Use Free Stopovers to Visit Two (or More) Places for the Price of One (2021)

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One of the advantages of frequent flyer tickets is that you can often visit multiple destinations at no extra cost. Many award tickets allow free stopovers, allowing you to visit multiple places as part of the same award. Even when they don't, you can usually take advantage of "mini-stopovers" to visit extra destinations for up to 24 hours each.

For example, instead of just flying back and forth to Paris, you can get a free extra flight from Paris to Rome and fly home from there. Or you could stop in New York on your way to Europe. Or stop by Hawaii on your way to Asia or Australia. The number of possibilities to get more value from your miles are endless.

When you take advantage of a free stopover, it is essentially the same as getting an extra flight for no cost. You pay for the flight to city A and the flight back from city B and get the flight between city A and B for no (or little) additional cost.


Frequent flyer programs that allow stopovers

Stopover rules are not based on the airline you are flying, but the frequent flyer program that you are using to book your awards. For example, American Airlines doesn’t allow stopovers on its own domestic award flights. However, if you use Alaska miles to book an award on American Airlines, you’ll get a free stopover in each direction.

Star Alliance

Air Canada (Aeroplan)

Inexpensive stopover in both directions. You can add a stopover to a one-way ticket or two stopovers to a round trip ticket, but the stopovers can't be in the US or Canada. Each stopover costs 5,000 extra points. Because Aeroplan has a distance-based component, the stopover may also push you into a higher mileage band and increase the cost of the base award ticket.

Air China

One free stopover on round trip awards. Stopover must be in the same region as the origin or destination.  Rules

ANA

One free stopover on round trip awards. Rules.

Copa

One free stopover on round trip awards. Rules

EVA Air

Two free stopovers on round trip awards, the maximum may be one in each direction. The stopovers can’t be in the same country as the origin or destination. Rules

Lufthansa

Two free stopovers on round trip awards.

Singapore

One free stopover on round trip awards, up to three additional stopovers for $100 each. No stopovers on domestic flights, within the country of origin, or on flights solely within Europe or within the US & Canada. Rules

Thai

Two free stopovers on round trip awards, one in each direction. No stopovers allowed in the country of origin. Rules

Turkish

One free stopover on round trip awards. For flights on Star Alliance partners, the award tickets must cost at least 60,000 points in economy and 90,000 points in business class. Rules

United

One free stopover on round trip awards that fly to a different region and then back to your originating region. Your free flight must be within a single region but can’t be in the originating region. United calls this the “Excursionist Perk”.  Rules

SkyTeam

Aeromexico

One free stopover on round trip awards. Rules

Korean

One free stopover on round trip awards. Rules

Oneworld

Alaska

Up to two free stopovers on a round trip award. One free stopover with each one way award, for a total of two on a round trip—even on short trips which cost as little as 5,000 miles. On international trips, this can sometimes be limited by the inability to combine two separate partners on the same (one-way) award ticket. When one of the flights to or from the stopover is not being operated by Alaska, your stopover options are sometimes limited to only specific cities (which varies for each partner airline). Alaska Airlines Blog.

British Airways

Up to seven stops are permitted on British Airway's "Multi Carrier" awards, which involve flights on at least two different Oneworld carriers (other than British Airways). The number of points for these flights depends on the total distance flown. Adding extra stops only costs extra miles if it puts you into a higher mileage band. See a longer discussion below.

No stopovers are allowed on regular award tickets, where British Airways charges you for each individual segment.

Cathay Pacific

Up to five stops are permitted on “Oneworld Multi Carrier” awards which involve flights on at least two different Oneworld carriers (other than Cathay Pacific).  The number of points for these flights depends on the total distance flown. Adding extra stops only costs extra miles if it puts you into a higher mileage band. See a longer discussion below. Rules

For flights on fewer than two different partner airlines, you get one free stopover on round trip awards.

