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The best miles to use for exotic stopover awards

by on Mon July 31, 2017 • No Comment
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Using free stopovers is a great way to see more places for the same amount of money. Instead of simply changing planes at the connecting point, you can stay there for as long as you want. And if you know how stopover rules work, you can actively build your itinerary rather than just take the route offered by the airline.

Just to sort out the lingo, a “stopover” is generally a connection over 4 hours on a domestic itinerary or 24 hours on an international flight. When your connection is shorter than that, it’s called a “layover.”

Stopovers are not just the feature of frequent flyer programs.

In fact, there are quite a few airlines that allow a free stopover on a paid fare, usually in their main hub.

For example, Emirates offers a free stopover in Dubai, Icelandair in Reykjavik, TAP Portugal in Lisbon and Porto, and Air Canada in Toronto, Montreal, or Ottawa. There are often some limitations involved (TAP Portugal, for example, allows a stopover up to 3 days), but, in general, it’s a great way to get more for your airfare if you have some free vacation time on your hands.0

However, award travel can often unlock incredible stopover bargains. Here are a few airlines that offer the best values, with maps via GCMap.com.

Air Canada Aeroplan – Up to 2 stopovers

Air Canada Aeroplan doesn’t have a generous award chart, but it allows up to 2 stopovers on a round trip ticket, plus your destination, and you can fly any Star Alliance airline like United, Lufthansa, or Singapore.

Aside from this generous stopover policy, Air Canada has very liberal routing rules allowing you to have a stopover anywhere in the world (although you can’t backtrack to the same city twice when you fly in one direction).

For example, you can fly the following route within the 2 stopover limit.

gcmap-iah-ams-tpe-lhr-iah

  • Flight 1: Houston to Amsterdam (United) – stopover
  • Flight 2: Amsterdam to Taipei (EVA) – destination
  • Flight 3: Taipei to London (EVA) – stopover
  • Flight 4: London to Houston (United)

You will pay 75,000 miles in Economy and 150,000 miles in Business Class to book this itinerary.

You don’t even have to return the same way, which means you can create your own mini round-the-world itineraries, like this:

gcmap-ord-cdg-ist-nrt-ord

  • Flight 1: Chicago to Paris (United) – stopover
  • Flight 2: Paris to Istanbul (Turkish) – stopover
  • Flight 3: Istanbul to Tokyo (Turkish)  – destination
  • Flight 4: Tokyo to Chicago (United or ANA)

You will pay 75,000 miles in Economy and 150,000 miles in Business Class to book this itinerary.

What you can do

  • Get 2 stopovers plus your destination if you call the Aeroplan Call Center at 800-361-5373 and pay a $30 Call Center fee
  • Fly in any direction (but see some limitations below)

What you can’t do

  • Book more than one stopover online when you fly between continents
  • Have more than one stopover in the same city when you fly in one direction
  • Exceed the unofficial Aeroplan MPM (Maximum Permitted Mileage) – that’s the total distance of your trip

Alaska MileagePlan – A stopover on every one way ticket

Like Air Canada, Alaska has a great stopover policy, as well. This policy is, in many ways, one of the most liberal in the world.

You can have one stopover for each one-way flight, even if it’s a domestic flight. For example, you can fly one-way between Phoenix and Anchorage with a stopover in Portland for as long as you want.

as-phx-pdx-anc

Best of all, this particular itinerary will only cost you 10,000 miles, since Alaska charges fewer miles for shorter flights:

  • Flights under 700 miles cost 5,000 miles
  • Between 701 and 1,400 miles – 7,500 miles
  • Between 1,401 and 2,100 miles – 10,000 miles

Of course, given how many great international partners Alaska has, you might want to save Mileage Plan miles for an aspirational international premium-class redemption on one of Alaska’s partners like Qantas, Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Air France, or Emirates.

This Business Class flight between Los Angeles and Bangkok with a stopover in Osaka will only cost you 65,000 miles.

as-lax-kix-bkk

If you want to have another stopover on the way back, you can book a Cathay Pacific flight from Bangkok to Los Angeles with a stopover in Hong Kong (it’ll be cheaper – just 50,000 miles in Business Class vs. 65,000 miles on Japan Airlines), but you will have to call the Alaska Call Center because Cathay Pacific flights are not bookable online.

What you can do

  • Have one free stopover on a one-way flight
  • Book 2 one-way flights on different airlines instead of a round trip, and have 2 stopovers

What you can’t do

  • Mix airlines on award travel with one exception – you can add an Alaska Airlines segment for a positioning flight.

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles – Up to 5 Stopovers

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles allows you to book up to 5 stopovers on oneWorld airlines like American, Qatar Airways, and Japan Airlines, and it’s a transfer partner with Citi ThankYou and Amex Membership Rewards.

It’s not always easy, because most itineraries would require contacting the Call Center or sending an email request, but the rewards are huge. You won’t find many programs with rules as relaxed when it comes to stopovers, layovers, and open jaws.

Unlike Aeroplan and Mileage Plan, Asia Miles award charts are distance-based.

There two different redemption charts:

The Asia Miles Award Chart allows you to book award flights on:

  • Cathay Pacific
  • Its subsidiary Cathay Dragon
  • One of the above, plus one other Cathay Pacific partner airline

You can have up to 2 stopovers, 2 transfers (that’s CX’s name for layovers), and one open jaw; however, if you do use an open jaw, you need to add the distance between these 2 cities to calculate your redemption cost (even though you don’t use Cathay Pacific for that segment).

