We devote thousands of hours of research to help you get Big Travel with Small Money. You support us by signing-up for credit cards through partner links which earn us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
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 rules 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.
In this 4 part series, I’m teaching 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
- Part 1: Introduction
- Part 2: How to Use United.com to Book Award Flights
- Part 3: Extend Your Vacation and Save Miles
- Part 4: 5 Crazy Ways to Use the Excursionist Perk for Maximum Value
Using the Excursionist Perk to Add a Free One-Way Flight and Stopover
Under the previous United MileagePlus program rules, you could book a free stopover as part of a round-trip award flight. So how is the free one-way flight with the United Airlines Excursionist Perk any different? I’ll show you!
Best Use of Free One-Way Flight
Under the new rules, you can still book a “normal” free one-way flight and stopover on your next trip. But you can also utilize the free one-way flight in conjunction with 2 one-way flights, making the perk even more valuable!
So you can use the one-way flight for a free stopover on your vacation, allowing you to visit one more city for free! This is the simplest use of the United Airlines Excursionist Perk, and will be very valuable for most people.
For example, you could book the following:
- Fly San Francisco to Paris (30,000 United Airlines miles, one-way in coach)
- Fly Paris to Amsterdam (free one-way because it’s fully within a single region – Europe – that is different than the originating region – mainland US)
- Fly home from Amsterdam to San Francisco (30,000 United Airlines miles, one-way in coach)
Or you can get a free one-way flight when trying to “piece together” 2 or more separate trips. For example, you might use your free one-way flight in Europe in between two domestic (continental US) trips.
So your booking could be as follows:
- Los Angeles to Newark (12,500 United Airlines miles)
- Dublin to Vienna (Free one-way flight)
- Newark to Washington, DC (10,000 United Airlines miles)
Note: So anytime you book a regular round-trip flight within the mainland US using United Airlines miles, you can add a free one-way flight within any other region. Just make sure the date of your free one-way flight falls between the other award flights!
If you can plan your trip far enough in advance, you can essentially “sandwich” a free one-way flight between 2 flights you already need to take. By doing so, you can save 15,000 United Airlines miles per person!
In this scenario, you would save 15,000 United Airlines miles. Paying only 22,500 United Airlines miles for a trip that should have cost 37,500 miles is a GREAT deal!
Even if you don’t need the final flight from Newark to Washington, DC, you might want to book your trip this way and “throw away” your final flight! That’s because you save 15,000 United Airlines miles on your flight within Europe by paying 10,000 miles for the final segment!
Note: To “throw away” the last segment of a flight means to not use it. In the above example, you would only use the first 2 flights, and intentionally not take your flight from Newark to Washington, DC.
Generally, airlines don’t like when passengers do this, and it is against many airlines’ terms and conditions. But “throw away ticketing” is not illegal, so only use this strategy if you are OK with the risks!
For example, airlines have been known to suspend the frequent flyer accounts of folks who “throw away” tickets on a regular basis. And United Airlines (unsuccessfully) sued a company, Skiplagged, which helps folks find cheaper fares in conjunction with throw away paid tickets.
Remember that your free one-way flight must fall sometime between your 1st and 2nd booked flights. So your flight from Dublin to Vienna would need to occur before your flight from Newark to Washington, DC. This requirement makes “throwing away” your final segment even more valuable, because you can book it up to 1 year in the future!
So if you needed a flight to Newark in January and a flight to Johannesburg in December, you could book the following itinerary:
- Los Angeles to Newark on January 20th
- Dublin to Vienna on December 1st (free one-way flight)
- Newark to Washington, DC on December 3rd (“throw away” this flight)
Or you could construct the same itinerary as above, but with your free one-way flight within the region of Africa. That’s a great deal to get such a long flight for no additional miles! A flight from Nairobi to Johannesburg normally costs 17,500 United Airlines miles.
