I like my trips to be journeys, moving adventures that begin in one place and end in another. And one way make that happen is to fly “open jaw.”

Flying open jaw means you arrive into one city, but return from another. So, for example, let’s say you want to visit Europe from New York City. Flying open jaw would mean you fly into, say, London, and out of, say, Madrid. Like this:


As I hope this gif illustrates, the reason this type of flying is called “open jaw” is because the two flights create a triangle that looks kind of like an open mouth. The result is that you end up traveling on the ground — or with separately booked air or sea tickets — to get from the arrival city to the departure city.

I can’t recommend  this type of travel highly enough. For one thing, it forces you to stay on the move and if you let it, introduces an element of spontaneity into a trip.

There are also more concrete benefits. Back in 2010, Laura and I were planning our first big international trip together. We knew we wanted to go to Brazil, but we’d also been wanting to go to Europe. Eventually we decided to fly From Salt Lake City to Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo to London, and then from Rome back to SLC — creating a kind of multistage open jaw trip. The entire thing cost us about $1,800 a piece, which is less than we would have spent doing a series of round trips to all of those cities. Plus we Eurailed for a month and a half between London and Rome.

So on trips that will cover a lot of ground, flying open jaw saves money by cutting out flights home or to the original destination city. For example, doing the trip in the image above — New York to London to Madrid — would cost more than just doing a round trip to London or Madrid, but less than doing two separate trips to each city.

An open jaw trip also saves time. If you wanted to see London and Madrid (or any two European cities) on the same trip, you could of course book a super cheap round trip flight on a carrier like Ryanair between them. This might ultimately save money, but it’d also seriously cut into the actual time you have for site seeing because it’d mean you’d have to fly back to the original destination just to catch another flight. Even if that one extra flight (back to London, in this case) doesn’t cost much, you end up wasting time in two airports on the way home.

Personally, I prefer to wait until the last minute to leave, and then fly home from the second destination city.

Ultimately then, open jaw flying is a useful option for travelers wanting to cover a lot of ground, as well as those who want to maximize the amount of time they have at their destinations.

— Jim Dalrymple II


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.

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