Turn 1 Flight Into 2 or 3! The Best Airline Miles For Booking Stopovers

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Best Airline Miles For Booking Stopovers

Ever visited or considered visiting multiple destinations on one trip? We certainly have. In some cases this has meant buying multiple tickets, whether cash or award. This is a fine approach, but in some cases, you can plan these extra “stopovers” for no extra miles on an award ticket. I’ve done it on multiple occasions, using some of the best airline miles for booking stopovers. These are what I want to explore in this post.

There are many currencies that don’t allow you to book stopovers. The most you’re able to eke out is a near-24-hour layover in a city to see some sights during a mad dash. Or everything could be a “stopover”, with pricing by segment (I’m looking at you, British Airways!).

But there are a number of other loyalty programs that are an excellent choice if you’re looking to put together a multi-stop itinerary. Here are the best airline miles for booking stopovers.

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Whenever I think of the best airline miles for booking stopovers, Alaska Airlines miles are the first to come to mind. Their stopover policy is simple: you can book one stopover on a one-way award as long as it is a major connection point or “hub”, either their own or a partner’s. Remember that you cannot mix Alaska partner airlines on a single award. Alaska plus any one partner is fine.

There are some tricks you can pull with Alaska stopovers, although these are not nearly as good as they once were. This mainly has to do with the definition of what constitutes a hub city. For their international partners, these are almost exclusively their single main international hub (Hong Kong for Cathay Pacific, Helsinki for Finnair, etc).

Some example itineraries:
  • SFO-Helsinki(stopover)-Bangkok(destination) with Finnair
  • SFO-Reykjavik(stopover)-Copenhagen(destination) with Icelandair
  • PDX-LAX-Sydney(stopover)-Perth(destination) with Alaska and Qantas

With Alaska, however, you can sometimes get away with an odd routing. Typically, it needs to be “logical” (e.g. you cannot stop in Hawaii on your way from California to Alaska). But there are still some interesting possibilities, such as flying across the country from California to New York, stopping over, and then catching a Hainan flight to China. Hainan has West Coast gateways, but Alaska still allows this routing.

Alaska doesn’t always apply the hub rule to their own flights, as long as the routing makes some sense. Here’s an itinerary where you stop in Prudhoe Bay before continuing on to Barrow, Alaska. Prudhoe Bay is certainly not a hub, but Alaska operates a direct flight between the remote airport and Barrow, so the routing is allowed.

Overall, Alaska Mileage Plan is amazing, and easily tops my list of best airline miles for booking stopovers. We stopped in Hong Kong on a Cathay Pacific itinerary from Beijing back to San Francisco last November. I also planned a stop in Seattle before moving on to Boise with my son back in February. The best hack: plan two trips in one, if you can make your “stopover” land in your home city!

best airline miles for booking stopovers
My kids flying Cathay Pacific Premium Economy to Hong Kong, our stopover point

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

If you’re short of Alaska miles and can’t pick up a new Alaska credit card through Bank of America, consider taking a look at Cathay Pacific Asia Miles as another option. Asia Miles is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou, and Capital One Rewards, so accruing their miles can be easy.

Cathay Pacific award routing rules can be a bit hard to decipher, but their one-way award routing for the standard award chart can be boiled down to the following:

  • Maximum of one stopover or open-jaw on a one-way award ticket.
  • Only two sectors are allowed
  • You cannot begin and end a one-way award in the same country/region with a connection in a third country/region.

This essentially means that you can build in a single stopover at your connection point on a Cathay award, as you’re limited to two segments. Note that this is for the standard award chart, not the Oneworld multi-carrier chart.

The route trip awards get tricky, as you can start trading stopovers for open-jaws. The maximum you can add into your ticket appears to be three stopovers. At least Cathay writes three, but given that you’re limited to four sectors/segments, you’re really looking at two stopovers, plus your destination.

