Are you squeezing the most value from your airline miles by maximizing one-ways and stopovers to your benefit? Do you know which airlines allow free or discounted one-ways and stopovers and how to book them?
This post goes beyond award flight basics. You’ll find information and award flight rules about one-ways and stopovers. There are also real examples to illustrate the info discussed. Remember to scroll down for this week’s tasks and the resources you need.
If you’re based in the U.K., visit Travel the Globe 4 Less. Anne has everything you need to know!
The Ultimate Guide to Travel Hacking: Maximizing One-Ways and Stopovers
Step One- Be Savvier than the Airlines Think You Are.
Airline loyalty programs have award charts, which list the number of miles needed to fly from place to place in the respective seat classes, like economy or business. Some award charts break down the miles needed even more. For example, United and American Airlines both have saver and standard awards in each class.
What’s the difference between a standard and saver award? A lot, actually. When I say a lot, I mean double and even more than double the miles needed between saver and standard awards!
Let’s compare a United award flight from Chicago to Costa Rica. A roundtrip saver award in economy class is 35k miles. A roundtrip standard award in economy on the same route is 75k miles!
Ok, let’s get this straight. For the same trip, Chicago to Costa Rica, a standard award is going to take 40k MORE miles than a saver award?!
Yep. You’re doing the math correctly.
What’s the takeaway? Never, EVER, use your airline miles to book a standard award…on any airline. Always search for saver award seats in whatever class you’re looking to fly.
This seems obvious and straightforward enough and, for the most part, it is. Except for one small detail.
When you search for award seats, sometimes no saver award space appears. Here’s where you have to be savvier than the airlines think you are.
To get around this, break up the legs of your flight search into one-way segments. (Stick with me because the intention is still to book a round trip flight.)
Let’s stay with our trip example from above and imagine saver award availability showed for only half of your trip. Search Chicago to Costa Rica as a one-way. Look for a flight with saver award availability. Write down the flight number, date, times, and airports.
Now search for Costa Rica to Chicago also as a one-way. Look for a flight with saver award availability and note the flight information as explained above.
Remember, this is not a guarantee, but I’ve had a ton of success piecing together trips by searching in one-way segments. If you don’t find saver award availability searching this way, be flexible with your dates. Look at a calendar view to see what award availability looks like for a longer period of time.
Once you have this information, call the airline and book with an agent. Tell the agent the flights you found for each segment of your trip so she/he can put together your itinerary. You’ll now have your roundtrip flights all at the saver award cost.
Airlines typically charge a phone booking fee. Explain to the agent you could not book this exact roundtrip online because only the standard award space was showing for a part of your itinerary. This should be enough for the agent to waive the online booking fee.
Give it a try! Make a few fake bookings on United’s or American’s website. Look for the differences between saver and standard awards. Test out searching in one-way segments on United to see if different results come up.
Step Two- Would You Like a Free or Cheap One-Way?
As we’ve discussed, some airlines allow stopovers on award travel. If you’re not sure of the difference between a stopover and a layover, take a look at these award flight basics first.)
United and Alaska Airlines allow stopovers and free one-ways on award travel. (Yay!) American and Delta do not allow them. (Boo!) Other airlines, like Singapore Airlines, allow stopovers, too. This post focuses on United and Alaska Airlines only.
Stopovers allow travelers to see another place, as with this United itinerary from JFK to London and then Rome. London is the stopover over allowing you to visit London for a period of time before you journey onward to your final destination, Rome, for no additional miles.
You can even book a segment of another trip resulting in an extra one-way flight. Sometimes that one-way is free (no extra miles needed for the round trip) and sometimes the one-way is discounted or cheaper. (The total miles needed ends up as less than if the stopover had been booked separately on a different ticket.)
United allows stopovers for international destinations and when you fly from the 48 contiguous states to Hawaii. Stopovers and free or discounted one-ways cannot be booked if your itinerary stays within the mainland United States and Canada.
In order for a United free one-way to work, you need to anchor it with your home airport. The most common use of the stopover as a free one-way is to add it after a typical round trip. You finish a roundtrip and are home “stopping over” before leaving for your “final destination.” (Free stopovers can also be added to the beginning of a round trip if you’re first flying to your home airport and then later on flying to another place with a roundtrip ticket.)
Here’s an example of a route where the stopover is used to gain a free one-way. I’ve previously booked this itinerary myself on United’s website.
