Award Travel: Get 2-for-1
As the saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. And there’s more than one way to spend your miles: Members of frequent-flier programs can enjoy rewards from hot-air balloon rides, digital cameras and luggage to hotel stays, car rentals and airport-lounge access. You can also donate your miles to charity or subscribe to magazines and local newspapers. But the number-one favorite reward continues to be a free flight—and you have choices there, too.
One of the best ways to get more bang for your buck when redeeming miles on an award flight is to take advantage of stopovers and openjaws. A stopover is an intentional interruption of a flight along a direct route. Airlines vary on what they consider a stopover compared with a connection, but in general, anything shorter than 24 hours is considered a connection or a layover, but anything longer—up to five days— would be a stopover.
An open-jaw is defined as a round-trip ticket that has three or more points of departure and arrival. For example, flying from Chicago to New York, then from Boston back to Chicago. Generally, airlines require the open-jaw segment distance to be shorter than the shortest leg of your journey.
It’s common practice for airlines to allow free stopovers and open-jaw flights on award tickets, but there is no industry standard for specific policies, such as whether both an open-jaw and a stopover are allowed on the same award. Getting to the bottom of such policies at each airline is a bit of a quagmire.
For example, the policy for United Mileage Plus mentions that no stopovers are permitted on awards wholly within a geographic region, but awards between regions allow one stopover on either the outbound or the inbound trip. Open-jaws are also permitted, but you cannot book an open jaw plus a stopover. Continental OnePass, on the other hand, has let members book an award with both a stopover and an open-jaw. I’ve put together some of the questions to ask when planning an award ticket with an open-jaw or a stopover.
1. Is a free open-jaw allowed on award flights?
2. Is a free stopover allowed on an award flight?
3. If yes on a free stopover, how many are allowed?
4. Are a free open-jaw and a free stopover allowed on the same award?
5. Are the policies the same for airline partner awards?
6. Can I fly into one geographical award zone and out from another (open-jaw)? For example, into Europe and out of Asia?
7. If so, what is the cost in miles? Half of both round-trip amounts or the cost of the most expensive geographical award zone?
8. What are the stipulations regarding where the stopover can be?
9. In terms of how many hours or days, what constitutes a stopover?