Booking anything more than a one-way or simple return flight online can be arduous. While some search engines make it possible, comparing a multi-stop flight to a series of one-way and return tickets can get pretty old, pretty fast — no matter how much you think you're saving. Some things are better left to professionals, especially when the service of comparison shopping is free.
Still, as a consumer, it's best to go in armed. Armed with a basic understanding of fares and their construction, their limits and possibilities. For anything more than a basic ticket, we still recommend you visit our airfare experts, and learn a thing or two while you save. But for now, here is our crash course on multi-stop flights and how they can benefit you.
By definition, a multi-stop ticket is any ticket with more than a single destination. These tickets may involve connections, or simply changing planes within the day at a non-destination city, but all will offer you at least a night in more than one place.
Multi-stop fares are constructed by airlines and are broken down into three different types of fares: stopover, open-jaw, and round the world. In addition, certain airlines may also offer air passes that focus on a specific region (like the islands of the South Pacific).
Here is a look at the various multi-stop fares.
The stopover ticket
Most airfares marketed to more than one destination are really just roundtrip airfares with a free stopover — and are a great deal.
Toronto > Paris > London > Toronto
The above itinerary with Air France is a round-trip ticket from Toronto to London, with a free stopover in Paris, either coming or going. Most major carriers will offer a free stopover in their hub city, on route to someplace else. In the above case, Paris is an Air France hub as London is for British Airways as Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto are for Air Canada (big country!).
Why would I want a stopover ticket?
"I was invited to a weekend wedding in Prague. I wanted a full nine days away but have toured the Czech Republic extensively in the past and wanted to see something new. I have always dreamt of seeing the canals of Amsterdam and with its proximity to Prague, I figured that now was my chance.
"I checked an airfare with KLM, Royal Dutch Airlines. Naturally flying through Amsterdam on their way to Prague, they offered a free stopover in Holland, making the trip to both Prague and Amsterdam on a single ticket cheaper than buying two separate tickets.
And, as a SkyTeam Alliance member, the extra frequent flyer points weren't too bad either!"
The open-jaw ticket
Rarely advertised, an open-jaw ticket is a return ticket that drops you off in one city, but brings you home from another — leaving the distance between the two cities up to you.
This ticket is for those that prefer to explore a country or region overland, by car, train, cruise or tour, and don't want to backtrack. You can't just combine any two cities though, as the distance between your two destinations must be less than any other flown leg.
Why would I want an open-jaw ticket?
"The thought of departing Bangkok's crazy-busy central train station for the tranquility of Thailand's southern beaches always intrigued me. Not that I couldn't afford to fly, but I heard and read about the experience of an overnight Thai train and vowed to make it my chosen mode of local transportation if I ever booked my trip. What I didn't need to do though, is to take the train back to Bangkok at the end of it all. I'd rather keep the return portion of my trip as quick as possible.
"I imagined I'd be booking a return ticket from Vancouver to Bangkok, a one-way train ticket from Bangkok to Phuket, and a one-way flight from Phuket to Bangkok to connect to my return flight back to Vancouver.
"I budgeted $800 for my return ticket from Vancouver to Bangkok, maybe $50–75 for my train ticket south, and another $150 for my airfare back to Bangkok. Not bad for a bunch of overseas travel (roughly $1,000), I thought. And then I stumbled upon a $616 multi-stop airfare: Vancouver > Bangkok / Phuket > Vancouver (open-jaw)!
"What I didn't realize, is that I actually wanted an open-jaw ticket. And how much I'd be saving on my trip if I visited my travel agent. Booking the deal above, and adding a one-way train ticket, trimmed my budget by $300, with all of my travelling now costing just under $700. Bonus! As romantic as the Thai train sounded, and upon further research, I ended up upgrading my seat to a first class sleeper with my savings."
The round the world ticket
Serving gap-year backpackers, on-sabbatical globetrotters, work-from-anywhere-ers, all-the-free-time-in-the-world retirees and enlightened travel consumers alike, the trusty round the world ticket is a thing of beauty. For anyone that is planning a trip with at least three stops on two or more continents, pricing out a round the world ticket should be a no-brainer. Rarely available online, these fares are worth your time with an airfare expert (did I mention their service is free?).
The rules of the basic fare are simple: travel in one continuous direction around the world, without backtracking geographically. A basic ticket generally allows for three to seven stops using participating carriers of a particular airline alliance (Air Canada's Star Alliance, oneworld or SkyTeam). The maximum stay on the ticket is either six 12 months, dates are changeable while travelling for a fee, and re-routings are sometimes allowed, too. Frequent flyer points may or may not be credited on a basic fare (you know who to ask!).
Why would I want a round the world ticket?
"I travel twice a year for business, both times to London, England and Sydney, Australia, taking three weeks off each time (including a week's vacation). Although London and Sydney are two of my favourite cities, I know them too well now and want to see more.
"After falling in love with scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef on a previous trip, and the week of free time available to me when I travel, I made it a point of diving in a new destination during every business trip. Booking a three-stop round the world ticket instead of a two-destination stopover fare made travelling more efficient and cost-effective, opening up exciting new possibilities with every trip for work.
"I wish somebody told me about these when I was backpacking!"