Maximize Your Miles: Stopovers and Open Jaws on American Airlines

[bluebox]The Maximize Your Miles series will teach you how to squeeze the most possible value out of your frequent flyer miles and allow you to take trips of a lifetime for even less!

Other posts in the series include:


American Airlines is a great program to stockpile frequent flyer miles in because:

In order to get the absolute best value out of your AA miles, you should be taking advantage of both stopovers and open jaws.

If you aren’t sure what those are, read the first part of the Maximize Your Miles series, Understanding Stopovers and Open Jaws.


The rules below are for AA’s “regular” zone-based award chart.  If you’d like to have stopovers in multiple cities on either an international or domestic trip, you may want to consider using their “secret” Explorer Award chart. [/bluebox]

Open Jaws

Let’s start with the easy stuff first.

Since American Airlines allows you to book one-way tickets, understanding open jaw rules on American Airlines is easy:  it’s always allowed.

For example, you could book one ticket from New York to Paris and then a return ticket from Rome to New York.

Since you are booking the flights separetely anyway, American Airlines does not care if your return ticket is from Paris or Rome, so open-jawing is easy.


Unfortunately, stopovers on American Airlines is not as easy to understand.

Let’s break down the rules first, and then see how we can use them to our advantage to get the most out of our miles.

1.  Stopovers are not allowed when you are flying within North America.

North America is defined as the United States (including Hawaii and Alaska), Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean.

This means that you would NOT be able to fly from Vancouver, stop over in Chicago, and then continue on to New York because all of your travel occurred solely in the North America region.

If you wanted to take this trip, you would have to book two seperate tickets:  one from Vancouver to Chicago and one from Chicago to New York.

When traveling within North America, you can only stop for up to 4 hours in any city before having to move along to your final destination (called a connection).

Basically, you can’t spend any real time in a city because 4 hours isn’t enough time to get in and out of the airport anyway.

The only exception is if you arrive late at night and the next flight isn’t until the next morning.

Then, you’ll be allowed to stay the night in that city, even if it is over 4 hours, and not have to book two flights.

2.  Stopovers are allowed on international flights but only at North American “gateway” cities.

Ok, here is where it gets tricky.

AA defines a “gateway” city as the place that you either enter or leave the North American region.  

Basically, is the last place that you stop before leaving North America or the first place that you land when you enter North America.

Let’s use the example of flying from Los Angeles to Paris.

There are many routes that AA and its partners fly to get you from LA-Paris, but you are not allowed stopovers on all of them.

Route #1

Los Angeles- New York- Paris

You are allowed a stopover in New York City because it is the final place before you leave the North America region and therefore is a North American gateway city.

Route #2

Los Angeles- London- Paris.

You are NOT allowed a stopover in London because it is not a North American gateway city because is not located in North America.

If you want to have a stopover, it is going to have to be somewhere in the North American region.

Before you begin to scoff at that (“who would want to stopover somewhere in North America, how boring!”), take a look below:

Hmmm….not so bad, is it?


Changing your mind a little bit?

Yep, you could be either of those two places, and you can get there FOR FREE using the “gateway city” stopover rule.

Adding Extra Legs to the Beginning and End of Your Ticket

(or How to Get to Hawaii and Alaska for free!)


A free trip?


Let me explain.  It’s probably best to use an example.

Let’s say that you are planning a trip to Paris for May, 2013.

Your home airport is New York (JFK).  You decide to fly from New York to Paris direct.

Instead of simply booking your return ticket from Paris to New York, why not add on a trip to Hawaii, with New York being your stopover city?

Remember, you can stay in your stopover city for up to a year before continuing on to your final destination.

Use Honolulu as your final destination, and New York as your gateway stopover city.

This means you have a whole year before you have to use the flight from New York to Honolulu.

Even if you don’t have exact dates planned of when you want to go to Hawaii, pick a random date and add that extra leg to your ticket.

American Airlines allows you to change the dates later, and you’ll have a whole year to use that free flight to Hawaii.

It’s important to remember that you can add an “extra leg” on to both end of your trips since AA allows you to stopover at a gateway city for each ticket, and you are booking two one-way tickets.

