Don't miss out! Join the thousands of people who subscribe to our once-daily email with all the best travel news. Some links on this page may pay me a commission - as always, thanks for your support if you use them
A lot of times when reading about booking award tickets, you see the terms stopover, layover and open-jaw, and you might be wondering what those mean. I know that when I was first starting out, back before I did my first ever credit card churn or my first trip I got for (almost) free with miles and points, I remember seeing these terms and not understanding what they meant.
Yes, I’m sure many of you who have been around awhile already know things, but we have to start somewhere, and this can also give a place of reference for those who are still learning. Plus, if you already knew what these terms meant, why’d you click on the link?!!? 😀
What is a layover?
What is a layover? A layover is often called just a connection, and it’s the easiest one to explain. Any time you’re not making a nonstop direflight, you’ll have a layover or connection, often-times in the hub of the airline on which you’re flying.
This is especially common when you live in a non-hub airport (like me!) In most cases, unless I am flying TO the hub of a particular airport, I have to connect. When we went on our trip to Miami back in 2014, we flew on US Airways, and connected in Charlotte (a US Airways hub)
Okay, then if that’s a layover, then what is a STOPOVER? A stopover is like a layover, but longer :-). Typically a layover is anything less than 4 hours domestically, or less than 24 hours internationally. With paid tickets, it’s harder to book a stopover (it usually just counts as 2 separate flights), but if you’re wondering how to book a stopover on a flight using miles, it’s not that difficult with most frequent flyer programs.
Stopovers are nice, because you can sometimes add an additional destination to your award ticket for no additional cost. We will cover it more in the “Rules” section, but generally speaking, you don’t get stopovers on one-way tickets or on most domestic flights. That’s why I wrote my post on British Airways allowing them even on one-way tickets, because that is unusual among airlines. Alaska Airlines will also give a free stopover on a domestic award ticket. We used that to book Singapore to Dubai to New York in Emirates First Class for 100,000 Alaska miles (since been devalued). The flight was just considered Singapore to New York with a Dubai stopover.
When we flew from CVG-FLL, our flight to Charlotte left at 7:15 a.m. and arrived in Charlotte at 8:34 a.m., and our connecting flight left at 9:45 a.m., arriving at 11:47 a.m. We had a little over an hour in Charlotte, so that is considered a layover (less than 4 hours). If you do a search for a domestic award flight on American or United or anywhere else, you won’t be given any connecting flights with connections longer than 4 hours. Go ahead, try it!
You couldn’t fly from CVG-CLT in the morning, then take your connection in the evening, at least not without it counting as 2 award flights.
There are some exceptions at times if your initial flight is the last flight of the day and your onward flight is the first flight in the morning, or if there are not any other flight options. You will typically be charged an additional $5.60 TSA security fee if that happens. I should also point out here that if you’re traveling internationally, you will need to make sure you have a visa for the country of your stopover.
So what is an Open Jaw flight?
Okay that makes sense, so what are open jaw flights? An open jaw flight sounds kind of strange, but it actually is pretty simple. Normally you think of a roundtrip as the exact same itinerary twice (once in reverse). For example, when we flew CVG-CLT-FLL to go to Ft. Lauderdale, when we came back home, we just did the reverse (FLL-CLT-CVG).
But on some award tickets, you don’t have to just fly your outbound itinerary in reverse. Again, just like with a stopover, with most airlines, open jaws are not permitted domestically.
So here we’re flying outbound from New York City to Madrid, then our return flight is from London to New York City. This is an open jaw, because there’s a segment (London to Madrid) that is “open” and not actually covered by the airline.
Therefore the main thing to keep in mind there is that you’re responsible for your own transportation from Madrid to London. Maybe it’s time for one of those British Airways Reward Flight Saver flights where you can get all the taxes, fees and surcharges for only $27.50. Or Rome2Rio might be able to help!
How to book a stopover or open jaw flight with frequent flier miles
There are so many airlines out there that I can’t go through all of their policies, but I’ll highlight a few
American: No stopovers, and since all award flights are priced as one-way tickets, you can have an open jaw (even domestically)
British Airways: Segments on award tickets are priced out based on the distance of that segment, so you can have as many stopovers or open jaws as you want, even on a one-way.
Delta: Allows one open jaw AND one stopover on a roundtrip ticket
United: United used to be by far the most flexible of the major (US-based) airlines in this regard, but the rules are changing as of October 6, 2016. It is believed that you will still get 2 open jaws, but now instead of a stopover, United has introduced something called the “United Excursionist Perk“, which is basically a stopover with additional restrictions.
Alaska Airlines: Allows one stopover on an international roundtrip flight. On an international roundtrip flight, Alaska allows 2 open-jaws AND 2 stopovers (one in each direction).
I hope that this helps explain the difference between what is a layover, what is a stopover and what is an open jaw flight!