So it might be worth it to book the final leg from Newark to Washington, DC, even if you don’t need it! In this case, you would end up saving 7,500 United Airlines miles, even if you didn’t need the last flight.
For example, you could book the following itinerary for 30,000 United Airlines miles:
- One-way flight from Los Angeles to Newark (12,500 United Airlines miles)
- One-way flight from Nairobi to Johannesburg (17,500 United Airlines miles)
Or, you could book the following itinerary and “throw away” the last segment:
- One-way flight from Los Angeles to Newark (12,500 United Airlines miles)
- One-way flight from Nairobi to Johannesburg (Free one-way flight)
- One-way flight from Newark to Washington, DC (10,000 United Airlines miles)
Note: You can use your free one-way flight in any other “region” as well, as long as it is not the continental US. For a list of United Airlines’ region definitions, visit the United MileagePlus website.
Free One-Way Flight in Business Class
Even better, you can use the United Airlines Excursionist Perk’s free one-way flight when booking itineraries in Business Class. This means you can get even more value from your free one-way flight!
Consider the following itinerary in Business Class on United Airlines’ Star Alliance partner airlines:
- Vienna to Zurich one-way in Business Class (30,000 United Airlines miles )
- Nairobi to Johannesburg one-way in Business Class (Free one-way flight!)
- Brussels to Frankfurt one-way in coach (15,000 United Airlines miles)
The total amount of miles needed for this itinerary is only 45,000 United Airlines miles. But individually booking only the first 2 segments would cost 65,000 United Airlines miles! The pricing would be as follows:
- Vienna to Zurich one-way in Business Class (30,000 United Airlines miles)
- Nairobi to Johannesburg one-way in Business Class (35,000 United Airlines miles)
By adding the final flight from Brussels to Frankfurt, you satisfy the rules of the United Airlines Excursionist Perk and can get a free one-way flight. And even if you “throw away” the flight from Brussels to Frankfurt, booking this itinerary will still save you 20,000 United Airlines miles!
Note: As long as you are booking the flights with United Airlines miles, you can use the free one-way flight on any of United Airlines’ Star Alliance partners!
In summary, use the following strategy to save miles:
- Book 2 inexpensive one-way award flights within a single region
- Then, book an expensive one-way award flight within a different region
Note: If you want to fly Business or First Class on the free one-way flight, you must also book it on the previous flight. But that could still be a great deal!
So you are saving miles on the expensive flight, because it is your free one-way under the United Airlines Excursionist Perk. And you can take advantage of geographically big regions, such as Europe and Central & Southern Africa.
Things to Remember
Unfortunately, the date of your free one-way flight must fall sometime between your 1st and 2nd booked flights. So it would be impossible to book the above flight from Brussels to Frankfurt before the free one-way flight in Africa.
If you want your free one-way flight to be in Business or First Class, your first booked flight must be in the same cabin or higher. So you can only book a free one-way flight in First Class or Business Class if your first award flight is in First Class or Business Class, respectively. However, you can always book your free one-way in a lower class of service than your first flight, if no premium cabin seats are available!
Additionally, the United Airlines booking tool can be somewhat clunky. And with the new updates to the United MileagePlus program, you are only allowed to book itineraries created by the United Airlines website.
Note: If you are searching for award flights and receive an error screen, go back to United.com to start your search over. That should resolve the issue!
The United Airlines Excursionist Perk can be incredibly valuable, giving travelers a free one-way flight. For most folks, this can be useful to add a free stopover on their next vacation, or to get a free one-way flight for a completely different trip. You are also eligible to use your free one-way flight in Business or First Class as long as your first award flight was in the same or a higher cabin.
You might also want to consider using “throw away ticketing” to save miles on flights you would book anyways. The free one-way flight helps folks get a free flight in a more expensive region when booking two flights in cheaper region, leading to possibly huge savings!
In my next post, I’ll show you a few crazier examples of how to use the United Airlines Excursionist Perk to get Big Travel with Small Money!
Ask questions in the comments and we’ll try to help!