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

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

Scott LiebermanExploit The “Excursionist” United Airlines Loophole for Free Segments: Part 1 – IntroductionMillion 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.  

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)


  • 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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If you are booking a one-way award flight on United, do they ever allow a stopover? I know this is about the new United perk, but I’m considering a LAX-Tokyo-Australia award ticket in business class, but it only allows for a day (arrives early morning and leaves late in the eve) in Tokyo, where I’d really like to spend two or so days before leaving for Oz. Does United ever allow that?

I am new to all of this and have not been using my chase sapphire reserve points like I should have been. Frankly, the whole point transfer system still does not make any sense to me and I am a numbers guy. How would you go about booking from Seattle to Europe. The main one being Scotland (we want to get married there) and Ireland is at the top of the list along with several others. We are open to say the least. And dates are flexible – sooner rather than later preferably. I found roundtrips flights to London nonstop for a great price the end of the month but have no clue on how to go about booking from there to make the most of it. any suggestions?

The Excursionist perk doesn’t work as a true perk. If I buy the round trip ticket offered by United to travel from NC to Manila, with a layover in Germany on the first trip and a layover in Tokyo on the return, United requires 80,000 of my award miles for the whole round trip. Yes, they will let me travel to a second location in Europe but they won’t allow you to stay – for ever a short time before continuing my trip unless I give them 50,000 more award miles! It is of no advantage to add a second location in the second region but be denied any stay time in that location. It is not perk to just add a short plane trip in the second region. Every United agent I talk to says the same thing, “I don’t understand why this airline calls it a “perk” if you aren’t allow to visit that second location without being charged a large amount of reward miles.”

Using ORD as my home airport, is there a way to use the excursionist perk to visit multiple South Pacific Islands (excluding the Island Hopper)? I’d love to visit Fiji and another country.


I’ve failed in all of my attempts to find this itinerary or an itinerary similar to this.

Just checking, if you fly to Europe from Hawaii and then on the way back you stop in New York let’s say, would this work? You’re doing your free one-way in one region, right? I tried doing something similar and it didn’t seem to work so I’m wondering if there’s just no availability or I’m doing something wrong…

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…

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