How to use stopover rules when buying airfare

NOTE: The airfare in this article is probably no longer available as this article was written several months ago.

In this post I cover how to construct an itinerary with multiple stopovers when buying airfare, and I go in-depth on how stopovers work. More specifically, I’m talking about maximizing the stopover rules as they are defined in the “fare basis rules” on specific paid airfare. Just to clarify, I’m not talking about “end-on-end” routing or anything that requires a separate “fare basis code”. If some of these terms are confusing you, don’t worry, I’m about to clear them up.

Let’s start by clearing up lingo and definitions so we’re on the same page.

  • “stopover” – A planned stop in your itinerary greater than 4-hours for a domestic flight or 24-hours for an international flight. We will be using stopovers to spend several days or even a week at each destination. Contrast with “layover”.
  • “layover” – Similar to a “stopover” except that it is a stop of less than 4-hours / 24-hours (for international flights).
  • “fare basis rules” – The rules governing your airfare. Example: Your fare basis rules may allow multiple stopovers for free, or for a fee, or it may not even allow them at all.
  • “fare basis code” – A naming convention for a set of “fare basis rules”. Example: “KLEQZMM4” is a United fare basis code.
  • “end-on-end routing” – A combination of two round-trip fares with different “fare basis codes” to create one complete itinerary. The “fare basis rules” may or may not allow “end-on-end” routing. I won’t be going into detail on “end-on-end” routing in this post, but I will say that there are many situations where constructing an itinerary with it will be advantageous.

How to see if your ticket will allow a stopover

First you’ll need to take a look at the fare basis rules for your ticket. For this post, I’ll pull the rules up on United. If you’re on Orbitz or Priceline, you can read more about finding the fare basis code in a post I made a few days ago, here: [How to find the fare booking code on Orbitz, and Priceline].

Note: There are many professional tools such as KVS that will show you the price of the fare basis codes per route and detailed routing rules. Using professional tools and paid-for data-feeds is not the topic of this post. I plan on covering those some other time.

In this example, lets start with a regular round-trip flight from Houston (IAH) to Hong Kong (HKG) that I spotted on United for $884. Note the fare basis code, it’s important.

IAH to HKG round-trip
IAH to HKG $884 round trip.
KLEQZMM4 fare basis code
Our fare basis code for the IAH – HKG flight.

Ok. We now know that the fare basis code is “KLEQZMM4” and that we can get from Houston to Hong Kong on it for $884. Usually, on the same page as your fare basis code are all the “fare basis rules”. I’m not going to go through all of them because it’s a long read and most of the rules aren’t relevant to this post. I’ll pull out the relevant ones.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the fare basis rules that are in “KLEQZMM4”:

KLEQZMM4 fare basis rules 1

  • Minimum Stay: If we wanted, our ticket could be back home the same day. Something Mileage runners like to do for some reason…
  • Maximum Stay: Itinerary must end before 6 months.
  • Advance Purchase Requirement: Basically means that this fare won’t be available unless it’s being booked for travel 45 days away from today. Which means if today is June 06, you won’t see this fare code for travel before July 20th. If there is a restriction on the season that this fare may be on sale — then the most restrictive rule has precedent.

Let’s take a look at the most important fare rule in “KLEQZMM4” for the purpose of our post.KLEQZMM4 fare basis rules 2

The fare rules allow for two stopovers (one in each direction) for $100 each, but we’ll need to avoid Guam, which may be a pain as United likes to route many of it’s Asia / Pacific flights through there.

How to plan a stopover

Now that we know that this fare basis allows for stopovers we should probably take a closer look at the fare basis rules to see where we can hang out. Reading the fare rules takes a while, but the following rule will seriously restrict where we can stopover.

FLIGHT APPLICATIONS:
THE FARE COMPONENT MUST INCLUDE TRAVEL VIA TRANSPACIFIC SECTORS ON ONE OR MORE OF THE FOLLOWING

  • ANY UA FLIGHT OPERATED BY NH
  • ANY UA FLIGHT OPERATED BY NQ
  • ANY UA FLIGHT OPERATED BY UA.

What this is basically doing is limiting on who we can fly on. Our options seem to be limited to United (UA) flights and United codeshare flights on Air Japan (NQ), and ANA (NH). That’s just the top portion of the rule, it adds more and more restrictions as I read further. For the sake of simplicity, let’s just say that this fare allows two stopovers, one on the way there, and one on the way back for cities in Japan.

