Chase Ultimate Reward (UR) points are the currency that Chase uses to reward people who use their cards that are not tied to a specific airline or hotel chain.
Chase Ultimate Rewards points offer some incredible value, and if used right, can actually be more beneficial than credit cards that offer miles with a specific airline because they UR points are extremely flexible.
UR points are in direct competition with American Express Membership Rewards points and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) points.
This series will explain all the facets of Chase Ultimate Rewards points, including ways to earn them, ways to use them, how to transfer them (both between accounts and to partner airlines and hotels), and lastly, the best ways to maximize them.
By the end, you’ll be a Chase Ultimate Rewards pro and you’ll see why they are my preferred frequent flyer currency!
For now, though, let’s start with how to earn UR points. You can love them all you want, but if you don’t have any, they aren’t doing you any good!
The absolute easiest way to earn a huge amount of Ultimate Rewards points at one time is through credit card signups. Luckily, Chase has quite a few good offers out there, so unless you’ve collected them all already, you have some good options to pick from.
Before we start looking at cards, there is one VERY important distinction that you must understand; the difference between “premium” Ultimate Rewards points and “limited” Ultimate Rewards points.
This is an area that quite a few people get confused on, so its time to set the record straight.
Premium Ultimate Rewards points vs. Limited Ultimate Rewards points
“Limited” UR points vs. “Premium” UR points is just as one-sided!
As the name implies, premium UR points are much more valuable than limited UR points. Premium UR points can be used two ways:
To redeem as cash for travel bought through the Chase Ultimate Rewards mall, at a value of 1.2 cents per point.
Limited UR points can only be used as cash for travel bought through the Chase Rewards Mall, at a value of 1.0 cents per point.
And while it is nice that the premium UR points are worth 20% more when redeemed as cash for travel, the MAJOR difference is that premium UR points can be transferred to partners whereas limited UR points cannot be transferred.
This opens up a range of possibilities and usually gives you much better value than simply redeeming them for 1.2 cents per point.
Now, it’s important to know which Chase cards earn you which type of points, as many people often get confused about this.
What Cards Earn Which Type of Points
The following cards earn you “premium” Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which ARE transferable to partners:
Chase Sapphire Preferred
Chase Ink Bold [No longer available]
Chase Ink Plus
The following cards earn you “limited” Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which ARE NOT transferable to partners:
Chase Ink Classic
Chase Ink Cash
So does this make cards that offer you limited points worthless?
Chase allows you to combine your Ultimate Rewards points by transferring between your accounts, regardless of if they are “limited” or “premium” points.
What this means is that as long as you have one of the cards that earns “premium” points, you can transfer the points you earn on the “limited” cards to “premium” account and VOILA!, those “limited” points are now “premium” points.
Just remember though: You need to have at least ONE “premium” card to transfer the “limited” points to or else they will remain limited points and have very little value.
To recap: Premium UR points are great, limited UR points are not that great. If you have a card that earns limited UR points, get a card that earns you premium points and combine your points in that premium account.
Now that you understand the difference between the two types of UR points, let’s take a look at which cards will earn you what points and how many!
Chase Ultimate Rewards Credit Card Signup Bonuses
Below is a list of the cards that earn Chase UR points and the current signup bonus.
Chase Ink Classic: 25,000 “limited” Chase UR points
Chase Ink Cash: 25,000 “limited” Chase UR points
The Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Bold, and Chase Ink Plus my three favorite credit cards. Yes, they are #1, #2A and #2B in my mind (the Ink Bold and Ink Plus are virtually identical cards). I use them for all of my everyday spending.
Obviously, I highly recommend all three of the cards. The signup bonuses for all three cards are substantial (40k and 50k) and because they earn “premium” Ultimate Rewards points, they are super valuable since they can be transferred to many partners, including my favorites, United and Hyatt!
In addition, all three cards also offer some nice category bonuses for spending, which we’ll discuss in a later post.
The Freedom, which offers 5x points on different rotating categories, is another card to consider. I wouldn’t suggest it right now since the signup bonus is a paltry 10k, but if the bonus gets bumped up to 20k or 30k, then go for it!
Just remember that you’ll need either the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold, or Ink Plus to turn those “limited” points you earn with the Freedom in to “premium” points.
