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Earning a free one-way flight may sound too good to be true. But with the Excursionist Perk from United Airlines, you can do exactly that. This is a hidden gem from United that’s actually not hidden at all. Redeeming your free flight is straightforward, as long as you familiarize yourself with the qualifying rules.

If you understand how United defines its rules, then you can even redeem a first-class one-way flight and only end up paying taxes. Let’s look at some unique ways to use the United Excursionist Perk.

What Is the United Excursionist Perk?

United’s Excursionist Perk gives you a free one-way award flight on eligible multi-city itineraries. Effectively, United gives you a free stopover between your departing city and final destination.

For example, let’s say you’re planning to visit Rome and London from the United States. You’ll fly first to Rome, then to London and then back to the U.S. In this case, United will charge you for the flights to and from the U.S., but the flight from Rome to London will be free—all you’ll have to pay is taxes.

United Airlines

How to Qualify for the United Excursionist Perk

Before jumping into booking, there are some limitations to and requirements for redeeming the United Excursionist Perk.

Firstly, you’ll need to book the flights through your United MileagePlus account, which is the frequent-flyer program of United Airlines. If you don’t already have one, fear not—it’s free to enroll. Before you book your award flights, you’ll first need to earn some miles with United.

To redeem the United Excursionist Perk, the qualifying flight must be booked as part of a single multi-city itinerary that includes a minimum of three one-way award flights. Similarly, if your itinerary includes more than three flights, only the first qualifying flight will receive the Excursionist Perk.

Additionally, the final flight in your itinerary must end in the same United MileagePlus region as the original point of departure. The United MileagePlus program divides the world into 17 separate regions:

  • Europe
  • Middle East
  • Northern Africa
  • Central and Southern Africa
  • Mainland U.S., Alaska and Canada
  • Hawaii
  • Mexico
  • Caribbean
  • Central America
  • Northern South America
  • Southern South America
  • North Asia
  • Central Asia
  • South Asia
  • Japan
  • Oceania
  • Australia and New Zealand

So if your first flight began in the United States, the final flight couldn’t end in China if you want to qualify for the Excursionist Perk. Instead, it must also terminate in the U.S.

The small print doesn’t stop there. The flight that qualifies for the Excursionist Perk can’t be in the same MileagePlus region as the first and final flight in the itinerary. A multi-city itinerary from New York to Toronto, then to Alaska and back to New York, for example, wouldn’t qualify.

Additionally, the qualifying flight must be between two destinations within the same MileagePlus region. For instance, a flight from Madrid to Berlin would qualify as both destinations fall under the “Europe” region while a flight from Madrid to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, wouldn’t.

Lastly, the qualifying flight must be in the same cabin or lower as the previous flight in your itinerary. So if you booked business class, the intermediate flight can either be in business or economy class to qualify.

How to Book Using the United Excursionist Perk

As already mentioned, you’ll need to enroll in United’s MileagePlus loyalty program to use the United Excursionist Perk. Once you have an account, go to the taskbar at the top and select “Book.”

How to Book Using the United Excursionist Perk

A dropdown menu will appear, where you can click “Award Travel” under the sub-category “Book a Flight.”

United Airlines Award Travel Excursionist Perk

You’ll be redirected to the booking page where you’ll first want to specify “Multi-city.”

How to Book Using the United Excursionist Perk

You can then go ahead and enter your three one-way flight itinerary. When it gives you the option to select the middle flight, you’ll notice that it calculates a price of zero miles + X amount in taxes. 

For example, as displayed in the screenshot below, this is the United Excursionist Perk kicking in. You won’t have to pay anything in miles and will only be charged the taxes.

How to Book Using the United Excursionist Perk

Once you’re happy with your itinerary, you can go ahead and complete your booking.

Unique Ways to Use the United Excursionist Perk

Understanding how United MileagePlus divides the world into regions is key to maximizing the value of the Excursionist Perk.

Let’s look at some unique ways to use the United Excursionist Perk.

Country Hopping on Double Open-Jaw Tickets

If you’re looking to hop from country to country—be it across Europe, Central Asia or Oceania—the United Excursionist Perk can save you money and miles in the process. Specifically, you can benefit from open-jaw and double open-jaw itineraries.

An open-jaw flight is simply one in which you fly from one city to another and return to your original city of departure from a different city than you flew to. An example of one would be flying from Miami to Paris and then back from Vienna to Miami. 

A double-open jaw ticket is unsurprisingly similar. The only difference is that you return to a different final city. For example, flying from Miami to Paris and then Vienna to Orlando, Florida, is an example of a double open-jaw.

Here’s an example of how to travel across Europe using the Excursionist Perk. 

Let’s say you fly first from Newark, New Jersey (EWR), to Madrid (MAD), costing you 70,000 miles plus $5.60 in taxes.

Unique Ways to Use the United Excursionist Perk - Country Hopping on Double Open-Jaw Tickets

After exploring what Spain has on offer, you make your own way to Paris by train. From Paris (CDG) you fly to Athens, Greece (ATH), without redeeming additional miles as the United Excursionist Perk kicks in. You’ll pay only $35.90 in taxes.

Unique Ways to Use the United Excursionist Perk - Country Hopping on Double Open-Jaw Tickets

From there, you make your way to Switzerland—either by public transport or on a low-cost European carrier—where you’ll fly from Zurich (ZRH) back to Newark for 51,300 miles plus $56.65 in taxes.

Of course, if you wanted to maximize the Excursionist Perk, you could even fly back to another city in the U.S., Canada or Alaska, as they all fall into the same MileagePlus region.

In this example, your United miles will cover the costs of the two transatlantic flights (121,300 miles), while the Excursionist Perk makes the Paris to Athens leg free of charge. All you’ll have to pay in cash is a total of $98.15 in taxes. This saves you 12,500 miles compared to booking these flights individually.

