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The four legacy carriers–United, Delta, US Airways, and American–all allow stopovers on award tickets (though stopover rules vary greatly.) Adding a stopover en route is a great way to add another city to your trip and get extra value from your award.

Usually adding a stopover increases the complexity of an award, but sometimes it makes your life easier. Sometimes adding a stopover is the best way to increase your award booking options.

I’ll give an example of how taking a stopover can save 27,500 US Airways miles when booking an off peak award to Europe. This example can be generalized to other airline programs.

US Airways offers off peak award pricing to Brazil, Europe, and the Caribbean that cannot be beaten. Thirty thousand miles roundtrip to Europe or 55,000 in business class are about half the normal miles price.

I’ve written about US Airways off peak awards before, so read this post if you need an off peak awards primer.

One of the big problems is that to get the off peak discount, you need all segments of the award to be on US Airways planes, and US Airways doesn’t release a ton of economy class domestic award space at the low level miles price. We can overcome this problem by adding a stopover.

Imagine you want to go Los Angeles to Madrid next February in economy class for 30k miles roundtrip. US Airways flies from its hub in Philadelphia to Madrid daily. Off peak space is wide open on the route.

Almost every day has economy off peak space to Madrid this February from Philly

That’s great, but the problem is that the award space from Los Angeles to Philadelphia and vice versa on US Airways flights is putrid next February. Here’s the picture from Los Angeles to Madrid.

Los Angeles to Madrid economy off peak space in February 2014

The outbound from Los Angeles to Madrid has a lot of options in the beginning of February, but there is very little off peak space from Madrid to Los Angeles, and none after February 6.

We know the issue must be a lack of space on the Philly to LAX leg, since the Madrid to Philly leg had tons of off peak availability in the first calendar I showed.

This is where a stopover will save our award plans.

What if, on the way back, we took a stopover for a few days in Philly, so that we could combine off peak space from Madrid to Philly and low-miles-price space from Philly to LAX on one award ticket? That would allow the whole roundtrip to price at 30,000 miles for US Airways credit card holders (and 35,000 miles for people without the card.)

It’s a simple concept that’s easy to execute in four steps.

1. Find off peak economy award space from LAX to Madrid on usairways.com by searching LAX to Madrid roundtrip. I showed a calendar of this space above; it’s wide open.

2. Find off peak economy award space from Madrid to Philly on usairways.com by searching Philly to Madrid roundtrip and looking at the returns. I showed a calendar of this space above; it’s wide open.

3. Find low-miles-price economy award space from Philly to LAX on usairways.com or united.com. I searched for it on united.com because I have a trick to isolate direct flights on the calendar. There wasn’t much space, but I did find one day that would allow for a two week trip with a two day stopover in Philly.

4. Call US Airways at 800-622-1015 to book the award because awards with stopovers cannot be booked at usairways.com. Feed the agent all the flight info. The award should price at 35,000 miles + $100 or so in taxes and fees. If you have the US Airways credit card, you will get a 5,000 mile discount on this award, to 30,000 miles total, like you do on all awards that are operated totally by US Airways planes.

The $100 in taxes and fees represents a $50 award processing fee on international tickets that only Dividend Miles elites can avoid and about $50 in taxes. Do not pay a separate phone booking fee, which should be waived as a matter of course by US Airways when the award is not bookable online. Awards with stopovers are not bookable online.

The Award

Without a stopover en route, this award would have been impossible to book at the off peak price of 30,000 miles per person roundtrip. Instead, the award would have cost 57,500 miles roundtrip for one way at the off peak level (17,500) and one way at the medium level (45,000) minus the US Airways card holder discount (5,000).

General Applicability

This post isn’t about getting to Madrid from Los Angeles on US Airways. This technique can apply to a broad range of difficult awards. Consider adding a stopover in Europe between the US and Africa or the US and Asia or a stopover in Asia between the US and Australia.

You often see your options for getting from Point A to Point B greatly increased by stopping at Point C.

Bonus

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  1. 30,000 miles after first purchase. There is an $89 annual fee.
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  3. I strongly suspect this card will disappear during the ongoing merger of US Airways and American Airlines. Get it before that happens. If you don’t get a chance to use the US Airways miles, they will most likely be converted 1:1 to American Airlines miles in the near future.

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  • 90,000 US Airways miles are enough for a business class roundtrip to North Asia
  • Two $99 companion passes annually
  • First Class Check In
  • Zone 2 Priority Boarding
  • One Complimentary US Airways Club Pass Annually
  • 2 miles per dollar on US Airways purchases
  • $89 annual fee
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