I’d only recommend applying for the regular Sapphire, Ink Classic, or Ink Cash after you’ve received all the “premium” cards. The signup bonuses are lower, and unless you have a premium card, you’ll be earning limited points.
If you have exhausted all the “premium” options, wow, good for you! Then, it’s time to start thinking about nabbing the 25k signup bonus for the Ink Cash or Ink Classic.
Signing up for a Chase credit card (or two…or three) is BY FAR the quickest way to build up your Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
However, when signing up, make sure that you applying for cards that earn “premium” points, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Bold, and Chase Ink Plus.
Since these are all different products, you can earn the signup bonus from each. Opening these three cards would net you a quick 140k Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Talk about a nice jump-start!
Personally, Chase UR points are my favorite frequent flyer currency and the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold, and Ink Chase are three of the best cards out there. If you don’t already have them, I would strongly suggest you consider getting one and start earning Chase Ultimate Rewards points now!
What Chase signup bonuses have you snagged? Which ones are you targeting in the future? Let me know in the comments below!
As I’ve mentioned many times before BA points can be incredibly valuable, but ONLY if you used in very specific circumstances.
Therefore, it is even more important with BA than with other airlines to know which circumstances give you the best bang for your buck because if you use them wrong, you could end up paying HUGE fuel surcharges…and nobody wants that!
If you’ve already got a nice stash of BA Avios points, great!
Using Avios points for short haul domestic flights can offer some incredible value. Because of the distance-based award chart, you can get flights that are as low as 4,500 points one-way if the distance flown is below 650 miles.
Only 4,500 points? That’s crazy, considering that the same flight would cost you almost 3x as much if you were flying with AA, United, or USAirways!
This works best for people who live near American Airline US hubs, which are Dallas/Forth Worth (DFW), New York (JFK), Los Angeles (LAX), Chicago (ORD), and Miami (MIA).
There are tons of flights that fly out of these 5 hubs to places all over the United States, so if you live near one of the hubs, you can really make out like a bandit!
If you don’t start your journey at one of the hub cities, you won’t have as many options, and depending on where you are flying, you may have to pay for the leg from your home airport to the hub airport (minimum of 4,500 miles) and then pay for the leg from the hub to your destination.
This isn’t the end of the world, and can still be less than a regular airline would charge for a domestic flight, but its not the amazing deal that those lucky people near hub cities can get.
Examples (all examples in this post are for a roundtrip ticket in economy)
New York-Chicago Using Avios Points: 15,000 Using regular carriers (AA, United, USAirways, Delta): All 25,000
New York-Miami Using Avios Points: 15,000 Using regular carriers: All 25,000
Boston (non hub)-Miami Using Avios Points: 21,000 (4,500 for BOS-JFK, 7,500 for JFK-MIA x 2) Using regular carriers: 25,000
2. From the West Coast to Hawaii
Again, since the rewards chart is distance-based, it doesn’t matter that Hawaii is normally considered a different zone than the rest of North America by other airlines. All that matters is how many miles you are flying.
This means that by going to Hawaii from somewhere on the West Coast you can get a suuuweeettt deal!
If you are flying American Airlines, anywhere you fly from on that side of the country will route you through the main hub in Los Angeles, so if you can start in Los Angeles, you won’t have to pay for that extra leg to get there.
However, don’t forget that British Airways also partners with Alaska Airlines, meaning that you can also fly direct from Anchorage, Bellingham (WA), Seattle, Portland, Oakland, San Diego or San Jose to Honolulu using your Avios points.
Each route is under 3,000 miles, which means you’ll only pay 12,500 one-way or 25,000 roundtrip! Hello, hula!
(huge thanks to reader planodude for pointing that out in the comments of last post…that’s why I love you guys; always helping each other, and me, out!)
Los Angeles-Honolulu Using Avios Points: 25,000 AA 35,000 (off-peak) AA 45,000 (peak) Delta, USAirways, United: 40,000
San Francisco (non-hub)-Honolulu Using Avios Points: 34,000 Using regular carriers: AA 35,000 (off-peak) AA 45,000 (peak) Delta, USAirways, United: 40,000
3. Boston to Ireland (Dublin or Shannon)
This is a very specific circumstance, but if you are able to make it work, this is the best deal out there for Avios points, even better than domestic short haul flights. Why? Two reasons:
1. Boston and Dublin are 2,993 miles apart, which puts it just below the 3,000 mile threshold in the Avios award chart, meaning you’ll only be paying 12,500 Avios points each way!