Iberia

Up to seven stops are permitted on Iberia's "Multi Carrier" awards, which involve flights on at least two different Oneworld carriers (other than Iberia). The number of points for these flights depends on the total distance flown. Adding extra stops only costs extra miles if it puts you into a higher mileage band. See a longer discussion below.

JAL

Up to eight stops are permitted on “Oneworld Multi Carrier” awards which involve flights on at least two different Oneworld carriers (other than JAL).  The number of points for these flights depends on the total distance flown. Adding extra stops only costs extra miles if it puts you into a higher mileage band. See a longer discussion below.  Rules

Up to two free stopovers are permitted on other awards.

Malaysia

Up to five stops are permitted on “Oneworld Multi Carrier” awards which involve flights on at least two different Oneworld carriers (other than Malaysia Airlines).  The number of points for these flights depends on the total distance flown. Adding extra stops only costs extra miles if it puts you into a higher mileage band. See a longer discussion below. Rules

No stopovers are available on regular awards.

Qantas

Up to five stops are permitted on “Oneworld Multi Carrier” awards which involve flights on at least two different Oneworld carriers (other than Qantas).  The number of points for these flights depends on the total distance flown. Adding extra stops only costs extra miles if it puts you into a higher mileage band. See a longer discussion below. Rules

Other

El Al

One free stopover on a round trip award. Rules

Emirates

Emirates’ stopover policy depends on the partner you want to use your miles on. Most partners allow one free stopover.

Etihad

Etihad’s stopover policy depends on which partner you are using their miles on.

No free stopovers are included when using Aegean, Aeroflot, Alitalia, American, Asiana, Avianca, Delta, Flying Blue (Air France / KLM), Hawaiian, Virgin Atlantic, or Virgin Australia miles.

Jet Blue and Southwest operate price-based frequent flyer programs where the mileage cost is based on the cash price of the ticket. You’ll pay more if you want to make a stopover.

You can almost always add extra "Mini-stopovers"

You can almost always stopover up to 24 hours (on international flights), either as a way to get a stopover with a program that doesn't normally allow them or an extra stopover with one that does.

  • Stops of up to 24 hours are usually not considered a stopover. If your next flight leaves within 24 hours, it will usually be considered a transfer or connection, rather than a full-fledged stopover. That’s enough time for a quick visit to do so some sightseeing or see a friend. Unfortunately, when travelling within the United States, the time limit is often only 4 hours, rather than 24 hours.
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    In other words, even if an airline doesn’t allow free stopovers, you usually won’t need to pay any extra miles just because you couldn’t get a nonstop flight.  One notable exception is certain distance-based programs like British Airways, which make you pay separately for each individual flight in your itinerary.

  • If you've got a specific stopover in mind, you will sometimes need to plan out a “custom” routing.  Flight search tools will often only show the fastest and shortest connections. But in practice, you usually have a lot more flexibility in choosing the city you want to connect-in (and visit).  If you are aiming to visit a certain city, look for award space separately on the flight to that city and on the flight from that city to your final destination. Similarly, you usually don’t need to leave on the first available connecting flight, instead you can choose a connecting flight that lets you spend more time (up to the 24 hour limit).  Typically, you can call and request the exact flights you want, even if they aren’t showing up in the normal flight search tool and aren’t an ideal routing for someone who just wanted to get to the final destination as quickly as possible.
  • If you are flying a longer distance, you can usually make several mini-stopovers. Typically, you can figure out ways to break your trip into smaller segments and make short visits to each of the connection cities. For example, on an award flight from St. Louis to Barcelona, you might fit in a quick visit to New York, London, and Madrid.

You can almost always take advantage of open-jaw itineraries

Most frequent flyer programs will let you fly one-way for half the price of a round trip. Even if they don’t provide free stopovers, you can use one-way awards to visit multiple destinations. You just don't get a free flight between them.

For example, you can still fly into Paris and out of Rome, or vice versa, without having to backtrack. You’ll just need to pay for your flight or make other arrangements between the two cities. This can even work between “regions”.  You could fly into Paris and out of Marrakesh and buy your own one-way between the two cities.

