United’s new(ish) routing restrictions for travel between the US and Asia via Europe

Since the merger, United has had among the most generous routing rules of any airline. I’m not sure if it’s even fair to say that, because nobody knows what the actual routing rules are. They’re extremely generous, that’s for sure, but ultimately they’re whatever the computer prices. If the computer prices an award, it’s permissible. If the computer doesn’t, it’s not.

Their routing rules between the US and Asia via Europe have almost been comically generous, as you can easily go from San Francisco to Bangkok via Frankfurt and Tokyo, for example. For those of you keeping tabs, that’s about double the direct air distance between San Francisco and Bangkok.

Anyway, they have finally added some restrictions to awards for travel between the US and South Asia via Europe. They’re not earth shattering, but now you’re limited to three connections per direction for travel between the US and South Asia via Europe on a one-way ticket, and four connections per direction for a roundtrip ticket between those regions.

This isn’t something where you can “hang up and call again,” because the computer will automatically price awards based on the above rules, which have been in place since late April.

Four connections per direction (on a roundtrip) should still be plenty for pulling off just about anything you could possibly want, but it is something to keep in mind.

For example, take a look at the below routing, which has three connections between Seattle and Bali.

It prices correctly at 32,500 miles one-way.

Meanwhile if you have four connections on this one-way the price jumps to 45,000 miles, so the fare is “breaking.”

So nothing horrible, but certainly something to keep in mind…

(Tip of the hat to Jimmy)

Filed Under: Advice, Awards
  1. As you say “nobody knows what the actual routing rules are” so is this new change documented anywhere on UA.com?

  2. Okay thanks. I’ve never needed that many connections but have to admit that I did find a routing for a friend recently that needed more than 4 total connections as that was the only possible option. Still I’m glad that I can still fly to Asia via Europe as that’s often the only way to go via miles.

    Any info on similar restrictions to Australia?

  3. @ Eugene — No such restrictions to Australia yet, though you can’t “work” an Australia routing quite as much as an Asia one — they’ll only let you transit Asia enroute to Australia.

  4. Yeah, it’s an internal memo that 3 different United agents read to me (so I knew it wasn’t something 1 agent made up). It really affects you if you are traveling to a smaller city in Asia or are chasing a certain aircraft.

    I want to try to get the LH A380 on the way back from Asia this winter, but they took it off the NRT route and put it to PVG, so that uses up one of my possible connections.

  5. @ Eugene — Hah, very well done. I assume the computer didn’t automatically price that?

  6. lol no way. Had to be fed to an agent segment by segment, took 2 calls. This was for July but we were able to change it to something slightly better eventually though still an odd routing via BKK and CAI.

  7. so this rule only applies to the routing through Europe? Does it affect the routing across the Pacific?

  8. Hummm…So did I screw up when I booked my upcoming trip using one-ways? I was quite pleased with the routing:

    UA F – SFO>FRA>ZRH – 67,500 miles
    LX C -ZRH>NRT – 60,000 miles
    OZ F – NRT>ICN>LAX – 67,500 miles

    Could I have done this a better way, Ben? I’m also hoping to change my UA F flight to LH F T-14 days..

  9. Glad i got my SIN-BKK-HKG-NRT-FRA-BOS out of the way when i did. This would explain when i was trying to change my FRA-ORD-BOS to the non-stop online it wanted to charge me more miles. Luckily the phone rep let me change from 7 segments to 6 without paying more miles when i changed a few weeks ago

  10. @ SparkyinCA — On a single reservation that entire itinerary should just cost you a total of 140,000 miles in first class (and you could still change to Lufthansa first class later).

  11. @ Lucky – Thanks for the info. So can I change it by calling UA MP to get my points back or is it too late? I’m good either way. Just curious 🙂

  12. @ SparkyinCA — Well in order to get that pricing all the flights have to be on a single reservation (meaning the same record locator). If that’s the case or you can get all the flights on a single locator then yes, you could get a mileage refund.

  13. @ Lucky. Thank You! I think the odds are against me in this case. I forgot the segment between ZRH>NRT was a gift from a family members account so I’m not going to push my luck! What I will do is make sure I use your award booking service for my next trip 🙂 Lesson learned..

  14. If I take that an SFO- fra- bkk- Bali ticket, would I be able to stay in Frankfurt and Bangkok for at least a couple of days for each destination?

  15. So it’s still possible to go way beyond the MPM provided there are up to 3 connections?

  16. @ Kris — On an international ticket you’re allowed an unlimited number of stopovers of up to 24 hours, but you’re only allowed a single stopover of more than 24 hours (in addition to your destination) on a roundtrip international award ticket.