8 measly more miles and it’d be bumped up to category 5 (and cost 20,000 Avios points). Talk about cutting it close.
This route, from BOS to either Dublin or Shannon, is the only route that BA or it’s partners operate from the United States to Europe that falls under the 3,000 mile mark.
2. The route is flown by Aer Lingus, which for reasons unbeknowst to me, imposes only a small fuel surcharge ($150ish) when using BA Avios points and flying on their planes.
BA and every other one of its partners that fly between North America and Europe have huge fuel surcharges (think $400-600) when you use BA Avios points.
This makes it pointless to redeem Avios points on them, seeing as you could buy a ticket outright for the same price. For whatever reason, Aer Lingus has been spared (for now) so take advantage of it while you can.
Aer Lingus also flies to Dublin from New York and Chicago, but those tickets will cost you 40,000 Avios points instead of the 25,000 from Boston because they fall in category 5 on the Avios award chart. Still a really good deal, especially for people who wouldn’t be able to easily get to Boston.
If you’re looking to stretch your Avios points and save your dollars (and who isn’t) and can make your way to Boston (or even New York or Chicago) fairly easily, jump on this amazing deal to Dublin for only 25,000 Avios points roundtrip.
This isn’t just for people wanting to visit the Emerald Isle. If you want to continue on to the rest of Europe, down a quick pint of Guiness and then fly from Dublin to wherever else you want to go in Europe using a budget airline like Ryanair.
Boston-Dublin Using Avios Points: 25,000 AA: 40k (off-peak), 60k (peak) USAirways: 35k (off-peak), 60k (peak) United and Delta: 60k
New York or Chicago-Dublin Using Avios Points: 40k AA: 40k (off-peak), 60k (peak) USAirways: 35k (off-peak), 60k (peak) United and Delta: 60k
4. Flying to Central or South America
Sometimes the actual amount of Avios points required will be less than the amount of miles other airlines charge because the distance is fairly short (like Miami to Bogota, Colombio in the examples below).
If this is the case, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that you are getting great value.
Since you’ll never pay a fuel surcharge when using Avios points to fly LAN or for the AA flights that fly to Central or South America, this is a no-brainer if you are flying from somewhere pretty far south already (Miami, Dallas) or if you are flying to the northern part of South America (Bogota, Caracas, etc.)
However, even if the amount of points required isn’t less than other airlines, I still consider using Avios points to go to South America a good value.
If you ask me whether I’d rather use 25k Avios points or 25k United miles to get to Buenos Aires, I’ll pick the Avios points each time!
Any time you can get a flight using BA Avios points and not pay a fuel surcharge, take it, because they are few and far between.
Many of you may be unfamiliar with, so to give you a brief overview, LAN flies from Los Angeles, Miami, New York (JFK), San Francisco and Orlando in the United States and Toronto in Canada and flies to a ton of destinations in Central and South America.
Direct flights on LAN from North American include:
New York (JFK) to Santiago and Lima Los Angeles to Lima Miami to Bogota, Caracas, Santiago, Punta Cana San Francisco to Lima
Of course, you can always fly in to one of these cities and then continue on from there, so your options are basically limitless.
In addition, AA operates a good amount of flights to Central and South America as well, hitting a bunch of cities in Central America and all the major ones in South America as well, including Buenos Aires and Rio. Did someone say Carnaval?
Miami to Bogota Using Avios Points: 20,000 AA: 30k (off-peak), 35k (peak) United: 40k USAirways: 60k Delta: 45k
New York to Santiago, Chile or Buenos Aires, Argentina Using Avios Points: 50,000 Using AA: 40k (off-peak), 60k (peak) United, USAirways, Delta: 60k
5. Flying to the Caribbean from the East Coast
Much of what was written about Central and South America holds true for flying to the Caribbean as well. If you are flying from somewhere pretty far south, such as Miami, you can get roundtrip tickets for as little as 15k Avios points to most places in the Caribbean (some are just a touch too far and cost 20k).