You can fly between San Francisco and Taipei (or Hanoi, or Danang) with a stopover in Hong Kong for 60,000 in Economy, 120,000 in Business Class, and 180,000 in First Class.

Or you can fly between New York and Tokyo (or Beijing or Katmandu) with a stopover in Hong Kong for 90,000 in Economy, 145,000 in Business Class, and 220,000 in First Class.

gcmap-jfk-hkg-ktm

The oneworld Multi-Carrier Awards Chart is the gem of the program. It allows you up to up to 5 stopovers, 2 transfers (layovers), and 2 open jaws.

And you can fly on 2 oneworld airlines when Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon are not included and 3 or more when they are included.

What that means is that you can use Cathay Pacific miles with all the stopover allowances to travel anywhere in the world.

Note, if you get “too creative,” you can get a pushback from Cathay Pacific agents, even if your routing is valid – so be patient and explain the validity of your route or hang up and call again

Here’s an example to Asia…

gcmap-sfo-hkg-cmb-kul-nrt-lax

·      Flight 1: Los Angeles to Hong Kong (Cathay Pacific) – stopover

·      Flight 2: Hong Kong to Colombo (SriLankan) – stopover

·      Flight 3: Colombo to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) – destination

·      Flight 4: Kuala Lumpur to Tokyo (Japan Airlines or Malaysia) – stopover

·      Flight 5: Tokyo to San Francisco (Japan Airlines)

This itinerary will cost 95,000 miles in Economy, 140,000 in Business Class, and 205,000 miles in First Class.

And here’s an example to Europe

gcmap-ord-cdg-txl-hel-kef-lhr-ord

  • Flight 1: Chicago to Paris (American) – stopover
  • Flight 2: Paris to Berlin (airberlin) – stopover
  • Flight 3: Paris to Helsinki (airberlin or Finnair) – stopover
  • Flight 4: Helsinki to Reykjavik (Finnair) – stopover
  • Flight 5: Reykjavik to London (British Airways) – destination
  • Flight 6: London to Chicago (American)

The cost: 85,000 miles in Economy, 115,000 in Business Class, and 155,000 miles in First Class. Please try to avoid British Airways on transatlantic or transpacific routes due to its outrageously high fuel surcharges.

You can have similar stopover bargains for flights to Latin America or South Pacific.

What you can do

If you use the Asia Miles Award Chart, you can have up to 2 stopovers, 2 layovers, and one open jaw.

If you use the oneworld Multi-Carrier Awards Chart, you can:

  • Have up to 5 stopovers, 2 transfers (layovers), and 2 open jaws.
  • Substitute a stopover for a layover
  • Have stopovers in the same city more than once

What you can’t do

If you use the Asia Miles Award Chart,  you can’t:

  • Book an award if neither Cathay Pacific nor Cathay Dragon is included.
  • Fly more than 2 airlines on this award.
  • Fly Bangkok Airways or Air China on a mixed award with Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon.

Japan Airlines Mileage Bank  – Up to 7 stopovers

Japan Airlines miles aren’t easy to come by. You can’t transfer Citi, Chase, or Amex points into Japan Airlines miles. But you can transfer Starwood points into Japan Airlines miles.

Mileage Bank has 3 different charts, but one of them, the JAL International Award Travel Chart, doesn’t allow stopovers.

The other 2 charts are:

The oneworld Award Ticket Chart is probably the most generous chart in the world, stopover-wise. It allows up to 7 stopovers including up to 4 stopovers in Europe, up to 8 segments, and one open jaw, like this example…

gcmap-lax-hkg-nrt-hel-cdg-vie-txl-jfk-lax

  • Flight 1: Los Angeles to Hong Kong (Cathay Pacific) – stopover
  • Flight 2: Hong Kong to Tokyo (Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines) – stopover
  • Flight 3: Tokyo to Helsinki (Japan Airlines) – stopover
  • Flight 4: Helsinki to Paris (Finnair)  – stopover
  • Flight 5: Paris to Vienna (Air Berlin / Niki) – stopover
  • Flight 6: Vienna to Berlin (same) – stopover
  • Flight 7: Berlin to New York (Air Berlin) – stopover
  • Flight 8: New York to Los Angeles (American)

You can use the JAL Calculator to calculate the price which comes out to 120,000 miles in Economy, 150,000 miles in Business Class, and 230,000 miles in First Class.

What you can do

  • You can have up to 3 stopovers and to 2 open jaws on the JMB Partner Airlines Award Ticket Chart
  • You can have up to 7 stopovers and one open jaw on the oneworld Award Ticket Chart

What you can’t do

  • You can’t use more than one airline on the JMB Partner Airlines Award Ticket Chart
  • You can’t have more than 4 stopovers in Europe on the oneworld Award Ticket Chart
  • You can’t have a stopover in the same city more than once
  • You can’t back-track to the departure country in order to continue flying to the third country

Bottom Line

When your preferred airline allows free stopovers, consider using them to visit more places for just a little difference in taxes. And if your airline doesn’t offer free stopovers, think about non-airline specific currencies.

You can use Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou and SPG points and transfer them to one of the airlines that does allow stopovers, so you could use your travel time more efficiently while saving your hard-earned miles and money.

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