Guide to United stopovers and open-jaw tickets

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Airlines change their award rules often. The least of an exception is United Airlines, which nuked nearly all stopover loopholes back in 2019. So many valuable tricks from the past no longer exist — but every ending is a new beginning.

Here is a basic post that shows how to book stopovers with United. This has been discussed before, but here’s a “how-to” which will come in handy when we refer in future posts to exactly how to trick United’s pricing calculator. You can use these strategies to make the welcome bonuses from the best United credit cards worth hundreds and hundreds more dollars.

(Photo by NextNewMedia/Shutterstock)

United stopovers and open jaws

What is a stopover?

A stopover is when you turn a connection or layover into a stop that is more than 24 hours. It’s essentially a second destination on your ticket. Stopovers can be as long as you desire, no different than your destination.

For example, a flight from New York to Moscow could have a stopover in London. You could spend a week or two in London before continuing on to Moscow.

What is an open-jaw?

An open-jaw is when you fly into one airport and continue your journey out of another. The airline that allowed the open-jaw is not responsible for getting you from one airport to another. You can add an open-jaw to any stop.

For example, you could book a round-trip flight from New York to Moscow, and then St. Petersburg back to New York. You’ll be responsible for getting yourself from Moscow to St. Petersburg.

Or, you could book a double open jaw, meaning you’d visit four different airports. An example would be flying from New York to Moscow and returning from St. Petersburg to Chicago.

United’s rules surrounding stopovers and open-jaws

With United’s stopover rules, it’s possible to achieve a free segment — as long as that segment is within the same region. In short, here are United’s stopover rules:

  • One free segment per booking
  • Free segment has to be in the same region (but different than the region of origin)
  • Booking must return to region of origin
  • One stopover per booking (open-jaws are allowed)
  • As many extra segments are allowed as you want, you just pay for them all like you would a bunch of separately booked one-ways

Here’s the key… and pay attention to my wording here:

The free segment is always going to be the first segment in a single region different from the region of origin. In other words, if you kept adding a bunch of segments after, the free segment is going to be the first one within a single region.

Keep these things in mind, and you can strategically book one free stopover and two open-jaws per round-trip flight. Essentially, you are getting two stops on your itinerary, and you can add two open-jaws to the stops or the ending –without changing the price of the ticket in any way!

I know, that sounds confusing. Let’s look at some visual examples to help explain.

Examples of United stopovers and open-jaws

Stopover

Let’s say you’re flying from Chicago to Stockholm and decide to stop in Zurich for a little while. Your trip would look like this:

  • Outbound Flight: Chicago to Zurich
  • Stopover: Stay in Zurich for as long as you like
  • Continue from Zurich to Stockholm (this flight costs zero miles)
  • Return flight: Stockholm to Chicago
The Zurich to Stockholm flight costs zero points with United, thanks to their free stopovers.

Open-jaws

United allows two open-jaws on an international round-trip award ticket. Again, an open-jaw means you return from a different city than the one you arrived in.

If you fly from Newark to London, make your own way to Spain (by train etc.), then fly back home from Madrid to Newark, you have an open-jaw between London and Madrid.

An Open Jaw Flight Departs From A Different City Than The One You Flew Into

“Big deal,” you’re probably thinking. “I could simply book two one-ways to accomplish the same thing!” That’s a great point you bring up. You don’t need United’s permission to book an open-jaw flight, as you can simply manufacture one yourself with one-ways. You could even do two open jaws if you wanted to, such as Newark to London, and Madrid to Chicago.

But remember: When booking a round-trip flight with United (including open-jaws), you’ll get a free stopover. You can combine this with open-jaw tickets for real savings. Check this out.

Combining open-jaws with a stopover

You can achieve a stopover between just about anywhere (within the same geographical region) when booking a round-trip flight on United.