Amazingly, even coming from New York you can get tickets to places like the Dominican Republic for only 20k roundtrip!
Even the most generous of award charts, such as USAirways off-peak special of 25k roundtrip to the Caribbean, can’t match that!
Of course, if you are flying from further away, such as Los Angeles, you’ll be paying much more because its distance based. Still, at 40k roundtrip to a lot of the Caribbean, the value isn’t that bad. You West Coasters have cheap flights to Hawaii, us East Coasters can have the Caribbean!
Miami to Santo Domingo Using Avios points: 15,000 USAirways: 25,000 (off-peak on USAirway flights), 35,000 (peak and on partner airlines) AA, Delta, United: 35,000
New York to St. Thomas
Using Avios points: 40,000 USAirways: 25,000 (off-peak on USAirway flights), 35,000 (peak and on partner airlines) AA, Delta, United: 35,000
As you can see, it’s not all bad news when it comes to the British Airways Avios program. When used properly, Avios points can be much, much cheaper than other airlines (I’m still shaking my head at Miami to the Caribbean for 15k roundtrip!).
Just remember that you must use them in very specific situations.
Obviously, it’s best to use them if you can for shorter flights (since the chart is distance-based) but more importantly, only use them on routes that don’t impose a fuel surcharge, which are the ones above.
Do that, and you’ll be singing a different tune than the ol’ doom and gloom that typically accompanies Avios!
If the above trips sound enticing, go and grab the Chase British Airways card and start planning your trip!
When British Airways totally revamped their frequent flyer program last year, rebranding it as Avios and calling their new currency Avios points, many people bemoaned the changes, and rightfully so.
Overall, the program is worse than it was before, with British Airways Avios points much less valuable now than they were a year ago.
However, that doesn’t mean that you should write BA off completely. Earning miles in many different programs is always a good idea, as it gives you great flexibility when trying to book flights and travel for free.
And BA is one of the easiest airlines to earn miles with.
Most airlines have a zone-based award chart, meaning that it will cost you a set amount of miles to fly from one zone to another.
For example, with American Airlines, it would cost you the same to fly from New York to London (North America zone to Europe zone) as it would to fly from Los Angeles to Budapest (again, North America zone to Europe zone).
With BA Avios there are no zones and the amount of Avios points you pay is based on the distance that you fly.
Anything that falls under 3,000 miles will cost you 12,500 Avios points, regardless of whether you cross oceans or continental lines. Boston to Dublin will cost you 12,500, same as New York to Los Angeles, because both routes fall in category 4.
You can find out how many Avios points you’ll need for a trip 1 of 3 ways (warning: it isn’t always easy).
For easy itineraries:
1. Use the Avios Points Calculator on BA’s website. This is an incredibly non-intuitive system and will only work if you are plugging in really easy routes (such as direct flights or sometimes routes with only one connection).
2. Use milez.biz. Enter the two cities you are flying between and select the British Airways program. If the itinerary isn’t too complex, this should spit you out the number of points it will cost.
For more complex itineraries:
3. Find out the amount of miles each leg of your trip will cost by using Milecalc.com. Once you have the mileage for each leg, use the Avios award chart to tell you how many Avios points each leg will be. Then, add them all together to get your final amount.
2. You pay for each leg of the trip separately, even if you are just laying over.
This is by far one of the most annoying aspects of the Avios program for people who don’t live near a hub city (which are New York-JFK, Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles in the USA).
Let’s look at an example. If you want to fly from San Francisco to Honolulu, you’ll have to first stop over in Los Angeles as there are no direct flights. For each leg, you’d have to figure out the mileage and pay accordingly.
San Francisco to Los Angeles is 500 miles and so it would fall under category 1 and cost you 4,500 Avios points.
Los Angeles to Honolulu is 2556 miles and so it would fall under category 4 and cost you 12,500 Avios points.
You’d then add these two legs together to get your total, which would be 17,000 Avios points one-way or 34,000 Avios points roundtrip.
If you live near a hub then this won’t bother you much, since you’ll never be paying for that extra leg, but for many unfortunate souls, this Avios rule can really add points on to your trip fast, especially if you have more than one layover before arriving at your destination!
