Using United’s New Lower-Priced Domestic Awards to Your Advantage With Free Stopovers

When United started talking about dynamic award pricing four years ago it was described as in addition to award charts. And when they devalued their chart two years ago they even took a dig at Delta underscoring that they still had award charts. Yet now they’ve gotten rid of award charts.

Travel is Free has a great post where he talks about what’s still possible booking stopovers on awards in the United MileagePlus program — indeed what’s gotten even better with the elimination of award charts.

  • Two and a half years ago United placed limits on stopovers and renamed it the ‘excursionist perk’

  • You’re allowed to add a free stopover on a roundtrip, but it has to be in a different region than the one where you start your trip, and it must be entirely with one region. For instance you can fly US-Europe, stopover, fly somewhere else in Europe and return from there. Your trip has to end in the region where you began, so if you started in North America you have to fly back to North America.

However United’s IT allows you to do a ton of really interesting things with this. Drew finds,

  • Your free stopover can be in any region. If you fly US-Europe, your stopover doesn’t have to be in Europe it can be in Africa. (But it does have to be sandwiched in, after your arrival in Europe and before your return from Europe.)

  • You can have a stopover in any region on a one way award. Just tack on a domestic segment at the end, even if it’s a throwaway, you can find a super cheap one (5000 miles) under United’s new award pricing. Book a one-way award to Europe, then add a ‘stopover’ in Central America or Africa, and a flight from say New York to DC.

  • You can have a stopover on a domestic award. That’s the most surprising thing (“Washington – New York / Nairobi – Cape Town / New York – Washington”). Especially because the international flight on a partner may be more miles than the United domestic flight under the new chart-less pricing. You do have to take the first domestic segment of the award so that the rest of the award doesn’t cancel, but you may want a domestic flight at some point anyway.

If you were to book a one way coach award from Nairobi to Johannesburg via Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Airlines is would run you 17,500 miles.

As part of an ‘excursionist perk’ of course it’s free as a stopover.

Here it is, priced in with flights between New York and DC for a total of 11,000 miles. That’s 5500 miles each way for the domestic flights, and no miles for the flight in Africa.

The implication here is when you want to book a one way award using United miles from the US to anywhere in the world (including just domestic), grab a second one way award in another region for some time in the future and just add a United domestic flight at the end for around 5000 miles. The second one way award, then, costs you just that ~ 5000 miles instead of whatever else United would charge.

As Drew explains,

This concept works in any combination.

A free segment could be in Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean, or anywhere. It could be in the middle of a roundtrip to Hawaii, the Caribbean, Europe, or anywhere.

As long as it starts and ends in the same region and as long as the last flight ends in the region it started in.

…The amazing thing about United’s new dynamic pricing for domestic flights is that any flight starting in the US can now add a stopover (or rather, a free segment) for 5,500 United miles.

I still think the elimination of award charts is awful, but there are still ways to get outsized value using United miles both because partner awards are still pricing based on (effectively hidden) charts and because United will allow you to book those at a discount based on their new lower-priced domestic awards.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Watch it disappear in 3-2-1…

    Reminds of the idiot that complained publicly when denied boarding on a LifeMiles issued cabotage ticket… publicizing it and shutting down then entire benefit for everyone.

  2. The idiot with the cabotage ticket was truly one of the most spectacular fails in ff history.
    He does however run a somewhat successful credit card pushing blog nowadays.

  3. This will get shut down no matter blogged or not so let’s at least liquidate the MileagePlus we have.

  4. stvr,

    Somethings push somethings to get shut down faster than would otherwise have been the case. This may be one of those times.

  5. I think the audience for this is small enough that it’ll last for a while. Drew has been blogging about how to take advantage of the Excursionist for a while, and it’s been going strong. The only thing new is the low cost domestic segment.

  6. This isn’t a loophole, and there’s a lot of misunderstanding in this article.

    A one way award IAD-EWR would be 5500 miles (if saver available). A one way EWR-IAD would also be 5500 (so total 11,000). All this does is showcase the excursionist perk UA has (a free flight(s) in a third region).

    There is nothing weird going on here other then using the new lower rate (due to dynamic pricing changes) of 5500 miles each way. If you didn’t fly the African leg here, your ticket would get cancelled. So this isn’t really of use unless you can take advantage of that middle leg.

  7. @bryan t: “…take advantage of that middle leg…”

    All of us guys are hoping we can do so for as long as possible, right?

  8. @A_B
    Lifemiles used to issue USA-Taipei-Guam tickets for 25k in business because GUM was misclassified as domestic. This is not allowed because its transiting in TPE between 2 US cities (cabotage). But they kept issuing the tickets.

    Summary, Jeff Kwok (canadiankilometers) was flying with his mom and got denied boarding in LAX because of cabotage. He escalated to EVA and Lifemiles, and the GUM misclassification promptly got shutdown.

  9. @Gary Do all flights have to be in the same class of service. It looks like if you try to book a low-mile round-trip domestic flight in economy and then sandwich in a middle leg in business, you will have to pay the “normal” business class mileage and only the economy class is free.

  10. The “excursionist”/nested segment has to be in the same class or lower class than the segment that precedes it to get it included for no additional miles.

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