My plan was to book a round trip flight from New York City to Mexico City. I wanted to add a stopover at the end of the roundtrip for travel to Las Vegas later on.
The booking starts off as normal. The outbound saver award flight from New York City to Mexico City is showing 17.5k miles needed, half of the roundtrip saver total.
United then showed the results for the return trip, Mexico City to New York City. Notice the saver award amounts are half the number of miles they would normally be had I not made use of the stopover. This leg of the trip will be 8.8k United miles.
A month and a half later, I plan to fly to Las Vegas. The results on United show New York City to Las Vegas for 8.8k miles.
Let’s do the math. A typical round trip award on United from the U.S. to Mexico costs 35k United miles in economy. Yet, I’ve gotten the whole itinerary for this number of miles.
Had I booked a round trip New York City to Mexico City ticket and then a one-way from New York City to Las Vegas for 12.5k miles, I would’ve needed 47.5k miles total. Making use of United’s stopover to earn an extra one-way saved 12.5k miles! I’ve gotten the one-way to Las Vegas for no additional miles…aka for “free.”
United will also discount the number of miles needed for itineraries with a stopover, or extra leg.
I made use of this discounted one-way while booking my Patagonia and Thailand trips. Read the linked post to see what happened and how I only needed 8ok miles and $78.60 in taxes and fees after United discounted my one-way from New York City to Bangkok!
Alaska Airlines is also quite generous with their stopover rules. Alaska Airlines isn’t part of any airline alliance but it has airline partners you can book flights on with your Alaska airline miles.
Alaska’s partners include AeroMexico, Air France, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Delta, Emirates, Fiji Airways, Hainan Airlines, Japan Airlines, IcelandAir, KLM, Korean Air, LAN, Penair, Qantas, and Ravn Alaska.
Alaska Airlines lets you have 1 free one-way on a one-way award ticket and 2 free one-ways on a round trip award ticket.
Now, you’re probably wondering why you’d ever book a round trip with Alaska or its partners if you can use miles one-way and get the return free.
The short answer is, you can’t do this.
The free one-way has to be for a different trip marked by time passing between your free one-way and the original trip. You can use 1 partner airline per one-way award and of course, Alaska Airlines, to make use of free one-ways.
Let’s look at an example of a free one-way with Alaska Airlines and its partners.
I searched on Alaska Airlines for a one-way from Seattle to New York City in September and a one-way from New York City to Dubai in November. (I checked the airport wiki for JFK to confirm routes and airlines. To learn more about this, refer to the award flight basics link above or below.)
The above screenshot shows both flights for 42.5k total Alaska miles in economy and 82.5k miles in a mixed cabin Business class. Clicking on the “stops” shows more information.
A box pops up with details. I’ve followed the rule of using only 1 partner, in this case, Emirates. Alaska Airlines will fly the Seattle to New York City leg of the itinerary. The 48-day layover happens at my home airport, which is key to making this type of award itinerary work.
If I select economy class, the 42.5k Alaska Miles is how many miles I need, according to the Emirates partner award chart, to fly from New York City to Dubai. Alaska’s flight search did not add the 12.5k miles needed to fly from Seattle to New York City. This is my free one-way.
The 82.5k miles for a mixed business class is worth it. I’d fly economy from Seattle to New York, but business class from New York to Dubai. Alaska Airlines has reduced that award by 2.5k miles (from 85k) because one segment is in economy class.
Searching for award flights and putting together itineraries with stopovers and free one-ways takes some practice. It’s ok to get error messages. Try searching in one-way segments or checking the airport wiki charts to confirm airlines and routes. If necessary, piece together your flights and call the airline to book.
It’s definitely trial and error as you learn the award travel rules for the airlines you’re using. 🙂
Give it a try! Practice putting together itineraries you’d like to take on United and Alaska with free or discounted one-ways. What worked? What got you an error message?
Your Tasks This Week:
- Go back to the Award Flight Basics post to review information about stopovers, open-jaws, and how to search award availability.
- Practice! Look for standard and saver awards on United and American. Put together itineraries with on United and Alaska with a free or discounted one-way.
- Pin the Alask Airlines Free One-Ways Infographic to your Travel Hacking Pinterest Board.
- Head over to the Facebook Group to participate in the week’s discussions and get support from Anne, LeAnna, the group, and me!
Start a travel hacking Pinterest board and keep all your resources in one place!
Have you maximized one-ways and stopovers with your airline miles?
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