United allows one free stopover on roundtrip awards. I’ve discovered and posted extensively on how this free stopover can be turned into a free oneway. See Free Oneways on United Awards.

A free oneway is a oneway trip to your home airport before your main award or from your home airport after your award. To unlock a free oneway, you need to conserve your United award’s free stopover.

Why? Because you need to take that free stopover at your home airport. Take a look at these two examples of a free oneway, and you’ll see that they rely on a free stopover at the home airport:

MIA-JFK (free oneway, stopover at JFK, home airport)

JFK-FRA (destination is Frankfurt)

FRA-JFK (return home)

and

JFK-FRA (destination is Frankfurt)

FRA-JFK (stopover at JFK, home airport)

JFK-SFO (free oneway)

The first itinerary has a free oneway from Miami to New York City before the main award. The second has a free oneway from New York City to San Francisco after the main award. Both rely on using the one and only free stopover on United roundtrip awards at JFK, the home airport in this example.

The fact that a free oneway relies on a stopover at your home airport means you can either get a free oneway OR a free stopover on your main journey–not both.

How do you choose between them? Simple math. Let’s use as an example a trip where Sam wants to see two cities in Europe–Copenhagen and Frankfurt–and would like a free oneway to Hawaii.

This award is impossible because it has two stopovers:

April 1 SFO-CPH

April 8 CPH-FRA

April 15 FRA-SFO

July 11 SFO-HNL

The stopovers are Copenhagen and San Francisco, with Frankfurt as the destination of the outbound and Honolulu the destination of the return. Remember that Sam can’t have two stopovers, so he has a choice. Keep the CPH-FRA leg or keep the SFO-HNL leg and cut the other.

Cutting either would work:

April 1 SFO-CPH

April 15 FRA-SFO

July 11 SFO-HNL

Cutting CPH-FRA leaves one stopover–just SFO–in addition to the outbound’s destination of Copenhagen and the return’s destination of Honolulu.

Or he could cut the free oneway at the end:

April 1 SFO-CPH

April 8 CPH-FRA

April 15 FRA-SFO

This is easy to see. It’s a roundtrip with a stopover in Copenhagen.

Which should Sam cut? That depends on a number of factors.

1. Is there a difference in the miles price?

I was being a bit breezy when I called the oneway at the end a “free oneway.” United treats Hawaii as a separate region from the continental US, so the oneway may or may not be free.

The oneway at the end of the award to Hawaii will cost the difference between flying back from your destination to the continental US and flying back to Hawaii. This depends on what region you choose and what class of service. For example:

When returning from Europe in economy, adding a oneway to Hawaii adds 2,500 miles.

When returning from Europe in business, adding a oneway to Hawaii adds 7,500 miles.

When returning from Europe in first, adding a oneway to Hawaii is free!

Check out your region and class of service on the interactive United award chart.

In Sam’s case, if he cuts SFO-HNL, his award is 60k miles. If he cuts CPH-FRA and keeps the Hawaii oneway, it will cost 62.5k miles.

2. What is the difference in taxes?

Keeping the intra-Europe segment results in taxes of $184. Keeping the oneway to Hawaii leaves total taxes at $159.

3. What is his value of the chosen and cut flights?

I said value not price. I would define value as the lower of price and your subjective value. This is an important consideration if you’re planning on taking two vacations no matter what, so that what you don’t add to the award, you’ll have to purchase.

SAS is selling the direct CPH-FRA flight we might have to cut for $91 on Sam’s date.

And Hawaiian is selling SFO-HNL on July 11 for $314:

If those are his values, for the flights, all other things equal Sam would prefer to keep the more expensive SFO-HNL flight.

When valuing a premium class itinerary remember that while domestic first class in the USA is just a big recliner, it’s actually much better than business class intra-Europe, which is just an economy seat with the middle seat empty.

Also, don’t forget to cap the value of the flights at the cost of getting an equivalent award. If you can replace an intra-Europe leg for 4,500 Avios that is selling for $400, don’t value it at $400–something like $70 would be more appropriate.

4. What are the miles earned for the taken or cut flights?

If Sam is going to buy the flight he cuts, he would earn 2,399 miles flying SFO-HNL and 423 from CPH-FRA.

You might notice that the four things to consider are roughly the same as the four entries into the Mile Value Calculator. That’s not a coincidence. And instead of doing any math after thinking about the four factors, we’ll instead plug the two possible awards into the Mile Value Calculator.

Plugging in both awards, we’ll get a cents per mile (CPM) valuation for each award. This CPM valuation will take into account all of the above factors and all of our subjective preferences. The award that gets a higher CPM is the better award. Ticket that award, and purchase the flight(s) you had to cut with cash or a separate award.

Let’s say that Sam values SFO-CPH and FRA-SFO at $1,000. He values the other possible segments at their costs–$314 for SFO-HNL and $91 for CPH-FRA. With that information, we can go to the calculator.

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Plug 1314, 159, 62500, and 14219 into the calculator to get the value of the award that includes the oneway to Hawaii and cut the intra-Europe leg.

Plug 1091, 184, 60000, and 12244 into the calculator to get the value of the award that includes the intra-Europe segment but cuts the oneway to Hawaii.

For both of these, I got the Miles Foregone by looking at the distance of the award as constructed on gcmap.com.

The Mile Value calculator tells us that given the miles price, tax price, Sam’s subjective valuations, and the routings, Sam comes out ahead by cutting CPH-FRA from the award and buying it with cash and keeping SFO-HNL in the award.

The award with SFO-HNL gets 1.51 cents of value per mile. The award with CPH-FRA gets only 1.26 cents per mile.

This is hardly surprising since a trip to Hawaii usually costs more than a trip within Europe. In general, I advise people to buy intra-Europe or use Avios where appropriate to preserve their free oneway option.

Recap

You only get one stopover on a United roundtrip award–zero on a oneway. Since you need to preserve that stopover to construct a free oneway, you can either get a stopover on your main award or a free oneway.

I laid out the considerations to choose between the two options. The real trick though is to value each of your two possible awards in the Mile Value Calculator. Ticket the award that earns a higher CPM, and purchase the legs you had to cut with cash or a separate award.

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