Stopover, Layover, Open-Jaw Flight, Throwaway Ticket, and Other Misleading Terms Explained

What's the difference between 'layover', 'stopover', and 'connecting flight'? How about 'open-jaw' vs 'open ticket'? Or do you use the terms 'transit' and 'transfer' interchangeably? You will find those often misunderstood phrases when searching for your next flight, so let's shed some light here and explain those terms once and for all.

6 December 2020
Maksim Koval

Airline travel has a language of its own. Have you heard anyone talk of open-jaws? Or throwaway tickets? Can you tell the difference between airport transfer and transit? Despite sounding similar, these air travel terms actually mean different things and even the most seasoned of flyers get confused.

Some of these terms are relatively obscure, but there at least a few which should matter to you, the traveler, for three reasons:

  • The impact on what you can do and see on your trip – when booking a flight there are options that may restrict you or present you with valuable opportunities
  • Time and money-saving: if you know how to choose an ideal service and ideal flight, you will not only avoid disappointment and extra stress when traveling. In fact, it can save you money, too.
  • Comfortable travel: if you are “in the know”, you can book the right flight – which is comfortable and convenient for your travel schedule.

Read on to learn some air travel language secrets.

One-way flight

One-way flight means what it says – from here, to there, nothing else. It’s a flight from a departure airport to the destination airport, with no scheduled return trip.

Example: The most popular route in Indonesia is Jakarta to Bali. The cheapest one-way tickets are offered by LionAir and AirAsia, starting at $50.

Why it matters: We usually book one-way tickets if we are not sure how long we are going to stay at the destination. Otherwise, most people aim for round-trip tickets. But there are times when a combination of two one-way tickets costs less – and while this isn’t always the case, the smart traveler always compares his options before booking a flight. Next time try to search for one-way flights to your destination and one-way flights home from your destination separately to check if you can make some savings.

How do airlines price tickets?

There are many cases where booking two one-way flights (with two different airlines) is less expensive than booking a round-trip with a single airline – it pays to do thorough research before booking a return flight.

Return (round-trip, outbound-inbound) flight

Here to there and back again. If you book a return ticket you will fly from airport A to airport B, and then (on a different date) back from airport B to airport A. The first half is often called the “outbound”, and the second half is the “inbound” (or simply the “return”). The outbound or inbound may be a non-stop or a connecting flight and they can be served by the same airline or by different airlines.

A return flight basically means that you will end up back at where you started.

Example: Suppose you want to go from Beijing, China to Sydney, Australia, and back. You can book a trip with Air China and you will receive one itinerary for the whole journey.

Why it matters: If your travel dates are fixed, it’s usually a good idea to book a return ticket (instead of one-way only or open ticket) – committing to the travel dates and booking in advance will save you money. Also, if you are allowed to stay at your destination only temporarily, e.g. on a tourist visa, the immigration may want to know how and when you plan to leave: a return ticket will help you show them your plans very clearly.

Direct flight

It’s one of the most misused terms in modern travel. A direct flight is not a synonym for a non-stop flight. Yes, in most cases it’s exactly the same, but there’s a trick: a direct flight being a flight from one airport to another may include brief stops in one or more cities along the way – for refueling and even for additional passengers to board.

You may be able to stay on board during the stop or the airline will ask you to disembark with your carry-on luggage – only to re-board again, re-stow your luggage, and re-take your assigned seat. For a short time, you will be in transit at the airport.

Example: Singapore Airlines operates non-stop flights from Singapore to San Francisco, but also have a similar direct flight to San Francisco where it stops at the Hong Kong airport.

Why it matters: You should be always suspicious when seeing a “direct” note next to the flight you are booking. Double-check with the airline if there are any stops included. The flight number, the aircraft, and your boarding pass remain the same, so it’s not a clue you are looking for. Our recommendation: if you don’t want to spend extra travel time, avoid “direct” flights when a non-stop is available.

The term “direct” comes from the early days of commercial air travel when propeller airplanes had to do refuel hops even within a single country (for example coast-to-coast flights in the US) to be able to fly passengers from point A to point B.

