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Exploit the “Excursionist” United Airlines Loophole: Part 2 – How to Use United.com to Book Award Flights

Exploit the “Excursionist” United Airlines Loophole: Part 2 – How to Use United.com to Book Award Flights

Scott LiebermanExploit the “Excursionist” United Airlines Loophole: Part 2 – How to Use United.com to Book Award FlightsMillion Mile Secrets Team

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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.

Exploit The Excursionist United Airlines Loophole Part 2 How To Use United.com To Book Award Flights
Understanding the United Airlines Award Chart Is Key to Getting Maximum Value From the Free One-Way Flight

In this article, I’ll teach you how to navigate through United.com to book award flights!  

Excursionist Perk 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! 

You can use miles for 2 one-way flights (or a round-trip) and get the 3rd one-way flight free!  United Airlines has a great website for searching for award flights on United Airlines and flights on their Star Alliance partner airlines.

In this post, I’ll show you how to use United.com to book award flights with your United Airlines miles.  And I’ll show you how to book your free one-way flight with the United Airlines Excursionist Perk!

How to Use United.com

To get started, visit United.com.  For many folks, United Airlines’ tool for booking award flights is one of the easiest to use.  That’s because you can search for flights quickly and easily across numerous partner airlines.

Exploit The Excursionist United Airlines Loophole Part 2 How To Use United.com To Book Award Flights
Visit United.com to Get Started Booking Award Flights

Using United.com to search for award flights can be helpful when using other airline miles, too.  That’s because you’ll see Star Alliance partner award flights.  For example, this is useful for folks who have Air Canada Aeroplan miles.

So learning to use the United Airlines award search tool can be valuable even for folks who don’t have many United Airlines miles!

But remember that certain United Airlines partners can’t be booked online!  These include Singapore Airlines, Azul Brazilian Airlines, Great Lakes Airlines, and Jet Airways.  To book with these airlines, you’ll need to call United Airlines at 800-864-8331.

1.   United Airlines Booking Rules

A few things to remember when booking award flights with United Airlines miles:

  • You can book award flights round-trip or one-way (for half the miles)
  • United Airlines charges a last-minute booking fee of $75 for award flights booked within 21 days of departure (less if you have United Airlines frequent flier status or know this trick!). 
  • United Airlines also charges $25 to book an award flight over the phone.  But if you can’t book the award flight online, try asking the phone representative to waive the fee – they normally will!
  • Partner award flights in Business and First Class cost significantly more than United Airlines’ own award flights.  But flights in coach cost the same!
  • If you need help booking flights, call United Airlines any time at 800-864-8331

2.   Searching for Flights on United.com

Step 1 – Go to United.com 

From the United.com home screen, click the “Book Travel” box to begin your award flight search.

Step 2 – Enter your travel details

Then, you can input your departure and arrival cities, preferred date of travel, number of passengers, etc.

The following example is for 2 round-trip flights between Los Angeles and Tokyo in April.

Exploit The Excursionist United Airlines Loophole Part 2 How To Use United.com To Book Award Flights
Input Your Award Flight Search Criteria Directly From the United.com Home Page. And Don’t Forget to Check “Search for Award Travel”

When you are ready to search for flights, click the “Search” button to get available flight results.

Note:   Remember to check the “Search for award travel” box if you want to book your flights with United Airlines miles!

On the search results screen, you can view the “award availability calendar” for flights between the cities you selected.  The availability calendar makes it easy to look for dates with award flights if you have a flexible schedule.

Exploit The Excursionist United Airlines Loophole Part 2 How To Use United.com To Book Award Flights
View the “Award Availability Calendar” to Search Award Flights Across 2 Months

For example, there are both “Saver Award Economy” and “Saver Award premium cabin” flights available for 2 adults between Los Angeles and Tokyo on every day in April 2017.  That means you can use United Airlines miles to fly coach or Business Class to Tokyo anytime in April!

Note:   In the above calendar, the blue dots represent saver premium award seats (in Business and First Class) while the blue dashes indicate saver coach award seats.

Remember that standard level award seats can still be a great use of your United Airlines miles if they help you to save money!  So even though saver awards are always cheaper, standard level awards can still be very valuable for folks with large mileage balances, families with several travelers, if you need a specific nonstop flight, etc.

If you like a specific flight’s date, time, and price, you can view the details of your itinerary by clicking the “Details” arrow next to your chosen flight.

Exploit The Excursionist United Airlines Loophole Part 2 How To Use United.com To Book Award Flights
Click “Details” to View Layover Information and Onboard Amenities Such as Wi-Fi and Power Outlets

The “Details” section will also tell you which aircraft operates the flight.  This can be helpful if you want to try out a specific plane, such as the 787 Dreamliner.

Remember:   Try to choose “Saver” level awards, because they cost much less than “Standard” level awards!

When you are ready to book your award flights, click on the award cost to select your flight.  In this example, click on the blue “35k miles +$5.60” to select the nonstop flight.

Exploit The Excursionist United Airlines Loophole Part 2 How To Use United.com To Book Award Flights
Try to Choose “Saver” Level Award Flights to Pay as Few Miles as Possible!

Then, view the available flights to select your return flight.  Unfortunately, United Airlines has far fewer award flights available for the return journey from Tokyo to Los Angeles.

Exploit The Excursionist United Airlines Loophole Part 2 How To Use United.com To Book Award Flights
The Award Availability Calendar Is Especially Useful for Busy Flight Seasons, Such as During Spring Break or the Holidays

But hopefully you can find award flights that work for you!

Folks also love using United.com’s flight award search because it makes viewing the taxes and fees on your flights very simple.  Just look next to the price in miles (such as “35k”) to see how much you will pay in taxes and fees.

Exploit The Excursionist United Airlines Loophole Part 2 How To Use United.com To Book Award Flights
United.com Makes Viewing Taxes and Fees Very Simple

For our flights above, you can pay as little as ~$6 each way from Los Angeles to Tokyo.  That’s a great deal compared to one-way flights that normally cost ~$500.

Using United Airlines Miles for Business Class or First Class

Searching for award flights in Business Class and First Class is simple as well.  Just look for dates that have the  5 dotted lines on them.  For example, we know that May 1, 2, and 3 have premium award cabins (Business Class or First Class) available from Los Angeles to Tokyo.

Exploit The Excursionist United Airlines Loophole Part 2 How To Use United.com To Book Award Flights
Look for the Blue Dots to Indicate Available Business Class or First Class Award Flights.

Then, scroll down to find the flights in the cabin of service you want.  For example, the following Business Class flight is available when flying to Tokyo in April.

Exploit The Excursionist United Airlines Loophole Part 2 How To Use United.com To Book Award Flights
Look for “Business Saver Award” or “First Saver Award” Flights for the Best Value

Remember to view the details of the flight you want, because some flights have “Mixed cabin” itineraries.  For example, this means that at least 1 of your flights is in First Class, but 1 is also in Business Class or coach.

Exploit The Excursionist United Airlines Loophole Part 2 How To Use United.com To Book Award Flights
Be Careful When Selecting Mixed Cabin Awards!

Book a Free One-Way Using United.com

United.com makes using the Excursionist Perk flight very simple.  To book your free one-way flight, search for award flights using the “Multi-city” search button.

Exploit The Excursionist United Airlines Loophole Part 2 How To Use United.com To Book Award Flights
Click the “Multi-city” Search Button to Use Your Free One-Way Flight

Remember:   You need to be booking at least 2 flights (either a round-trip or 2 one-ways) to take advantage of the free one-way flight!

On the next page, choose “Add another destination” to allow for 3 flight segments.

Exploit The Excursionist United Airlines Loophole Part 2 How To Use United.com To Book Award Flights
Add Another Destination so You Can Book at Least 3 Flight Segments

For example, I’ll use the following award search for flights between Chicago and London, with a free stopover in Munich:

  • Chicago to London (one-way flight)
  • London to Munich (free one-way flight with Excursionist Perk)
  • Munich to Chicago (one-way flight home)
Exploit The Excursionist United Airlines Loophole Part 2 How To Use United.com To Book Award Flights
In this Example, the Middle (2nd) Flight Will Be the Free One-Way

Then, choose the outbound flight that best fits your schedule.  The booking screen will look the same as it normally does.

Exploit The Excursionist United Airlines Loophole Part 2 How To Use United.com To Book Award Flights
Select Your Outbound Flight as Usual

The next screen will indicate whether your flight booking meets the conditions of the United Airlines Excursionist Perk.  If so, you can book your free one-way flight for zero additional miles!

Exploit The Excursionist United Airlines Loophole Part 2 How To Use United.com To Book Award Flights
This Is Where the Fun Begins!

You’ll notice that your one-way flight from London to Munich will cost no additional miles!  But remember the extra taxes and fees, because you will need to pay for those.  When you find the flight that works for you, select it by clicking on the “0 miles +$47.30.”

Note:    Taxes and fees are notoriously high when departing from London Heathrow airport (LHR).  Try to avoid flying out of London if you want to save money!

Then, select your return flight.  Remember to consider things such as operating airline and layover duration before you book.

Exploit The Excursionist United Airlines Loophole Part 2 How To Use United.com To Book Award Flights
Select Your Return Flight to View the Summary of Your Itinerary

On the next screen, you can review a summary of your award flights and confirm your booking.  Notice that the example given costs only a total of 60,000 United Airlines miles round-trip.  That means the one-way flight from London to Munich cost zero additional miles!

Exploit The Excursionist United Airlines Loophole Part 2 How To Use United.com To Book Award Flights
View the Total Cost of Your Award Booking

In this case, the flight from London to Munich qualified as a free one-way award flight.  And you could use this strategy to book a free stopover or one-way flight anywhere in Europe!  Just be sure to stay within the “Europe” region, as defined by United Airlines’ region definitions.

Using the free one-way flight with the United Airlines Excursionist Perk can save you a lot of money!  And the savings are even higher for folks who like to fly Business Class or First Class.  In a future post, I’ll give you more tips on how to use this free one-way flight to extend your vacation and get even more value from your United Airlines miles.

Award Search Tools to Help

If you can’t find award seats that fit your schedule, you can consider setting an award alert with an award searching tool.  An annual premium membership to one of these tools ranges from $75 to $129.

The 3 most commonly-used tools are:

Each of the above tools has the capability to search for award flights on United Airline’s Star Alliance Partners.  But if you still need help finding specific award seats that aren’t available (yet!), consider using one of these Award Booking Services.

Bottom Line

Using the United Airlines Excursionist Perk for a free one-way flight on award tickets can be incredibly valuable!  And United.com has a great tool for searching for award flights online.

You can easily use United.com to search for one-way, round-trip, and multi-city itineraries in coach or premium cabins.  And you can use the multi-city search to take advantage of the free one-way flight with the United Airlines Excursionist Perk.

In my next post, I’ll show you creative ideas for how you can use the free one-way flight from the United Airlines Excursionist Perk to extend your vacation and get Big Travel with Small Money!

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Hi
If I wanted to fly from ATL to KHI and on my way back to from KHI to ATL stopover in FRA. Would it be a free stopover? I have flown this route many times before rule change for 160 and 180 K miles in business, but now the United search shows for 205K to 210K and the stopover is not free. Am I doing something incorrect?

how do you handle award reservations that price out correctly online but when you checkout and get to the payment processing page an error pops up and won’t submit to a confirmation. I called customer service twice and got the call center in the Philippines and they were useless. The award on the phone kept pricing out per segment in multi-city instead of with the free stopover. They insisted that their system was the most correct and the info online that displays “0” miles was phantom and incorrect.

My question then is, if I wanted to book an Excursionist flight for both my wife and myself, use both her miles for her trip and mine for my trip, how can I make sure that after do all the booking for my flights, that there will be available frequent flyer seats on all 3 flights for my wife? I had this happen once, when I booked my flight, I went back to book hers with her miles, and suddenly the other ff seat on the flight was no longer available. Don’t want to go through that again…any tips on getting around this?

Million Mile Secrets

@ Harry K: Unfortunately, there is no good way to guarantee that the award seats will still be available. I would try calling in to a United Airlines agent and explaining your situation. They can almost definitely help, but remember that you would likely be subject to the telephone booking fee!

I can squeeze out a free oneway by taking advantage of United’s booking rules that allow one stopover and two open jaws for international awards from the US. This is better than the Excursionist Perk because I can cross United’s Regions.

You mentioned Aeroplan Miles in your piece – does that mean it is possible for me to use the United website to book with Aeroplan Miles?

Million Mile Secrets

@Adriana: Unfortunately, the free one way flight can only be used when booking with United Airlines miles. But you can use the United.com website to search for Star Alliance award flights, which you can then book with Aeroplan miles!