When United recently overhauled its award ticket rules this past summer many saw it as a massive devaluation. United had relatively friendly award routing rules that allowed one stopover and two open jaws on roundtrip award tickets.Those rules are gone now though and have been replaced by the “Excursionist Perk,” which is essentially a free segment on an international itinerary. It comes with new rules. We bring you workarounds. Read on.
After extensive analysis and lots of trial and error on the new United online award booking system, we see not a devaluation, but a change that killed some old opportunities and created new ones. Below are a few routing ideas. We compare them to the old system where applicable.
Excursionist Perk Rules
These rules will dictate all the possibilities below, so for reference keep these in mind:
- Travel must end in the same MileagePlus defined region where travel originates.
- The origin and destination of the Excursionist Perk is within a single MileagePlus defined region.
- The cabin of service and award type of the free one-way award is the same or lower than the one-way award preceding it.
- If two or more one-way awards qualify for this benefit, only the first occurrence will be free.
The Free One-way
A travel hacking favorite under the old system was known as the free one-way. In this scenario, you would book a roundtrip ticket from your home airport to any international destination and back to your home airport, which would then be used as the one allowable stopover. From there, you would finish off the itinerary with a one-way segment to any domestic destination. You had up to a year to finish the itinerary, so you could book the return trip separately and effectively only pay for half the flight.
This specific scenario is no longer possible because the Excursionist Perk must occur outside the region of origin, which is one reason a lot of people are calling the new rules a devaluation. However, you can still book a free one way in another region. There are a couple variations on this that are permissible under the new rules. If your goal is to have a free one-way within the US, then you could book a trip that originates and ends in an international region and tack on a one-way within the US at the end. If your goal is to both begin and end in the US, you can tack on a free one-way outside the US within an international region.
One of the best features of the new rules is that there is no limit on the number of stopovers you can have. This is great if you want to plan a trip where you visit multiple cities, as many people like to do in geographically concentrated areas such as Europe or Micronesia. In the example below we have put together a “Europe-hopper” trip with the following itinerary, all in economy class:
Chicago to Frankfurt (Sep. 2, 2017), 30K miles
Frankfurt to Paris (Sep. 9, 2017), 0 miles
Paris to Rome (Sep. 16, 2017), 15K miles
Rome to Chicago (Sep. 23, 2017), 30K miles
We have booked each flight a week apart, traveling on four consecutive Saturdays. The second segment from Frankfurt to Paris prices out a zero miles since it is contained within a single region which is not in the region of origin. The total price is 75K miles.
Multiple Open Jaws
The freedom to build an unlimited number of open jaws into an itinerary allows for a great amount of flexibility. Having open jaws in your itinerary means that you are responsible for arranging different means of transportation from each destination to the subsequent departure airport. However, there are both cheap and fun ways of doing this, especially in geographically small areas. One popular method is to use British Airways Avios to book short-haul flights between airports. You could be even more creative and take a cruise, a train, or go hiking from one airport city to the next. Just be sure to keep at least one of the segments within a region so that you can get your free flight. In the example below, we have set up the following itinerary, all in economy class:
San Francisco to Tokyo (Sep. 2, 2017), 35K miles
Bangkok to Singapore (Sep. 9, 2017), 0 miles
Sydney to San Francisco (Sep. 16, 2017), 40K miles
None of these segments connect and each have a week between them, so you get a triple open-jaw and plenty of time to make your way from each city the next.
Latin Landmark Hopper
On this last example, we will visit three of Latin America’s most amazing historical landmarks. The itinerary starts in Miami (though you could start in any US city for the same cost) and flies to Mexico City. From there you can visit the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan. After that, get back on a plane and fly to Cusco, Peru. From there you can take a three and half hour train ride to Machu Picchu, which is an awesome historical site from a civilization that displayed an amazing level of technological advancement for the era. Then head back to Cusco and board a plane for Baltra, which is one of the Galapagos Islands. After you are finished touring the islands, you can fly back from Baltra to the US. The example itinerary is displayed below:
Miami to Mexico City (Sep. 2, 2017), 17.5K miles
Mexico City to Cusco (Sep. 14, 2017), 10K miles
Cusco to Baltra (Sep. 15, 2017), 0 miles
Baltra to Miami (Sep. 25, 2017), 20K miles
Note that the leg from Cusco to Baltra is free since it’s the first leg contained within a single region outside the region of origin.
These are just a few of the endless possibilities provided by the new United award booking rules. We encourage you to get creative when planning your next international trip!