and at Orlando – Atlanta: a double open jaw.
Stopovers and open jaws are powerful tools you can use when booking your travels to maximize your experiences. If you’d like to learn more about how you can maximize your honeymoon – or any travel – on any budget, sign up for my email list where I share even more awesome material!