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How To Maximize Stopovers and Open-jaws [Ultimate Guide]

Stephen Au's image
Stephen Au
Stephen Au's image

Stephen Au

Former Senior Content Contributor

483 Published Articles

Countries Visited: 24U.S. States Visited: 22

Stephen is an established voice in the credit card space, with over 70 to his name. His work has been in publications like The Washington Post, and his Au Points and Awards Consulting Services is used...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury


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With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now editor-in-chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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In the award travel world, stopovers and open-jaws are topics that get a ton of attention. They can be difficult to plan and overwhelming to visualize, but can allow you to visit 2 or more places for the price of 1!

With revenue tickets, these routes are normally not allowed — so, in this sense, award tickets are sometimes objectively better than revenue tickets.

But there are several frequent flyer programs that have incredibly generous award routing rules: Japan Airlines Mileage Bank, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles immediately come to mind.

In this guide, we’ll provide you an overview of award routing rules with specific airlines, and discuss the planning side of stopovers and open-jaws.

Lastly, we will show you some amazing example itineraries you can build with each frequent flyer program that can be worth tens of thousands of dollars in added value, for free!

An Introduction to Stopovers and Open-jaws

Let’s first define what a stopover and open-jaw are, exactly.

A stopover is the act of stopping and staying in a city for longer than 24 hours. Here’s an example of a stopover:

If you decide to fly from Los Angeles to Houston, stop in Houston for a few days to visit museums, and then proceed to New York City, you will have a stopover in Houston. Image Credit: Great Circle Mapper

An open-jaw is named that because of how the flight trajectory physically looks. Here’s what we mean.

Let’s say you were in New York, and you wanted to fly to Hong Kong — but then return to NYC from Tokyo. Basically, you’re flying from Point A to Point B, and then going to Point C for your return journey to Point A.

The map would look like this:

Open Jaw
You could use an open-jaw to fly from New York to Hong Kong, but return to New York from Tokyo-Haneda. Your flight path looks like a gaping mouth, which is why it’s called an “open-jaw.” Image Credit: Great Circle Mapper

The last term we’ll talk about is a double open-jaw. This might be tremendously beneficial if you’re visiting multiple cities!

Here’s an example of what we mean:

Double Open-Jaw
Flying from San Francisco to Munich, then returning to the U.S. via Frankfurt to Los Angeles is considered a “double open-jaw.” Image Credit: Great Circle Mapper

The 9 Best Programs To Maximize Stopovers and Open-jaws

Before we go in-depth into each rewards program, it’s important to note that airlines can change their award routing rules at any time without notice.

In the past, airlines such as American, Delta, and United have had very generous award routing rules. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case.

Here, we’ve compiled what we think are the best programs you can use to work in stopovers and open-jaws to your vacation.

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Qantas First Class cabin
Taking advantage of stopovers and open-jaws is easy with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. You can use them on Qantas first class for a great deal! Image Credit: Qantas

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan wins so many awards in the hearts of frequent flyers.

It has an easy-to-use online award search engine (with the exception of Cathay Pacific and LATAM), and it also has generous “beginner” routing rules!

What do we mean by beginner routing rules? Well, these routing rules are very generous, but also extremely simple to understand and use.

Basically, here are Alaska’s routing rules:

  • You may only fly 1 partner airline and Alaska Airlines on an award ticket.
  • You can have 1 stopover on a one-way ticket and 2 stopovers on a round-trip ticket.
    • The terms and conditions state that the stopover must occur in a hub city (i.e. Hong Kong when flying Cathay Pacific), but you might have luck calling in and requesting another stopover.
  • There are no close-in booking fees, and the partner booking fee is $12.50 plus a $15 phone booking fee.
  • Changes and cancellations are free until 60 days before departure. After that, you must pay $125.
  • You can transit via a third region.
  • You may be able to backtrack, but this is unconfirmed and generally not allowed.

Now that you have an idea of the routing rules, let’s see how we can put this in practice.

Keep in mind that each airline has its own award chart with Alaska Airlines — so this might be hard to keep track of, but it will be totally worth it!

There are some ways to eke out extra value without paying more miles, particularly from Air Tahiti Nui, Cathay Pacific, Fiji Airways, Hainan Airlines, Japan Airlines, and Qantas.

