trick

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Last month, I wrote about saving money on paid tickets by using a “fake location.” The idea is that airlines charge different amounts for the same ticket depending on where you’re from or where you say you’re from.

I just had the opportunity to use the trick, and I saved 47% on an intra-Egypt flight.

I’m going to spend a week in Egypt in May, and I want to split the time between Luxor and Cairo. My fancy award tickets, which I’ll be writing about in the coming days, fly into Luxor and out of Cairo, so I’ve just got to get myself from Luxor to Cairo on a separate ticket.

Award Booking?

My first thought is always to book an award ticket, but in this case, it’s a very poor value.

United shows award space every day on the route, usually on multiple flights, but the price is 20,000 miles in economy and 35,000 in business–steep for a one hour flight.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 11.05.37 AM

These segments might be very useful as part of a larger award, but I’m not spending 20,000 miles on what turned out to be a sub-$100 flight.

Paid Ticket Search

I headed to kayak.com to check out the price of a paid ticket, which was $112.

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That’s not terrible, and certainly better than 20,000 miles, but I wondered if a fake location would make the flight cheaper.

I went to egyptair.com and selected Egypt as my country and English as my language.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 11.09.05 AM

It’s nice that Egyptair lets you pick English/Egpyt. Some sites put you into the native language if you choose the airline’s home country. In that case, using the Google Chrome browser to automatically translate is helpful.

Searching the exact same dates on egyptair.com “from Egypt” brought much cheaper results than my Kayak search “from the United States.” (In fact, I was in Argentina for both.)

Luxor to Cairo priced out at 422 Egyptian Pounds, about $59.
Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 12.23.59 PMI selected my ideal flight and paid with my Citi ThankYou® Premier Card because it has no foreign transaction fees. In my Citi account, the charge shows as $59.16, a 47% discount on what someone who didn’t know the fake-location trick would have paid.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 11.00.01 AM

I’m sure I’ll find plenty of ways to spend the $53 I saved on my trip!

Have you used the “fake location” trick before for big savings?

Full explanation of the trick with examples and uses: Book Tickets from Fake Location to Save Money

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Pay for your cheap flights intra-country with the Arrival Plus then redeem Arrival miles to remove the charge.

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Delta awards that originate in Europe have big fuel surcharges, but they can be dumped fairly easily.

The fuel surcharges weren’t much of an issue for most Americans in the past when Delta required roundtrip awards because not many of us book roundtrips originating in Europe. But now that Delta allows one way awards, the fuel surcharges for awards originating in Europe are very annoying. They effectively make it cost-prohibitive to book a one way award from Europe to the United States.

The Problem

For instance this Madrid to New York one way has 199 euros ($230) worth of taxes, fees, and charges.

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That roughly lines up with the taxes and fuel surcharges (194 euros) of a cash ticket.

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But if you book this one way as part of a roundtrip to Madrid, you pay only $91 total in taxes for the entire roundtrip.

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The Solution

The way to fuel dump the one way ticket out of Europe is to add a preceding one way ticket that originates somewhere other than Europe, like the United States.

Go to the Delta Multi-city search page and search for a flight that doesn’t originate in Europe followed by your one way ticket from Europe to the United Staes.

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 7.37.04 PM

In the above example, I’ve chose Atlanta to New York preceding Madrid to New York. Yes, back-to-back flights on the award go to New York. I chose this example to show that the preceding flight can really be any flight that doesn’t originate in Europe.

This award booked at 87,500 miles + $68–no fuel surcharges–in First Class and Business Class. That’s 25,000 miles for Domestic First Class and 62,500 miles for Business Class from Europe to the United States.

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 7.17.46 PM

It priced as 42,500 miles in economy–12,500 miles for domestic economy and 30,000 miles for Europe to the United States. Again without fuel surcharges.

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 7.17.09 PM

Unfortunately online I couldn’t get the computer to price domestic economy plus Business Class returning from Europe. When I selected flights like that, it overrode my selection and put the first flight in First Class.

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 7.18.46 PM

The first flight doesn’t need to be a domestic flight in the United States. Here is an example where the first flight is Seoul to Tokyo, which by the way, is dirt cheap at 7,500 miles one way.

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 7.33.46 PM

The award prices at 37,500 miles + $88 in taxes–again, no fuel surcharges.

The Problems with the Solution

The big one: If you don’t fly the first flight, your entire award will be cancelled. Pick a first flight you actually need.

