Airline Fare School # 8 – Secret stopovers, Part 1

This is the part of Airline Fare School I’ve been most looking forward to writing.


Because the information I’m going to present is both obscure and invaluable to the right traveler. And in the galaxy of websites that inform you daily, hourly, by the minute, on the ups and downs of airline fares, I’ve never read anything about what I’m going to write in this and subsequent chapters.

What you’re going to learn underscores what I’ve said from the start of AFS: knowing the rules and ins-and-outs of airline fares can enable you to plan better trips.

I’m not sure how many “Secret Stopovers” chapters there will be, but you can count on least two.

First some housekeeping.

If you somehow landed in this chapter of Airline Fare School without having read earlier chapters, I recommend that you first read what came before. That’s because I refer extensively to subjects covered previously. In particular, you should read chapter 2 (routings) and chapter 5 (connections, stopovers, through fares, point-to-point fares). However if you want to plunge ahead now, I’ll include links to these chapters further on in case you later find yourself in over your head.

Here we go.

In AFS # 5 you learned about connections, stopovers, point-to-point and through fares.

Specifically, that for domestic travel (and to/from Canada) a stopover occurs if you spend more than 4 hours at a connecting point. The impact of that on your fare is that you would have to pay two separate point-to-point fares instead of one through fare.

As a rule, this increases – in some cases dramatically – the cost of your ticket.

In most circumstances you’re not going to have a connection of over 4 hours and if it were the case, it would probably be for a day or more where you’re planning to really visit an intermediate city and not just hang around the airport for hours on end.

For international travel (except Canada) the rule pretty much works the same except the connecting time is more generous: up to 24 hours. (Link to AFS # 5)

What you are going to learn here is that there are certain fares that allow free or low-cost stopovers at an intermediate point.

Knowing about free or fixed-price stopovers can be beneficial for you in at least two ways:
– you can make use of them to stop in an intermediate point along the way to the final destination to which you were originally planning on traveling.
– you can decide to make your final destination further than where you were originally planning to travel, because you’ve found a way to actually save money by traveling a greater distance.

In this first “Secret Stopovers” chapter I am going to cover two instances where a special stopover provision is common, in fact, in essence a blanket rule.

United Airlines and the Denver stopover option

(Author’s note, 13 June 2011 – The United Airlines $60 Denver stopover on domestic fares no longer appears in rules displays, which means that it is no longer operational. If you stay in Denver longer than 4 hours the fare will be priced point-to-point, not as a stopover with a fixed charge. Why United removed I do not know, but I’m surprised it lasted as long as it did. I am leaving the original text in place by way of giving an example even if the Denver stopover option no longer exists.)

The first one is specific to United Airlines and it involves Denver. For all domestic (but not including Canada) fares that I’ve seen, United permits a stopover in Denver (DEN) for $60 including tax. What that means is that you can book travel between Points A and C via Point B (DEN) with a stopover as long as you like, subject, of course, to the rules that govern maximum stay (round-trip fares) and travel validity period (both round-trip and one-way fares).

It means that you pay the lowest fare you can get between Points A and C with the stopover in Point B (DEN) but instead of being charged as a point-to-point, you’ll be charged the fare from Point A to Point C plus a flat $60 for the stopover.

That’s a bargain.

If you travel frequently for work to points in the Rocky Mountain states, Midwest, or beyond you could regularly schedule a stopover for $60 more than the fare. You could even stop over twice since it applies each way if you travel round-trip.

Keep in mind that you have to reserve and ticket this way from the start. If you already have a trip booked on United and decide you want to add a stop in Denver you’ll get socked with the change fees and fare recalculation. But remember this for your future trip planning.

One other requirement applies, and it’s perfectly reasonable. DEN must be on the routing for the fare between the origin city and the destination city. (To review routings see chapter 2.) But if you’re traveling between east and west, Denver is almost always allowable on the routing because of its hub status with United.

Let’s look at a real example, mostly from the consumer perspective of

Here’s a simple Chico (CIC) to Denver (DEN) one-way on United leaving on 10 November.