Still, this lets you do some excellent things. For example, you could book the following:

SFO-Hong Kong(stopover)-Seoul(destination)-Tokyo(stopover)-SFO

This itinerary would need to use solely Cathay Pacific and JAL flights to meet the conditions of the standard award chart. Business class should run you 160,000 Asia Miles for the round-trip, which isn’t bad, considering that you’re seeing three destinations.

best airline miles for booking stopovers

Air Canada Aeroplan

If you’re looking for the best airline miles for booking stopovers with Star Alliance airlines, Aeroplan is an excellent choice. The program is easy to use, and you can transfer points to their miles instantly to book awards online.

Aeroplan may not offer stopovers on one-way award like either Alaska or Cathay, but they do offer a generous two stopovers one stopover on international itineraries that are between two continents [update: a commenter pointed out that Aeroplan’s rules just changed as of September 1, 2019]. For itineraries within North America, you get one stopover or open-jaw.

Assuming you want to fly to Europe, a potential itinerary could be:

SFO-Zurich(stopover)-Prague(destination)-Istanbul-SFO

Just like Cathay, you can see three cities for the same price as one. However, you’re not limited to the four sectors. I could tack on an ACV-SFO hop with United if there was space and not change the price of the award. Getting a bit more creative, you could span a couple continents:

SFO-ZRH(stopover)-Johannesburg(destination)-Cairo-IAD-SFO

Air Canada does let you book an open-jaw on a round-trip award, but you sacrifice your stopover. Not very helpful. You should be able to book an award with a stopover online, but you may need to call Aeroplan in some instances. I’ve never been connected to a person in less than 30-40 minutes with Aeroplan, so I hate calling.

Also, stick with the airlines that don’t charge massive fuel surcharges, such as United, SWISS, Turkish, Brussels Airlines, and Air India, among others. Avoid Lufthansa, Austrian and Air Canada.

best airline miles for booking stopovers

United MileagePlus

The United MileagePlus “Excursionist Perk” is something that warrants some serious discussion. Ryan gives a fantastic rundown of a fairly simple case, but there are some other amazing things that you can do with the perk.

If all you’re looking for is a single stopover, the Excursionist Perk can work well. The cool thing is, it is decoupled from whether you get an open-jaw or not. You essentially get a free segment, as long as it is within one region and you’re booking a round-trip award. Let me illustrate with the following:

best airline miles for booking stopovers - excursionist perk
Copyright Karl Swarz, Great Circle Mapper

Here you’re booking an award that let’s you cover a lot of Europe with some planned ground transfers. First, you fly SFO to IST in Turkish business class, making your way to Athens on your own. The next segment, ATH-AMS on Aegean, is free using the United Excursionist Perk, since it falls within one region, also in business (since it follows your business outbound). Finally, you fly CDG-IAD for your return.

Everything here is an open jaw. United doesn’t care. All you have to do is ensure that your Excursionist Perk segment is within one region on a round-trip booking for it to be free. This can either be a traditional stopover, or it can be something a bit more complicated, like the above. The added flexibility is why United makes my list of best airline miles for booking stopovers.

EVA Infinity MileageLands

Forgive EVA the worst loyalty program name among airlines (except for maybe AirAsia BIG). EVA is a somewhat underappreciated Citi ThankYou transfer partner with a couple sweet spots. However, they are also underappreciated if you’re looking to build in stopovers. While their rates may not be the best, they are often at least reasonable, and spending 10,000 more miles for a stopover may be entirely worth it, depending on the itinerary.

EVA Airlines actually has a fairly generous stopover policy that is similar to Aeroplan’s. You don’t get any stopovers on one-way awards, but you can get up to two stopovers (in addition to your destination) on a round-trip award.

EVA Airlines awards can be a maximum of three segments each direction, which isn’t ideal, but it should give most people enough flexibility. You’ll also need to call to book an EVA award with stopovers.

I find economy awards quite unattractive, but business class tickets aren’t terrible. North America to South America requires only 52,000 miles, while EVA charges 65,000 miles each way from North America in business. China and North Asia requires 87,000 miles. Not fantastic, but they are an option if you have Citi ThankYou points to burn and are looking for multi-city tickets.

best airline miles for booking stopovers
Make Taipei your next stopover. The city is amazing!

ANA Mileage Club

Besides having one of the best award charts for premium cabin travel, ANA has a reasonable stopover policy that allows you to visit a second location on each award. ANA only lets you book round-trip awards, so keep that in mind if you’re looking for one-way stopovers.

ANA’s rules are important to remember. You can build in a stopover, but it must fall within the three-segment limit on both the outbound and inbound flights. An example itinerary:

SFO-Taipei(TPE)-Hong Kong(stopover)-Osaka(destination)-Tokyo-LAX-SFO

The cool thing is that ANA lets you book stopovers online, as you can key in each segment individually. The multi-city search is a bit clunky, however. I prefer searching award space with another site and then keying in the exact dates and classes of service I desire.

best airline miles for booking stopovers
Why not add a stopover to your plans to fly ANA first class?

Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

Singapore KrisFlyer offers two interesting options for booking stopovers. I find their award charts unattractive these days, but if you want to fly their excellent products and stop over in Singapore for a couple days before moving on to your next destination, they are a decent option. In a nutshell:

  • Singapore Airlines allows one stopover on round-trip saver award tickets
  • Singapore Airlines allows you to add additional stopovers, up to three, on award tickets for $100 each. These can be on either one-way or round-trip awards.

The latter option might not be all that great, but consider the fifth freedom flights Singapore Airlines operates. You could book an award such as the following by paying $200 for two stopovers:

LAX-Tokyo Narita (stopover)-Singapore (stopover)-Male

Given the savings of booking the award as one redemption, it might be well worth $200 to make some stops along the way.

Other Best Airlines Miles for Booking Stopovers?

There are a few options that could still be discussed, but I am deciding to leave off the details since their miles are much harder to come by. These include JAL Mileage Bank, Korean Air Skypass, and Asiana Club. In general, you’ll notice that the Asian airline frequent flyer programs offer the most flexibility for booking stopovers.

The main issue with these three programs, however, is that you need loads of Bonvoy points to transfer to their miles. None of these are direct transfer partners for any bank program, aside from JAL Mileage Bank. You can transfer Barclaycard Arrival Premier points at a poor 1.7:1 ratio. But who even has that card?

best airline miles for booking stopovers
Generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Around the World Stopovers?

Around the world tickets warrant an entirely separate post. I don’t want to dig deep here. In short, some great programs for around the world tickets with stopovers are ANA Mileage Club, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, and JAL Mileage Bank.

Cathay allows far more stopovers on its multi-carrier award chart than what they do on their normal tickets. ANA is an excellent choice, as you can potentially visit multiple cities in east Asia and Europe for just 105,000-115,000 miles in business class. But more on that later.

Conclusion

If looking to fit more than one destination into your plans for no extra miles, look to any of these best airline miles for booking stopovers to get the job done. Alaska is still my top favorite. But I can see myself using any of the other programs that fit various needs.

If you do book a stopover using any of these miles, please let us now in the comments!

9 COMMENTS

    • They sure do! This is one of the main benefits of using their program. It’s the closest to the old United. You can stop in Europe on the way to Asia or Africa. Even cooler, you can stop in Cairo on the way to Europe and still pay the Europe price. All that matters in the destination zone as long as the search engine constructs it.

    • Argh, Ian beat me to it! Anyway, it’s easy enough to search.

      I, for one, didn’t already know the answer, so I searched for EWR-FRA-HKG-EWR in Economy. It came up as 75k miles + 690CAD (I imagine the high surcharges were from Lufthansa). Pretty sweet, if you ask me.

  1. Aeroplan no longer allows 2 stopovers or 1 stopover + 1 open-jaw on intercontinentals.

    “Beginning September 1, 2019, members can continue to make Flight Reward bookings to multiple cities, but will be limited to a maximum of one stopover or one open jaw, in addition to the point-of-turnaround. Please note that, as today, for travel within the same continent (except for travel wholly within North America*), one open jaw is permitted but stopovers are not permitted.”

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