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Alex writes:

I’m a huge fan of your free one-way series although it left me bitter at the very beginning when I realized how many great opportunities I missed by redeeming my miles incorrectly. But I’m trying to fix it now. [Scott: I get a variation of this frequently. Better late than never.]

I’m looking to fly to China from Seattle in November and found availability I needed on Delta flights SEA-PEK and PVG-SEA for 70K miles but when I try adding the third leg SEA-ANC, Delta prices it at 95K, the full 25K extra miles for the third leg. I made sure all flights are available at low price. Is it because SEA is not a Delta hub and the routing is invalid?

Alex has a great idea. He want to fly an open jaw economy award to China:

Seattle to Beijing

Shanghai to Seattle

And on to that he wants to add a free oneway months later from Seattle to Alaska as I described in the seminal Free Oneways on Delta Awards.

He even found all low-level award availability–no easy task with Delta–so he is hoping to pay 70k miles for the award, which is the roundtrip economy price between the US and China with Delta SkyMiles.

Unfortunately his award is pricing at 95k SkyMiles. The 95k price tag reflects the addition of the 70k award from Seattle to China and back to the 25k Delta would charge for a oneway award between Seattle and Anchorage. (Remember that Delta charges the roundtrip price for oneway awards, so Seattle to Anchorage oneway is 25k miles.)

Why is Delta pricing the award like this instead of granting Alex his free oneway? It took me a second to catch, but the problem is that Alex has two open jaws.

Delta award rules allow one stopover AND one open jaw. This award only has one stopover–in Seattle on the return–but it has two open jaws.

An open jaw on an award is when the destination of one direction doesn’t match up with the origin of the other direction. Here the destination of the outbound is Beijing, and the return’s origin is Shanghai. That’s one mismatch, so it’s one open jaw.

The destination of the return is Anchorage, which is a mismatch with the outbound’s origin, Seattle. That’s a second open jaw. For more information on open jaws, see What is an Open Jaw? How Can An Itinerary Have Two Open Jaws?

Alex’s putative award is a classic double open jaw, which Delta doesn’t allow. United and American do allow double open jaws on awards. US Airways allows one open jaw OR one stopover.

What this failed attempt at a free oneway on a Delta award illustrates is that if you want to add a free oneway to a Delta award–among other rules–your “main award” must be a straight roundtrip. Why? You need to conserve both the stopover and open jaw for the free oneway.

For example, if Alex flew Seattle to Beijing, and Beijing to Seattle, he could add a free oneway from Seattle to Anchorage at the end. This award would have one stopover–Seattle on the return–and one open jaw–out of Seattle, returning to Anchorage.

Alex has to decide between his open jaw in China and his free oneway to Alaska. This problem is unique to Delta awards. No such problem confronts someone using United or American miles, although with United miles you have to choose between an en route stopover and a free oneway. See Choosing Between a Free Stopover and a Free Oneway on United Awards.

To decide whether to use the open jaw in China or the free oneway to Alaska, Alex should compare paid ticket prices on the flights he would have to buy if he doesn’t include them in his award.

Recap

Delta awards allow only one open jaw. Free oneways require one open jaw. That means that you can’t have an open jaw as part of your main Delta award if you want to add a free oneway.

 

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