  17. @ Mikey — Probably depends on the routing, though don’t think anything has changed there.

  18. Wow, I had no idea it was only 32.5k with that many stops around the world. I couldn’t get the system to price out adding additional legs to get back to SEA – I’m guessing you’d have to book 2 separate multi-stop itineraries (one for outbound and one for return)?

    Pretty crazy seeing as I’m paying 90k round trip to HNL (40k business out and 50k first 3-cabin on return) – here I thought Asia would be at least double in B/F!!

  19. Thanks for the info, Ben! I can no longer do crazy routings (e.g., I redeemed ORD-FRA-CDG-FRA-PVG-BKK-DPS on a o/w award :-P), so this is a bit of a bummer.

  20. First heard about this a couple weeks ago when booking HKT-BKK-FRA-LHR-EWR. Agent let it go as a courtesy (I’m 1K), but did mention the new policy.

  21. @ Jason — To be clear that itinerary is coach. If you’re adding more segments than that you’ll probably want to call, as the website can only handle so much.

  22. @ Food Wine and Miles — That should be allowed even with the new rules, given that it’s only three connections.

  23. @ Ken — Rule went into effect April 25, I believe. Also keep in mind it only applies to South Asia, at least as far as I know.

  24. This probably explains why I had such a hard time with an agent two weeks ago trying to book a 5 segment o/w F award from NA to Japan (OOO/IAH/LHR/FRA/ICN/DDD). After 2 hours she was finally able to ticket it. I was planning to replace one if not two segments with LH F. Do you think this new rule will prohibit that change when I travel in November? I’d be cutting a couple segments trying for OOO/IAH/FRA/NRT on LH but I don’t expect to get lucky finding the two segments available at the same time…

  25. What a disappointment. I can’t blame them, because I assume they pay their partners for each segment, but it was great while it lasted. Getting from a non-Star hub to a secondary Asian city will be pretty difficult now…if only ATL had LH first class year-round.

  26. In December I made 6 connections to reach Pakistan from Detroit on a one-way award ticket..I guess that wont be the case any more

  27. Good to know, thanks. Similarly, does US to Asia over the Atlantic only work via Europe? Or would ATL-IAD-DKR-IST-PVG (which seems to be within the TATL MPM) also work?

  28. @ lucky @ naif — what about a Central Asia-US itinerary that goes through S Asia/Europe? Some cities in India only have *A access via SQ/TG. Can’t get 1 to price online.

  29. @ Amol — It’s anyone’s guess. A lot of the more complicated itineraries can only be booked by phone. I don’t believe that restriction applies to Central Asia, but if you find out for sure, please report back!

  30. While on paper this new rule isn’t much to worry about, in practice it’s rearing quite an ugly head. Appears to be giving agents increased confidence when they start making up rules. I’ve had agents (all US-based) go so far as to tell me I can no longer route via Europe on a US->South Asia award. It used to not be the case, but at this point I honestly prefer the Philippines call center over any of them- infinitely more competent than India, but less assertive than the US, so they can generally be convinced to just price things manually.

  31. @Chas
    I have run into the same issue, it is quite annoying. Although I always get better results when calling late night.

  32. That is right. I booked PKT-ICN-HKG-IST-LJU-FRA-JFK in March. Somebody told me that oneway in until 4 sags can booked. Unfortunately, i cannot booked from North Asia or South Asia to USA so many sags.

  33. Dear,

    Somebody told me that Asia to Asia is similar situation? That meaning is BKK-PEK-KIX-BKK does not work for online booking.

  34. Good to see all the discussions. I was planning a trip from Taiwan to Europe in the next summer. I was wondering whether it is possible to make a route of TPE (Taiwan) -> AMS (Netherlands) -> open jaw -> PAR (France) -> SFO (USA) -> TPE (Taiwan) ?

    We will stay ~10 days in Europe and 3 days in USA.
    If it is doable, it will save us 25K miles per person instead of 90K per person from Taiwan to Europe round trip. Thanks for some suggestions.

  35. @ Neo — The open jaw has to be at the turnaround point. That means it has to be either at the origin or destination, which in this case is Asia or the US. The open jaw can’t be mid-journey (in Europe in this case) unfortunately.

  36. Not sure if anyone will see this, but since I can’t get this to price on the UA site and before I try phone agent roulette, would this be a valid South Asia itinerary?


    It’s got one stopover and two open jaws, but one of the open jaws is at the turnaround and involves changing zones (since Japan is in it’s own #*@$ing zone). If this isn’t valid, would getting rid of the HKG/NRT open jaw and just having the return leg be HKG-FRA(Stop)-ORD make it legal?

    Thank you to anyone who sees this.