So, back to the task at hand, we need a stopover destination that will work with KLEQZMM4 for the outbound leg of this trip. I’m going to guess that routing through Osaka, Japan (KIX) is going to work since I couldn’t find anything in the fare rules that said it wouldn’t. Adding it to the itinerary results in…

KLEQZMM4 fare basis code
Ding ding ding! We have a winner!

Yay! We’ve modified the itinerary so we’re in Osaka (KIX) the first week before going on to Hong Kong (HKG). Notice that the fare basis code hasn’t changed, that means we’re still using the exact same travel product.

Here is what happens if we try to route somewhere that isn’t handled by the “KLEQZMM4” fare basis rules. Let’s try to add Singapore (SIN) instead of Osaka (KIX)…

SIN - $1182 with different fare basis code.
SIN – $1182 with different fare basis code.

Take notice that the fare basis code has changed. To keep things brief, what United’s booking engine did for you was drop KLEQZMM4 (since it couldn’t do a stopover in SIN) and returned KLEQZBM9, a totally new fare basis code which allows a stopover in Hong Kong (HKG) when Singapore (SIN) is the destination. $1182 is a pretty good price for an itinerary that includes both SIN and HKG, but I just wanted to use this as an example to show you how your travel product gets switched out depending on what you do.

Let’s go back to our example of adding Osaka (KIX) to our itinerary. The new cost is $1013 which is +$129 more. You may be wondering where the extra $29 expense is coming from if the fare rules said that it was only $100 for each stopover. Since we’re stopping in Japan, our ticket has two extra line items in the taxes section.

  • Japan Passenger Service Facilities Charge $26.70
  • Japan Passenger Security Service Charge $3.00
IAH to KIX to HKG
$1013 – IAH to KIX to HKG

Keep in mind that there will be an increase in these “landing fees” for every new stopover you add. You may remember that the fare rules said we could get two stopovers, one for each way, so let’s add Tokyo (NRT) on the way back. Since we are obeying the rules of KLEQZMM4, it shouldn’t change when we take a look at the flight details.

KLEQZMM4 fare basis code
Our fare basis code has not changed.

Adding a one-week stop in Tokyo (NRT) to the end of our itinerary makes the total $1132 (an increase of +$100, +$19 in airport fees). We’re now visiting three separate cities in two countries, so I think we’re doing pretty good for this price. This itinerary also gives us non-stop routing for every city we visit after we’re in Asia, with only a short layover at the start of our trip.

IAH to KIX to HKG to NRT
$1132 – three cities in two countries.

I hope this helps show you the real relationship between “fare basis code” and ticket price. It’s not just some arbitrary increase. Now you know why it costs exactly $129 more to do IAH – KIX – HKG than just doing IAH – HKG. If you know the fare rules, you could tell someone the exact cost of adding a stopover to their itinerary. How awesome is that?

Summary

Let’s go over the steps to identifying and using stopovers when you’re buying airfare.

  1. Before buying your ticket find its fare basis rules. Orbitz and Priceline are pretty consistent in having them available except you’ll need to jump through some hoops to get them. United provides them on the same page as the ticket details.
  2. Read the fare basis rules and find the section that details stopovers. Some fares will allow them for free, some for a fee, and a great majority of them will not allow them at all.
  3. Double check your fare basis code as you add in your stopover. Changes to your fare basis code mean you are now working under a different set of fare basis rules.
  4. Keep in mind that adding a stopover will increase the fees/taxes on the ticket. In our example itinerary, the fare allowed a stopover for $100, but there was also an extra $29 in landing fees at Osaka (KIX).
  5. There are many benefits to stopovers, but the chief among them is the ability to add more destinations to your travel itinerary for a small charge.

I’ll leave by saying that if you find a really cheap fare somewhere you should always take a look at the fare rules to see if you can get a few stopovers because sometimes you’ll find a special gem; a fare code that has free stopovers with no charge, they’re not that uncommon. I found one a few days ago for this fare deal [Flights: Mumbai, India (BOM) from Houston (IAH) via London $906 round-trip 1-stop].

Do you want to play around with this itinerary? It should be valid for a little while. I’ve linked them on Orbitz.

  • Open Example IAH – HKG round-trip on Orbitz.
  • Open Example IAH – KIX – HKG multi-destination on Orbitz.
  • Open Example IAH – KIX – HKG – NRT multi-destination on Orbitz.

This is the first article in a series covering stopovers, if you want to continue reading this series the next article is here: [How to find free stopovers on low cost airfare].

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