I talk a lot about segment-by-segment searching. The idea is that just typing where you live and where you want to go into an airline’s award search engine may not reveal Saver award space even when there is a legal, possible award.

Searching segment-by-segment, starting with the hardest segment can yield itineraries that the search engine missed.

In the comments of yesterday’s post–Route from the US to Europe via Canada for Better Award Space–UA Phil gave a great example of an extremely simple segment-by-segment search he ran that yielded award space from San Francisco to London for only 30k United miles one way.

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I’ve recreated the steps he followed to show you exactly what segment-by-segment searching entails.

Here are the five steps:

  1. Simple search
  2. Wikipedia
  3. Transatlantic search
  4. Home-to-gateway search
  5. Call in to book

1. Simple Search

There’s no need to start by searching segment-by segment. Maybe a simple home-to-destination search will bring up award space. UA Phil was searching San Francisco to London in July.

A two-passenger search yields some economy award space.

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If you prefer to fly in early July, it superficially appears that there is no Saver award space. This is when the segment-by-segment search begins.

2. Using Wikipedia

I use wikipedia to research possible routings. In this case, I would pull up the London-Heathrow page and look for Star Alliance flights between Heathrow and North America.

Here are some flights to consider:

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3. Transatlantic Search

As I said yesterday, the Canadian flights have a ton of award availability and are a convenient place for a layover between San Francisco and London.

It turns out that both Vancouver and Calgary both have award space almost every day this summer in economy for two passengers to London.

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The Calgary flight leaves at 6:30 PM.

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4. Home-to-Gateway Search

In this case, the home-to-gateway search is very easy. The flight leaves Calgary every day in July at 6:30 PM with award space, so we just need to find a day with a flight from San Francisco to Calgary that lands before 6:30 PM and has economy award space.

Here’s the award calendar for direct flights from San Francisco to Calgary.

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There’s economy award space on July 10 that lands in Calgary at 11:53 AM, six and a half hours before the transatlantic flight.

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That layover is not ideal, but if it is the only way to get from San Francisco to Calgary for 30k United miles, it might be something to consider. (I am not saying it is the only way. Test out some other segment-by-segment searches and share your results with us in the comments.)

5. Call United to Book

The last step is to put the transatlantic segment on hold using this trick, and to call United at 800-UNITED-1 to add the SFO to Calgary flight, and ticket the award.

Getting the Miles

I’m still bullish on United miles. They’re fantastic for economy awards. They’re also reasonable for United Business awards, and I consider United Business to be a very comfortable bed with solid food and entertainment options. See reviews here and here.

There are a lot of options to get United miles. There are United co-branded credit cards. There are also cards that earn Ultimate Rewards like the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus, and Ink Bold that allow 1:1 transfers of their Ultimate Rewards to United miles.

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