3. BA charges huge fuel surcharges on MOST of their flights, but not all.
One of the major, major downsides to Avios points if you use them on most partners (or BA itself) is that you’ll get crushed with a huge fuel surcharge.
Most of the time, the fuel surcharge is so large ($400-600) that it makes no sense at all to even use your Avios points since you could buy a paid ticket for almost the same price.
Additionally, United’s rules when dealing with stopovers and open jaws are (fairly) simple and straightforward. If you’ve read parts 2 and 3 of Maximize Your Miles you know how convoluted the rules can be on American Airlines and USAirways, so luckily, United makes life a little easier.
Let’s take a look at their main rules, build an incredible sample itinerary using a stopover and open jaw and then talk about an awesome “trick” you can use to score a free one-way ticket to anywhere in North America (including the Caribbean).
Rule #1: United does not allow stopovers or open jaws on domestic tickets
This is standard procedure for all airlines, with the lone exception being Delta. Therefore, everything we will be talking about from here on out will deal with international itineraries.
Rule #2: United does not allow stopovers or open jaws on one-way tickets
The fact that United allows you to book one-way tickets with your frequent flyer miles is a good thing (remember, USAirways doesn’t allow one-way tickets).
The major downside is that you can’t take advantage of the perks of stopovers or open jaws if you book a one-way ticket.
Another difference between United and USAirways is that United representatives are not near as lenient as their Star Alliance counterparts over at USAirways. You can try to bend the rules at United (after all, it never hurts to try) but the odds are that you won’t get a rep that will let you break this rule.
If you want a stopover or open jaw, you’re going to have to book roundtrip.
Rule #3: United allows 1 stopover and 2 open jaws on roundtrip international tickets
This is where United has AA beat hands down. Let’s first look at the stopover, build a simple routing, and then add in the open jaws and get a little crazier!
The stopover can occur in any city that is within your route, meaning you don’t have to worry about having your stopover happen at a “North American gateway city” like AA.
If you are flying to somewhere in Europe, you can have your stopover in another European city before continuing on to your destination, which basically means the possibilities are endless.
For example, a basic itinerary could look like this:
Going: New York to London (stopover) to Paris (destination)
Return: Paris to New York
On AA, you couldn’t stop in London because its not in North America, but with United, it doesn’t matter. You can stop in any city that United or its partners on Star Alliance flies to that is on a somewhat reasonable route to your final destination.
Since this is ALOT, the world is your oyster!
Adding in the first open jaw
You may think you’d be content with getting to visit two cities on one award ticket, but remember, we are all about MAXIMIZATION!
Why visit two when you can visit three?
Let’s keep the original plan of flying New York-London (stopover)- Paris (destination). But now, instead of simply flying Paris-New York on the return leg, we want to add in an open jaw. This means that we will arrive in Paris but we will leave out of another city for our return leg.
Rome sound enticing to anyone? Now, our itinerary would look like this:
New York-London (stopover)-Paris (destination)
Return flight: Rome-New York
Of course, you’d be responsible for making your own way to Rome, but this is easily done, especially in Europe, where you can fly budget airlines between cities for less than $100 or simply take a train.
If you found that it would cost more to make your own way between Paris and Rome than it would be make your own way between London and Rome (which could be the case since Ryanair offers some amazing deals out of London), you could always flip flop your stopover and open jaw and book this itinerary:
New York-London (destination) then open jaw
Return flight: Rome-Paris (stopover)- New York
Either way, you’d have to pay your own way to get between the open jaw cities, but this is easily done, especially in Europe, and it allows you add in a completely other city for a fraction of the cost.
Trick: How to get a free one-way ticket to anywhere in North America
Ok, so you’re happy with your itinerary, but you know that you still have another open jaw, and you have really taken the “maximize, maximize, maximize” mantra to heart, so you don’t want to waste the second open jaw.
First, I’ll start with the bad news: If you want to be able to use your second open jaw, you are going to have to give up your stopover in Europe so that you can “save” it for later.
But, there’s plenty of good news: The reward is free one-way ticket to anywhere in the North American region, which includes the US (minus Hawaii) and Canada (or a super discounted ticket elsewhere).
