If You Don’t Book These United Awards Now You’ll Pay More Later

Filed Under: Advice, Awards

As you may recall, United MileagePlus announced changes to their award fees and stopover rules a few months ago. These changes take effect for tickets issued on or after October 6, 2016, so you only have a few days left to book under the current rules.

The main change is to how United handles stopovers on award tickets. This is being touted as a customer-friendly change designed to simplify the award process, which…

Even if you aren’t interested in a stopover, the website technology is also being adjusted to implement these new policies. I’m concerned that this will remove phone agents’ ability to price complex awards manually.

Given that, there are four types of awards I’d suggest ticketing before the new rules take effect later this week.

1.  Multi-Region trips

Right now, United allows a stopover pretty much anywhere along your route, provided availability matches up. So you could book an award from the U.S. to Asia, for example, with a stopover in Europe along the way.


Under the new Excursionist Perk rules, your stopover has to be in the same region as your destination:

The origin and destination of the Excursionist Perk is within a single MileagePlus defined region.

So in the example above, you’d only be able to have a stopover in Japan (as Japan is a distinct region for MileagePlus). You might still be able to connect in Europe (more on that later), but your Excursionist Perk would be limited to the same region as your final destination.


2. “Free” domestic one-ways

Some people like to be able to spend a few days (or months) in the international gateway city, and you can get quite a bit of additional value out of United awards by adding on these domestic segments. For example, I once booked an award to Europe from San Diego, and on the return stopped in Washington D.C. for a week.


Going forward, the new rule prohibits your stopover from being in the same region as your origin city:

The Excursionist Perk cannot be in the MileagePlus defined region where your travel originates. (For example, if your journey begins in North America, you will only receive the Excursionist Perk if travel is within a region outside of North America.)

I have loathed the “free one-way” term since it was popularized, as nothing is every really free. In order to get a “free one way” you were always trading away a stopover somewhere else on your itinerary. Now you’ll still be able to have that stopover elsewhere, but the days of having an 11 month “stopover” domestically seem to be finished.

3. Open-jaws between regions

Part of the “fun” with United awards is that they don’t really publish their routing rules, and sometimes surprising things price.

For instance, you could book a trip from the U.S. to Asia, take stopover in Japan, and return to Hawaii.


This requires fewer miles than returning to the mainland U.S., as again — Hawaii is its own region. Booking this way also lets you have three destinations on your award, though you have to organize the flight home from Hawaii separately (though if you’re fancy, your Hawaii > Mainland segment could be a “free one-way” on another award).

Going forward, this won’t be allowed:

Travel must end in the same MileagePlus defined region where travel originates.

If you start in Region A, you’ll eventually have to return to Region A, not a third region.

4. Complex itineraries

When building award itineraries with United, you don’t currently have to rely on the logic built in to the web interface. While you will get some results by searching from your origin to your destination, you can put together more creative and interesting itineraries by searching segment-by-segment. This is most useful if you’re looking for longer layovers, or want to secure certain products and carriers, and even an ostensibly less convenient routing can make for a better itinerary.

While I don’t recommend it, necessarily, you could potentially get something like this to price between San Diego and Singapore, with a stopover in Taipei, and connections of up to 24 hours in the other cities:


It would take quite a bit of time on the phone (and sorry, nope, we can’t help you book something like that this week), but it should price if you can get an agent to let you feed them segments.

Going forward, however, the United.com search tool will look for organic connection points. You’ll have to search and filter on the website to find alternative options.

We don’t know exactly how this will work yet, but my concern is that agents won’t be able to override the system. Something that currently prices as a roundtrip with a stopover and open-jaw might instead price as five one-ways, and recourse may be limited.

We’ve already seen this happen with Delta, where as far as agents are concerned “the price is the price,” and I can envision a situation where frustrated consumers are told to pound sand, because if an award didn’t price online it won’t be an option.

Bottom line

We don’t yet have a full understanding of how exactly the new United pricing engine will work, but there have been hints. The new rules will be less generous, however, and my instinct is that agents will have less autonomy when compiling awards.

