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You may have heard grumblings about the new United routing rules around the points/miles blogosphere. People who truly understood United’s old, complex routing rules, are upset with the changes. Zach Honig, Editor-in-Cheif with The Points Guy called this change “The End of an Era…” on Twitter. Many regard the old United rules as the last “truly hackable” award flight system because of the crazy itineraries that could be constructed. Well… those days are gone. Let’s take a look at the new system and try to understand the replacement for the Stopover Policy – the “Excursionist Perk.”
I’ll keep this brief, because I don’t like to dwell on the past. United removed their Stopover Policy, which allowed you to book a stopover in a city en route to your destination. This was only allowed on roundtrip itineraries, but it basically added a free city to your trip. For example:
Kansas City – Paris (stopover) – Tokyo – Kansas City
This itinerary would price out like a round trip to Tokyo, making the stopover in Paris free. You can’t do this anymore 🙁 United also changed the fee structure, but we will be focusing on the routing rules here. For more info on fees, visit this link.
Two immediate changes jumped out at me when I reviewed the new rules.
First, the online search for multi-city itineraries works MUCH BETTER. With the removal of the stopover policy, every segment prices as a one-way flight. This allows you to search complex itineraries without the constant worry that the search will error out. It’s not perfect, but it’s a big improvement. EDIT: This “improved functionality seems to be part of a sneaky devaluation from United.
Second, United added what they call the “Excursionist Perk.” The Excursionist Perk is a free one-way award within select multi-city itineraries. Members who book an itinerary with three or more one-way awards will be eligible to receive one of those one-way awards for free. The rules for this perk are as follows:
- The Excursionist Perk cannot be in the MileagePlus defined region where your travel originates.
- Travel must end in the same MileagePlus defined region where travel originates.
- The origin and destination of the Excursionist Perk is within a single MileagePlus defined region.
- The cabin of service and award type of the free one-way award is the same or lower than the one-way award preceding it.
- If two or more one-way awards qualify for this benefit, only the first occurrence will be free.
Whewwww… Ok, let’s unpack that madness. I think the best way will be to use some examples.
Example 1 – The Basics
Kansas City – London – Paris – Kansas City
This is how United intends for you to use this perk. This itinerary checks all of the boxes above very neatly. It begins and ends in the same region (North America), and the middle segment is fully contained within a region (Europe). In this case, the London – Paris segment will be free, using the Excursionist Perk. Pricing will look like this for economy flights:
- MCI – LHR: 30,000
- LHR – CDG: 0
- CDG – MCI: 30,000
The total trip will price out like a round trip from the North America region to the Europe region, and the middle flight will be free. This is the most basic application of the new rule. The next few examples will start to add interesting possibilities to take advantage of the rule.
Example 2 – Business Class
Kansas City -(B)- London -(B)- Paris -(E)- Kansas City
Point number four under the rules states – the free one way must be the same or lower class of service as the preceding segment. Let’s put this together with what we learned in example one. This itinerary will price out like this:
- MCI – LHR: 70,000 (B)
- LHR – CDG: 0 (B)
- CDG – MCI: 30,000 (E)
If we book the segment from MCI – LHR in business, the free segment from LHR to CDG will also work in business class! It does not matter what class the final leg is booked in.
Example 3 – Open Jaw
Kansas City – Tokyo / Abu Dhabi – Cairo – Kansas City
In this itinerary, we still follow all of the rules above, but we add an open jaw between Tokyo and Abu Dhabi. The trip begins and ends in the North America region, and the Abu Dhabi – Cairo segment is fully contained within the Middle East region. The pricing will look like this for economy:
- MCI – NRT: 35,000
- AUH – CAI: 0
- CAI – MCI: 42,500
Here, we get a free flight from Abu Dhabi to Cairo, which would normally cost 20,000 miles. We also added an open jaw to the trip. You would be responsible for the flight from Tokyo to Abu Dhabi, booked separately with miles or cash.
Example 4 – Triple Open Jaw
Kansas City – Fiji / Auckland – Sydney / Maui – San Francisco
Bear with me here… this is a triple open jaw itinerary. This used to be prohibited on a single itinerary, but flights now price as one-ways. Again, this follows all of the written rules. The trip begins and ends in North America, and the middle leg is fully contained within the Australia/New Zealand region. Pricing in economy looks like this:
- MCI – NAN: 35,000
- AKL – SYD: 0
- OGG – SFO: 22,500
This itinerary illustrates the point that none of the segments actually have to connect with each other. The Excursionist Perk will still apply! Keep in mind, that you would need to fill the gaps with other flights. These flights would be booked as completely separate itineraries from this one using cash or miles.
Example 5: Alaska to Miami for Free
Honolulu – Anchorage – Miami – Maui
Each example above has started/ended in the North America zone. This itinerary starts/ends in the Hawaii zone. Yes, this is separate from North America. Since this follows the rules above, the very long flight from Anchorage to Miami will price out free! If you book HNL to ANC in business class, the ANC – MIA will also be free in business class! Pricing looks like this:
- HNL – ANC: 22,500 (E) / 40,000 (B)
- ANC – MIA: 0 (E) / 0 (B)
- MIA – OGG: 22,500 (E)
This itinerary obviously requires you to get to/from Hawaii. You can use the Korean Airlines loophole to fly RT from the USA to Hawaii for 25,000 points!
I hope this post helps you understand the new routing rules for United. The example itineraries are simply listed for the sake of illustration. While we will definitely miss the old United rules, I like the challenge of finding new opportunities under the new system. I’m sure there are some great sweet spots available, but I haven’t taken the time to analyze all possible routes yet.
Understanding United’s routing rules is particularly important in the points game, because you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards (1:1), Marriott Rewards (2.24:1) and SPG points (1:1.3) to United (via Marriott). This gives you many credit card options to earn United miles:
- Chase United Mileage Plus Explorer
- Chase United Mileage Plus Business
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Chase Freedom
- Chase Freedom Unlimited
- Chase Ink Plus
- Chase Marriott Personal (Marriott – SPG – United)
- Chase Marriott Business
- American Express SPG Personal
- American Express SPG Business
Visit our Top Offers tab to see the best current offers for any of these cards. Can you identify any particularly awesome routes that give a free segment with the Excursionist Perk?