Updated on April 4, 2014
Updated on April 4, 2014
One of the most amazing features unique to an award ticket is the fact that for many mileage programs, an award ticket can include stopovers at no extra charge. This is of course not the case for distance-based programs like British Airways as the price goes up the more flying you do. However for zone-based or region-based programs, this can really be a great way to increase the value of your ticket.
Drew and I have had a whole lot of fun taking advantage of stopovers. For instance you can read about the Pacific Hopper we flew for 40,000 United miles roundtrip in business class, (also bookable as a US Airways Pacific Hopper for 30,000 miles in business class ). And the Caribbean Hopper we flew for 17,500 United miles one way. While the prices have changed since the United devaluation, the concepts can still apply in other ways. For instance you can also read about the Latin Hopper, a flight we’ve not yet tried for 20,000 United miles.
Suffice it to say we love stopovers.
First, let’s review what a stopover is exactly.
For domestic flights a stopover is generally any stop of 4 hours or more. (Under 4 hours would be considered a layover.) For international flights a stopover is generally any stop of 24 hours or more.
But before we go crazy with this idea (too late…) we should go over a few basics.
There is another perk that contributes to the crazy routes we’ve grown to love. It’s like the little cousin of stopovers- an “open-jaw.” It’s hard to start a conversation about stopovers without also at least mentioning these open-jaws.
So what is an open-jaw?
An open-jaw is any time you end your trip by landing at a different airport than the one you left from in the beginning. Or, it is any time you begin your return flight from a different airport than that of your destination.
Confusing, I know, so let’s clarify it in an example.
Both of the following are examples of open-jaws.
1.) Let’s say you leave from Chicago and fly to Dublin. Then, you return home by flying from Dublin to Boston instead of Dublin to Chicago.
2.) Let’s say you leave from Chicago and fly to Dublin. Then, you return home by flying from London to Chicago instead of Dublin to Chicago.
The important thing to understand with the latter example is that you are relying on some other source for transportation to get from Dublin to London. That distance is not covered by your ticket because of the open-jaw.
Another thing we need to note is that not all mileage programs have the same policies when it comes to stopovers. Some offer lots, some offer few.
So what’s allowed?
Let’s look at the stopover and openjaw rules for a few of the most popular mileage programs.
(In no particular order)
United allows 1 stopover and 2 open-jaws on a roundtrip, international award ticket.
This may not sound like much but the great thing about United’s stopover allowances are their loose routing rules. They have established a few rules about which zones can be combined on a ticket and as long as you are following those rules, you can stopover nearly anywhere on your way to anywhere else. For instance you could stop in Johannesburg, South Africa on your way to Tokyo, Japan. Crazy! With a paid ticket that would be a ton of flying and a ton of money. But with United it would be 70,000 United miles roundtrip whether you stop in Africa or not!
Drew’s got a great post on United’s routing rules if you’d like to look into that further.
American Airlines allows 1 stopover in the North American gateway city for a one-way international award ticket.
The “North American gateway city” is simply the last North American location you touch before leaving the country, or the first North American location you touch upon entering the country.
So for instance my most recent AA flight took me from Charlottesville to Philadelphia to Chicago to HongKong to Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta. That means the gateway city would be Chicago and thus, we could have had a stopover there if we wanted to.
This is about as restrictive as United is loose, but not entirely a bad deal. If you book your ticket as two one ways you can essentially get two stopovers.
American Airlines Explorer Awards:
American Airlines Explorer Awards allow “Unlimited” stopovers and 1 open-jaw, though you’ll want to read more about the other stipulations that come into play (for example, a limit of 16 segments.)
(Read more about American Airlines’ Explorer Awards.)
US Airways allows 1 stopover or 1 open-jaw.
US Airways can also be fairly loose with the routing rules.
Lufthansa allows 2 stopovers and two open-jaws.
Although it’s not technically a written rule, we’re pretty sure that you cannot apply an open-jaw to a stopover. In fact, we think that’s probably the case for United too.
The thing to watch out with when using Lufthansa miles however are the steep fuel surcharges you may run into. You can try avoiding those fuel surcharges by using your Lufthansa miles on flights within North America, South America, flights on U.S. Airways (if you book before they officially switch alliances…which happens at the end of the month) and flights on Air New Zealand (if you can find the availability.)
In this article I’ve decided to feature the more widely-collected mileage programs (omitting Delta because I just know nothing about Delta…) but there are certainly other mileage programs with stopover rules worth-mentioning. For instance ANA allows four stopovers and Asia Miles allow 5 stopovers and two open-jaws.
Most importantly, when you are going to book a ticket it is definitely worth researching stopover rules if you have the time to enjoy multiple locations. Stopovers are an incredible way to make the most of your miles. On a trip to Japan you could swing by Africa, and that just sounds amazing to me! Having said that, I realize it’s not something well-suited for everyone’s travel preferences. For instance, if you’ve just got one week of vacation time and you really like to see a place thoroughly, you may not be interested in increasing your travel coverage.
Still, worth knowing what your options are!