I’ve written about how thinking and acting like a successful travel hacker requires flexibility but never have I had to act on some of my own advice so quickly!
Let me explain. It all started when I got an email with a subject reading “Coming Soon: MileagePlus Program Updates.” These types of airline emails are as unwelcome as the one’s informing you of a canceled flight.
United Changes Stopover Rules on Award Flights
This week’s post was intended to look at advanced flight routings bookable with miles and points particularly on United Airlines because they offer some of the most generous booking rules out there.
Let me correct myself. United Airlines will only continue to allow this routing generosity until October 5th, 2016. After that, new rules will take effect. While there’s still some value in the new “Excursionist Perk,” the changes will significantly limit what’s possible.
Currently, United allows 2 open jaws and 1 stopover on round trip award tickets. To learn more about open jaws and stopovers, head over to Award Flight Basics before continuing with this post.
Savvy travel hackers valued this stopover highly because of its flexibility. In particular, the stopover could be (and should be) used at your home airport. By doing so, this created a free one-way.
Take a look at this example.
With United’s current, soon-to-be former rules, you could book a round trip from New York’s JFK to Rome’s FCO Airport. Returning to New York would act as your “stopover.” Months later on the SAME award ticket, you could fly one-way from New York to Seattle for free.
Similarly, this could be done by having the free one-way A.K.A. “stopover” before your round trip. You could fly one-way from Los Angeles to Newark’s EWR. Stopover in New York, A.K.A. your home city. A few months later on the SAME award ticket, you could fly round trip from New York to Geneva. The one-way at the start wouldn’t cost any additional United miles.
Using these routing rules, I booked my free one-way to Bangkok after taking my round trip to Patagonia!
Beginning October 6th, 2016, United’s stopover rules change. They will be replaced with the Excursionist Perk.
What do these United stopover changes mean?
The Excursionist Perk is essentially a stopover, but with limitations. The stopover will need to happen in the same United region as your destination. The stopover cannot happen in the United region where your trip begins. Your itinerary must be a classic round trip, with the trip starting and ending in the same region.
The 2 stopover examples above will no longer be allowed. My Patagonia-Thailand trip will no longer be possible!
Here’s United’s example of what will be possible with the Excursionist Perk.
As you can see, the award ticket starts and ends in the same United region (North America). The ticket departs from and ultimately returns to Chicago’s ORD. The stopover happens at London’s LHR. After some period of time, the award continues to its destination, Paris’ CDG. The return leg flies from Paris back to Chicago. From the chart above, you can see the London-Paris flight costs no additional miles. This stopover works because London and Paris are both in United’s Europe region.
If you were to build on this example, you could depart from one North American airport in the mainland U.S., Alaska, or Canada and return to another airport in the same region. This utilizes one of the open-jaws United allows on award tickets.
You could also have a stopover and destination anywhere in United’s Europe Region, which also includes Turkey and Russia.
Interpreting United’s rules of the Excursionist Perk, you could fly out of Chicago’s ORD to London’s LHR. Stopover in London for some amount of time. Then, continue on to your final destination of Moscow. The London to Moscow flight would be no additional milesbecause they are both in the same United region. The return leg could be from Moscow to Newark’s EWR.
While some mildly interesting, although certainly lower value, routings might be possible in United’s Europe, Latin America, and Southern Africa regions, flights within Asia are where the Excursionist Perk causes tears and sadness.
United breaks up Asia into North Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, and Japan. Remember, you won’t be able to use your stopover to move from one region to another. Currently, you can fly from San Francisco’s SFO to Tokyo’s NRT. Use Tokyo as your stopover before continuing on to Bangkok’s BKK. When you’re ready, you could fly from BKK back to SFO.
After October 6, 2016, this routing won’t be possible because it crosses from United’s Japan region into the South Asia region. You’ll have to stay in Japan or plan to use your stopover solely within the South Asia region.
How can I make the most of these changes?
- Any United award bookings between now and October 5th will follow the current rules. You can still use your United miles to book free one-ways from one region to another. Keep in mind, any changes you potentially need to make after October 5th will be subject to the new rules.
- Keep up-to-date with any information about United’s stopover changes. This post is based on an interpretation of the rules. Things can change once the new rules go into effect.
- Always make the most of every mile you use for an award flight. United’s Excursionist Perk still offers value. Make use of that stopover every single time you redeem miles for an award flight.
What do you think of United’s stopover changes? Have you ever made use of United’s stopovers?
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