Let’s put some numbers to routes now. Here are some great example routes you can take:

These are just a few examples of ways you can build in additional value into your trip!

Take the ORD-HKG-JNB itinerary, for instance. You are literally adding 13 hours of first or business class flying time and ~$10,000 worth of first-class flights for no additional miles.

Let that sink in for a moment … you will get $10,000 in free plane tickets, just for knowing about Alaska’s award routing rules!

Hot Tip: Want some more inspiration for using Alaska miles? See our guide on the best ways to redeem Alaska miles.

Air Canada Aeroplan

EVA Air business class
Enjoy direct aisle access and a lie-flat seat in business class on EVA Air with Air Canada Aeroplan’s generous stopover and open-jaw policy en route to your final destination! Image Credit: EVA Air

We love Air Canada Aeroplan‘s generous routing rules when traveling round-trip with any long-haul itinerary on different continents.

Right now, you can pay just 5,000 additional Aeroplan points to add a stopover on flights, even one-way flights! You can add up to 2 stopovers on round-trip tickets.

Stopovers are not permitted on travel wholly within North America (including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America).

With such a diverse network of partners in the Star Alliance, it’s easy to build awesome vacations. Keep in mind that Aeroplan uses a hybrid region-based and distance-based award chart.

Here are some great example routes you can take:

Overall, Aeroplan offers a simple way to book stopovers. You can get tons of extra value from it!

Hot Tip: Want to know some better ways to redeem Aeroplan points? Look at our best ways to use Aeroplan points!

All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club

ANA the room business
Trying out ANA business class using ANA miles and its stopover/open-jaw policy will get you lots of extra value, for free! Image Credit: ANA

Let’s call ANA Mileage Club‘s routing rules as they are: generous for simple travelers.

You might be wondering what differentiates Alaska Airlines from ANA since we used the same “generous for simple travelers” above? Well, ANA allows 1 stopover and 1 open-jaw, but it only allows round-trip flights. Basically, Alaska has generous routing rules on one-ways, while ANA requires round-trip travel.

ANA also has very generous fares for round-trip business class awards. Combining these routing rules with the best-in-class award prices, ANA becomes a powerful asset that we can use.

To be specific, ANA has its regular routing rules and round-the-world award routing rules (the latter is generally going to be out of scope of this guide, so we’ll focus on adding value from the regular routing rules).

Remember that ANA-operated flights are subject to seasonality rules, so keep that in mind when planning trips.

Let’s get into some example redemptions you can make:

  • Miami (MIA) – Zurich (ZRH) – Dubai (DXB) – Miami (MIA) for 104,000 ANA miles in SWISS Air business class (high fuel surcharges)
  • New York (JFK) – Tokyo (HND) – Jakarta (CGK) – New York (JFK) for 100,000 ANA miles during the low season in ANA business class
  • San Francisco (SFO) – London (LHR) – Istanbul (IST) – San Francisco (SFO) for 88,000 ANA miles in United Polaris business class and Turkish Airlines business class
  • Washington, D.C. (IAD) – Brussels (BRU) – Accra (FRA) – Washington, D.C. (IAD) for 104,000 ANA miles in Brussels Airlines business class and South African Airways business class

Overall, using ANA miles is an excellent way to add some value to your trip.

Hot Tip: Be careful of huge fuel surcharges and avoid them by trying to fly on United (preferably its brand-new Polaris class), Air Canada, LOT Polish, or Turkish Airlines. Otherwise, you’ll be paying upwards of $1,000 in total taxes and fees.

Asiana Airlines Mileage Club

Lufthansa Airbus A380 First Class Bed
Use Asiana Miles to fly on Lufthansa first class. Image Credit: Greg Stone

Asiana Airlines Asiana Club employs 2 region-based award charts: 1 for Asiana flights, and 1 for partner flights.

Additionally, Asiana Airlines-operated flights are subject to seasonality, so in a sense, its award redemption scheme is very similar to ANA.

Asiana Airlines allows up to 7 stopovers, but they cost extra miles (no additional value added). This is overall a pretty weak offering, but it can still provide some value flying to places like Europe, Korea, and South America.

We won’t go over some stopovers with the airline since this always costs extra miles, but here’s an idea of how to use an open-jaw for convenience purposes (and also using a well-known sweet spot to Europe):

  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Frankfurt (FRA), Munich (MUC) – Los Angeles (LAX) for 100,000 Asiana miles in Lufthansa first class

Since they’re in the same region, you’ll be charged for 2 U.S.-Europe one-way awards, which price out at 50,000 miles each way.