So if you’ve been planning a trip using United miles I would highly recommend finalizing these these awards before the 5th.

Anyone booking anything fun this week?

  1. Who in real life actually takes such a vacation? Even if you could go to both Europe and Asia in one trip, should you? Is it really worth saving a few miles to have such a crazy itinerary instead of actually exploring a few countries in europe, or a few areas in asia.

    Is there anyone with a regular job taking a regular vacation (i.e. not bloggers or full time digi-nomads) who has actually done this just

  2. @B – completely agree with you; the vacation is the dog and the miles are the tail; those of us with “regular” jobs who take “regular” vacations can’t let the tail wag the dog.

  3. @B: perhaps most people wouldn’t consider such an itinerary, but people in OUR community do all kinds of things like that.

  4. I’ve done them. I have a normal job, and I’ve done (and will be doing another one this ) an Asia/South Pacific trip. It’s using most of my vacation time that I’ve been saving up-3 weeks, but I’m doing it.

    I’ve also done a combo India/Jordan trip-a week in India, a few days to see Petra.

    I’m not happy that United made these changes.

  5. Along with the comments above, some of us who travel for work are in major burnout by the time vacations come into play and just want simple, uncomplicated itineraries. That said, I’m amazed at what Tiffany and Ben can do with these complicated scenarios – both from the planning and execution standpoints. They are light years ahead of my road warrior credentials. Again, another amazing post from Tiffany!

  6. Normal job here. I did a three-day stopover in TPE at the beginning of a two-week vacation to India (open jaw between BOM and DEL). Interestingly, I believe the rules have already changed to preclude bookings like mine; I routed back to JFK via VIE, so I was able to fly TPAC and TATL on a single Saver award.

  7. Both my husband and I do this and have regular jobs but no kids. We did Taipei/Germany so we could spend a few days with his family before our own vacation, Hong Kong/New Zealand, Istanbul/Japan, Dubai/Europe. We usually spend a couple days in a major city and then spend the rest of the trip exploring our other destination in more detail. Granted we take 3 week vacations and fly business or first so it works for us. Also, we do actually enjoy the journey and trying different airline products which requires giving up destination time. I also booked a couple of these for my parents who are retired and have all the time in the world they need. However I do agree it wouldn’t appeal to everyone and our next trip is only two weeks so we are booking a traditional trip.

  8. @B
    Nice to know it can be done… sometimes just knowing something can be done helps make it possible for more people who would have otherwise never even considered it.

  9. Semi-normal person here – I’ll definitely miss the stopover in another region. All my wife’s family is in Asia and ability to stop on the way there or way back for a week somewhere has been really nice. We were hoping to do future stopovers in Europe but looks like that will cost more miles or dollars now.

  10. I booked a two week trip to South Africa with a stopover in Europe on the way back. It’s nice to have the option to explore something that’s on the way back anyway, and it’s surreal to be in a safari one day and walking the streets of Paris the next.

  11. @B

    Yeah … I love London and would absolutely stop there for ~2 days en return from vacation in Asia.

  12. I just booked BOS>EWR>CDG>TXL>CPH>ORD>BOS, since as a UA Platinum, my ability to make free changes will disappear later this week. It’s mostly a trip to Berlin. 😉 But this way I can enjoy UA Polaris — just the soft product, to be sure, but I’m still excited — and SK’s new J cabin in one trip!

  13. If you book the flights before October 6, it says you can still book future travel through a third region (Europe enroute to Asia, Asia enroute to Australia, etc). But United also says if you make any changes to your first flight, the whole ticket reprices (“Any changes to the first flight will require a reissue of the ticket and new pricing may apply and the stopover will be lost if the first flight is changed.” Source: http://mileageplusupdates.com/mileageplus/english/miles/)

    In other words, if you even change the date of your first flight the whole ticket would re-book at the higher rate. I think it will be difficult for most people to commit to a date months in the future with no flexibility to change, so this is how United prevents people from locking in rewards now. @Tiffany, can you confirm this is correct?