1204-AFS8 - CICCVG - 1.jpg

And here in a separate transaction is a one-way from Denver to Cincinnati (CVG) on United leaving on 14 November.

1205-AFS8 - CICCVG - 2.jpg


The sum of these two one-way trips is $329.70.

Now let’s look at the same thing but booked in one transaction.

1206-AFS8 - CICCVG - 3.jpg


What happened? priced this at the lowest available CIC-CVG through fare and added $60 for the stopover in Denver for a total of $196.20, instead of pricing it as two point-to-point fares CIC-DEN and DEN-CVG.

Here’s what the same thing looks like behind the curtain in Apollo showing the fare breakdown.

1207-AFS8 - CICCVG - 4.jpg


And finally (and this is from the “Fare Rules” link in the itinerary summary in here’s the justification.

1208-AFS8 - CICCVG - 5.jpg


Just so you know, airline fare systems would use point-to-point fares on United in and out of DEN in the event that it would be less expensive than applying the $60 stopover provision but generally the $60 will prove to be a better deal.

It’s important that I put this in two real-life contexts for you otherwise it just seems abstract.

You need to fly from Chico to Washington, D.C. for a business trip. Because you know about the $60 stopover provision on United you intentionally schedule your trip with a 3 day break in travel in Denver on the way home so you can spend the weekend there skiing. You reimburse your company the additional $60 it costs for the stopover.

You and you wife are flying from Portland, Ore. to Boston, Mass for a week long trip for the fall foliage. You want to pay a short visit on your daughter who goes to the University of Colorado so you plan your trip with a 2-day stop in Denver on the way out.

Alaska Airlines and the free stopover between Alaska and the Lower 48

In another part of the country there is a completely free stopover provision that lurks in the rules for several airlines. In reality it pertains almost entirely to one carrier: Alaska Airlines and its regional subsidiary Horizon Air. As you’ll see later, it also applies to one of its closest code-share buddies – American Airlines.

For virtually all of its fares between Alaska and the Lower 48, Alaska Airlines allows one free stopover each direction in either Seattle (SEA) or Portland (PDX). So for $0.00 on trips between any point in Alaska and the lower 48 you can stop along the way in either SEA or PDX to visit friends, do business, go sightseeing, count coffeehouses, etc.

It bears reminding that when you break up a trip like this the rules of the fare must be observed for all parts of the trip.

Here’s an example of two slightly different trips that illustrate the free stopover provision at work. We’re looking at this through Orbitz as the booking tool.

The first example is from San Francisco (SFO) all the way through to Anchorage (ANC) on 29 October, changing planes in Seattle. The total price is $270.20.

1209-AFS8 - SFOANC - 1.jpg


The second one is almost the same, except you’ll see that the flight from Seattle to Anchorage is on 3 November. The passenger is stopping for five days in Seattle. Notice that the price is the same, because the system applied the free Seattle stopover.

1210-AFS8 - SFOANC - 2.jpg


What you can’t see is that the fare being used is an SFO-ANC one-way fare that applies for travel any day except Friday and Sunday. I intentionally booked this on days other than Friday and Sunday to make the example work. However if I had booked travel on either the SFO-SEA or the SEA-ANC segment on one of the forbidden days of the week, a higher price would have resulted. The system would look for and compare the best prices from either a higher priced SFO-ANC through fare without the day of week restriction and with the free stopover, or two point-to-point fares (SFO-SEA and SEA-ANC), whichever produced the lower total.

Interestingly, the free stopover is also available in Anchorage. What that means is, for example, you could fly from Sacramento to Fairbanks and choose to take the free stopover in Anchorage instead of Seattle or Portland.

Somewhat more curiously, Alaska also offers the option of making the stopover in Chicago. This isn’t relevant for people beginning trips in the west, since Chicago is obviously not on Alaska Airlines’ routing between the west coast and Alaska. It’s even more curious since Alaska does not fly beyond Chicago. (Their present nonstop service out of Chicago is only to Portland, Seattle and Anchorage.)

