Sometimes there is confusion about airline flight terms.  Layover, stopover and open jaw are three of the more common ones.  These are typically used with booking award tickets, but they can also be true when booking regular (cash) tickets.  I know that when I was first starting out, back before I did my first ever credit card churn or my first trip I got for (almost) free with miles and points, I remember seeing these terms and not understanding what they meant.

Definition of a layover

A layover is often called just a connection, and it’s the easiest one to explain.  Any time you’re not making a nonstop (direct) flight, you’ll have a layover or connection, often-times in the hub of the airline on which you’re flying.

This is especially common when you live in a non-hub airport. In most cases, unless I am flying TO the hub of a particular airport, I have to connect.  When we went on our trip to Miami back in 2014, we flew on US Airways (now part of American Airlines), and connected in Charlotte (then a US Airways hub)

Definition of a stopover

A stopover is exactly like a layover, just a little bit longer :-).  Typically a layover is anything less than 4 hours domestically, or less than 24 hours internationally.  With paid tickets, it’s harder to book a stopover (it usually just counts as 2 separate flights), but if you’re wondering how to book a stopover on a flight using miles, it’s not that difficult with most frequent flyer programs.

Stopovers are nice, because you can sometimes add an additional destination to your award ticket for no additional cost.  We will cover it more in the “Rules” section, but generally speaking, you don’t get stopovers on one-way tickets or on most domestic flights.

When we flew from CVG-FLL, our flight to Charlotte left at 7:15 a.m. and arrived in Charlotte at 8:34 a.m., and our connecting flight left at 9:45 a.m., arriving at 11:47 a.m.  We had a little over an hour in Charlotte, so that is considered a layover (less than 4 hours).  If you do a search for a domestic award flight on American or United or anywhere else, you won’t be given any connecting flights with connections longer than 4 hours.  Go ahead, try it!

You couldn’t fly from CVG-CLT in the morning, then take your connection in the evening, at least not without it counting as 2 award flights.

There are some exceptions at times if your initial flight is the last flight of the day and your onward flight is the first flight in the morning, or if there are not any other flight options.  You will typically be charged an additional $5.60 TSA security fee if that happens.  I should also point out here that if you’re traveling internationally, you will need to make sure you have a visa for the country of your stopover.

Definition of an open jaw

So far so good?  Now let’s move on to open jaw flights.  An open jaw flight sounds kind of strange, but it actually is pretty simple.  Normally you think of a roundtrip as the exact same itinerary twice (once in reverse).  For example, when we flew CVG-CLT-FLL to go to Ft. Lauderdale, when we came back home, we just did the reverse (FLL-CLT-CVG).
But on some tickets, you don’t have to just fly your outbound itinerary in reverse.  Again, just like with a stopover, with most airlines, open jaws are not permitted domestically (at least, not on the same flight)

Fly from New York to London, then Rome to New York – that’s an open jaw flight

So here we’re flying outbound from New York City to London, then our return flight is from Rome to New York City.  This is an open jaw flight, because there’s a segment (London to Rome) that is “open” and not actually covered by your flight.

So with an open jaw flight, the main thing to keep in mind is that you are on your own for your transportation from London to Rome.

For more details and examples, see Stopover, Layover and Open Jaw?  What’s the difference? on Points With a Crew