Tuesday, February 09, 2010
I've traveled widely for many years, throughout four continents and one subcontinent, and have learned a lot about travel logistics and planning; as a result friends are always coming me for travel advice. One tip I always give is to arrange an open jaw on your flight if you plan on visiting multiple cities. More often than not my mention of the term "open jaw" invites a blank stare. Most people, it seems, are unaware of this option in air travel.
An open jaw, simply, is a ticket that allows you to fly into one city and return from another. You can book an open jaw for domestic or international travel. The basic restriction is that the distance between the the two cities on the open jaw has to be less than the distance between either one of those destinations and your home airport. From there the pricing is like this: for each city on your itinerary you'll be charged half the prevailing round-trip fare, resulting in a composite fare. For example, say you want to fly into San Francisco, then head down the coast by car or train and end up in San Diego. There's no point in backtracking to San Francisco for your return flight if you can arrange an open jaw. If the roundtrip fare from JFK to San Francisco is $400 and the fare to San Diego is $450, you'd end up paying $425 for your open jaw ticket, saving you the better part of a day traveling back to San Francisco, travel expenses between the two cities, and possibly an extra night in a hotel. Unfortunately, too many of my friends ask me for advice after they've purchased their plane tickets.
I use open jaws all the time, on paid travel as well as award tickets. For frequent flyer international travel it gets even better. Most carriers allow a stopover in the connecting city as well as an open jaw. For instance, my recent trip to Asia was on an award ticket, using Delta miles. The partner airline that flies to Cambodia is Korean Air, which meant that I was allowed a free stopover in Seoul. Though I wouldn't have specifically planned a trip to South Korea in the winter, here was my chance to visit another country for no extra travel cost. Then, in Cambodia I used an open jaw. I flew into Phnom Penh from Seoul, made my way to Siem Reap on my own, and flew back to New York from Siem Reap via Seoul.
On one of my trips to India I had an open jaw between Mumbai and Delhi with a stopover in London. I've visited Japan as a stopover on an award ticket to China--an open jaw again, into Shanghai, out of Beijing. I could go on and on.
The open jaw is one of the most useful strategies for the traveler. It shouldn't be such a mystery.