Here’s what you can do:
You can still use your first open jaw in Europe, as you originally planned, so let’s continue with our original itinerary. We’d now book something like this for the European part of our journey:
New York-London (destination) then open jaw
Return: Paris-New York
Since we still have a stopover and an open jaw left, we can call New York our stopover city (and stay there for up to a year) and then add on an extra leg to anywhere in the North America region, which includes the continental US, Alaska, and Canada. You’ve always dreamed of seeing Alaska, right?
Our full itinerary would look like this:
New York-London (destination) then open jaw
Return: Paris-New York (stopover for up to a year)- Anchorage (final destination)
You are now using your one open jaw in between London and Paris, your stopover in New York, and your second open jaw to have Anchorage as your ultimate ending point even though you originally flew out of New York.
All you’d have to do is get yourself a ticket home from Anchorage (which will cost 12.5k miles one way) and you not only a European vacation visiting 2 amazing cities but also an Alaskan adventure.
And all for the price of one award ticket!
Other options for your free one-way ticket
The above example shows how to get a free one-way ticket to Alaska (or anywhere else in the North American region) but what if you want to go somewhere else? That’s also possible.
For wherever you’d like to go, simply sub out Anchorage in the above example and add in the place you desire.
Instead of charging you for separate tickets (North America-Europe roundtrip plus North America-2nd region one-way), United will simply charge you the difference between the two regions, which is alot less.
For example, if you’d rather your free one-way get you to the Caribbean, you’d simply book your return leg to go there. An example would be:
New York- London (destination) then open jaw
Return: Paris-New York (stopover)- Grand Cayman (final destination)
Since United’s award chart actually charges you less to fly from the Caribbean to Europe than North America to Europe, you’ll actually only pay 57,500 miles for this ticket as opposed to the 60,000 you’d pay if you ended your trip in North America (like the above example to Anchorage).
If you were to book these tickets separately, you’d pay 60k for your roundtrip ticket from North American to Europe and then 17.5k for a one-way ticket from North America to the Caribbean.
Instead, you are saving 20k miles by making New York a stopover and Grand Cayman your final destination.
Same rules apply. You’d book:
New York-London (destination) then open jaw
Return: Paris-New York (stopover)-Honolulu
Your total cost in miles would run 62,500.
You’d be getting charged an additional 2,500 miles because Europe to Hawaii prices out at 32,500 as opposed to 30,000 for Europe to North America region, but you are still saving a ton. If you were to book this as two separate awards, you’d pay 80k (60k for Europe to NA roundtrip and 20k for NA to Hawaii one-way).
You can do the same thing with South America. An example would be:
New York-London (destination) then open jaw
Paris-New York (stopover)- Buenos Aires (final destination)
The final price for this itinerary would be 77,500 miles.
If you were to book these seperately, you’d spend 90k total (60k from New York to Europe and then an additional 30k for a one-way from New York to Buenos Aires). By using the stopover trick, you’re saving 12,500 miles!
Free one-way vs. stopover in Europe: Which should you choose?
Determining whether you should book a free one-way ticket or keep your extra stopover in Europe is a good problem to have, and in the end, it comes down to preference. If your one-way falls in the North American region, both awards will price out the same, at 60k miles apiece.
With the stopover in Europe, we were able to build an itinerary that looked like this:
New York-London (stopover)-Paris then open jaw
With the free one-way, we would have an intinerary like this:
New York-London then open jaw
Paris-New York (stopover)-Anchorage
Each is a great trip, so just decide whether you’d enjoy visiting an extra city in Europe or getting a free trip out to somewhere in North America later on. Either way, you’re making out like a bandit and taking a trip that you could probably have only dreamed about before.
How To Book Stopovers and Open Jaws on United
The second best thing about booking stopovers and open jaws with United (behind being allowed to stopover at basically any city) is that you can do it all online.
Unlike American Airlines and USAirways, whose computer systems are stuck in the era of Zubaz pants and Fraggle Rock, United has decided to join the rest of us in the new millenium and has a system that is not only highly functional but also user-friendly.
You’ll quickly get the hang of it once you do it once, but for those people who are new to booking with United, especially when using stopovers and open jaws, I’ve created a short video tutorial:
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!
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. 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!
Stopovers and open jaws can be an incredibly powerful tool to help you put together a vacation of a lifetime, and on no airline is this more apparent than United, which allows a ton of freedom in which choosing which city to stopover in. Add in the fact that you are able to add a free one-way for a later date and really, the possibilities are endless!