  37. @ Danny — That should be perfectly legal. United’s website just isn’t good at pricing complicated awards, but that should be totally fine.

  38. Lucky: I am in San Francisco. Can I go to Europe via Asia? There is much better F saver availability in June/July to Asia, and then it’s pretty easy to get a flight from Asia to Europe. It’s a lot of flying, but space from SFO to Europe in F saver is incredibly tight in June. Will United routing rules permit this? Thanks very much.

  39. @ Flyerdad — Nope, you can go from the US to Asia via Europe, but not from the US to Europe via Asia. You can fly one way via the Pacific and one way the Atlantic enroute to Asia, though, which means you only have to find award space one-way transatlantic.

  40. Hey Lucky, sorry to resurrect this with a maybe silly question:

    Trying to burn my last 60ishK on a one way to NRT. Routing is (in C) IAD-FRA-PVG/layover/NRT .bomb is pricing at 80k, tacking on 20k for the PVG-NRT (IAD-PVG comes in at 60k by itself). Is that right, or do I need to call to get it to price differently?

  41. @ J Tkey — Yep, that should price at 60K assuming no layover is longer than 24 hours. I’d recommend calling.

  42. @ J Tkey — No, unfortunately United doesn’t allow stopovers of more than 24 hours on a one-way award, so that segment should be priced separately then.

  43. Lucky, I’ve been having some issues with united.com giving me crazy pricing on what I thought was a legal award. The number of routings are by necessity because of the obscurity of the destinations, not a desire to maximize segments.

    Should this work?

    SKG-IST-TBS (Destination)
    (Open Jaw) MSQ-WAW-ORD-DEN

    I am expecting this to be 30k in Y and 50k in J, is this no longer valid?

  44. @ Zed — There’s a chance it will price over the month. Never trust the website when it comes to pricing complex awards.

    That being said, it may not price because you’re transiting Istanbul twice in one direction. Typically you can only transit an airport once per direction.

  45. I am trying to get this routing but the agent told me i can’t

    Outbound mixed 1st & business class 70K : SIN-HKG-ICN-JFK (stopping over in HKG for 3days)
    Inbound Biz class 60K: JFK-LAX-TPE-SIN

    Total 130k, Is this not valid? Isn’t this one stopover on roundtrip ticket redemption!? What am i missing.

  46. @ carol — Yep, that’s totally legal. I’d suggest calling again, maybe an agent inputted a flight wrong.

  47. Yup, i got the routing sorted out..

    managed to do this
    Sin -HKG (stopover) -SIN-ICN-JFK

    Biz class all segments except ICN-JFK-ICN on asiana 1st class suite!
    140k redemption.

  48. I believe this is legal, but not sure if ams-tpe and bkk-lax count as 2 or 1 segments each since they land in bkk and icn?

  49. Lucky,

    On a roundtrip United award ticket from USA to South Asia via Europe. Do we have to go through Europe again on the return portion? Also, does United allow one open jaw along with a stopover in Europe?

    I’ve done some flight availability search and want to know if I could set up an itinerary with a United agent over-the-phone (the online system won’t let me book it since it is too complicated) going from SFO-YYZ-FRA-NAP, then I will buy a separate ticket to fly from Naple back to Frankfurt, and continue with award ticket from FRA to HKG. This way I can stay within the 4 segments rule.

    On the return leg, is it possible to fly from HKG-TPE-LAX-SFO (to catch the EVA hello-kitty flight) without having to go through Europe again? Thanks for your help!

  50. @ Raymond — You can go through Europe in one direction and return via the Pacific in the other direction. You could have a stopover in Europe, but you couldn’t do an open jaw there. The open jaw has to be at the turnaround point, so in this case it has to be in the US or Asia. Hope that helps!

  51. @ lucky: I’ve been working on a USA – KTM (Central Asia) award that I’d like to book as two one-ways for flexibility. United’s online tool absolutely will not let me book 5 segments via the pacific (KTM-BKK-ICN-LAX-PHX-xxx — there’s no direct LAX-xxx available, so I need the 5th segment). As of 6 months ago, the conventional wisdom was that this restriction applied only to South Asia TATL. Do you know whether it now applies to TPAC? I’d like to know whether I have a chance of getting a phone agent to add the 5th segment (given that the website won’t).

    @ Raymond: In my experience, the online booking tool absolutely will not show USA-Asia itineraries that cross the Atlantic one way and the Pacific the other way if the origin and departure are the same. It’s not against the rules, and can be booked through a good phone agent.

  52. @ Robin — For a one-way the limit is now four segments even if going via the Pacific. Very unlikely to find an agent willing to break that rule in my experience.

  53. Just got off the phone with the United agent and it appears that United has tightened its routing rules because no matter how to agent tried the computer will not price my ticket.