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Business Class Window Seat
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 business class. Image Credit: Greg Stone

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles continues to be one of the most underrated loyalty programs out there.

There are tons of optimization to be had using Asia Miles, but the program is a bit complex. For this reason, we think Asia Miles is for “advanced award travelers.” Let’s get into the routing rules.

Basically, you can fall into 3 sets of award redemption buckets:

  1. Asia Miles Awards Chart (only flying Cathay Pacific)
  2. Airline Partners Award Chart (only flying 1 partner the entire way)
  3. Oneworld Multi-carrier Award Chart (flying 3+ partners if part of your itinerary includes Cathay Pacific; otherwise, up to 2 partners without Cathay Pacific)

Each of these is distance-based, and they are subject to different open-jaw and stopover rules. We will focus on Oneworld multi-carrier awards, as they are the most complex and can provide the most value.

Here are the rules when using the multi-carrier award chart, as well as what they mean for you:

  1. If your travel includes Cathay Pacific, you may fly on 3 or more Oneworld airlines. Otherwise, you may fly up to 2 partners. Basically, you should add Cathay Pacific, if not for its amazing inflight product, because it allows you to fly more partners!
  2. The maximum distance you can fly in 1 itinerary is 50,000 miles (50,000 miles is an extremely long distance — 99.99% of travelers will be under this all the time).
  3. The total mileage is determined by the sum of the distances from each of the segments (airport A to airport B). For example, if you’re flying from New York to Hong Kong to New Delhi, you must add the total distances between the 2 segments as opposed to taking the distance between New York and Delhi without considering Hong Kong.
  4. You are allowed a maximum of 5 stopovers, 2 transfers (layovers), and 2 open-jaws per itinerary.
  5. Mixed cabin awards will be charged the highest class mileage price for the entire itinerary. Don’t book mixed cabins unless you don’t have a choice.
  6. You can’t book premium economy.

These might be confusing, but if you take the time to really understand what you could be booking, you can get some outsized value from using Asia Miles’ generous routing rules.

Here’s an extreme example of a trip you could take, illustrating the value you can get with these routing rules:

  1. New York (JFK) – Tokyo (HND) [Japan Airlines]
  2. Tokyo (HND) – Hong Kong (HKG) [Cathay Pacific]
  3. Hong Kong (HKG) – Kuala Lumpur (KUL) [Malaysia Airlines]
  4. Kuala Lumpur (KUL) – Sydney (SYD) [Malaysia Airlines]
  5. Sydney (SYD) – Doha (DOH) [Qatar Airways]
  6. Doha (DOH) – Colombo (CMB) [SriLankan Airlines]
  7. Chennai (MAA) – London (LHR) [British Airways]
  8. Madrid (MAD) – New York (JFK) [Iberia]

How long is this itinerary? You’d be flying 32,975 miles and over 71 hours on 8 different airlines across 9 countries.

How complex is this itinerary? It has 5 stopovers and 2 open-jaws between Doha/Dubai and London/Madrid.

If this doesn’t have you drooling yet, just wait. This amazingly complex itinerary will cost 130,000 miles in economy, 210,000 miles in business class, and 300,000 miles in first class! Using the Asia Miles award calculator will help price out your itinerary.

Just 210,000 Asia Miles in business class?!

So, for 40,000 miles more than a round-trip JFK-HKG ticket in Cathay Pacific business class, you can visit 7 more countries, try 8 different business class products (including Malaysia Airlines’ A330 and A350 business class), and fly more than double the distance?

Yes, please!

We can’t overstate just how amazing using Cathay Pacific Asia Miles for Oneworld multi-carrier award tickets truly is.

The biggest challenge will be finding award availability for all flights. If you can pull off a huge, round-the-world trip using Asia Miles, you’ll have the opportunity to try loads of amazing airlines and visit tons of countries!

Emirates Skywards

Emirates First Class - A380
Fly in style in your private cabin with Emirates first class — and don’t forget to take a shower on its A380. Image Credit: Alex Miller

Emirates has 3 reward tiers for redemptions: Saver, Flex, and Flex Plus.

