Around the World for 137,500 United Miles (Some First Class!)


I know most people just want to go somewhere and come back with their miles, but I am biased toward BIG trips. For the most part, the best way to book such big trips is as a series of one way awards with many different types of miles, taking advantage of the sweet spots with each program. But if that’s too much effort or mental bandwidth, and you can only use one miles, use United miles.

United has a pretty good award chart (except for partner First Class), great worldwide award space on the largest alliance, and no fuel surcharges on awards. Plus if you’re stringing together a number of one way United awards, you can string three together onto a single award for big miles savings through what I call a United Three One Ways Award.

This post is an example of a round-the-world trip I’ve pieced together as two United Three One Ways awards. It took me ten minutes to plan and search for award space. It would take another 20 minutes to sign up for the credit cards necessary to get the 137,500 United miles (and there are only $230 in taxes.)

Three One Ways Awards

The following is an excerpt of Master Thread: United Three One Ways Awards. If you still are confused, read that whole post before continuing.

What are United Three One Ways Awards?

Imagine a roundtrip United award with a stopover.

  • New York to Frankfurt (stopover)
  • Frankfurt to Delhi (destination)
  • Delhi to New York

This is legal, and a little bit interesting. You get to see Europe for zero extra miles on your award to India. Now imagine that there is an open jaw between the origin (New York) and the final destination.

  • New York to Frankfurt
  • Frankfurt to Delhi
  • Delhi to Los Angeles

This is legal and a little more interesting, but you probably either live in New York or Los Angeles, so there’s little practical benefit.

Now imagine that you keep this structure of a stopover and an open jaw, but throw the idea of flying anything like a roundtrip out the window.

  • New York to Frankfurt
  • Frankfurt to Delhi
  • Delhi to Bangkok

Amazingly this too is legal. And it’s very interesting because it can be part of a New Yorker’s round-the-world or other very BIG trip. This map should make it clear why I call this a Three One Ways Award.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 12.48.49 AM

The trick is that we book it as a single United “roundtrip” award and not as three one ways. Why?

Well in this example, if you booked all three segments as one way awards, you would pay 90,000 United miles in economy:

  • New York to Frankfurt (30,000)
  • Frankfurt to Delhi (25,000)
  • Delhi to Bangkok (35,000)

If you book the one ways as a single “roundtrip,” you pay 77,500 United miles.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 12.48.42 AM

  • New York to Frankfurt to Delhi (42,500 with free stopover)
  • Delhi to Bangkok (35,000)

And we can find even bigger discounts and sweeter spots on the United chart.

How to Book a Three One Ways Award

You book Three One Ways Awards on’s advanced search page by selecting “Yes” and “Multi-city” for the second and third questions.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 7.06.55 PM

If you get an error online, you call United to book.

The RTW Made Up of a Pair of Three One Ways Awards

Starting in Los Angeles (chosen arbitrarily, home airport doesn’t matter), the award goes to Europe, Southeast Asia, Australia, Japan, and Hawaii before heading home.

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 2.52.04 PM

The first award goes from Los Angeles to Barcelona, Barcelona to Bangkok, and then continues from Phuket to Sydney.

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 2.47.30 PM For those scoring at home, Barcelona is the stopover, Bangkok is the destination, and the gap between Bangkok and Phuket is an open jaw (that you would fill with a low-cost carrier flight for well under $100.)

The first two parts are in economy, but Phuket to Sydney is in First Class because United charges a silly-cheap 40,000 miles one way in First Class between Southeast Asia and Australia/New Zealand. By flying Thai First Class out of Bangkok, you set yourself up for a world-class ground experience that includes a free hourlong Thai massage.

This award would cost 80,000 United miles + $123.Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 2.47.38 PMThe second award goes from Sydney to Tokyo to Honolulu to Los Angeles.