    My itinerary goes like this: (outbound) SFO-YYZ-FRA (stopover in Frankfurt)-ICN (less than 24 hour layover in Seoul-HKG. (inbound) HKG-TPE-LAX. The phone agent initially thought that it was my long layover in Seoul causing a problem with the booking (I arrive in Seoul at 12:40PM and depart the next morning to Hong Kong at 10:50AM so it is technically just a long layover and not a stopover)

    However, the phone agent then tried to re-price the ticket by removing the ICN-HKG segment so that I’ll be flying from FRA-HKG directly The computer system still won’t price! So apparently it seems like we can no longer travel to South Asia via Europe anymore.

    Anyone got any idea? I really would like to redeem all my United miles before the huge devaluation begins 8(

  54. Sorry, I need to correct myself.

    I just talked to a different agent and it seems like the Hong Kong via Europe route is legal route. However, the problem I discovered is that United does not allow the agent to book my flight because of the LONG layover in Seoul (ICN).

    My original plan was to fly from Frankfurt to Seoul (arriving at 12:40PM) and take an overnight layover (departing Seoul the next morning at 10:50AM), but this segment prevented the United agent from ticketing.

    For some reasons the United computer system doesn’t like it even when the layover was less than 24 hours. The system somehow treated it as a second stopover. I even try to have the agent price the ticket by catching the earlier flight (9:00am) flight, but the computer system still won’t let the agent price it.

    I am thinking may be the system doesn’t really calculate based on the 24 hour rule, instead it just make the segment illegal since the connecting flight is on a different date? It seems possible but won’t make any sense as I’m sure there are travelers out there arriving at an airport at 11:00PM and then connecting on a different flight shortly past midnight.

    Any comments on this?

  55. Raymond,

    I am 0/3 today, all citing they will have to treat it as an around the world ticket east coast to BKK (stopover in europe one way, less than 4 segments per direction, layovers all less than 6 hrs, some with different dates). tpac on way tatl the other. I even tried via europe both ways and its not taking. Supervisor gave me the RTW number. So hard to use this UA miles…. Please let us know if you get anywhere with the agents, I’ll be sure to post if I do as well.

  56. @Mike,

    I was able to successfully booked two tickets for my friend and I using 120,000 UA miles each for our trip to Hong Kong with a stop over in Europe and then fly back to the State via the Pacific.

    Our outbound itinerary is SFO-YYZ-FRA-NCE (stopover) then continuing NCE-MUC-HKG. My inbound itinerary is HKG-TPE-LAX(open jaw).

    The agent was able to book it without any issue except for some reasons with my friend TPE-SFO return itinerary the agent had to get her supervisor involved to book it since the departure city (Taipei) is different from the one my friend arrives in (Hong Kong).

    I am still puzzled as to why last night when I spoke to an UA agent she said she couldn’t ticket my itinerary when I wanted to do an overnight layover (less than 24 hours) in Seoul though.

  57. Thanks for the data points.

    Not sure if the problem I am running into is because BKK is in “se asia”, and it transits one more ‘zone’ than your trip. trying IAD-NRT-BKK// BKK-pek-fra-mxp// mxp-ewr. 0/6 and thats all for me today. Really trying to get the nrt-bkk in THAI F class a380. Eventually I might get someone that knows how to override the failing software, but its just alot of phone time. Glad you got your trip together. AC and EVA Business (777) are great.

    I flew a similar trip last march, without problems using united points in business. that was before this ‘segment’ limit. I think I had 12 segments, no issues.

  58. @ Mike –

    Not 100% positive, but I believe the problem you’re running into is Japan being an extra region – if it were north america to se asia via *europe only*, then tpac on the return, plenty of people have successfully ticketed that itinerary. But with Japan being a different region, it’s not allowing it. Just my $0.02…good luck!

  59. Well it seems I struck gold, got my route via japan(iad-nrt) to bkk. bkk-pek-fra-mxp-ewr. Some agents know how to do it, some don’t. Thanks for the input.

  60. A friend has a united award ORD-CDG-TPE(stop)-hkg(stop)-ORD.

    The ORD-TPE section is in coach on UA/BR, but the HKG-ORD section is in UA GF.

    Is the TPE-HKG stopover segment connected to the inbound or the outbound? Should he be able to get a premium cabin seat for that segment?

  61. Hi Lucky – not sure if you still respond to this post from last year. I’m trying to do a multi-city booking on UA’s website with this routing – NYC-SIN-ZRH (stop) ZRH-NYC

    Unfortunately the system isn’t even pricing it. Just giving me that error page after clicking even though if you look at it individually, the flights are there. Thanks!

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