I would highly recommend that everyone consider using these to your advantage if you are booking a roundtrip ticket with your United frequent flyer miles.
The fact that you don’t even have to call in and book the tickets but instead can play around on United’s system till your heart’s content to figure out what works for you means that you really have no excuse.
So, what are you waiting for? Remember: MAXIMIZE, MAXIMIZE, MAXIMIZE!
Questions, comments, and unabashed bragging of the awesome trips you’ve booked is all welcome below. Fire away folks!
If you haven’t already, check out the other awesome Maximize Your Mile posts:
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]
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.
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.
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 milecalc.com, 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.
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 AA.com 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.
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:
The Free Flight Primer is a series of posts which will show, step by step, how to earn and then redeem frequent flyer miles.
I’ll be providing links to tools and websites that are helpful, tons of screenshots or video tutorials of various steps that may prove confusing, and of course, my own thoughts and opinions on the process.
I’ll also be providing a real-life case study using an actual client to better illustrate the process.
You’ve picked your destination, found out what airlines fly there, checked availability of flights, and earned your points. Now you’re on the homestretch. The only thing left to do is book your award and pack your suitcase (which I promise won’t be part 8).
Step 1: Determine Whether You Can Book Online
For all airlines, if you are flying “metal”, which means that you are using that airline’s miles and only flying on that airline (for example, you are using AA miles to book flights and flying ONLY on AA and no partner airlines), then you can book online. And while each airline’s booking system is set up a little different, they are for the most part, pretty straight forward. You sign in to your account, search for availability, and click on the tickets. Then you’ll be taken to a screen that shows how many points you have, how many it costs, and what the total out of pocket cost you have to pay is for fees and taxes. After you enter all your personal details and payment details, you are finished.
The problem comes when you are using an airline’s miles but flying on partner airlines (using AA miles but flying Iberia, BA, etc.). Unfortunately, most airlines DO NOT let you book most partners online and you’ll be required to call in and book.
To make it easy for you, I’ve created a chart that breaks down what you can and cannot do online for the five most popular airlines that people in the States have miles with. I’ve also included how much the fee is to book by phone, the phone number to call if you can’t book your ticket online, and if there is a short notice booking fee. Some airlines charge a fee if the date of booking a ticket is within a certain amount of days of your departure (completely lame if you ask me). I’ve also linked below to their page of rules regarding award travel if you want to read more about it (thrilling stuff, let me tell you!).
Case Study: Rob will be using AA miles but flying on Iberia, meaning he will have to call AA to book the travel.
Step 2: Call and Book Your Ticket
If you can’t book online, then you need to call and book your ticket. It doesn’t sound too complicated, and it isn’t usually, but there are a few tips that might help you.
Always have your itinerary figured out before you call: Use the skills you learned in Parts 3, 4, and 5 to find flight availability. Write down all the information for the itinerary you want or keep the window open on your computer when you call. Don’t assume the rep on the other line will find you the right or best flight. Don’t waste all your hard work by failing to be prepared and then finding out later you are on a different flight from the one you originally wanted.
Ask to have the phone fee waived: Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. I always just mention that I couldn’t book the ticket online because they don’t allow you to book partners online or else I would have. If you sound knowledgeable and prepared, making the job easier for the rep, there will be a better chance you get the fee waived. Of course, being nice helps as well. Hey, it never hurts to ask.
Ask to put the ticket on hold: If you have any doubts at all (about the dates, about the flight numbers, about the passenger names) then ask to put the ticket on hold and get everything in order. This guarantees you have the tickets if you want them but doesn’t lock you in to anything at the moment. Each airline has different rules, but AA will hold your ticket for 5 days. Just remember to call back before the hold is up and actually book your tickets or they will be released and you’ll be out of luck. Also, remember to write down your tracking number somewhere safe and save yourself a lot of headaches later.
After booking your ticket, you should be all set, which brings us to an end of the Free Flight Primer. I hope that you’ve found the information easy to understand and valuable. Based on your comments and emails, I’d consider it a success. If you have any other questions, suggestions for future video tutorials and guides or if the Free Flight Primer has helped you book an award ticket, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!