We’ll focus on Saver awards for economy and business class because they are the cheapest options for its cabin classes. Also, Emirates eliminated Flex first class awards a while ago, so those are no longer possible.

The stopover allowance is 1 free stopover on round-trip saver tickets (business/economy).

In practice, you can always add stopovers to Flex Plus tickets, though these are considerably more expensive than Saver and Flex tickets.

Also, open-jaws are allowed if they are in the same zone.

Emirates doesn’t publish the zone definitions, so the best way to find out if 2 places are in the same zone is to compare the mileage costs using the Emirates Skywards Miles Calculator. To find out, follow these steps:

  1. Visit the Emirates Skywards Miles Calculator.
  2. Type in your route (e.g., Los Angeles – Dubai).
  3. Note the award costs (e.g., Business Saver on LAX – DXB = 165,000 miles round-trip).
  4. Type in another route with one different city (e.g., New York City – Dubai).
  5. Note the award costs (e.g., Business Saver on JFK – DXB = 145,000 miles round-trip).
  6. Compare the award costs (165,000 ≠ 145,000).
  7. If they’re the same, you can be pretty certain that the 2 cities are in the same zone; if not, they are not in the same region.

Of course, you will still need to pay for fuel surcharges, which can be upwards of $1,500 for round-trip tickets.

Here are some great example routes you can take to maximize open-jaws and stopovers:

  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Dubai (DXB) – Johannesburg (JNB) round-trip for 200,000 Emirates Skywards miles in Emirates A380 business class
  • New York (JFK) – Milan (MXP) – Dubai (DXB) round-trip with a stopover in Milan for 90,000 Emirates Skywards miles in Emirates A380 business class
  • Newark (EWR) – Athens (ATH) – Dubai (DXB) round-trip for 145,000 Emirates Skywards miles in Emirates business class
  • San Francisco (SFO) – Dubai (DXB) – Malé (MLE) round-trip for 180,000 Emirates Skywards miles in Emirates business class

In all examples, Business Saver allows for 1 stopover.

Bottom Line: Overall, Emirates has a decent stopover policy for round-trip flights, but because of its hub-and-spoke model of airline networks, it’s very difficult to add open-jaws since Emirates only allows them for “cities in the same zone.”

Japan Airlines Mileage Bank

Air France business class
Air France business class. Image Credit: Air France

Japan Airlines Mileage Bank is similar to Cathay Pacific Asia Miles: it employs a region-based award chart for JAL flights and 2 distance-based award charts for partners.

We’ll focus on the distance-based award charts for partners since there’s more opportunity to optimize using the partner award chart.

The 2 award charts are for travel on:

  1. Oneworld partners
  2. Non-alliance partners (including Air France, Korean Air, Emirates, etc.)

Here are the routing rules for partner airlines:

  1. One-way itineraries are allowed.
  2. Itineraries cannot backtrack to the point of origin in order to continue onwards to a final destination.
  3. Itineraries cannot backtrack to the country of origin in order to continue onwards to a final destination.
  4. Departure and arrival cities may be different but must be in the same country.
  5. You’re allowed a total of 6 segments, excluding an open-jaw.
  6. You are allowed 3 stopovers or 2 stopovers and 1 open-jaw.
  7. The distance of the open-jaw is counted in the total itinerary distance.
  8. You cannot mix non-alliance partners and Oneworld partners.

Here is a great example redemption you can make with Japan Airlines while maximizing stopovers and open-jaws:

  1. Los Angeles (LAX) – Paris (CDG) [Air France]
  2. Paris (CDG) – Dubai (DXB) [Emirates]
  3. Dubai (DXB) – Sydney (SYD) [Emirates]
  4. Sydney (SYD) – Hangzhou (HGH) [China Eastern]
  5. Shanghai (PVG) – New York (JFK) [China Eastern]

The total trip distance is 28,639 miles (according to JAL’s Total Mileage Calculator), which would cost 110,000 miles in economy or 160,000 miles in business class.

A minor caveat to consider is that Air France, Emirates, Malaysia Airlines, and Korean Air don’t allow first class award bookings, so you’ll have to plan another itinerary that allows you to fly first class the whole way. We think 160,000 miles in business class is the best redemption for this particular itinerary.

This is a great way to optimize Japan Airlines’ distance-based award chart!