  14. I have 176,000 United Miles and about 200,000 sitting in my AMEX and Chase accounts. I want to fly Singapore Suites from LAX to Singapore and back.

    Is it easier to redeem United miles for Singapore Suites or to use Singapore KrisFlyer miles to redeem for Singapore Suites? And, is the amount of mileage required to redeem for the Suites the same on United and Singapore?

    thanks for any assistance

  15. This exactly why all those credit card deals are ridiculous.

    People have all the rewards after meeting minimum spend but no time to take vacation.

    So you can either:

    1) Give up your job and take unpaid leavethat pays you say 10k month and take a month long trip so the opportunity cost of the vacation is 10k

    Or 2) you can just cash out the points at less than 1c per point. In which case there is no doing ms since the cost of most ms is at least 1%

    Or 3) you can sit on your miles, watch them get devalued at wonder why did you even bother.

    The bloggers are selling snake oil. Though we have to believe that they are decent people and not doing it intentionally, it’s still snake oil. It works for only very few people.

  16. @credit, I don’t get where you are coming from. Over the past three years, we have spent roughly 15,000 points per person per day to go on vacations using points and miles. If someone has even two weeks vacation (and I have to think, even in the US, that there are at least some people who get more than this), plus adds the extra weekend, they will be able to take, at minimum, a 16 day vacation. If they split it into two different vacation weeks, two 9 day vacations. Based on our history, for a couple, that would take between 240,000 and 270,000 points each year, for a family of four, between 480,000 and 540,000 and for my family of 6, between 720,000 and 810,000. That doesn’t include taking a long weekend here and there. Not sure how many points/miles you think most people are generating, but a half million a year is not really a walk in the park for most people.

  17. Planning to book SFO-MUC-HKG-SFO in the next few days. I could *almost* book it online, but united.com craps out on the last leg. No error message, just…nuthin’.

    Thanks to Tiffany et. al. I know to search by leg (and even segment) to coax out all award inventory before calling to book.

  18. @ B @ Charles — I think lots of people book things like this, though maybe not as extreme. I like to give examples of what’s possible, knowing most will book a scaled-down version. Even those taking “regular vacations” benefit from more flexible routing rules, as it allows folks to take a longer layover in a city to see a show, or route via Grandma’s to drop off the kids, or add a connection to get lie-flat seats.

    I don’t think creative itineraries are that unusual, especially not for OMAAT readers.

  19. @B,

    Last year I flew from Boston to Istanbul where I spent a week. Then I flew onto Japan. Then I went Bali and the onto Kualla Lumpur. Then flew KL to BOston.

    I absolutely LOVED the week I spent in Istanbul which cost me ZERO extra miles.

  20. @ Michael — I read it the same way you do. It would be unusual for United to not allow even exchanges, but that’s pretty specific wording.

  21. @ Mark — Singapore doesn’t release much premium cabin space to partners, and never Suites class. You’ll want to use KrisFlyer miles for this.

  22. For me losing the ability to book a stopover in North American on the way to or from Europe is painful. But, as Gary from VFTW says, don’t expect out-sized values to last – take advantage of them while they are available. Even with the changes, I’ll still get much more value out of my UA miles than my AA, DL, or even AS miles. (In fairness, that is partially because, as a UA elite, I have access to the extra “XN” Saver award inventory.)

  23. Poster “B” asked who would take such a vacation? Well, there are tons of different folks. I am retired and travel the world on points. The “old” UA situation was perfect for me. More importantly is the fact that many posters here and elsewhere have stated that they would never do this and don’t know anybody who ever did. Makes you wonder, why UA had the urge to change the rules if no one used them. Sad and unfortunate.

  24. Comes a point where the rules get too much. I have a fair # miles with airlines, but I don’t care anymore, and maybe that’s what they want. So I book directly with foreign airlines and skip the US majors.
    Tough for them, glad I can afford to pay for better than econ.

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