Let’s combine two open-jaws with the stopover. You can fly from New York-JFK to Moscow while adding a stopover in London. But then you could add open-jaws to London so that you return from Paris and Moscow so you return from St. Petersburg. The end product would be:

  • Outbound flight from New York (JFK) to London (LHR)
  • Open-jaw stopover from Paris (CDG) to Moscow (SVO) (this flight costs zero miles)
  • Open-jaw return from St. Petersburg (LED) to New York (JFK)

This itinerary will generally cost 60,000 United miles (remember, there is no longer an official United award chart), plus any taxes and fees.

Four cities for 60,000 miles is great! Just note you’ll have to arrange your own transportation between open jaw flights.

Here’s another example.

Let’s say you’re traveling from Chicago to London. You could stay in London as long as you want, before perhaps flying to Kenya for a safari. You could then fly between Kenya and South Africa for zero miles, as United gives you a free stopover in the middle of your round-trip itinerary. This flight from Nairobi to Cape Town generally costs 19,500 miles! You won’t find this flight for less than $380, so that’s a nice savings.

That’s a humongous open-jaw. I know that looks like an insane route — but I’m just showing you that you can get a free segment in any region.

If you did want to reserve the above flights, you could book separate reservations (with United miles or otherwise) to connect your Africa flights to Europe. For example, you could book an additional reservation with American Airlines miles from London to Nairobi and Cape Town to Madrid, and you could make use of that free one-way award flight in Africa.

Multi-segment and a stopover

Again, you can do whatever you want — you just end up paying for it. I’m not saying the below route is a good idea, but I want to explain again how the pricing works:

  • U.S. to Europe
  • Segment within Europe (free)
  • Europe to Southeast Asia
  • Segment within Southeast Asia
  • Southeast Asia to U.S.

How would it price?

  • Chicago to Vienna – 30,000 United miles
  • Vienna to Istanbul – 0 United miles
  • Istanbul to Singapore – 55,000 United miles
  • Singapore to Bangkok – 17,500 United miles
  • Bangkok to Chicago – 40,000 United miles

Total: 142,500 miles.

As you can see, the free segment is the one that is:

  1. Within a single region
  2. Not the region of origin
  3. The first segment after the outbound flight 

So what would happen if we reversed the route? Let’s use the same picture as above but price it backward:

  • Chicago to Bangkok = 40,000 United miles
  • Bangkok to Singapore = 0 United miles
  • Singapore to Istanbul – 55,000 United miles
  • Istanbul to Vienna – 15,000 United miles
  • Vienna to Chicago – 30,000 United miles

Total: 140,000 miles.

Note that United doesn’t have an award chart anymore, so the above prices are a rough estimate. United can charge whatever it wants whenever it wants.

Pricing different classes

If not obvious, all of the rules apply exactly the same regardless of which class you fly. The only difference between these routes when flying economy or first class is the price you pay.

Since United now prices per segment, you can pick and choose what class you want to fly for each segment. If you booked an entire route as coach, the free segment can only be in coach. But if you booked an entire segment in business class, the free segment can be in business class.

However, what happens when you mix and match coach and business (or first)? When is the free segment in business and when is it coach?

Very simple. The class of the free segment can be (up to) the class of the previous segment. Let’s do another example:

  • Newark to Tokyo
  • Tokyo to Guam
  • Istanbul to Frankfurt
  • Frankfurt to Chicago

See the blue segments on the map below (Tokyo to Guam and Istanbul to Frankfurt)? Those are in business class, and the rest are in coach.

How would it price?

  • Newark to Tokyo (coach) =  35,000 United miles
  • Tokyo to Guam (business) = 25,000 United miles
  • Istanbul to Frankfurt (business) = 0 United miles
  • Frankfurt to Chicago (coach) – 30,000 United miles

Total: 90,000 United miles. That’s about a 30,000-mile savings for a free business class flight between Istanbul and Frankfurt!

Bottom line

Now that you know the United stopover/open-jaw rules, you can have fun trying to figure out hidden sweet spots and opportunities to take advantage of the United routing allowances! We’ve got a post about United stopover tricks on the way to help get your creative juices flowing.

Drew founded the points and miles site Travelisfree.com in 2011 and has also worked with The Points Guy. He and his wife spent years traveling nomadically until they sold Travel is Free in 2019.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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