However Alaska and American Airlines have had a close relationship for many years including what were once called “interchange flights” that operated from Dallas and Chicago respectively through to Anchorage changing crews (American to Alaska) in Seattle. In the modern era they codeshare many of each other’s flights. So you could book a trip from, say, Charlotte, N.C. to Anchorage, Alaska on “Alaska Airlines” flights although in reality you would be on American from Charlotte to Chicago. American operates a large hub in Chicago, second only to United’s.

And in reverse, American publishes fares to Alaska that would have you flying in realty on Alaska Airlines flights from Seattle, Portland, or Chicago up to The Last Frontier. Curiously – or maybe not – American also allows the stopover to be made (provided it’s on the routing, of course) in Dallas/Fort Worth, in addition to Seattle, Portland, Chicago, or Chicago.

A last note about the Seattle stopover. Many other carriers in addition to Alaska used to fly the Seattle-Anchorage route but now only Continental still offers service: two flights daily; one originating in Houston and the other in Newark. Continental also offers the option of a free stopver in Seattle, or in Houston or Newark depending on where you originate travel and the routing governing the fare.

That’s all for this chapter but please come back for more in ““Secret Stopovers. Part 2“.

(Link to previous chapter, AFS # 7 – Circle Trips)

This entry was posted in Airline Fare School and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Airline Fare School # 8 – Secret stopovers, Part 1

  1. James Tatman says:

    Is this layover option in Denver applicable paying the $60 and using award miles for the round trip ie from Columbus to Orange County?

  2. Greg Fischer says:

    Hi, James.

    First a general response to your question, and then a more specific reply about the United Denver stopover.

    The rules applicable to airline mileage award redemption are their own creature and not necessarily governed by the same rules that would apply to paid-for tickets. Leaving aside the fact that the Denver stopover option no longer exists (see next paragraph), I doubt that when it did United would have allowed those using Mileage Plus award tickets to use the $60 stopover option.. You would be required to follow the rules that allowed (or did not allow) stopovers on free tickets. I don’t look at the rules for mileage award tickets, but if you’re wondering about stopover rules on award tickets you might take a look at the forums on FlyerTalk and Milepoint.

    As far as the $60 option on paid-for tickets goes, I no longer see it in the rules displays for United. For whatever reason they have chosen to discontinue that option, so you would have to pay for two separate tickets (point-to-point) if you wanted to break your trip in Denver for more than 4 hours.

    I added a note to the text in this blog post advising that the Denver $60 stopover no longer is offered, but retained the original text as an example of the concept.

    Thanks for reading “Airline Fare School”!

  3. Wayne says:

    Greg. Is this free stopover in Seattle option still available through Alaska Airlines? When I shop on their Web site and add a stopover on the way to or from Philadelphia from Anchorage, the fare jumps over $200 from the one-way fare. Can you still get the free stopover, perhaps by calling since it doesn’t seem to work on-line?

  4. Greg Fischer says:

    Hi, Wayne:

    Looking at a tariff display from PHL to ANC on Alaska Airlines, it appears that their very lowest fare (fare basis G14MJN5) does not allow the free SEA/PDX stopover. But the next fare up, the K14JN5, does, as well as other higher priced fares. The price difference is about $30 one way between the G14MJN5 and the K14JN5.

    Of course, I don’t know the specifics of your trip (dates, etc.), and both availability of inventory and the stopover rules all figure into whether you can make a free stopover, but my hunch is that you could. I picked a date randomly, 10 August, to fly from PHL to SEA, and then continuing to ANC on the 14th, and Apollo (the system I use) priced it at the through PHL-ANC K14JN5 fare, which including all of the various taxes and fees, came to $334 one-way.

    You might call Alaska Airlines to see how their reservations office would price it, and if it’s different, i.e. lower, than what the website prices it at, you should ask them to waive the fee for booking through their call-center. Explain (and be prepared to guide them through it) how using the airline’s own website you could not get the same price that they got.

    Good luck!

Comments are closed.