An introduction to stopovers and open jaws on award flights


There are many ways to make the most of your hard-earned travel rewards. When it comes to redeeming airline miles, utilizing stopovers and open-jaw award tickets can help you do that. With select loyalty programs, this can allow you to visit multiple destinations for the price of one.

However, understanding the complexities of stopovers and open jaws can be overwhelming, so here is the context you need to begin searching for these award tickets.

What is a stopover?

Of the two terms, this one is more straightforward. Put simply, a stopover is when you stop in a city for a longer-than-normal time en route to a destination. This extended connection time differentiates a stopover from a layover; a layover is when you connect in a hub airport (and never leave the airport) before continuing on your journey.

That said, the length of time that qualifies as a stopover versus a layover can vary, depending on the route. For international award tickets, the general rule of thumb is any connection that lasts at least 24 hours is a stopover. Anything less than 24 hours is considered a connection or a layover.

A stopover allows you to fly into a city, stay for a few days and then continue to your ultimate destination — like this example from Houston to Tel Aviv via Frankfurt. If you just had a connection in Frankfurt, you’d stay in the airport for two or three hours. However, you could make it a stopover by spending a few days there.

In this itinerary, the stopover would be at Frankfurt Airport (FRA) for more than 24 hours. GCMAP.COM

Unfortunately, not all programs allow stopovers on award tickets. Air Canada Aeroplan, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan and Air France-KLM Flying Blue are among the programs that allow for stopovers — though each program has its own terms and conditions. Additionally, you may need to call to book one (as is the case with Flying Blue), and there are often airline or routing restrictions.

Related: Quick Points: See two cities for the price of one with stopovers

What is an open jaw?

No, an open jaw is not a trip to the dentist when it comes to award tickets. Instead, the term comes from how the flight path looks on a map.


Here’s an example. Let’s say you’d like to book an award ticket from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR). An open jaw would allow you to return from another airport, like Madrid–Barajas Airport (MAD).

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A double-open jaw goes further and returns to another airport, like Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) instead of SFO. Sometimes, you’ll also hear people refer to this as two dangling legs.


You could book the above routing as two one-way award tickets, but then you’d potentially need to pay two change or cancellation fees if you need to adjust your trip.

Regardless of whether you have one (or two) open jaws, it’s up to you to “fill” that open jaw to take the return flight. For some travelers, this means paying for a separate, one-way ticket — potentially on a low-cost carrier that isn’t readily available using miles. Other times, it can involve a different form of transportation, like a train or bus.

Example of a trip with a stopover and open jaw

To show you the extent of what’s possible, let’s go through an example of an award trip with both a stopover and an open jaw.

With United MileagePlus, a round-trip, economy award flight from the U.S. to Europe is typically 60,000 miles at the saver level. However, United’s Excursionist Perk allows you to add a free stopover within Europe. Because the program also allows an open jaw, you can visit multiple cities for the price of one.

In this example, you can fly from O’Hare International Airport (ORD) to LHR and explore London for three days. Then, you can continue from London to Frankfurt. You can explore Germany at your leisure before ending up in Munich for your flight from Munich International Airport (MUC) back to Chicago.

And the price? The same 60,000 miles you’d pay for a simple, round-trip award ticket from Chicago to Munich.


This is just an example of what you can do with these award tickets.

Read more: The complete guide to maximizing stopovers and open jaws on award tickets

Bottom line

Stopovers and open jaws allow you to add another destination to your award ticket for few, if any, additional miles. As always, we recommend confirming award rates and space before transferring your credit card points.

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