Open Jaw and Circle Tickets Explainedby Don Nadeau
Many airlines 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.
Open jaw trips
An open jaw trip is simply a three-city itinerary where the second and usually shortest segment is traveled on land (or by air if a separate ticket is cheaper than the circle trip ticket described below).
For example, a traveler from L.A. could:
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.
How open jaw ticket prices are determined
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.)
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When you can use open jaw tickets
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:
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 be conform to the airline’s rules (see above for details).
Combining open jaw and circle trips
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. Cheap one-way fares on airlines like AirTran and Southwest are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to using open jaw or circle trip tickets in the U.S.
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Booking the least expensive circle or open jaw trip
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, you’ll choose the multi-destination or multi-city option.
Some sites may use different phasing. And, although some sites like Hotwire.com 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 "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!