The Open Jaw and Stopover

It’s travel industry lingo for flying into one place and flying home from another. And knowing about it can save you a lot of time and money.

No, I’m not talking about that crocodile lying in the sun with his jaw wide open waiting for lunch to walk in. It’s travel industry lingo for flying into one place and flying home from another. And knowing about it can save you a lot of time and money. The term and it’s variations are best described with examples (we’ll get to stopovers shortly):

Destination open jaw (or just “open jaw”, this is the most common type): fly Vancouver to London and return flight Paris to Vancouver. The transportation from London to Paris is not included. However, if you wanted to see both cities, you don’t need to backtrack to London.

Departure open jaw: fly Chicago to Cancun and return Cancun to New York. Again, if Chicago is home, you still need to make it home from New York. But if you also wanted to make a trip to New York, you know only need to buy a one way from New York to Chicago to finish your trip.

Double open jaw: How about Seattle to Madrid, return Rome to Guatemala City. So I’ll make my way from Madrid to Rome on the train and as for getting home from Guatemala City, I’ll worry about that later.

But wait you say! Aren’t those all just examples of two one-way tickets and wouldn’t that be horribly expensive? Well if you call them one ways you’re right. If you were to book the two legs separately you’d pay an arm and a leg (actually you’d pay about 10 legs since a one way is often outrageously expensive). But on many airline fares, hidden in that bizarre fare rules page that no one in their right mind reads (I sometimes do read them so you can now assume my sanity is suspect), these are often allowed and considered round trip tickets. Another example is best to illustrate:
Let’s say Northwest Airlines is having a fare sale to Europe. $400 to London, $500 to Paris. If they allow an open jaw on this fare (which typically they would), the open jaw fare into London and out of Paris would be $450 (the varying taxes would muddy the situation a little but that’s the simple math). And you’re only stuck buying a one way fare from London to Paris (which even flying should be cheap due to the competitiveness of that short haul market). Or take the train. And better yet, you needn’t waste valuable vacation time traveling back to your starting point to take your flight home.

Usually you will need to fly the same airline on both legs in order to get this deal (although not always). So you need to find an airline which services both destinations.

The departure open jaw is the same. I’ve used this many times when I want to combine a domestic trip (e.g. visit friends in New York) with a longer trip (e.g. Europe). So I’ll fly to New York on a cheap one way from a discount airline like Jet Blue. Then on a major carrier I’ll buy a ticket New York – London, London – Seattle.

At the minimum your two jaw cities need to be closer together than your departure and destination.

In both types of open jaws, typically the two destination points or the two departure points must be in the same zone. Zone is defined by the airline but in other words if you’re doing a destination open jaw with two cities in Europe you’re probably good. But trying to get one city in Europe and another in Asia and you’re probably out of luck. Similarly if you’re leaving the USA on a departure open jaw you’ll generally need to return to the USA. On the other hand I once traveled a gaping departure open jaw (read about it in Circles). For the points of a single frequent flyer ticket to Europe, I traveled Seattle – Madrid and returned Madrid – Guatemala. At the minimum your two jaw cities need to be closer together than your departure and destination.

The double open jaw is a little trickier. Back in those arcane fare rules you’ll often find this isn’t allowed. But sometimes it is, so it’s worth a try.

But that brings us to the stopover. Another industry trick which is often not known.

Here’s an example I did a few years ago: I had a work meeting in Miami that I needed to be there for on a Monday to Friday. Without the Saturday night stay, the best fares from Seattle were about $1200 return. But I could buy a ticket from Seattle to Costa Rica flying via Miami for $400. Again, hidden in those arcane fare rules is whether an enroute stopover is allowed. Usually one is but generally two are not. And often it’s free. Or a nominal fee like $50 extra. And so I flew to Miami for my work meetings and then went on to Costa Rica for 4 or 5 days. I got a free vacation to Costa Rica AND saved my company $800. The trick with using this is the term “enroute”. Generally that means that your stopover can only be in an airline’s hub city. So if you wanted a stopover in Miami, you’d be flying American Airlines since that’s one of their hubs. If you wanted one in New York, try Continental who have a hub in Newark, New Jersey. The definition of enroute has much more to do with an airlines logic than common sense logic. For example, I can fly Seattle to Newark and on to Costa Rica and Newark will be considered enroute by Continental Airlines even though obviously a routing via their hub in Houston would make much more sense. However, if I wanted to stop in Chicago on Continental on the way to Costa Rica that wouldn’t be enroute since they don’t have a hub there (American and United do though).

Note it’s worth defining a connection here too. A connection is where you fly through a city, like Miami in the above example, but only stay long enough to make your next flight. Typically a connection becomes a stopover when you stay more than 4 hours (on a USA domestic routing) or 24 hours (on an international connection). If you’re making a connection in Miami, that doesn’t affect your fare. But if you’re making a stopover in Miami there may be that extra nominal amount added or it may be free. But even if the airline doesn’t charge for the stopover, usually a stopover will make you liable for the airport taxes and fees of the stopover city. If your stopover is a city like London that could easily add $40 to your total ticket price for British departure taxes which you wouldn’t pay on a connection.

You can combine the open jaw and the stopover usually. Here’s a really great way to get three destinations in Europe with one round trip fare: British Airways Vancouver to Paris with a free stopover in London (the stopover can be several days or weeks or whatever) and Rome to Vancouver return. To get this all, you need to carefully choose your carrier. In this example only BA would work since they’re the only ones who service all four locations (if you include Vancouver) and have a hub in London. If you were starting in New York, you could also try Virgin for example for the same thing.

But do I have to read those arcane fare rules to find these deals?

No. You just need to know that this generally exists but that it often takes a little more work to track these fares down. Internet travel sites for example are all optimized for simple round trip fares, they’ll generally price them correctly but won’t make it easy to find them. Sometimes they won’t even let you search for these. When you’re using frequent flyer points for example, they online searches for reward tickets almost never allow you to look for open jaws or stopovers but they are almost always allowed. You need to call the airline to get these routings.

Here’s a strategy I often use to find the best fares using open jaws or stopovers:

Here’s another weird example of using an open jaw to my advantage. I wanted to fly LA to Portland one-way on Alaska Airlines. Best fares were about $600. Ridiculous. A roundtrip fare LA to Portland was about $200 so I could just throw away the return and be better off. But I’m a tightwad so I wanted to save even more so I booked an open jaw of LA to Portland and Portland to Sacramento. Portland to Sacramento was on sale so the total open jaw roundtrip was about $150. And since I wasn’t going to use the return, it didn’t matter where my return flight went. Don’t tell the airline, ok? If you tell the airline, they can and will charge you more for this if you let them know that’s what your intention is.

So keep your mind open and happy travel planning!

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