Non-stop flight

Non-stop flight is the “real” direct flight, from one airport to another, and without any stops along the way. No-one getting on or off the plane en-route.

Example: When booking in advance, you will pay less than $500 for a non-stop flight from Asia to Europe in economy class. The most popular airlines serving those routes are Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, and KLM.

Why it matters: Non-stop is usually the fastest (although not necessarily the cheapest). A cheaper route could involve more than one stop along the way, but it can often be considerably longer. If you are flying between continents, the cheapest non-stop flights are those that connect big hubs such as Bangkok in Asia and Amsterdam in Europe.

Connecting flight

Connecting flight is from one airport to another, with a layover stop in between to change planes. It’s one itinerary when booking the flight, but during the check-in the passenger receives separate boarding passes for each ‘leg’.

Example: If you fly from Berlin to Tokyo with KLM, be prepared for a connecting flight. You will be first taken to the airline’s hub in Amsterdam where after a short transfer time you will board for an 11-hours long flight to the capital of Japan.

Why it matters: With a connecting flight you will be often carried first to a “hub” airport (Hong Kong, Tokyo, Beijing, and Singapore are the biggest in Asia), then change to another plane for the next part of your journey. It’s always easier and more convenient to use the same airline for connecting flights as the airline agrees to carry both you and your baggage. You will be transferred from the first aircraft to the second without having to go through Baggage Reclaim – the airline will take care of moving your baggage between planes. If you have a number of connecting flights on the same reservation it means you are ”through-ticketed” for the whole journey.

Layover

A layover is a waiting time between flights, usually shorter than in the case of a stopover. It could include a stop as short as 30 minutes or as long as four hours (or up to 24 hours on international flights). If you book a layover flight, it means the plane will make a stop en route, with passengers disembarking the flight and changing services.

Example: You are flying with Eva Air from Brisbane, Australia to Chengdu, China. You will have a six-hour layover in Taipei, Taiwan. You know that the rapid transport service can take you from the airport to Taipei in only 35 minutes, so you are going to go into the city during the layover and visit a restaurant you have read about – which is next to the central railway station.

Why it matters: Considering the high price range of both direct and non-stop flights, booking a layover flight may save you money, since they are usually less expensive. The transfer time between flights is probably too short to risk leaving the airport for sightseeing, but you can rest and stretch in between your journey, enjoy a cup of coffee or do some souvenir hunting at the tax-free airport shops.

Long layover stopover on airport
When flying on a budget, long layovers at the airport are sometimes unavoidable

Stopover

A stopover is a connecting flight but with a longer duration between flights. Basically, it’s a long layover. A stopover typically qualifies as anything that lasts longer than four hours for domestic flights and longer than 24 hours for international flights. With a stopover, you might have enough time to take a look at the city you have arrived at.

Example: You’ve booked Japan Airlines to fly from Jakarta, Indonesia to Vancouver, Canada. You would have had to change planes anyway in Tokyo, so you have made this into a stopover and you will be in Tokyo for 28 hours – long enough for some quick sightseeing, a good night’s sleep, and on with your journey the next day.

Why it matters: When booking flight tickets, many airlines include a stopover en route to your final destination. Those flights are usually cheaper than the non-stop flights, and it can be a great way of seeing more than one place on your trip. You can often add it at no additional cost, just by looking for multi-city flights with longer waiting times at the airport.

Stopover in singapore
Fancy some famous street food? Thanks to fast MRT connection between Changi Airport and the city, Singapore is an ideal destination for a stopover.

Transfer

The difference between being in transfer and being on layover/stopover is that transfer passengers cannot enter the country. Assuming you are on an international flight you remain “airside” in the airport – you are with the other checked-in passengers awaiting flights, and you cannot leave the airport. There is no need to reclaim your bags, which will be taken to the new aircraft for the next part of your journey.

Example: You’re going to fly from Seoul, South Korea, to Xi’an in China with China Eastern Airways. You will have to transfer through Nanjing Lukou airport. You cannot leave the airport but it’s not a problem, though – you can sit and enjoy some food and a coffee until the airline calls your onward flight.

