Change to United Free One Way Rules

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You can no longer tack on an Excursionist perk, the essentially free segment within one region that United gives you on a “roundtrip”, to the end of an itinerary any more. So we’re adjusting our advice about the best practices of maximizing United’s current award rules.

To be clear, the rest of the United award rules outlined in New United Free One Way Rules as of October 2016 are still accurate.

  1. You can book as many itineraries as you’d like on a single United award.
  2. If you book an international award that starts and ends in the same region, you can get one free one way award as part of your “roundtrip award.”
  3. The free one way award will be the first one way award wholly within one region that isn’t your origin region.
  4. The free one way award can be up to the same cabin as the immediately preceding paid segment.

You just can’t put that free one way segment as the last segment in an itinerary anymore.

Background

United MileagePlus has undergone much change as of late.

On October 6, 2016, United drastically changed its stopover rules. Before you could basically book any three one way awards as a “roundtrip award,” using your stopover to tack on a free one way or to make a Three One Ways award. The new rules were designed to stop free one ways by adding some restrictions about the region where stopovers can take place.

We were given a few months notice that those awards would be killed on October 6, but we were shocked to learn on October 6 that previously legal layovers would increase the price of United awards if United’s computers didn’t offer the choice online. That is a blow because there are some great, previously legal, itineraries that united.com can’t find but that a good segment-by-segment searcher can find.

Then Drew from Travel Is Free did some digging to see what’s possible on united.com under the new rules, and uncovered some exciting possibilities.

Scott went through all of those rules with examples in his post New United Free One Way Rules as of October 2016.

But United has once again updated their search engine and by doing so tightened the liberties you can take with the Excursionist perk. You can no longer add your free one-way (e.g. Excursionist Perk) to the end of an itinerary after the roundtrip.

Example of Changes

Back in October, the following United itinerary priced as:

  • Newark to London | November 1 | 30,000 miles
  • Bucharest to Newark | November 9 | 30,000 miles
  • Bogota to Lima | November 16 | 0 miles

Now when you put the same itinerary into United’s search engine, all three legs price separately:

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  • Newark to London | May 10 | 30,000 miles
  • Bucharest to Newark | May 17 | 30,000 miles
  • Bogota to Lima | May 24 | 10,000 miles

That’s a total of 70,000 miles instead of the previous 60,000.

Similarly, this United itinerary also allowed the “Excursionist perk” to be tacked on after an international roundtrip:

  • Houston to Mexico City | April 5 | 17,500 miles
  • Mexico City to Houston | April 12 | 17,500 miles
  • New Delhi to Goa | May 10 | 0 miles

When you price it out with the multi-city search tool now, you’ll get the following results:15554717_4101816669275_1802597991_n

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  • Houston to Mexico City | April 5 | 17,500 miles
  • Mexico City to Houston | April 12 | 17,500 miles
  • New Delhi to Goa | May 10 | 20,000 miles

That’s a total of 55,000 miles instead of the previous 35,000.

It’s a shame because this loophole made it easy to book one whole trip plus a part of another.

Strategy

In New United Free One Way Rules as of October 2016, Scott discussed the obvious strategy being to add a free one way after all your international United awards–and to maximize that strategy, book normally expensive one ways as your free one way.

That won’t work anymore, so we need an adapted strategy. A key with United’s stopover rules is that, to get the free one way award, your “roundtrip” must start and end in the same region. This doesn’t mean it has to be a classic roundtrip, from point A to B to point A. Your final leg could originate anywhere, as long as it flies back to where you started. It doesn’t even have to be international.

For example:

  • Chicago to Bucharest in Business Class | April 5 | 57,500 miles
  • Addis Ababa to Cape Town in Business Class | April 12 | 0 miles
  • Chicago to New Orleans in economy | May 10 | 12,500 miles

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-1-21-02-am

Travel is Free has gone over a lot of great examples of how to maximize United’s new stopover rules. But I think the most common way for most Americans to maximize them will be by booking a cheap domestic flight at the end of their itinerary, for future use, and booking the free segment as an expensive intra-region award following the outbound leg from US (like the example above). You could, of course, book the return from Cape Town to Chicago with United miles and still have the Addis Ababa – Cape Town flight as your free segment if you didn’t have a cheaper way of filling the gap.

To truly maximize this strategy, take advantage of expensive intra-region awards. Here is Scott’s table of intra-region one way awards and the partners you can use to fly them. United doesn’t have any partners for intra-Caribbean or intra-North Africa awards that we’re aware of, which is why they aren’t listed.

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-12-51-55-am

Bottom Line

You used to be able to tack on an unrelated free one way segment to the end of a United award following a roundtrip, as long as it was intra-region. You can’t anymore–the award will price as three separate segments.

I think the way most of you reading this blog will be able to take advantage of the current rules is by choosing an expensive intra-region award for your free segment, followed by a cheap domestic flight you plan on using in the future as the final leg of your “roundtrip” award. Then ideally you’d fill the gap in your itinerary, between your stopover and your destination, by redeeming another type of mile.


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9 COMMENTS

    • Travel is Free’s finds are still applicable. What’s not applicable anymore is putting an unrelated free one way at the end of a roundtrip itinerary, which Scott had previously pointed out back in the end of October as being possible.

  1. I found this post very reassuring, as United’s site had me believing (after reading the first post) that I was the problem. And I thought I was following along with the story until the Chicago example convinced me I was wrong. For the itinerary listed, why not make the first business-class redemption the short, cheap one, e.g., New Orleans to Chicago or whatever? Then for the free one, book the long-haul big redemption ticket over to Bucharest, with its legendary dumplings and unspeakable liquors?

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