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United Routing Rules: The Excursionist Perk (Part 2)

By: Julie Szpira

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In The Excursionist Perk Part 1, you learned the basics of United’s routing rules.

The Excursionist Perk allows for a free one-way segment when booking multi-city awards, provided certain conditions are met. The conditions can be summarized as follows.

  • The Excursionist Perk is triggered when three or more segments are booked as part of a single award ticket.  
  • Travel must start and end in the same region. The Excursionist Perk (or free one-way segment) must be within a single region, but that region has to be different than the first region.
  • Only one free segment is allowed, no matter how many segments the multi-city award comprises.

In Part 1, simple examples of the Excursionist Perk were discussed.

The Excursionist Perk was designed to allow you to explore a second city in your destination region as part of a round-trip ticket.  

What United figured people would use the trip for was be a flight similar to the one illustrated below. The trip comprises three separate segments: Chicago (ORD) to Prague (PRG), Prague to Athens (ATH) and Athens to Chicago.  

The Excursionist Perk - 1

If booked in economy, as separate one-way tickets, the price would be as follows:

ORD-PRG: 30,000 miles

PRG-ATH: 15,000 miles

ATH-ORD: 30,000 miles

The itinerary would cost a total of 75,000 miles plus $142.66 in fees and taxes.

However, when booking as a multi-city trip, the Excursionist Perk is triggered for the PRG-ATH segment.

The Excursionist Perk - 2

ORD-PRG: 30,000 miles

PRG-ATH: 0 miles

ATH-ORD: 30,000 miles

The itinerary when booked as a multi-city trip would cost a total of 60,000 miles plus $142.66 in fees and taxes. That is one free segment!

The example above is straightforward, but the Excursionist Perk can be used in creative ways to maximize your miles.

 

Maximizing Miles on Intra-Region Routes

As the free flight segment will only apply for intra-region routes, to maximize your miles, it is important to know what flights offer the best values.

Below is a chart detailing the United intra-region one-way saver award prices in miles, for economy and business class.

Region

Economy SaverBusiness Saver

Special Conditions

Mainland US, Alaska, Canada10,00025,000Valid for itineraries 700 Miles or less each way
12,50025,000
Hawaii6,0008,500
Mexico10,00020,000Routing must be direct or via Mexico or Central America only
17,50030,000
Caribbean10,00020,000Routing must be direct or via Central America only
17,50030,000
Central America10,00020,000Routing must be direct or via Central America only
17,50030,000
Northern Southern America7,50020,000Applies to travel within Columbia on CM* operated by Copa Airlines only
10,00020,000
Southern Southern America12,50020,000
Europe15,00025,000
Middle East20,00030,000
Northern Africa17,50030,000
Central & Southern Africa17,50030,000
North Asia15,00022,500
Central Asia20,00030,000
South Asia17,50025,000
Japan5,00012,000Valid for itineraries 800 Miles or less each way
8,00012,000
Oceania12,50025,000
Australia & New Zealand17,50025,000

To maximize miles, you want to keep the segments that you use miles for as low as possible, while taking advantage of segments that cost a high amount of miles.

Intra-region flights within the Middle East and Central Asia are 20,000 miles in economy, and represent the most expensive intra-region flights in United’s award chart.  

Oceania intra-region flights are 12,500 miles, but with Oceania covering areas like French Polynesia, Samoa and Fiji, paid one way segments can cost hundreds of dollars, so being able to use your Excursionist Perk to fly within the region can save a lot of money.

Conversely, South Asia intra-region flights are 17,500 miles. In South Asia, low cost carriers like AirAsia, Lion Air, and TigerAir provide flights that generally have a low cash cost, and using miles on those segments is not a great value.

 

Advanced Excursionist Perk Examples

Positioning Flights with a Free International Segment

Unless you are living in a city with a major international airport, chances are that your international trip will start with a domestic flight to “position” you to your international gateway airport.  

When booking award tickets, the positioning flights are often included in your airfare. However, if you’re booking cash fares, you can sometimes find incredible deals from airports other than your home location.

Recently, there was a CRAZY fare from Vancouver (YVR) to Sydney (SYD) in ANA business class, wherein the round trip ticket price was between $560 and $700 – our Editor in Chief, Spencer Howard, actually booked this.

The deal was so great, that even for those not living in Vancouver, it is well worth it to position to Vancouver to take the flight.  

By using miles for the positioning flight from your location in the US to Vancouver, you can get a free one way segment in a different region, such as the Australia and New Zealand region, and you can get a free trip from Sydney (SYD) to Auckland (AKL).  

In the map below, the United segments that are used to trigger the Excursionist Perk are drawn in red, and the ANA ticket is drawn in blue.

You can see that the free segment (SYD-AKL) does not connect with the positioning flights (ORD-YVR and YVR-IAH), but since the SYD-AKL segment is within a single region, and the trip starts and ends in the same region (US Mainland), the Excursionist Perk applies.

Excursionist Perk Examples

The mileage price is as follows:

ORD-YVR: 12,500 miles

SYD-AKL: 0 miles

YVR-IAH: 12,500 miles

This represents a great deal, as the segment price for a same region economy flight in the Australia and New Zealand region is 17,500 miles.

You would have to purchase a flight from AKL-SYD to catch your flight back to YVR, but you could use miles or pay cash for that flight!

 

Splitting Trips into Multiple Reservations

This is a little more complicated and takes some planning, but it can help you save miles if you are taking a trip with multiple segments in the same geographic region.

Let’s say in 2018, you need to travel to Los Angeles (LAX) in January, you’re planning a South African Safari in April, and you have to be in Ft. Lauderdale (FLL) in June.  

