Airline Fare School # 6 – Open-jaws and Tinkertoys

I’ll get to the Tinkertoys part in a while. Let’s start with open-jaws.

World’s best cat, Catdog, poses in the shot below illustrating the concept of the open-jaw.


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In this example, a passenger is beginning a trip in San Francisco and flying to Boston, getting to New York by some other means, and then flying back to San Francisco.

Open-jaws are a way to design trips to more than one destination that are user-friendly. They can save time and money, and result in more enjoyable and more interesting trips.

In the 30 years I’ve been (mostly) in the travel industry, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard a story like the following one that I’m making up.

Joe: “Greg, I got a great fare from Sacramento to New York. Only $300 round-trip.”
Greg: “That’s a good price but I thought you wanted to go to Boston and New York”
Joe: “I do. I’m just going to rent a car and go up to Boston and then come back and fly home”
Greg: “Why didn’t you just book your trip to fly into New York, take a train or bus to Boston, and then fly back from there?”
Joe: “I didn’t know you could do that and still get a low fare.”

Yes, yes, yes. Nearly always yes, and for international travel as well as for domestic travel.

Before we look at what open-jaws mean for fares, let’s look at more examples so the concept is clear.


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All of the foregoing are examples of the most common type of open-jaw, where the break in air travel occurs at the destination and are known as an “outbound open-jaw”. But the open-jaw can be at the end of the trip and then is called an “inbound open-jaw”. It is less common but no less possible. Here’s an example of an inbound open-jaw.


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Now let’s add context to each of these open-jaw trips so you can see their real-life application.

San Francisco-Boston / return from New York:

Wedding in Boston on the weekend. Drive with a friend to New York to attend a conference Monday through Wednesday.

Sacramento-Dallas/Fort Worth / return from Austin:

Business meetings at company HQ Monday and Tuesday followed by sales calls in Austin with a colleague on Wednesday and Thursday.

Sacramento-Portland / return from Seattle:

Visiting parents in Portland Tuesday-Friday, taking the train to Seattle on Friday and spending the weekend with friends there.

San Francisco-London / return from Paris:

Week in London, taking Eurostar (high-speed train that goes under the English Channel) to Paris, spending a week in Paris.

Los Angeles to Mazatlan / return from La Paz;

5 days in Mazatlan, taking the overnight ferry to La Paz, 4 days there, then back to Los Angeles.

Chico to Las Vegas / returning from Las Vegas to San Francisco:

Convention in Las Vegas Tuesday-Friday, meeting husband in San Francisco for
anniversary weekend, driving back together to Chico on Monday.

You can see that open-jaws can fit pretty much any kind of scenario in which you need to travel to one place, then go to another, and ultimately return to your point of origin. (Or return to a different point in the case of the inbound open-jaw.)

What happens to fares when you contruct open-jaw tiprs?

In AFS # 4 you learned about the difference between one-way fares and round-trip fares.

A one-way fare stands alone. As I’ve mentioned before, in many markets now in the U.S. and Canada, the lowest fares are purely one-way in nature and thus do not require round-trip purchase.

For travelers that know they want to arrange an open-jaw type of trip and don’t care about accruing mileage in any particular airline’s program, they can make their choices between the carrier(s) offering the best mix of service (nonstop vs. connections) and price between the cities that they wish to fly.

Keep a few things in mind if you book your own travel on-line:
– Airline websites usually only give you their own flights along with their code-share buddies
– Non-airline websites (Orbitz, Travelocity, Priceline, Expedia, etc.) can mix different carriers into one itinerary but not always
– Southwest Airlines can only be booked on its own website

A further note about Southwest Airlines is that its website is not set up to allow outbound open-jaw type bookings. (It can do inbound open-jaws.) For example, if you wanted to use Southwest to fly from Sacramento to Phoenix but then return from Albuquerque you’d need to do that in two separate transactions.

Other than for Southwest, if you wish to book an open-jaw type of itinerary using an airline or other website you need to select the “multi-city” or “multi-destination” option. A box will come up that looks something like this one in Travelocity. (I’ve filled in blanks to request an open-jaw itinerary from Sacramento to Miami but returning from Orlando.)

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OK, what happens when the best fares in a market are published only on a round-trip basis? (For international travel, your best prices are still nearly always only available with round-trip type fares.) In that case, the system will charge half of the best available round-trip fare for each segment of the open-jaw trip. You get the benefit of buying round-trip even though the nature of your trip is open-jaw. Note that this does require that you use the same airline for both portions of the trip.

Here’s a hypothetical situation to illustrate how it works. I’m just making up the prices for a clear example.

You want to travel from Chico to New York on United on 15 December but return from Washington, D.C. on 28 December. The best available round-trip fare from Chico to New York is $400 round-trip. The best available fare between Washington, D.C. and Chico is $500.

The system will calculate your total fare for such an open-jaw trip as $450:
– half of the Chico-New York round-trip for $200, plus
– half of the Washington-Chico round-trip for $250

Of course, you have to observe all of the usual rules (advance purchase, minimum stay, etc.) and if the rules are different then the most restrictive are what will apply to your trip.

Open-jaw flight itineraries are one of the best tools you have to create great trips.

“But wait!” you say. “You sound like you’re ending ths post but you haven’t said anything about Tinkertoys?”

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Tinkertoys is my term for a way of putting trips together. Over the years I’ve seen many examples of how people – both travel industry personnel and the public – plan trips. The ones who are best at it are the ones who combine disparate elements together to create a cohesive whole.

It means having a solid grasp of the transportation options available in the air, on the ground, and on the water, and then using the most suitable for each segment of travel.

Sometimes only a flight will do. Sometimes the best choice is a car rental. Sometimes a train or even a bus is the best choice. Now and then water transport is best. And then there are times when some or all of these elements combined make for the best trip.

An open-jaw air itinerary gives you the opportunity to connect the dots of the unflown cities with different forms of transportation. Be creative. Play with Tinkertoys.

Next up on Airline Fare School is circle trips

(Link to previous chapter, AFS # 5)

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2 Responses to Airline Fare School # 6 – Open-jaws and Tinkertoys

  1. Jennifer Toll says:

    What great information! Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge.

  2. Karen Fischer says:

    This is immensely helpful! The information is clearly communicated – and yet fun and creative. Thank you!

Comments are closed.