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How to Save on Airfare with Open Jaw and Circle Trips

Aug 17, 2007
Many airline and charter companies permit two types of airfares that can really save you money and time if you book them using the tips I'll give you here. These airfares are "open jaw" tickets and "circle" tickets, also called open jaw and circle trips.

Never heard of them? Well, read on to learn what they are and how to use them. Circle fares and open jaw fares are especially useful when you want to visit more than one city, but want to avoid expensive one-way tickets.


An open jaw trip is simply a three-city itinerary where the second and shortest segment is traveled on land. For example, a traveler from L.A. could:

* fly to Calgary,
* drive through the Canadian Rockies to Vancouver, and then
* fly from Vancouver back to L.A.

This takes less money than buying a roundtrip ticket from Los Angeles to Calgary and an expensive one-way ticket back from Vancouver to Calgary. It also takes less time than driving back to Calgary-and gives more time to enjoy Canada's beautiful national parks.


The open jaw fare "averages out" two roundtrip fares. Let's pursue the same example-our traveler wants to book a flight from Los Angeles to Calgary and then another flight from Vancouver to Los Angeles.

If the roundtrip fare from Los Angeles to Calgary costs $400, and the roundtrip fare from Los Angeles to Vancouver costs $350, our traveler would pay approximately $375 for her open jaw ticket. In other words, the open jaw ticket gives you the price of half of two roundtrip tickets.

(We'll discuss how you set up an open jaw ticket later in this article.)


Usually, open jaw tickets are permitted either solely within one country or from one country to one other country. For example, you could fly from Chicago to Durban, South Africa, drive to Cape Town, and then fly back to Chicago from Cape Town.

One exception to the "one other country" rule is that Europe is treated as one country. You can fly into Berlin and out of Copenhagen, into Rome and out of Amsterdam, or many other combinations.

The least expensive open jaw tickets are usually available only when these three conditions are met:

1) The flights must be on the same airline or its partners (e.g., KLM and Northwest).

2) The distance of the "open jaw," or the segment traveled on land, usually must be shorter than either of the two flown segments.

3) The fares used for the two flown sections must conform to airline rules:

First, they must be combinable. For example, many Canadian and U.S. fares are not combinable with each other. Our traveler from Los Angeles might find it significantly more expensive to fly into Calgary and out of Seattle, instead of flying into Calgary and out of Vancouver.

Note that most discounted fares within one country are combinable.

Also, if fares rules differ, your ticket will follow the most restrictive one. For instance, if the roundtrip L.A. to Calgary fare allows a maximum stay of 30 days, but the roundtrip L.A. to Vancouver fare allows just 21 days, then the maximum stay permitted on your open jaw trip will be 21 days.

Knowing these rules can help you set up your itinerary in the least expensive way.


Circle fare tickets can also save you time and money. A circle trip is a multi-destination itinerary that involves flying between three cities, rather than traveling to any of them on land.

For example, you might fly out of Des Moines to Oakland, then fly from Oakland to San Diego, and finally fly back to Des Moines from San Diego.
To get the cheapest circle trip fare, your trip must follow the same conditions outlined for the open jaw ticket:

1) All flights must use the same airline or its partners,

2) The second trip of the three needs to be the shortest (except in a few cases), and

3) The fares must conform to the airline's rules (see above for details).


You may be wondering by now if these two types of trips can be combined. Yes, they can. For example, you could fly from Boston to Phoenix, drive from Phoenix to Las Vegas, fly from Las Vegas to San Jose, and then fly back to Boston from San Jose.

And, if an airline like Southwest offers cheap one-way tickets on several of your intended routes, you can book even more creative and complex itineraries at low fares.


Most online discount airfare sites offer an easy way to set up a circle and/or open jaw ticket. On most sites, such as Travelocity and Orbitz, you'll choose the multi-destination or multi-city option.

Some sites may use different phasing. For example, on Expedia, you'll first click One-Way, and then choose multi-destination. And, although some sites like Hotwire do not offer multi-destination trips, they often have links to sites that do.

In addition, since you can't use last-minute options such as Priceline's "Name your own price" bidding for circle and open jaw trips, you will almost always get the best prices if you book your trip before the airline advanced purchase deadlines.

SO, bite into the open jaw fares or orbit with the circle fares-even combine the two-and SAVE TIME AND MONEY!
About the Author
Don Nadeau, president of http://www.BidonTravel.com, loves helping people travel economically. He specializes in helping people find great last-minute airfares and hotel discounts.
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