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What is an open jaw flight? Open jaw is kind of a weird sounding phrase, no?

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In travel terms, it’s not actually something out of a museum – it actually isn’t that complicated – it just means that instead of a “regular” roundtrip ticket where it’s the exact same itinerary twice (once in reverse), your return leg leaves from a different airport.

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In this example, you fly from New York (JFK) to Madrid, but your return flight leaves from London’s LHR airport.

Advantages and disadvantages

The advantage is that you get to see an additional city for the same price! Normally when you add additional destinations onto a ticket, you’ll increase the price of the ticket.

open-jaw-flight-smf-exampleWhen I booked a ticket for a family member on United (but using this trick to avoid the $75 close-in booking fees), there weren’t very many award flights left available because it was so close to the date of flight.  Although she lives in Sacramento, we could only get the originating flight leaving from Sacramento (SMF).  So on the origin she went SMF-IAH-CLE.  Well, actually we BOOKED her to fly through Denver, but that had to change when she missed her flight in the morning!! 🙂

On the return back, she flew directly from Cleveland to San Francisco, because there weren’t any award flights going back to Sacramento.  Without knowing about the tricks of an open jaw flight, we wouldn’t have been able to book the flight at all!

The best part about this is that it cost the same amount as a “normal” roundtrip – just 25,000 miles roudntrip!

The one disadvantage is that you are on your own to get between your open jaw cities, in this case Sacramento and San Francisco.  You could book another award ticket, or you could take the train, or book a cheap paid flight (depending on your destination).  If you fly with British Airways, you can pay a flat-fee instead of paying any airport taxes, fees or fuel surcharges.

(READ: British Airways Reward Flight Saver – how you can avoid all the fees in Europe)

Maximizing an open jaw flight

Most airlines offer an open jaw on roundtrip destination tickets.  United actually lets you do an open jaw on both the origin AND the destination.  That means that you could:

  • Fly from Cincinnati to London
  • Return from Madrid to Detroit

So London to Madrid and Cincinnati to Detroit are your open jaw flights, where you’re responsible for your own transportation between the two cities.  If you combine these with a stopover, which is another great airline award ticket feature, you can visit even MORE destinations on the same award ticket.

Hopefully this helps clear things up!

For more information on this and other airline terms, see Stopover, layover, open-jaw? What are they and what’s the difference?

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