Since travel time to Africa can be long, you are going to want make the most of your trip and you’re planning to visit Nairobi, Kenya (NBO), Johannesburg (JNB) and Cape Town (CPT) in South Africa and Accra, Ghana (ACC). Let’s assume you have a lot of vacation time and a very understanding boss!!

The Excursionist Perk

You could book each trip separately, with your January trip (in red) and your June trip (in blue) each being 25,000 miles round trip. Since you’re only flying two segments on those trips, they would not qualify for a free segment with the Excursionist Perk.

ORD-LAX in January:

The Excursionist Perk

ORD-FLL in June:

The Excursionist Perk

Your trip to Africa (in pink) includes two international segments, and three segments in the Central & South Africa region. Since your trip would start and end in the same region (departing and returning to Chicago (ORD)), and your segments in Africa are all in the same region, one of the segments would be free.  The trip would price as follows:

ORD-NBO: 40,000 miles

NBO-JNB: 0 miles (Excursionist Perk segment)

JNB-CPT: 17,500 miles

CPT-ACC: 17,500 miles

ACC-ORD: 40,000 miles

Total price: 115,000 miles and $351.36 in taxes and fees.  

The cost of two domestic round trip tickets would be 50,000 miles, plus 22.40 in taxes and fees, and the trip to Africa cost 115,000 miles, plus 351.36 in taxes and fees. The total cost of all segments for the trips would be 165,000 miles and $373.76.

Now, let’s find a way to get more out of our miles. This is where things get crazy.

You can split your January and June trips, with your flights from ORD-LAX and ORD-FLL being on one reservation, and your flights from LAX-ORD and FLL-ORD being on a second reservation.

You can then book those tickets as a multi-city ticket to include one of your Central & South Africa segments to get the segment for free.

The bookings would look like this:

You’ll notice that the flights from ORD-LAX, LAX-ORD, ORD-FLL and FLL-ORD are the same dates and times  as when previously booked as round trip ticket.  

However, by splitting the reservations to have a segment in January and a segment in July, the tickets were able to have an intra-region Central & Southern Africa segment added for only the cost of the taxes and fees.

Now, when booking your trip to Africa, you only have one intra-region segment that you need to book.

The booking would look like this:

The total cost of the flights when splitting your domestic bookings is 130,000 miles and $373.76 in taxes and fees.  Your taxes and fees remain the same, because you must pay all taxes and fees on Excursionist Perk segments.

The big discount is saving 35,000 miles by using your domestic flights to trigger the Excursionist Perk.

This method requires planning ahead and knowing when you will be traveling, but if you know you have a couple trips in the upcoming year, it can be a great option to save some miles.

 

Three Distinct One Way Flights

When using the Excursionist Perk, none of the flights segments actually have to connect to one another.

You can take a three-segment flight, and the segments can be flown months apart. This can be very useful if you are planning to fly segments of your trip using a points/miles currency other than United.

Our own Spencer Howard (he flies a lot) maximized his Excursionist Perk on a trip to Europe and Southeast Asia earlier this year. He was flying in Garuda Indonesia First Class on an award booking from Amsterdam (AMS) to Jakarta (CGK).

He does not live in Amsterdam, so he had to get himself to Europe. After landing in Jakarta, he planned to fly to Manila to meet up with some friends. Then he had to fly back to the US from Europe.

He ended up booking Newark (EWR) to Amsterdam (AMS), Jakarta (CGK) to Manila (MNL) and Salzburg (SZG) to Washington, Dulles (IAD). The Excursionist Perk was triggered for the CGK-MNL segment, so he flew that segment for free.

Spencer flew in business class, and the trip priced as follows:

EWR-AMS: 70,000 miles

CGK-MNL: 0 miles

SZG-IAD: 70,000 miles

In this example, you can see that the Excursionist Perk segment prices at 0 miles, but is still in the Business Class cabin. That is because the Excursionist Perk rules define:

  • 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.

Since Spencer was booked in business class for the segment preceding his free segment, he was entitled to book a business class ticket for 0 miles. Booked separately a one-way business class award in South Asia is 25,000 miles.

 

Maximizing Business Class Awards

Since the cabin of service of the free segment is dependent on the one-way award preceding the free segment, you would want to book the lowest cost business class award before your targeted free business class segment.

Using the LAX-ORD, CPT-ACC and FLL-ORD trip as discussed above, booking the LAX-ORD segment in business class for 25,000 miles would trigger the CPT-ACC segment to also be in business class.

The CPT-ACC segment includes a 2 hour flight from CPT-JNB, and a 6 hour flight from JNB-ACC.  The JNB-ACC segment is operated by South African Airways’ A330-300.  The A330-300 features  business class with lie-flat seats in a 1-2-1 configuration.

An intra-region Central & Southern Africa business class award ticket is 30,000 miles. By using an extra 12,500 miles to book the LAX-ORD segment in business instead of economy, you get to enjoy domestic first class from LAX-ORD as well as fly business class from CPT-ACC.

If flying US domestic first class doesn’t thrill you, you can book the FLL-ORD segment in economy to save some miles, and have a trip total of 37,500 miles and $64.90 in taxes and fees.  

You would have two segments in business class, including a 6 hour flight from JNB-ACC in an internationally configured cabin for only 37,500 miles. If each of the above segments were booked separately, the total price would be 67,500 miles!

 

Final Thoughts

With any of the above examples, it is important that you take all segments of your flight, or your subsequent segments could be cancelled. This is especially important when you have segments of different trips booked in one reservation.

The United Excursionist Perk is not as generous as the previous United stopover policy, but the Excursionist Perk can still offer a ton of value. As long as your multi-city flight booking meets the conditions of the Excursionist Perk, you can include an extra segment on your trip, and not pay any extra miles for it.

The Excursionist Perk allows me to see more of the world without spending any more to do it, and that makes me a happy traveler.

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