Let’s again use the example of going New York to Paris.  Here is what booking “extra legs” on both tickets would look like:

Anchorage-New York (stopover)- Paris

Paris-New York (stopover)- Honolulu

Even though my home airport is in New York, I’ve built in a return flight from Anchorage and a flight out to Honolulu for free.  

The ticket from Anchorage to Paris with a stopover in New York will cost 30k and the ticket from Paris to Honolulu with a stopover in New York will cost 30k, the exact same prices as if I flew from New York to Paris (30k) and Paris to New York (30k) direct.

Of course, I’d be responsible for getting to Anchorage in the first place and then home to New York from Honolulu.

New York to Anchorage runs 12,500 miles and Honolulu to New York will cost 22,500.

For 3 vacations (Alaska, Paris, and Hawaii) you’d only pay 95k miles!

If you didn’t use the “extra legs” trick and simply booked them all as regular tickets, you’d pay 130k miles.

Even if you aren’t sure whether you’ll be able to travel to Hawaii within a year, there is no harm in booking that extra leg on to the end of your trip.

The worst that happens is that you simply never use that ticket.  You haven’t paid anything extra, so what do you have to lose?

Adding an Extra Leg in the Middle of Your Trip

(or How to get to Disneyworld for free!)

Ok, time to get really nerdy on you.  If you’ve followed along so far, good.  Now it’s time to step it up a notch.

What is MPM and Why Is It Important

Each route has a certain number of miles that you are allowed to fly attached to it, called a maximum permitted mileage (MPM).

Unfortunately, to find out the MPM for a route you either have to have access to a paid program, like Expert Flyer ($10/month) or call the airline and ask.

What’s the value of knowing the MPM?  Once you know the MPM, you can figure out what places you can use as a gateway city.

American Airlines is very generous and allows you to exceed the MPM by 25%.

Let’s revisit our New York to Paris example again.

The MPM for New York to Paris is 4362 miles (I used Expert Flyer to find this out).

Because AA allows you to exceed the MPM by 25%, I can actually fly 5452 miles.

This allows you to add a stopover you want in between leaving your home (New York) and getting to your destination (Paris).

When we talked above about going to Hawaii or Alaska, we were looking at how to add on extra legs before or after you got back home (New York).

This allows you to add on legs “in between”.

Ok, so now I know my number.  As long as I come in under that number, I can fly from New York to somewhere else before heading off to Paris.

So, I want to visit Disneyworld before going to Paris.  By using, I can calculate the total miles from JFK-MCO (Orlando)-CDG (Paris).

The total mileage?  5451!

Well, isn’t that funny?  1 mile to spare!  Without even knowing it, I picked a route that illustrated how to use the MPM + 25% rule to perfection!

Because 5451 is less than 5452 (the MPM + 25%), I would be able to fly from New York to Orlando, stopover in Orlando for however long I wanted (up to 1 year) and then continue on to Paris.

Pretty sweet! 

Because AA allows you to exceed the MPM by 25%, this opens up a ton of possibilities.

It’s an awesome way to visit somewhere neat (or visit friends and family) across the North America region before heading off to your international destination.

Gotta love two vacations for the price of one!

How to Book These Extra Legs

By now you’re convinced that adding an extra leg on to your international flight, whether it is before, in between, or after, is an awesome idea (duh, it’s a free one-way ticket to anywhere in North America)!

You need to know how to book it.  Luckily, it’s not that hard.

If all your flights are on American Airlines

If all your flights are on American Airlines itself, than you can book this directly on the website.  Below, I’ve created a short 3 minute video to show you exactly how to do that.  Have a look:

If your flights are on partner airlines

You’ll have to call up the AA AAdvantage Center to book your tickets (1-800-882-8880 in the US and Canada).

If you don’t trust the AA rep to figure out the best flights for you or simply want to find the flights out for yourself first, use Qantas’s website to search for all OneWorld partner availability.

If you’ve never done this before, check out my step by step instructions and video tutorial on how to use Qantas’s site to search for OneWorld availability.

Still Confused? Have Questions?

If you’ve read through and are thinking:

Stopovers and open jaws are awesome, I want to use them…but I’m still confused as heck about how to actually do it!

Don’t worry, you’re not alone!

In fact, I created Frequent Flyer Bootcamp EXACTLY for you.

