Six months ago, I was the first person to write about Free Oneways on United Awards. It is my most viewed post of all time, but it needs to be spruced up and to have the information from subsequent clarifying posts all put in one place, namely here.

To get a free oneway on a United award, you need to comply with the following rules:

  1. You must take your one free stopover per roundtrip international or Hawaii award at your home airport.
  2. You must route in a way that pleases the united.com computer. Exact routing rules are completely unknown. See I Don’t Know United’s Award Rules.
  3. You must follow all other United award routing rules.

And as your reward, you will get one free oneway per roundtrip to anywhere in the same United zone as your home airport. If your home airport is in the continental US, that means you can get a free oneway anywhere in the continental US, Canada, or Alaska.

You can take a cheap oneway to other destinations like Hawaii or South America. If you want to take your cheap oneway to a different zone than your home airport, you simply pay the difference in miles between flying home from your destination and flying to your free oneway’s destination from your destination.

The free or cheap oneway will be in the same cabin as the rest of its direction, meaning if you have the free oneway before your outbound, it will be in the outbound’s cabin.

Getting these free oneways requires taking advantage of United’s booking rules that allow one stopover and two open jaws for international awards from the US. And being able to book these free oneways online requires understanding how to book free stopovers online, so if you haven’t read my post on that subject, see How to Book Free Stopovers Online: United.

Here’s the idea: you can use one stopover and one open jaw to construct a free oneway on an international United award or a United award to Hawaii.

Example:

Andy lives in Newark, NJ.

On April 3, 2013, Andy flies from Newark to Buenos Aires (connecting in Houston, but connections are irrelevant to the story.)

On April 10, 2013, Andy returns from Buenos Aires to Newark.

This award costs 60,000 United miles and $79.82 in economy class because the continental US to Southern South America is 30k miles each way.

Flying this award, Andy would be leaving his open jaws and stopover on the table. With an extra open jaw and stopover, he can tack on a free oneway to anywhere in the continental US, Canada, or Alaska! The same example with a free oneway:

On April 3, 2013, Andy flies from Newark to Buenos Aires (connecting in Houston, but connections are irrelevant to the story.)

On April 10, 2013, Andy returns from Buenos Aires to Newark.

On May 22, 2013, six weeks later, Andy flies from Newark to Chicago. <— Free oneway!

By free oneway, I mean that the miles price hasn’t increased at all–it’s still 60k total miles.

Taxes have increased exactly $2.50, the security fee for a domestic segment.  This is a free oneway on a United award in its most basic form. Let me give you a ton more examples to illustrate the possibilities and answer your questions.

Those of you who are familiar with adding free oneways to American awards know that to do so you must live in an international gateway city. One advantage of United’s free oneways is that you do not need to live in an international gateway city.

Even if your home airport is tiny like Palm Springs, California, you can take advantage of free oneways. Economy awards between the continental US and South Asia–Honk Kong’s region–go for 32,500 miles each way. That means a roundtrip would be 65k United miles. Onto that, you can add a free oneway for zero extra miles.

Palm Springs to Hong Kong roundtrip with a later free oneway from Palm Springs to Chicago

What if you live at a tiny airport that only has one United route like Charlottesville, Virginia, where United only flies to Washington-Dulles? You might think you can’t get a free oneway from here since you would have to transit Dulles twice in the same direction.

To illustrate what I mean by transiting Dulles twice in the same direction, consider the example of Charlottesville to Paris roundtrip with a free oneway to Chicago afterwards.

(Note that the free oneway is two segments. There is no maximum number of segments you can use to get from your home airport to your free oneway destination.)

United considers the outbound Charlottesville to Paris and the return Paris to Chicago with a stopover in Charlottesville. That return transits Dulles twice, once on February 12 and once on March 6. Transiting the same airport twice in the same direction is completely legal according to United’s computer.

The award prices at 60k roundtrip, which is the standard economy price to Europe roundtrip.

Of course, Charlottesville is also served by US Airways, which could have been used to avoid transiting Dulles twice in one direction.

But the point remains that you absolutely can transit the same airport twice in the same direction in service of a free oneway! In fact, I’ve even constructed awards that send the free oneway back to a previous layover airport meaning that you fly a route and its exact return back-to-back in the same direction.

Here are some other awesome free oneways you can do with United miles.

Double Open Jaw

Taking a free oneway uses one of the two open jaws you get on United awards, but you still have one open jaw left. Feel free to use it by flying into one city and returning home from another on your main award.

This award is business class from Newark to London, returning from Frankfurt to Newark. Then the free oneway goes from Newark to Phoenix. This is all perfectly legal and prices at the roundtrip business class price of 100k miles.

This award also illustrates that international business class gives you the right to domestic first class within the US. That flight from Newark to Phoenix is in US Airways first class.