By taking advantage of other intra-Europe transportation methods, you can maximize your traveling experience while still benefiting from the Excursionist Perk.

Redeem Medium-Haul Flights for Free

While some MileagePlus region divisions might seem arbitrarily restrictive, such as the designation of Hawaii or Japan as standalone regions, other divisions, such as Europe and Central & Southern Africa, are much larger and more inclusive. This allows you to travel a fair distance free of charge.

Let’s say you want to make your dream trip to Africa a reality. With the Excursionist Perk, you can do exactly this and throw in a second African city free of charge along the way. 

For example, you could fly economy class from Newark (EWR) to Johannesburg (JNB) for 66,700 United miles + $5.60 in taxes. This would be the first leg of your multi-city itinerary, meaning the next flight will have the Excursionist Perk applied, as long as the qualifying criteria are met. 

Unique Ways to Use the United Excursionist Perk - Redeem Medium-Haul Flights for Free

From here, you could book a flight from Johannesburg (JNB) to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (ADD), which would cost you zero United miles and only $28.10 in taxes. Bear in mind that this is a flight of more than five hours, and you can see that the Excursionist Perk is a massive bargain, allowing you to explore East Africa for less than $30.

Your final flight, to complete your multi-city itinerary, could be Addis Ababa back to Newark in economy class, costing you 40,000 miles plus $50.35 in taxes.

Unique Ways to Use the United Excursionist Perk - Redeem Medium-Haul Flights for Free

So overall, you’d pay 106,700 miles plus $84.05 in taxes for this itinerary. This saves you 19,300 miles, compared to when booking each flight individually.

Of course, this is just one example. One of the best ways to maximize the Excursionist Perk is by redeeming it on the longest possible flights within MileagePlus regions.

Fly Business Class for Free

One of the Excursionist Perk rules state that the cabin class for the Excursionist Perk qualifying flight must be the same as or lower than the flight preceding it. Because of this, you have the ability to snag yourself a free first- or business-class flight. And if you redeem miles on a medium-haul flight, then you maximize the value of the Excursionist Perk to the full.

Let’s use our Africa example again. For the first flight, there’s no rule stating that it can’t be domestic. So you could book a short business- or first-class domestic fare within the U.S. For example, Houston (IAH) to Dallas (DFW), costing you 25,500 miles and $5.60 in taxes. 

Unique Ways to Use the United Excursionist Perk - Fly Business Class for Free

Doing this will allow your middle-flight (the one to which the Excursionist Perk will apply) to be either in first or business class. 

You can then book a separate flight with a different airline to get you to Johannesburg—either going for the cheapest available or by redeeming miles from a different airline loyalty program. Doing it this way, you won’t have to blow thousands—if not hundreds of thousands—of miles on a first or business class transatlantic flight with United.

From here, you can then book the second flight in your United itinerary, in our case from Johannesburg to Addis Ababa. This flight will automatically be in first or business class and will price out at zero miles and only $28.10 in taxes. 

In this case, the United Excursionist Perk would save you 33,000 miles on a medium-haul business flight.

Now that you’ve redeemed your free business-class flight, you have two options. Either you could use the third flight in your United itinerary to get you from Addis Ababa back to the U.S., or you could use a different airline loyalty program again to cover the transatlantic flight. By doing the latter, you’ll save United miles and can book the third flight in your itinerary as a short economy-fare domestic flight within the U.S., such as from Dallas back to Houston. This would cost you only 13,500 miles plus $5.60. 

Unique Ways to Use the United Excursionist Perk - Fly Business Class for Free

So for one first-class domestic flight, one business flight within Central & Southern Africa and one domestic economy ticket, you’ll pay a total of only 39,000 miles and $39.30 in taxes.

There are even more ways to get creative with this example. Keep in mind that the end flight must be in the same MileagePlus region as the beginning flight, but that’s all. There’s no rule stating that the end flight can’t depart from the same MileagePlus region as it ends in. 

For example, you could book the last flight between any two cities in the U.S., Canada and Alaska, and save it for a later date or an altogether different holiday. Likewise, the first flight need not be related to the other flights—you could also use it for a domestic fare as part of a separate trip or weekend getaway. But by booking all three flights on the same itinerary, United will give you the middle flight for free.

Downsides to the United Excursionist Perk

There’s no catch when it comes to the United Excursionist Perk—the rules are clearly stated online.

That being said, the fact that taxes are still added on top of the award flight could mean that you actually end up losing money in some cases. For example, if the taxes are relatively high on a qualifying Excursionist Perk intra-Europe flight, you may be better off booking low-cost public transport or simply a fare with a low-cost European airline. You might even save money by doing this.

Additionally, United is part of the Star Alliance and consequently, you can redeem the Excursionist Perk on flights operated by Star Alliance carriers only. Although this does give you a wide range of 26 airlines to choose from, it can still be that in some cases you’ll be forced to take a flight with a layover operated by Star Alliance, where you could’ve taken a direct flight with a non-Star Alliance carrier and saved time.

While these aren’t major drawbacks, they’re two factors to bear in mind when booking a stopover with United.

Final Overview

In summary, the United Excursionist Perk is a bargain hiding in plain sight.

If you approach the qualifying rules as ways to maximize the value of the Excursionist Perk, rather than as limitations, you can save yourself thousands of miles and cash along the way.

Remember, the itinerary must begin and end in the same MileagePlus region; the Excursionist Perk flight must be in a separate region than the beginning and end flight but stay within its own region; and the cabin class must be the same or lower than on the preceding flight. That’s it.

This means you have a lot of room to manipulate the definitions to best suit you, maximizing your travel options. The possibilities are as wide as your creativity.

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