A free oneway is a oneway itinerary to or from your home airport added on to another award for no additional miles. For example, adding New York to Honolulu onto an American Airlines award from London to New York costs zero additional miles, so New York to Honolulu would be a free oneway.

While the rules differ by airline–some form of a free oneway is possible on United, American, and Delta awards–the “trick” that unlocks a free oneway is constant: a stopover at your home airport.

Most airlines allow one or more free stopovers on award tickets. If we take that free stopover at out home airport instead of en route, we can unlock a free oneway.

For instance, in the example I already gave of London to New York with a free oneway to Honolulu, we are taking the one free stopover per direction on American Airlines awards at our home airport of New York. This stopover can last for months. Then months later, we can take a free oneway to Hawaii–effectively cutting our airfare in half for a second vacation.

Stopping over at your home airport is the key. No airline agent will know what a free oneway is. You’ll never read about free oneways on lists of airline award rules. An airline agent–and an airline award-pricing computer program–will see your free oneway as a stopover and an open jaw because that’s all it technically is. But we’ll combine that stopover and open jaw into half of our next vacation!

This diagram shows a typical free oneway from Newark to Los Angeles after a main award from Newark to Frankfurt roundtrip. This award has one stopover, at Newark on the return. This award has one open jaw. Its origin–Newark–doesn’t match its destination–LAX.

Despite each airline having its own free oneway rules, there are certain rules that are universal:

1. All award travel must be completed within one year of booking the ticket. This limits the gap between your main award and the free oneway. For instance, if you book an award on January 1, 2013, all segments of that award–including any segment that’s part of a free oneway–must take off by December 31, 2013.

2. Your free oneway can be before the main award to your home airport or after your main award from your home airport. To use the Newark-to-Frankfurt main award as an example, you can either add a free oneway to Newark before the main award or a free oneway from Newark after the main award.

Hopefully, this is intuitive. You can’t have an award like:

Newark to Los Angeles

Newark to Frankfurt

Frankfurt to Newark

That Newark to Los Angeles is not attached to the main award at all. To correct this, you would need to change the direction, so that the award was LAX-EWR//EWR-FRA//FRA-EWR or change the timing, so the award was EWR-FRA//FRA-EWR//EWR-LAX.

3. The cabin for your free oneway will be the same as the cabin for the rest of its direction. If your free oneway is prior to your main award’s outbound, your free oneway will be in the cabin of your main award’s outbound. If your free oneway is after your main award’s return, your free oneway will be in the cabin of your main award’s return.

And for the purposes of this rule, international business class and two-cabin domestic first class are the “same cabin.” For instance, I am flying Qantas business class from Melbourne to Los Angeles, using American miles. I tacked a free oneway from Los Angeles to Tampa onto the award for a month later in American Airlines domestic first class because domestic first is allowed on international business awards.

These are the three major constant rules. Other rules like how many free oneways you can get, where the free oneway can go, and whether the free oneway is free or costs a small amount of miles vary by airline.

Finally I want to answer the number one question I get about free oneways. How do you get back after a free oneway?

Any way you want. You can book a return from a free oneway as a oneway award. I am returning from my free oneway to Tampa on a oneway Southwest award. Avios awards are very cheap if your route has a direct American Airline flight. Or United and American allow domestic oneway awards for 12,500 miles.

Alternatively you can buy a oneway cash ticket to return. Most US airlines charge half price for oneway cash tickets compared to roundtrips, so this is a fine option.

Recap

This was a bare bones introduction to free oneways on award tickets. Future installments will look at the specifics for free oneways on each legacy carrier.

I’ll also look at some more advanced, cool routings that free oneways open up.

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