Before the free oneway trick, you might have been tempted to fly Newark to London, London to Frankfurt, and Frankfurt to Newark on one award, using your stopover en route. That still might be the best deal–it depends on many factors, mainly whether you prefer London to Frankfurt or Newark to Phoenix in a premium class as a free flight because you can only get one of those on the award. For more info on this dilemma, see Choosing Between a Stopover and a Free Oneway on United Awards.

Free Oneways on Hawaii Awards

Unlike American, United allows free oneways on awards to Hawaii!

The main award above is from Los Angeles to Honolulu roundtrip. The outbound is in domestic first class, which costs 40k oneway to Hawaii. The return is in economy for 20k miles. The total price of the award would be 60k United miles for just Los Angeles to Honolulu roundtrip. As you can see, adding Chicago to Los Angeles in domestic first class doesn’t change that price.

This award illustrates another important point about all free oneways. The airlines doesn’t see a free oneway at all. It just sees those legs as part of either the outbound or return. In this case, Chicago to Los Angeles is part of the outbound. Since the outbound is in domestic first, so is Chicago to Los Angeles.

If we had made the free oneway in reverse, Los Angeles to Chicago after the Hawaii award, the free oneway would have been part of the return. The return is in economy, so the free oneway would have been also. When you are mixing-and-matching cabins, add the free oneway to the direction that is in a better cabin.

This award also illustrates that United free oneways can be before your main award to your home airport instead of after your main award from your home airport.

Cheap Oneways to Hawaii, South America, and beyond

Free oneways are only possible when you take the extra legs within the same region as your home airport. Hawaii is not in the same United award region as the continental US. Neither is Argentina, but you can combine oneways to those places onto a normal award and reap big savings.

When you add a oneway to somewhere outside the region of your home airport, you can figure out the price of the trip by checking out United’s interactive award chart.

Adding a oneway to Maui onto a roundtrip economy award to Europe costs 2,500 miles. The award chart tells us why. If you’re contemplating adding a oneway, look up the oneway price for your outbound and return including your tacked on oneway.

The outbound here is the mainland to Europe, which costs 30k in economy.

The return is Europe to Hawaii, which is 32.5k miles in economy.

That adds up (30k + 32.5k) to a total price of 62.5k miles, which is exactly what united.com charged for Newark to Frankfurt to Newark to Maui.

To save you a trip to the chart, I can tell you that on a business class award to Europe, a cheap oneway to Hawaii adds 7,500 miles (57.5k vs 50k). On a first class award to Europe, a oneway to Hawaii is free because mainland to Europe and Hawaii to Europe are both 67.5k miles in first class.

You don’t just have to keep your cheap oneway within the US though. You can easily fly down to another continent.

Here is a cheap oneway to Sao Paulo after a Newark to Europe itinerary. Normally Newark to Europe roundtrip in coach is 60k miles, and Newark to Sao Paulo oneway is 30k in coach, so booking this as two separate awards would be 90k miles. But if you book this as one award with a “stopover” in Newark, the price drops by 12,500 miles!

That’s a oneway to Sao Paulo for 17.5k miles. Using the same trick, you could add a cheap oneway to Central America for 2,500 miles or to Peru for 10k miles.

Negative Price Oneways

What about to the Caribbean? The Caribbean is also a separate zone from the continental US for determining miles needed. But amazingly on the United chart, it actually costs fewer miles to get from the Caribbean to Europe than from the continental US to Europe.

This is shocking considering the way to get from the Caribbean to Europe on the Star Alliance is by connecting through the US. Here’s a sample free oneway from the Caribbean to the US tacked on before the main European award. “Free” is a bit of a misnomer though, since adding the oneway actually decreased the price of the award by 2,500 miles!

Take off the oneway from St. Thomas to Philly, and you pay 2,500 more miles.

Free Oneways Outside the US

Nothing limits the free oneways to awards originating in the US or awards that touch the US. Here is an award with a free oneway that is wholly within Europe.

Vienna to Madrid roundtrip then months later Vienna to Rome oneway for 25,000 miles in economy class, the normal roundtrip price in economy class.

European aviation taxes: ouch!

This could have value if you live outside the US or if you want a base to explore from on your next vacation.

How to Book a Free Oneway on United Awards

I made a YouTube video with that very title.

You book the award exactly how you would book any multicity award with United miles, which I laid out how to do in How to Book Free Stopovers Online: United.

The number one question I get by far

The most common question I get by far is some variation of: “I read your post about free oneways on United and followed your steps, but I got an error message. What gives?”

The error may occur after clicking search, it may occur after picking the first leg, or it may occur after picking the first two legs.

The error is caused because United’s search engine doesn’t show all the results that it should when you search multicity. From my experience, it will only show the first few results that I found by searching each leg oneway when I repeat the exact same search as part of a multicity search.

For example, doing a oneway search of Hong Kong to Palm Springs on February 6, 2013 returns dozens of results, some near the bottom of the list with Saver (low-miles-price) availability.

