Exploit The “Excursionist” United Airlines Loophole for Free Segments: Part 1 – Introduction

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United Airlines recently changed their MileagePlus program, including some of their award flight booking rules.  For some folks, booking award flights has become trickier and even more expensive.

But for others, via Travel is Free, United Airlines’ new policies will provide great value.

This is due to a new rule under the United Airlines award program called Excursionist Perk.  The Excursionist Perk is a free one-way flight you can book in addition to a round-trip or multi-city itinerary.  

United Excursionist Perk

Use United Airlines’ New Routing Rules to Get a Free One-Way Flight on Your European Vacation

In this 4-part series, I’ll show you how to use the Excursionist Perk to get Big Travel with Small Money!

Exploit the “Excursionist” United Airlines Loophole for Free Segments: Series Index

What Is the Excursionist Perk?

United Airlines describes the Excursionist Perk as “a free one-way award flight within select multi-city itineraries.”  So the Excursionist Perk is a way to get a 3rd one-way flight segment for free, when booking at least 2 other one-way award flights or a round-trip award flight.

Additionally, the free one-way flight can be used in conjunction with up to 3 open jaws!  Keep reading to learn more about “open jaws” and figure out how this might be helpful on your next award flight.

You can use miles for 2 one-way flights (or a round-trip) and get the 3rd one-way flight free!  This can save you thousands of miles while allowing you to fly to more places!  But there are limitations you need to know.

United Excursionist Perk

Extend Your Vacation By Adding a Free One-Way Flight or Stopover!

For most folks, this perk will be useful when booking a round-trip award flight.  The Excursionist Perk will allow you to add a free one-way flight, without time restrictions, in addition to your round-trip award flight!

Note:   The Excursionist Perk is only available on flights booked with United Airlines miles, not flights paid with cash!

Rules for Using the Excursionist Perk

There are several rules associated with using the Excursionist Perk.  And if you don’t follow these rules, you won’t be able to book your free one-way flight.

1.   You Must Book at Least 2 One-Way Flights, or 1 Round-Trip

You can NOT use the free Excursionist Perk if you are only booking a one-way flight.

But you can use it if booking a round-trip flight or a multi-city itinerary with at least 2 segments!  In a future post, I’ll show you how to use the Excursionist Perk when booking 2 one-way flights.

2.   You Can NOT Use the Excursionist Perk on Round-Trip Flights Within the Continental US

If your round-trip flight is wholly within the Mainland US, Alaska, & Canada, you do not qualify for the free one-way flight.  This means the United Airlines Excursionist Perk will be most useful for folks traveling internationally or to Hawaii.

United Excursionist Perk

Flying From New York to Miami Would NOT Qualify as a Free One-Way, Because the Round-Trip Is Wholly Within the Mainland US

3.   Your Free Additional One-Way Flight Must Be Within a Single “Region”

A “region” is how airlines categorize countries to determine the price of award flights.  For example, United Airlines has 17 “regions,” including:

  • Mainland US, Alaska, and Canada
  • Hawaii
  • Mexico
  • Caribbean
  • Central America
  • Northern South America
  • Southern South America
  • Europe
  • Middle East
  • Northern Africa
  • Central and Southern Africa
  • North Asia
  • Central Asia
  • South Asia
  • Japan
  • Oceania
  • Australia and New Zealand

For the complete listing of countries in each region, visit United Airlines’ list of countries and regions.

United Excursionist Perk

Your Extra Free One-Way Flight Must Be Within a Single Award Region, Such as Europe or Africa

For example, your free one-way flight could be wholly within the “Europe” region (Dublin to Rome) or wholly within the “Central and Southern Africa” region (Nairobi to Johannesburg).

Note:   Each airline has different “region” definitions, so be careful when booking award flights with other airline miles (such as Delta miles or American Airlines miles).

4.   Your Free Additional One-Way Flight Can NOT Be a More Expensive Award Type or in a Better Cabin

If your round-trip award flights are in coach, your free one-way flight must also be in coach.  But if your award flights are in Business Class, your free one-way can be in Business Class too!

If your round-trip flight is in Business Class, you can also book your free one-way flight in coach.  This might be useful if no Business Class award flights are available.

Similarly, your free one-way flight can not be a “standard” flight award if your round-trip award flights were at the “saver” level.  United Airlines uses “standard” and “saver” to identify their different award types.

United Excursionist Perk

Make Sure Your Free One-Way Flight Is at the Same Award Level (Saver or Standard) as Your Round-Trip!

“Standard” awards will always be more expensive than “saver” awards.  But “standard” awards usually have more available award seats.  So “standard” awards are considered to be the more expensive award type.

Similar to the coach and Business Class restriction, your free one-way flight can only be a “standard” level flight if your round-trip flight was booked at the “standard” level as well.

5.   Travel Must End in the Same “Region” Where It Originates

Your flights must also begin and end in the same United MileagePlus defined region. For example, the above bookings work because the itineraries both originate and conclude in the continental US.  Or, the travel must both originate and conclude in Europe.

The following itinerary would NOT qualify for the free one-way flight:

  • Los Angeles – London
  • London – Amsterdam (free one-way flight)
  • Amsterdam – Cancun
United Excursionist Perk

In This Scenario, You Would NOT Qualify for a Free One-Way Flight!

This itinerary violates the Excursionist Perk rules since Los Angeles and Cancun are in different award “regions” according to United Airlines (Mainland US and Mexico).  Thus, this booking would NOT be eligible for the free one-way flight.

If you don’t follow these rules, the option to book your free one-way won’t appear during the online booking process.

Using the Excursionist Perk on a Round-Trip Award Flight

The simplest examples of how to use the Excursionist Perk are when booking a round-trip award flight using United Airlines miles.  Remember, you can use the same strategy between any 2 cities in the US and Europe, or between the US and other award regions!

1.   Fly to Another City in Europe for NO Additional Miles!

If you wanted to book a round-trip award flight from Chicago to London using United Airlines miles, the Excursionist Perk would allow you to visit one more European or US city, free of charge!  So instead of simply flying straight to London, and straight home to Chicago, you could stop in Vienna as well.

United Excursionist Perk

Add On a Free One-Way Flight to Your Round-Trip Itinerary

In this example, you can book a free one-way flight from London to Vienna.  And, you can stop over in Vienna (extend your stay) for as long as you want, up to 1 year!  This functionality is very similar to United Airlines’ previous award rules.

So the following itineraries would cost the same amount of United Airlines miles:

  • Chicago to London (one-way flight)
  • London to Chicago (one-way flight home)

and

  • Chicago to London (one-way flight)
  • London to Vienna (FREE one-way flight, with free stopover in Vienna)
  • Vienna to Chicago (one-way flight home)
United Excursionist Perk

Visit Vienna and Shop at the Christmas Markets!

Using the free one-way flight in the “Europe” region is just one example.  You could also use the Excursionist Perk when traveling to “South Asia,” such as adding a free one-way from Hong Kong to Vietnam.

Or, you can use the free one-way flight award between 2 completely different destinations!

2.  Your Bonus One-Way Flight Does NOT Have to Connect to Your Original Destination

This can be great for travelers who want to visit many different cities.

Let’s say you want to travel by train from London to Brussels and from Venice to Rome.  You could use your free Excursionist Perk to fly from Brussels to Venice before flying home from Rome to Chicago.

So your flights would be:

  • Chicago – London (destination, 30,000 United Airlines miles one-way in coach)
  • Brussels – Venice (free Excursionist Perk, zero additional miles!)
  • and Rome to Chicago (return home, 30,000 United Airlines miles one-way in coach)

Your overall trip would be:

  • Fly out of Chicago to land in London (30,000 United Airlines miles one-way in coach)
  • Take the train from London to Brussels
  • Use your free bonus flight to fly out of Brussels to land in Venice (No additional miles, just pay taxes!)
  • Take the train from Venice to Rome
  • Conclude your award flight by flying from Rome home to Chicago (30,000 United Airlines miles one-way in coach)
United Excursionist Perk

Or, Use Your Free Flight Between 2 Different European Cities

3.   You Can Return to (or From) a Different City

Finally, it is also possible to use the Excursionist Perk in conjunction with an open jaw back in the US.

This means that you could see 6 different cities in 1 award like the one below!

An open jaw is flying into one destination (such as London) and returning from another (such as Vienna).  Or, an open jaw can also be departing from one destination (such as Chicago) and returning to another (such as Los Angeles).

So you can fly from the US (your departure region) to any city in another destination region (such as Europe).  Then use your free bonus one-way flight to fly within that destination region.  This could be a flight within Europe, for example.  Then, use your one-way flight back to the US to fly to a different city than the one from which you departed!

So if you want to return to Los Angeles instead of flying home to Chicago, you could do that for the same amount of miles!

United Excursionist Perk

Use the Excursionist Perk With 3 Open Jaws!

An award flight from Chicago – London (destination), Brussels – Venice (free Excursionist Perk), and Rome to Los Angeles is also permissible under the new rules.  This award flight has a total of 3 open jaws, which can be very valuable.  

For example, a traveler who wanted to combine a European vacation with visiting family in California could get half their West Coast vacation for free!  So 2 trips (European vacation and California to visit family) could be booked for just a single round-trip and a one-way flight back to Chicago from California.

Your overall trip would be:

  • Fly out of Chicago to land in London (30,000 United Airlines miles one-way in coach)
  • Take the train from London to Brussels
  • Use your free bonus flight to fly out of Brussels to land in Venice (No additional miles, just pay taxes!)
  • Take the train from Venice to Rome
  • Conclude your award flight by flying from Rome to Los Angeles (30,000 United Airlines miles one-way in coach)

Once you factor in the various booking classes (coach, Business Class, and First Class), there are even more possibilities to use this new perk.  In Parts 3 and 4 of this series, I’ll give you more specific examples of how to use the Excursionist Perk to get Big Travel with Small Money!

Understanding United Airlines’ Booking Rules

In Part 2 of this series, I’ll show you exactly how to use United.com to book award flights, including the Excursionist Perk.  But United Airlines has made it very easy to use the free one-way award flight!

You just need to know a little bit about award regions, so you can follow the rules of the Excursionist Perk.  The United Airlines award chart is region based, so make sure your free one-way flight’s origin and destination are within the same region!

United Excursionist Perk

Booking a Free Stopover and One-Way Award Flight Is Much Easier Under United Airlines’ New Rules

Some readers might ask if the new Excursionist Perk is actually any different than the old option of booking a free stopover.  And the answer is YES – the Excursionist Perk is much more valuable.  United Airlines’ previous stopover allowance was more difficult to book, and far more restrictive.

Bottom Line

United Airlines’ recent changes to their MileagePlus program were primarily negative because awards became harder to book.  And many folks are unhappy that some multi-city itineraries now require more United Airlines miles to book.

But the introduction of the Excursionist Perk has the potential to be incredibly valuable.  Under the new rules, you can get a free one-way flight if you book a round-trip flight or 2 qualifying one-ways.

In my next post, I’ll show you how to use the United Airlines website to book a free one-way flight using the Excursionist Perk. 

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21 responses to “Exploit The “Excursionist” United Airlines Loophole for Free Segments: Part 1 – Introduction

  1. “Your Free Additional One-Way Flight Can NOT Be a More Expensive Award Type or in a Better Cabin
    If your round-trip award flights are in coach, your free one-way flight must also be in coach. But if your award flights are in Business Class, your free one-way can be in Business Class too!”

    I thought Travel is Free said it only depends on the segment preceding the free award flight?

    1st segment – business
    free award segment – business
    2nd segment – coach

    • Million Mile Secrets

      @THH: You are correct! I plan to detail this exception later in the series, so stay tuned! But for now, it is only the class of service for the preceding flight (the 1st flight) that determines which class of service can be booked for your free flight. Good catch!

  2. Eileen Kerrigan

    Apologies if I’ve missed this in the article, but does the perk apply only to flights on United? Or would flights on partner airlines be eligible as well?

    • Million Mile Secrets

      @ Eileen Kerrigan: Flights on partner airlines are eligible as well. Just make sure you are booking with United Airlines miles!

  3. Thanks for the article! Looking forward to reading more as I am planning my honeymoon for late summer/fall and looking to book business on united. We want to go to huts over the water somewhere in Oceania but want to talk on another leg (somewhere is asia, Hawaii, tbd) for about a week. Any suggestions from anyone to maximize miles and get another leg???

  4. Can you use Air Canada miles to fly awards on United and still take advantage of the “Excursionist” loophole?

  5. Fantastic information, thank you. Fully booked for three points trips to Europe this year…but 2018 is coming up! Now wondering if it’s feasible to cancel one of these itineraries and rebook with Ex Perk…?

    • Million Mile Secrets

      @Anthony: You should be able to rebook and incorporate the free one-way flight, but beware of change and cancellation fees.

  6. thanks for the excellent article, can free one way trip have to be in between my roundtrip?
    for example,
    lax-lhr(30,000)
    lhr-fra(free)
    fra-lax(30,000)
    so this lhr-fra has to be in between correct? if so, i guess this perk can only be useful when travelling in same time frame. i want to do lax-lhr roundtrip then maybe get a free one way trip after 6month..

  7. Do all of the flights have to be on United metal, or can they include partner airlines?

  8. Hi Daraius,
    Two years ago we booked the following to Hawaii on United involving different classes and interisland flights:

    EWR-KOA (connecting flight through LAX) in coach. 4 day stopover on Big Island. ITO (Hilo)-OGG (interisland on Hawaiian Air). 5 day stopover on Maui. Then OGG-HNL-EWR – this last leg was interisland on Hawaiian, then Business on UA for the long haul (slept almost the entire flight!). It was a bit trickly to book at the time. I think it was 68,500 miles each.

    Could this be done using the Excursionist Perk? We’d like to go back to Hawaii and visit the Big Island, Maui and Kauai, too. We’d fly coach going, and don’t mind the connection on the west coast so we can fly directly to KOA, instead of through HNL. And we would like to fly home from HNL in business class HNL-EWR so we can sleep on that long red-eye.

    Thanks in advance!

    • Million Mile Secrets

      @Marilyn: You should be able to use the free one-way on your upcoming Hawaii trip! Stay tuned for the rest of the series when I’ll detail how the Hawaii region in particular can lead to some huge savings.

  9. I would think a great advantage in this would be Hawaii flights allowing not only a stop-over on the west coast but also 2 cities in the west.

    Can this be used for those expensive inter-island HI flights?

    • Million Mile Secrets

      @tassojunior: You can definitely use the free one-way flight on inter-island Hawaii flights. Stay tuned for part 4 when I’ll talk more about Hawaii bookings!

  10. If I’m thinking a trip from Chicago to Japan / Taiwan / Hong Kong.

    What’s the best route with this strategy?

    Thanks.

  11. Pingback: Exploit The “Excursionist” United Airlines Loophole for Free Segments: Part 1 – Introduction – Travel Points Guide

  12. Shouldn’t this read “Similar to the coach and Business Class restriction, your free one-way flight can only be a “standard” level flight if your round-trip flight was booked at the “standard” OR SAVER level as well.”? Just a hunch…