Even most frequent flyer programs that require round trip awards, or that charge less for them, will officially allow an open-jaw.

Each program has its own stopover rules

  • Most programs only allow stopovers on round trip awards. With extremely few exceptions, if you book a one-way award, it won’t allow a free stopover.
  • Make sure to confirm with an agent (or online) that your trip follows the rules before you transfer your points. You don’t want to discover that the trip you were planning cost more miles than you thought.
  • Rules for stopovers and “open jaws” often intersect. Many airlines will allow you to book an “open jaw” award ticket, where you fly into one city and out of another or return to a different city than you started from (or both).  Airlines that allow free stopovers sometimes count an open jaw against the number of stopovers you can take and sometimes they don’t. Before finalizing an itinerary that includes both an open-jaw and a stopover, make sure to check to see if the combination is allowed.
  • Most programs have some geographic restrictions on where you can stopover. Some will only allow stopovers in the gateway city in the region you are flying to and from. For example, you can stopover in New York on your way to Europe, but you can’t visit two different cities in Europe. Others are exactly the opposite and only allow stopovers in your destination region. Some allow stopovers in a 3rd region, such as a stopover in Europe on your way to Africa and some don’t.
  • Alaska Airlines is the main program that provides free stopovers on one-way awards. Cathay Pacific also allows free stopovers on one-way awards, but generally isn't a very good option, because they always charge a premium relative to round trip travel.
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Advanced stopover strategies

The normal use of a stopover is to visit one or more extra destinations on a trip, without needing to spend additional miles. However, there are some other creative strategies to take advantage of stopovers.

  • Multiple free stopovers with certain distance-based programs. Some distance-based frequent flyer programs calculate the number of miles you need by totaling up the distance of all the flights in your trip. As you add additional short flights to your itinerary or break up a longer segment into two pieces, the total number of miles doesn’t increase by very much. As long as you stay within the same mileage band, you won’t need to pay any additional miles. If you move up to the next higher mileage band, you will only need to pay a small extra amount. In addition, many of these programs allow a large number of different segments on the same award. As a result, you could visit 4-7 different islands in the Caribbean, cities in the United States, or countries in Europe, Central America or Africa, for the same number of miles as a round trip award ticket. See More of the World with Inexpensive Multi-destination Award Tickets.
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  • Getting half a trip for free, by taking a stopover in your home city. Whenever you take advantage of a stopover, you are getting three (or more) flights for the price of two. There is no reason you need to take all three flights as part of the same “trip”. Every time you book an award ticket, you can get 1.5 free trips, rather than a single trip.
  • For example, let’s say that you want to fly to New York next month, and then fly to Los Angeles a couple of months later. You can book an award trip where you fly to New York and then from New York to Los Angeles, with a several-month "stopover" in your home town. Instead of needing to buy a round trip to Los Angles, you’ll only need to buy the flight back home.

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    Or you can do the same thing in reverse. For example, you could buy a one-way ticket to New York and then get an award ticket that travels from New York to your home city, onto Los Angeles, and back home.

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    Some frequent flyer programs have rules that block this approach or force you to take the “half-trip” before the full trip, rather than after. Sometimes you can use an airport in a nearby city to get around any restrictions.

    The only trick is that you need to plan two different trips at the time that you are booking your ticket. Even then, it is often possible to change the dates or even the routing of an award ticket, without needing to pay a substantial fee.

    Whenever you are taking a trip with a program that allows stopovers, this is a great way to get extra value from your miles.

  • Traveling “through” a region for fewer miles. Instead of flying to an expensive region of the world (like Australia) and coming back, you can fly through that region, visit, and then continue to a cheaper destination before heading home. Not only do you get to visit an extra destination, you’ll sometimes spend less miles than if you just visited the initial destination. For example, rather than spending 80,000 miles on a round trip to Australia, you can sometimes spend only 70,000 miles to fly from the US to Hong Kong by way of Australia.
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