Hot Tip: Using Oneworld partners is an easier way to book complex itineraries, but it is quite a bit more expensive in terms of mileage costs.

Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

New Singapore Suites
You can fly Singapore Suites and visit multiple countries for much cheaper using the $100 stopover allowance! Image Credit: Alex Miller

Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer is generally very strict with award routing rules. These are the following:

  1. Round-trip saver awards are allowed 1 stopover and 1 open-jaw.
  2. One-way advantage (more expensive!) awards are allowed 1 stopover.
  3. Stopovers are only allowed up to 30 days.

Here are some other itineraries where you can take advantage of the routing rules provided by Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer:

  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Tokyo (NRT) – Singapore (SIN) 
  • Houston (IAH) – Manchester (MAN) – Singapore (SIN) 

If you book an Advantage award, you would be entitled to a free stopover in either Tokyo (NRT) or Manchester (MAN). That said, the price for itinerary #1 is 128,500 miles, while the price for itinerary #2 is 143,500 miles.

United Airlines

Air New Zealand Business Class
If you can find availability on the Los Angeles – London route, you can use United’s Excursionist Perk to head to Europe in Air New Zealand business class and return in Lufthansa from Germany! Image Credit: Air New Zealand

United Airlines has something peculiar called the Excursionist Perk.

According to United, here are the rules to use it:

  1. The Excursionist Perk cannot be in the MileagePlus defined region where your travel originates.
    • For example, if your journey begins in North America, you will only receive the Excursionist Perk if travel is within a region outside of North America.
  2. Travel must end in the same MileagePlus defined region where travel originates.
  3. The origin and destination of the Excursionist Perk are within a single MileagePlus defined region.
  4. The cabin of service and award type of the free one-way award is the same or lower than the one-way award preceding it.
  5. If 2 or more one-way awards qualify for this benefit, only the first occurrence will be free.

Here’s an example that qualifies:

  • Los Angeles (LAX) – London (LHR) – Frankfurt (FRA) – Los Angeles (LAX)

There’s not much else to talk about, besides the fact that you basically get a free intra-region award flight. Because United has so many regions, it’s not super useful to extract extra value.

In the example above, the only added value you’re getting is the London-Frankfurt flight, which isn’t great because intra-Europe business class is horrible anyway.

Nevertheless, using the Excursionist Perk will get you a tiny bit of extra value, though it’s really only useful for convenience purposes.

Final Thoughts

Whew, what a guide! Between reading crazy legal documents, obscure terms and conditions, and confusing award charts, we’ve definitely scrutinized the fine print in this guide to maximizing open-jaws and stopovers.

Of course, there are tons more airline programs out there, but we covered most of our bases here. There are also some outdated resources out there, so we made sure to show you award maximization opportunities based on up-to-date rules!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an open-jaw?

An open-jaw is a flight where the destination and return city are not the same. An example flight could be:

  • New York (JFK) – Detroit (DTW)
  • Detroit (DTW) – Washington, D.C. (IAD)

What is a stopover flight?

A stopover is a stay in a city that lasts 24 hours or more.

An example would be:

  • Flying San Francisco (SFO) – Tel Aviv (TLV)
  • Stay in Tel Aviv for a week
  • Tel Aviv (TLV) – New Delhi (DEL)

What is a transfer/layover flight?

A layover is a stay in a city for less than 24 hours.

Which airlines stopover in Singapore?

Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines are the main airlines that stopover in Singapore.

Which airlines stopover in Bangkok?

THAI Air, EVA Air, Korean Air, and Singapore Air are the main airlines that stopover in Bangkok.

Which airlines stopover in Hong Kong?

Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines, and Korean Air are the main airlines that stopover in Hong Kong.

Which airlines stopover in Dubai?

Cathay Pacific, SWISS Air, and Emirates are the main airlines that stopover in Dubai.

Which airlines have the best award routing rules?

We’ll split this answer up into airlines that have the best award routing rules for simple itineraries and complex itineraries.

The airlines with the best award routing rules for simple itineraries are Alaska Airlines, Air Canada, and Singapore Airlines.

The airlines with the best award routing rules for complex itineraries are Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, and Asiana Airlines.

Stephen Au's image

About Stephen Au

Stephen is an established voice in the credit card space, with over 70 to his name. His work has been in publications like The Washington Post, and his Au Points and Awards Consulting Services is used by hundreds of clients.

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