Why it matters: Transfer is just sometimes a fact of life. There is not much advantage you can gain. You can’t leave the airport, and you can’t even go “land-side” in the terminal, so you are limited to whatever facilities are available airside. Being in the transfer is one time when access to one of the airlines’ business lounges is a considerable boon. If you do not have any such access, consider paying for access to any of the facilities that permit a pay-per-use, as this can be economical when compared to buying food and drink at airside prices. A lot depends on the duration. Half-an-hour transfer? No problem. Three and a half hours? What are the choices!

Transit

When you are in transit you return to the same aircraft after your brief layover at the airport. You will continue on your journey with the same airline and on the same flight number/ticket/boarding pass. The term ‘transit’ shouldn’t be confused with the ‘transfer’, which means changing planes or/and airlines.

Why it matters: Transit times are usually much shorter than transfer times. Although you will be departing on the same aircraft, make sure to check last minute changes to the departure gates and departure times.

Multi-city (multi-stop) flight

A multi-city or multi-stop ticket consists of many ‘legs’ (short or long haul flights) with layovers or stopovers in several different cities. A multi-city itinerary can be used to plan a trip with several destinations along the way, to create a layover with a duration of your choice, or to fly back to a different airport than where you started.

Example: Japan Airways lets you book a trip from Singapore to Osaka, Japan, stopping at Tokyo and Nagasaki along the way. This is excellent flexibility – with this one trip you can feel the true taste of Japan.

Why it matters: Multi-city/stop is a great way to spend a little time in one or more locations between your start point and your final destination, all pre-booked. You might want a day or two in each place, and this is a great way to get a flavor of different cities, most likely as a part of your vacation. It is usually cheaper to book a multi-city than separate one-way flights – especially when each leg is served by a different airline.

Open-jaw flight

An open-jaw ticket means you start and end at the same place, but you fly out to one airport and come back from another. It is a type of a round-trip ticket, where you are responsible for getting from your arrival airport (of the outbound leg) to your next departure airport (of the inbound leg).

The advanced type of open-jaw is called double open-jaw and consists of two completely separate routes that do not even share a single city.

Example: You are flying from Bangkok, Thailand to Hanoi, Vietnam. Then you will be traveling by land and sea to Saigon where you will take a flight back to Bangkok. Your flights are on the same ticket because you are using the open-jaw type of booking. If you chose Singapore instead of Bangkok for the return flight, it would be double open-jaw.

Why it matters: You often might want to visit two cities or regions on one trip. Maybe you are planning a high-speed rail link in China or Japan or a scenic road trip in Thailand? Perhaps you want to experience the historic “Ho Chi Minh trail” in Vietnam? Whatever the reason, an open-jaw might work well for you.

Open jaw ticket india train
Keen to take a scenic trip via train in India? Open-jaw flight ticket will make it possible.

Open or open-ended ticket

An open ticket (also: open-ended ticket) is one where you have not booked your return flight for any particular date, but the length of time you have to make that booking is known. For example, your ticket might be valid for three months, so you can make a booking on any date in those three months and then fly back.

Basically, for open tickets, the date of departure is set, but the date of return is flexible.

Example: You are flying from Perth to Bangkok with Thai Airways on an open ticket. You are going to spend some time exploring beautiful Thailand, up to the north and then down to the south for some beach time. You are not quite sure how long you’ll be away, but the open ticket lets you come home any time in the next few months.

Why it matters: An open ticket might well be more expensive than the cheapest fixed-dates option, but it can still be worth paying the price in some cases. If you are “gap-year” traveling, an open ticket will stop you from having to pay cancellation fees, maybe more than once, as you try to juggle local commitments and onward travel. Or perhaps you are on a “once-in-a-lifetime” open-ended trip and want to experience a country for as long as you can. Since the return fare is already paid, now you that freedom.

Flexible ticket

A flexible plane ticket allows changing the time and date of the flight. The new ticket is usually issued free of charge, although the passenger may need to pay the fare difference. Flexible tickets became a popular way for airlines to encourage flying during the uncertain times of the coronavirus pandemic.