I’ll walk you through, step by step, every single thing you need to do to learn about and book stopovers, open-jaws, and free one-ways.

Video tutorials.

Private Facebook group.

Live Q&A’s with me, one on one.

I’ve spent hundred of hours creating the #1 place for people who want to become EXPERTS at booking awards and maximizing their miles and want to do it fast!

4 weeks, and you’ll be an EXPERT, guaranteed!  And you’ll be saving yourself $1,000’s of dollars!

Interested?  Check out the Frequent Flyer Bootcamp page for more information.

I look forward to whipping your butt in class!

Final Word(s)

I highly recommend everyone begin considering using stopovers and open jaws when booking award tickets.

With AA, they both giveth (25% extra over MPM is super generous) and taketh away (only allowing stopovers in gateway cities and not any international cities).

But even though you can “only” stop in North American cities, there are still some awesome opportunities available.

How often can you get an extra trip to somewhere cool like Hawaii or Alaska put on to your ticket for free?

Take advantage of it every chance you can get!

If you have any questions or comments regarding stopovers and open jaws on American Airlines, please let me know in the comments.  This is a difficult topic, and the only question that is a stupid one is the one that goes unasked.

[bluebox]If you haven’t already, make sure to check out the other awesome Maximize Your Miles posts:


(Big thanks to Lucky at One Mile at a Time for breaking down the MPM rules and regulations with American Airlines in this awesome post, which I used as a guide).

Get out of the Stone Age and Start Using Shopping Portals (with Evreward video tutorial)


stone age evolution

A few months ago, I was just like you;  hesitant to use shopping portals for miles and points.

I thought it would be difficult, take up too much time, blah blah blah.

I’m making big points off credit card signups anyway, so how can a shopping portal even be worth my time?  I mean, why would we need the wheel when we could walk?

What a caveman mentality!

The truth is, outside of credit card signup bonuses, using shopping portals is the second best way to accrue miles and points and to do it in chunks.

And that’s what we want, chunks.  Nice, big chunks of points with minimum effort.

The turning point for me?  Christmas, 2011.

My siblings decided they wanted to buy my parents a hot air balloon ride.  Would I want to chip in?

Having just received an email from Groupon, which was offering a WHOPPING 30 Chase UR Points per $1 spent, you bet I wanted in.

I signed in to the Chase Ultimate Rewards mall, redirected to Groupon’s site, and bought a $300 hot air balloon ride for my folks.

Just like that, I was 9,000 points richer.  I was officially a convert!

Ok, ok, ok, you’re convinced that big points can be had, but it must be time consuming to find deals, right?

WRONG! Makes it Easy

Enter, an amazing little site that shows you exactly how many points you’ll get per $1 spent at each merchant and for each reward programs online portal.

Since not all reward programs are created equal, I use every time I decide I’m going to purchase something online.

When buying flowers, Teleflora may offer 10 points/$1 if you use Chase’s Ultimate Rewards mall but 20/$1 if you use United’s online mall.

You better bet I’m going through United and doubling up on the points!  $50 worth of flowers is giving me 1,000 United miles, as opposed to only 500 Chase points.

Thanks Evreward!

Below, I’ve made a short 3 minute video that explains how to use to search for the best deals.

I won’t say it’s so easy a caveman could do it, but…it’s pretty easy.  From this time forward, may your shopping be full of miles and points!

Once you know how to use Evreward, don’t forget to watch the video tutorial on how to use my favorite online shopping portal, the Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall.

Do you use Evreward or do you have another secret weapon?  What’s the best deal you’ve ever got from an online shopping portal?  Comment below!

(photo courtesy of iandexter)

Using Miles for Domestic Flight Redemption (What are you, crazy?)

One of the most common questions surrounding frequent flyer miles and points is “how much are these worth”? And while the idea of value is a major part of every discussion about points and miles, the funny thing is that there is no clear answer.  Each person has different travel goals; one person may wish to use their points to fly to as many destinations as possible, eschewing business and first class to save miles, while another person is equally as content to spend more miles to fly more comfortably.  So, how to value them?

CPM:  The End All and Be All?

Many people will attempt to quantify the value of their miles using cents per mile (CPM).  To do this is, you take how much a ticket would cost if you were to buy it outright and divide that by the amount of miles you must spend instead for that same ticket.  While CPM is a good place to start, it certainly only tells part of the story.

