Airline fares can be confusing; there are stopovers, connections, and open jaw awards. Understanding what each is and what your airline’s frequent flyer program policy is can help you to maximize the value of your miles.
A connection ticket is when you book to fly between two destinations served via an airline hub. So flying from London to Beijing with Turkish airlines you will connect in Istanbul.
Alternatively, if you want to fly from Los Angeles to London, you may have to go via Atlanta to get the dates you want.
In both of the above scenarios you have not chosen to stop in the connection city, it is just the way the airline routes work when you book a ticket between a pair of cities. Typically a connection is a stop in a city of 24 hours or less, where you have not requested the stop specifically.
One thing to remember is that you are not trapped in the airport during a connection, and depending on the length of stay, Visa requirements, and your passport, you may be able to leave the airport and explore the local destination. Some airlines, like Qatar and Turkish Airlines, offer you free tours of their hub cities when you have a longer connection scheduled.
When you book awards that require a connection, you are normally booking just one award ticket, in the same manner you would if you are purchasing the ticket cash.
Stopovers are similar to connections, although it is you who requests the route and the length of the stopover. For instance, flying from New York to Bangkok, you could try and make a stopover in London.
Typically Stopovers are several days long and are your choice when making the reservation. In the above example, you could fly from New York to London, then spend a week exploring London, before continuing your journey to Bangkok.
Redeeming miles with a stopover can be a little tricky and depends on your frequent flyer program. Some airlines allow one or multiple stopovers, while others do not allow them at all, so you will have to check the fine print of your own loyalty program. Bear in mind, some airline programs allow multiple stopovers on the same award ticket.
Open jaw tickets
An open jaw ticket gets its name because when you draw a simple version on a map, it looks like an open jaw.
For instance, if you are planning a trip to Europe from the US, you may choose to fly out from Atlanta to Frankfurt, then explore parts of Germany, France, and Spain moving by train between these cities. Your trip would finish up in Madrid, and then you would catch your return flight from Madrid to Atlanta.
Can I book open jaw/ stopover/ connection awards?
Typically, this will depend on your chosen frequent flyer program. Most programs allow all three types of tickets or even a combination. So you may be allowed two stopovers and one connection as well as an open jaw on an award. The level of generosity varies by program, so you will have to double check the fine print. However, we’ve given some examples below to help you get started:
Allows open jaws and one-way awards. Because Delta applies fuel surcharges, quite often you are better off booking an open jaw or round trip award than booking two one way awards, since it will reduce your fuel surcharge liability.
AA charges for one-way flights, so open jaw awards are not an issue. However, be aware that AA does not allow stopovers either on partners or on its own metal.
United has a pretty generous policy compared to other US legacy carriers. You can book awards with two open jaws or one stopover. One thing to consider when booking United awards is to maximize the value of the Excursionist perk. Even though the perk has some restrictive rules, it can, with some careful planning, be very useful, and gives you a free segment in the middle of a three-segment itinerary. The main restriction is that it cannot be in the geographical destination in which travel originated. So if you fly from North America to Europe, you can not use the Excursionist perk in North America, but you can use it in Europe.
Airlines have different policies and allowances on award fares, so getting familiar with your airline’s policy and what it allows means you can maximize the value of your awards by including stopovers and open jaws if needed. By leveraging these various tools, you can turn an average trip into an awesome travel reward.