Travel hacking changes your whole perspective on travel. Instead of being content paying whatever prices the airlines want to charge, you start to look for any way you can to get a better deal.
In the beginning, this usually means using travel credit cards to quickly earn miles and then redeeming those miles for maximum value. After that, you may look into ways to get cheaper accommodation, such as housesitting or signing up for a hotel credit card.
If you’ve done all of that, then you’re already miles ahead of the typical traveler. But what if you want to take things to the next level? What if you want to visit multiple cities without paying for extra flights, or get a free mini-vacation on your way to another city? (more…)
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: