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Understanding Award Rules To Maximize Your Value

Sam Helmy
The key to success when using points and miles is fully understanding your loyalty program across the board. Whether this be award sweet spots or what are the detailed award rules and how you can leverage them to your advantage.

If only award rules were simple. You look online or call up, and you’re done. Sadly, that is not the case, and every airline program has its own unique set of award rules. These apply to everything from the type of awards you can book, seat selection, round trips, stopovers, and open jaws.

Understanding award rules about connections and such can yield excellent value.
Understanding award rules about connections and such can yield excellent value.

Failing to understand these rules can have serious consequences; you will miss out on being able to leverage your miles for exceptional value. In addition to getting to explore and see many more places on your travels. Understanding your program’s award rules is critical to developing a truly rewarding travel rewards strategy.

Different Fare Types: One Way Vs. Round Trip

While at first glance, it may seem self-explanatory that one-way and roundtrip fares and what the difference is between them. The picture is a little more complex in reality since it is not always a case of a round trip costing double a one-way trip.

Some airlines only offer one way awards, while others prefer to only offer round trip awards. However, the majority offer both, and while, in most cases, the cost of a one-way fare (cash or award) is simply half of a roundtrip fare, that sometimes is not the case. In those instances, some carriers choose to charge a premium for booking a one-way fare, and it will set you back more than half the cost of a one-way trip.

Another big differentiator is taxes and fees. The majority of airlines pass on government-imposed taxes and fees on award booking, and these can have a substantial impact on the cost of your award. For instance, taxes are pretty low in the US, so an award ex. The US can be very cheap in terms of taxes and fees.

Plan your travel within the award rules to add bonus destinations on your trips.

However, on the other hand, the UK has a notoriously high Air Passenger Duty, levying massive fees on air travel. These are especially high on Premium cabins, and in some cases, the tax is higher than the cost of an economy fare on the same flight. Knowing how your airline prices its awards and what taxes and fees are imposed is key to leveraging your miles for their best value.

Connections Vs. Stopover

In a nutshell, a connection is much shorter than a stop over, and you would generally not leave the airport. On the other hand, a stopover can take several days and allows you to go and explore an additional destination on your travels.

As a rule of thumb, a connection is less than 24 hours. Which is often enough for you to head out to explore the Citi and stay at a hotel before. Bear in mind that some airlines actually encourage these and provide them for free in some instances.

Take Turkish Airlines; if you have a connection between 6 and 24 hours, you can enjoy a tour of Istanbul. The best thing about these tours is that there are more than one. There are half-day and Bosphorus tours. This way, your tour can be made to fit with your travel plans and how much time you have to kill. That is why it pays to try and give yourself as close to a 24-hour stopover as possible.

Take a tour of Istanbul during your long connection
Take a tour of Istanbul during your long connection

If, on the other hand, you will be in Istanbul for a while and have a stopover of 20 hours or more, you can receive a complimentary hotel room during your stay. The level of hotel and length of stay depends on your class of cabin and departure destination. Typically, travelers in economy receive one free night in a 4-star hotel. While business class passengers receive two free nights in a 5-star hotel. If you are departing from the United States, then economy travelers can receive two nights in a 4-star hotel. While Business class passengers can receive three free nights in a 5-star hotel.

Enjoy a free hotel stay when you take advantage of a The Turkish Airlines Stopover program
Enjoy a free hotel stay when you take advantage of a The Turkish Airlines Stopover program

One thing to keep in mind is if you opt to take the stopover hotel, you cannot take the tour offer at the same time. And you will have to arrange for your own visits and exploration.

When it comes to these types of promotions, many airlines that want to connect East and West operate promotions giving away these deals. Another example is Qatar Airways, which also has a stopover program in Doha when flying to Qatar.

Stopover Example: The United Excursionist Perk

One of the best examples of a multiday stopover is the United Excursionists perk. This basically gives you a free one-way award in a multi-city travel itinerary as long as it is not in your original region of departure. The perk is available on flights with United or with partner airlines as well.

For instance, you could book the following three flights for a oneway trip from The UK to Brazil flying with United Airlines.

  • London LHR- Newark EWR
  • Newark EWR- Los Angeles LAX
  • Los Angles LAX- Sao Paulo GRU
The United Excursionist Perk can substantially boost the value of a multi city award
The United Excursionist Perk can substantially boost the value of a multi city award

The excursion perk would be the leg between Newark and Los Angeles, which would be free. Since it is not in the origin region.

As you can see, if you time your flights and award right, you can receive a transcon flight free of charge and may be able to spend a day or two enjoying visiting LA.

The Excursions perk also applies within the same region, not just the same country. However, if you have more than one “excursion,” only the first one will be free.

Take, for instance, the following itinerary for a oneway trip to Europe from the US:

  • Newark EWR to Dublin DUB
  • Dublin Dub to Frankfurt FRA
  • Frankfurt FRA to Rome FCO
  • Rome FCO to Barcelona BCN

In this situation, the Dublin to Frankfurt leg will count as the United Excursionists perk, and you will have to pay for the other awards. Remember, it is always the first leg of your excursion that is free, so plan accordingly to maximize its value.

Unlock some stunning Value with Open Jaws

Award rules around Open jaw awards allow you to unlock some stunning. Typically, Open jaws are part of a roundtrip itinerary. In a nutshell, an open jaw award is when you depart from one airport and arrive at another airport, then travel by other means to another city to commence your return leg home.

A classic example of this is a summer spent exploring Europe. You would head out from New York JFK to Rome FCO, and you would then travel across Europe taking planes and trains or any other means of transport before finally ending up in London, UK. Here, you would take your open Jaw return to New York JFK.

An open jaw return from the US to Europe
An open jaw return from the US to Europe

The key to open jaws is the differential in pricing between Oneway awards and round trip awards. If you only booked one-way awards, you could create any open-jaw itinerary imaginable. However, some airlines have cheaper rates – than a simple division by two – when you book round trips. In some cases, some carriers do not allow you to book one-way awards.

When the pricing is lower, and the carrier allows you an open-jaw ticket, you can then maximize your value by booking what would have been two one-way awards for a better price.

Final Thoughts

Although most of the time, it is simply easier to book a one-way award and pay any taxes and fees, more often than not, this will not be the best value and use of your miles. so if you decide to dig deep into the rules of each program and you are flexible, you will find that you can leverage your miles for some outstanding value.

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