Doing the multicity search necessary to book a free oneway award that includes HKG to PSP on February 6 returns only three results, none with Saver award space.

The cause of this glitch is unclear.

The only way I’ve ever remedied this glitch online is to search each leg oneway and find dates that have availability for my desired cities, preferably availability on the shortest itineraries (the ones on top). But in most cases, if the glitch strikes, booking online is impossible.

That means you have to book by phone, but United charges $25 per passenger if you book by phone. They will not waive this phone fee just because a booking could not be completed online. Here’s how you avoid the phone fee with United:

First, search for and reserve any United flight. if you reserve as much of your real trip as possible, you’ll save time, but you can literally put any one segment on hold, and this will work.

Continue as if you are booking online all the way until the payment page.

Then on the payment page, don’t pay. Instead, where you see the credit-card logos, you should click the link that says “phone order page.”

By clicking the link, you have reserved the award. You will get a confirmation number.

If you look on united.com under your itineraries, you’ll see that your award is held until 11:59 PM two days later.

Now you can call 800-UNITED-1 and change or add to the held reservation. Once the changes are made, you can ticket the reservation or hang up, in which case it would still be held until its expiration time.

Make sure when you decide to ticket it that you say you are calling in to ticket a reservation you started online, so they don’t accidentally charge you a phone ticketing fee. Don’t let them charge you that fee because if they do–and they shouldn’t–it will be very difficult to get the refund you deserve.

Phone ticketing fees are never charged to Premier Platinum members and higher.

Other troubleshooting

When the computer gives you an error message, you are in trouble. United does not post all of its award rules anywhere. Here are the posted rules. (Click the “Star Alliance air travel award rules” link.

These rules don’t give very many restrictions at all. No maximum length is mentioned; no maximum segments are given. No rule states which continents can be transited on awards. (For instance AA awards from the US to India can route through Europe, but not through Asia.)

This means the computer rules all. If the agent gets an error message when trying to price all your award segments, he will be loath to overrule the computer. Instead he will backfill reasons why your award is not permitted. Most of these reasons, in my experience, will not be written on the linked list of rules. Some “problems” will be expressly permitted by the rules. For instance, many United phone agents have told me that you can only get one open jaw per award when the rules online clearly say you get two–and I’ve booked tons of United awards with two open jaws.

What can you do? Don’t bother talking to the agent–he can’t change anything. Ask politely for a supervisor. Say you believe your award is legal, and ask him which rule it violates. Politely ask him to manually override the computer, and let you ticket the award for the correct price.

If he won’t, then you should ask him to cancel the award. You can try to call back and get a friendlier supervisor, but the first one will have noted that your held award is not valid, so you need to create a whole new reservation.

Persistence, politeness, and the fact that these awards are legal will help you, but there is no guarantee you will ever find someone to overrule a computer that won’t price an award.

The flip side of this annoyance is that sometimes the computer lets through some outrageous routings. For instance:

Yes, you are reading that right. The return is Lima to Houston to Los Angeles to Santa Barbara (stopover), Santa Barbara to Phoenix to Newark. The return goes west then east within the US. And yet the itinerary prices at 40,000 miles, which is the normal coach roundtrip from the US to Peru. Santa Barbara to Newark is a free oneway.

Can you rebook now that you’ve read this article to add a free oneway?

Yes, but it will cost you $75 or more. United’s award fees’ list says that changing the origin/destination costs $75–less if you have status.

I believe that agents must decide without a computer the correct fee to assess, so I would lobby for the destination-change fee instead of letting an agent talk you into cancelling and re-crediting then rebooking for $150.

A similar question is whether you can combine two oneway awards booked separately into a roundtrip to unlock the free stopover and thus the free oneway. That would cost $150 to cancel one and add it to the other.

Other Rules I Haven’t Mentioned

I haven’t talked about MPM, overwater carriers, or anything like that with respect to United free oneways because those concepts don’t apply. Each loyalty program has its own rules. United’s doesn’t worry about MPM for awards, and it has no crazy published-fare-from-overwater-carrier rule like American does.

Recap

Free oneways have changed how I book United awards. United is awesome for allowing us to book oneway awards for half the price of roundtrip, so I used to use United miles for oneways because I often like to travel in circles instead of roundtrips.

But since discovering free oneway, I try to book mostly roundtrips with United to unlock the stopover and two open jaws. And I try to avoid using the stopover on the main portion of the award, subbing in an open jaw and an Avios award if necessary, so I can save one open jaw and the stopover to get a free oneway.

This offer has expired. Click here for the top current credit card sign up bonuses.

If you want to earn a quick 40,000 United miles, apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which has a 40,000 Ultimate Rewards sign up bonus after spending $3k in three month.

Ultimate Rewards transfer freely at a 1:1 ratio to United, Southwest, British Airways, Korean, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, Amtrak, and more. Or you can use them for $500 in paid flights or gift cards.

Link: Chase Sapphire Preferred

Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are the 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.