What’s An Open Jaw Flight And Why Should You Care?

The simplest of round trip airfare consists of flying to one city and then flying back from the arriving airport to your origin airport. One example would be flying from New York JFK to London Heathrow and back.

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Two map dots and a single line connecting them.

However, it’s possible to book a round trip ticket where either the return trip either departs from or arrives at a different airport. That’s called an open jaw:

denoting or relating to a trip in which an airline passenger flies in to one destination and returns from another.

Here’s where I imagine some people are preparing comments like, “WHO DOESN’T KNOW WHAT AN OPEN JAW FLIGHT MEANS!!!” or, “WRITE ARTICLES WITH REAL INFORMATION!”

If you’re thinking that, obviously this article isn’t for you. There was a time when all of us, including me and even you, didn’t know what an open jaw flight was. This article is for people just getting into points and miles who have never heard of open jaw flights before, or if they have, really aren’t sure exactly what the term means.

And if you’re one of the people who have never heard of open jaw flights, ignore the people who make comments like those above.

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Now, back to the post:

Open Jaw: denoting or relating to a trip in which an airline passenger flies in to one destination and returns from another.

An example of an open jaw flight would be the flights we took on our $25,000 trip halfway around the world.

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We flew on a single ticket from Los Angeles to Cairns via Sydney on Virgin Australia and flew back to Los Angeles from Tokyo via Taipei on China Airlines.

For this trip, we booked a separate award ticket to get us from Australia to Japan.

Another example would be the flights my dad and his wife took to get to Indonesia and Thailand:

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They flew from Seattle to Bali via Taipei on EVA Air and then flew back to Seattle from Bangkok via Tokyo on a combination of Thai Airways and ANA.

Why would you need to book an open jaw ticket?

At the time I booked our ticket to Australia, Delta only allowed round trip award tickets. One way tickets were possible but cost the same amount as a round trip. However, you could book an open jaw ticket and your award would cost the price of 1/2 of each ticket on the trip. So I paid for one award (1/2 the cost for a round trip to Australia and 1/2 the cost of a round trip to Japan). Now Delta allows one-way tickets (and removed all award charts so there’s no real way to know what an award ticket should cost anyway).

A more practical example would be my dad’s flights. ANA has some of the best award chart pricing to get to Asia using its Mileage Plan program, an American Express Membership Rewards partner. The main restriction is that you can only book round trip award tickets. By booking an open jaw ticket, they were able to visit Bali (and much of Indonesia) along with Thailand before heading back home on a single award ticket.

Open jaw tickets can also work the other way. For example, when Sharon and I visited London, our trip looked like this:

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We flew from New York to London Heathrow and flew back from London Gatwick to Orlando.

An important thing to know is that when you fly from different airports in the same city, this doesn’t usually count as an open jaw. So you can fly from Heathrow and back to Gatwick and they’ll both count as “London.” The same for New York where JFK and Newark are both considered “New York” (so is LaGuardia but LGA doesn’t have international flights in/out of it).

By booking both of these flights as part of the same open jaw ticket, we saved $150 on each ticket by not having to pay the fuel surcharge since our flight was not originating in Europe.

While most airlines will allow you to book a single open jaw on an award ticket, the “Double open jaw” is usually a no-no.

An example of this is if you wanted to fly from New York to Paris and then fly back to Orlando from Frankfurt. Neither the departure or arrival cities are the same.

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Most frequent flyer programs will not let you book an award like this as a round trip, as they’ll usually limit bookings to a single open jaw. If you want, you may be able to book this trip as several one-way awards but you might end up paying more miles or taxes as a result.

Final Thoughts

Once you grasp the concept of an open jaw ticket, it opens up nearly unlimited possibilities when booking awards. You’ll be able to piece together trips you never thought were possible. Think of open jaw itineraries like Algebra I. It’s the base that everything you’ll learn from here on out will build upon. It only gets harder, more complicated yet ever more rewarding from here on out 🙂

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

All maps created with Great Circle Mapper

2 thoughts on “What’s An Open Jaw Flight And Why Should You Care?”

  1. I realize you are focusing on awards flights, but you left out the biggest reason a person might book an open jaw flight, when you are using a different method of travel for part of your trip (boat, train…) For instance you might flight to Paris, take Eurail to Rome and then fly home from Rome, instead of wasting time, energy and $$$ travelling back to Paris, just to catch a flight.

    1. True, I considered a section about that but it didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the article. It is the the main reason people will book open jaws, be it traveling around with a tour group, cruise or on your own.

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