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 2.51.12 PM

In economy, this is only 57,500 United miles + $107. United considers Honolulu the stopover. Sydney to Tokyo is 22,500 miles, and Tokyo to Los Angeles is 35,000.
Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 2.50.59 PM

Could You Do XYZ Instead?

Yes, you could choose different cities in the same regions for the same price.

Yes, you could choose totally different regions for a different price. (If you get an error booking online, call United to book.)

Yes, you could add an open jaw in Japan for zero extra miles.

Yes, you could use each point on the United awards as a stopping point to explore the region for weeks or months with other awards, low-cost carriers, trains, or other transportation.

Getting the United Miles

You can get 124,000 United miles just by getting the Sapphire Preferred and Ink Plus and meeting their spending requirements because both cards earn points that transfer instantly 1:1 to United miles.

The Sapphire Preferred is one of the best personal credit cards on the market. It offers:

  • 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months
  • 5,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards for adding an authorized user
  • 2 Ultimate Rewards per dollar on travel and dining purchases
  • 1 Ultimate Reward per dollar on all other purchases
  • no annual fee the first year and $95 thereafter

The Ink Plus is easily the best business card on the market. It offers:

  • 60,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months
  • 5 Ultimate Rewards per dollar at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services
  • 2 Ultimate Rewards per dollar at gas stations and hotel accommodations
  • 1 Ultimate Reward per dollar on all other purchases
  • $95 annual fee

Bottom Line

My preference is to collect many types of miles for big trips to maximize all their uses, but if you have to choose just one type, collect United miles.

Then string together your awards as Three One Ways awards.

Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

The comments section below is not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all questions are answered.

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  1. I miss a memo? I thought united only allowed stopovers on round-trip awards and only one stop over at that? How are you stopping over on the three one way awards?

      • I don’t think he’s booking those as 3 one way awards. He is booking them as round trips and that’s benefit of united award routings. He mentioned this in the article that if booked 3 one ways it will be pricier and you can book this for cheaper if booked as roundtrip.

        • Yes, that’s the point entirely. Scott is getting his readers to think outside the box of what the terms “one way” and “round trip” mean. What we intuitively think of as three one-way awards, actually turns out to be an itinerary that prices out as a single “round trip” award to the United system. That’s the elegance of the technique and the post. Well done, Scott.

        • They are booked as two “Three One Ways Awards”. “Three One Ways Awards” is a term I made up to describe awards that United sees as roundtrips with a stopover, but are very clearly just three separate one ways tacked onto each other.

    • I explained it as clearly as I could in this post. United does only allow stopovers on roundtrip awards, but it considers these awards roundtrips. That’s kind of the entire impetus of the post.

    • The same but more miles. See if you can pull it up for yourself on Shouldn’t be too tough.

  2. Awesome post! I’ve easily got enough miles for my wife and I to do this.

    Can you babysit my 18 year old son and 83 year old mother in law while we do this?

  3. You forgot to mention that despite the fact these book online. It’s then impossible to make changes, or do anything with the reservation on the phone period.

    I take it you actually havent flown any out of the box UA awards.

    Great way for UA to start closing their loopholes. Thanks for posting…….

    • Why is it impossible to make changes by phone? I very much doubt that. I’ve had a lot of success with United phone agents. Hang up, call again.

  4. Scott,

    Thank you for the post! Small suggestion: I think you should call this award something like “Threesome” or “Threeawesome” award or something attention-grabbing. 🙂

    Just an idea!

    • Those are more attention grabbing but less descriptive. If you come up with one that is both, I’ll happily change it.

  5. […] The bonuses are huge. If you get the Freedom Unlimited and Sapphire Preferred and meet their spending requirements, you’d have 74,500 Ultimate Rewards, enough for two roundtrips to Hawaii with one in First Class or one roundtrip to Europe with three nights in free hotels. If you get those two cards and the Ink Plus, that would be 139,500 Ultimate Rewards, enough for two roundtrips to Europe or one round-the-world trip partially in First Class. […]


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