For example, let’s look at flying round trip non-stop from Tokyo to New York in mid-February, a trip I may end up taking.  The cheapest nonstop economy ticket on American Airlines is $1527.  The amount of miles for that same flight is 50,000 since it is off-peak season (September-May).  This would equate to just about 3 cents per mile.  If we look at the same travel parameters for business class, the cost for the cheapest ticket jumps to $9911, whereas the cost in miles doubles to 100,000 miles, giving us almost 10 CPM.  By bumping all the way up to first class, the ticket price skyrockets to $26,588.  The cost in miles for the same flight in first is 125,000, leaving us with a CPM around 21.

If we are only looking for the best value through the lens of CPM, the first class ticket is a no-brainer and the economy ticket isn’t even an afterthought.  However, I would never even remotely consider purchasing a ticket for $9,000, let alone $26,000, which means that CPM alone cannot determine the best value for my travel needs.  Being younger and able to withstand the rigors of travel more easily, I would almost always choose the economy ticket, which would allow me to take the same trip twice for the amount I’d pay to take it once in business class.

Using Miles for Domestic Flights Is Awful Value, Right? 

The discussion of value and the best redemption strategy only intensifies when you begin talking about domestic vs. international.  Almost always, first class international travel will give you the greatest CPM, often by a longshot, simply because first class tickets are soooo expensive (tell me, is anyone actually PAYING for them?).  There are many out there in the travel world that cannot begin to understand why someone would redeem valuable miles for anything less than the optimum CPM, but I would argue that it isn’t always so cut and dry.

A perfect example of this came up while I was planning my winter vacation to Australia.  I booked for flights from Tokyo to Melbourne with Qantas on December 21st for 30,000 miles a person for my wife and I.  However, I ran in to a major logjam in attempting to get tickets home, as all award travel leaving from anywhere on the east coast of Australia was booked solid through January 11th, and I needed to be home the 9th.  I got creative and found flights on Jetstar, Australia’s most popular budget airline, from Cairns to Osaka for $600, leaving January 9th.  And while I’ve become incredible spoiled and always get annoyed by having to pay for flights now, this was my only option.

Now, the problem became getting to Cairns.  I’d be in Sydney on New Year’s and since we wanted 4 days at the Great Barrier Reef, so the latest I could possibly leave Sydney was the morning of January 5th.  Of course, booking tickets during the holiday season only 3 weeks in advance is never an easy (or cheap) task, and even Jetstar, whose tickets between Sydney and Cairns traditionally run at about $130, was going to run us $400 a person.  Shelling out another $800 had me in an awful mood until I had an idea:  what about using miles?

Could using my hard-earned miles on a domestic flight possibly be worth it?  I checked the OneWorld reward chart (I’d be using American Airlines miles but flying Qantas) and was elated to see that a one way domestic ticket within Australia would cost me 10,000 miles a person.  I called, found availability for the evening of January 4th, and booked immediately.  After taxes and the booking fee, the total paid was $90, saving me $710 off the Jetstar price.  Since I was using 20,000 miles, I was getting a 3.5 CPM!  And while this was not the crazy 21 CPM of the above first class example, it is exactly what I NEEDED for MY travel (and pretty good for a domestic flight, to boot!).

So yes, domestic redemption can be worth it, especially when you make use of it at peak times when prices on tickets, even on budget airlines, are inflated.  And remember, it isn’t always the highest CPM that determines the value of your miles, but the best use of those miles for YOUR specific travel.

Three Takeaway Points:

  • CPM is a good place to start when talking about value, but don’t let it completely cloud your thinking.  It can be easily skewed by exorbitant prices on flights you wouldn’t ever think of taking.
  • Domestic travel is often eschewed as “not worthy” of using miles on, but if you use them during peak times, you can actually get a good value (CPM-wise).
  • Use your miles for what works best for YOU.  If you’d rather use your miles to see your grandma in Pittsburgh than lie on a beach in Bora-Bora, then do it.  You’ve earned them, use them how you want!

Have you used miles before on a domestic redemption, and if so, why?  Do you hate the idea of people using miles and not maximizing CPM?  Got a grandma in Pittsburgh?  Comment below!

Pin It on Pinterest