We have covered the topic in-depth in our article Flexible Flying. Please refer to it to find out detailed information about new relaxed airline policies (Emirates, Etihad, AirAsia, Garuda Indonesia, and more), free ticket changes, cancellations, travel vouchers, and more.

RTW (Round-The-World) ticket

Airlines intend RTW (Round-The-World) tickets to do what they say. Most of the world’s major airlines are part of alliances to offer services that complement one another. These alliances provide Round-The-World fares. You won’t travel with just one airline; you will typically make parts of your journey with different carriers in that network or alliance.

Example: You’ve booked the RTW ticket with Bangkok Airways. You’re going to go right around the world, and you get to fly with American and Fiji Airways, Qantas, Qatar, and Sri Lankan as well as Bangkok Airways – it’s going to be epic!

How much does it really cost to travel the world?

Why it matters: Maybe the ultimate trip for any airline enthusiast, the Round-The-World journey, these come in different forms, and you need to check which one is right for you. For example, do you have two (or four, or twelve) places that you specifically want to visit? Some tickets limit you to several stops, five or ten, frequently 15 stops maximum is the rule (although there are unlimited stop options). There will also often be a mileage limit imposed, so you add together the mileage from each “leg” or component flight and the total can’t exceed 40,000 miles for example.

Throwaway or hidden city ticket

Throwaway ticket (also known as “hidden city ticket” or “point beyond ticket”) is the controversial money-saving trick where a plane ticket is purchased with the intent to use only a portion of the included travel. Throwaway ticketing is useful when a passenger wants to travel only to a specific destination, but the discounted multi-city fare is cheaper than a one-way ticket. It is a similar strategy as in the case of back-to-back tickets. The controversy comes from the fact that some airlines perceive this ploy as being against their rules.

Basically, with a throwaway ticket, a traveler intentionally misses a connection due to a cheaper multi-stop flight compared to a non-stop flight to their destination.

Example: Say you were trying to buy a ticket from Sydney to Bali. Because of high demand, these tickets will be much more expensive than flying from Sydney to the much less popular Indonesian city of Surabaya. A throwaway ticket would be if you found a flight from Sydney to Surabaya with a layover in Bali. Then instead of changing the planes during the layover and actually going to Surabaya, you would throw away that leg of the ticket and exit the airport in Bali.

Why it matters: The airlines often have better deals for unpopular destinations, aiming at filling the planes with more passengers. Throwaway ticketing approach to traveling takes a bit more time for the price research but may save you significant amounts of money. Just make sure you’ll actually use the first leg of the multi-city ticket. That’s because airlines might cancel the rest of your reservation if its first portion wasn’t used. Also, you shouldn’t check any bags since they’ll arrive at the final destination, and you will not be able to collect them at your actual destination airport.

Throwaway tickets: the loophole letting passengers fly on the cheap

Back-to-back ticket

Back-to-back ticketing is the controversial money-saving trick where a traveler buys a round-trip ticket with an intention to use just one leg of it. This ploy is useful when the discounted round-trip fare is cheaper than a one-way fare. It is a similar strategy as in the case of throwaway tickets. The controversy comes from the fact that some airlines perceive this ploy as being against their rules.

Example: Say you were trying to buy a ticket from Sydney to Bali. Because of high demand, these tickets are quite expensive, but suddenly you spot promotion for a round-trip Sydney-Bali-Sydney ticket which is less expensive than a one-way only flight. That would be your back-to-back ticket. You just use it to fly to Bali and forget about the return flight.

Why it matters: Back-to-back approach to traveling takes a bit more time for the price research but may save you significant amounts of money. Just make sure you’ll actually use the first leg of the round-trip ticket, not the second leg. That’s because airlines might cancel the return flight ticket if the first portion of the ticket wasn’t used. Also, you shouldn’t check any bags since they’ll arrive at the final destination, and you will not be able to collect them at your actual destination airport.


Maksim Koval


Maksim is an industry expert and digital editor at Tiket2. He is also a frequent flyer, travel writer, photographer, and the truest evangelist of the company.

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