Smaller one: Domestic First Class on most routes is not worth double the price of economy, but I couldn’t price out domestic economy for the first flight plus international Business Class home from Europe. I suspect you could price this out correctly by phone. I further suspect the agent’s computer would spit out the taxes without fuel surcharges for the entire award, and the agent wouldn’t even notice that you just dumped over $200 in bogus fuel surcharges.

Hat Tip for this trick to reader John who came up with it while playing around with a Delta award he was booking.

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Pay your award taxes and fees with the Arrival Plus then redeem Arrival miles to remove the charge.

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United.com is convenient to use, but doesn’t work very well.

I ran a simple search the other day, and got a different problem with a different solution for the outbound and the return.

The Plan

I was just running a search from Chicago to Sydney roundtrip. I was expecting to route from Chicago to Vancouver to Sydney.

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 10.55.41 AM

It’s only a little more flying than routing through San Francisco or Los Angeles, and Air Canada’s flight out of Vancouver has much more award space than United’s flights from San Francisco and Los Angeles, especially in Business Class.

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.04.21 AM

Searching the Hardest Leg First

I found dates that worked on the direct flight from Vancouver to Sydney roundtrip first because I always start with the hardest leg in my searches. (If you don’t know the hardest leg, start with the longest leg.)Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.07.54 AM

These flights cost 160,000 United miles + $131 in Business Class. As a refresher, United charges more miles to fly partners in premium cabins than to fly its own premium cabins. United would charge only 140,000 miles roundtrip in United BusinessFirst and 160,000 miles roundtrip in United Global First to Australia.Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.08.01 AM

The Full Search

Knowing which days had award space in Business Class on the Air Canada flights, I searched the entire Chicago to Sydney award roundtrip on those days on united.com. The calendar at the top of the search results told me there was Saver economy and Business Class award space on the day I searched.

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Yet the results showed only Saver award space in economy. And the results only featured United flights. No partner options were offered.
Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.14.21 AM

Solution 1: Display 50 Flights

You can often get new and better results from united.com just by asking it show you more results.

I clicked on Advanced Search at the bottom of my results.
Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.10.23 AM

At the bottom of the Advanced Search page, I toggle the Number of Flights to Display to 50.Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.10.46 AM

Re-running the search brought results that featured the Business Class flight from Vancouver to Sydney.

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After selecting the outbound, though, no results were found with the Air Canada Business Class segment for the return even though, again, the calendar said I should find some and I asked 50 results to be displayed.

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Solution 2: Segment-by-Segment Searching

For the return, the way to find award space was segment-by-segment searching. I already had found award space from Sydney to Vancouver, landing November 17 at 7:35 AM.

I searched Vancouver to Chicago and found award space on a few flights.

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I could select the 10:30 AM departure in economy if I valued getting back to Chicago quickly or the 1:41 PM if I wanted to fly Business Class on the four hour flight.

Here is a post on Segment-by-Segment searching with a full example.

Since I couldn’t get united.com to show the full Sydney to Vancouver to Chicago return, to book these flights, I’d need to put something on hold then call in to United and feed the agent the flights I’d found.

Bottom Line on United.com

United.com doesn’t display all possible connections, sometimes says there’s no space on flights with space, and sometimes says there’s space on flights with no space.

It’s not as good as aeroplan.com or ANA.com–click the links for how and why to search those sites–at displaying Star Alliance award space. If you decide to use united.com–to redeem United miles or because it is the easiest site to use–be aware of possible errors and solutions.

Bonus: Free One Way

This roundtrip United award could include a stopover or a free one way before or after the main award to/from Chicago to/from anywhere else in Canada or the continental United States.

See Free One Ways on United Awards

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A friend passed along an article from Time.com that advocates doing something I’ve done a few times, but not described:

You can often get a cheaper price on a cash ticket if you book the ticket in foreign currency through airline’s website designed for use by people in another country.

For instance, you can save about 35% on a roundtrip from Santiago, Chile to Easter Island, Chile booking in Chilean pesos through the LAN Chile website instead of in dollars through the LAN USA website.

I’ve noticed similarly cheaper flights using Colombian websites intra-Colombia and, most notably, Argentine websites intra-Argentina.

It’s easy to search the foreign websites, easy to translate them to English, and easy to pay with a credit card with no foreign transaction fees, so this is a trick everyone should be using.

Searching Foreign Websites

I recommend starting at the ITA Matrix. There you can quickly search for flights while toggling the “Sales city.” I searched Santiago to Easter Island roundtrip in April twice.

The first time I left “Sales city” blank, which defaults to departure city.

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The second time I put Washington DC for the “Sales city” to see what the price would be on American websites.

Washington DC as a sales city led to a price of $616.Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.23.53 PM

Santiago as a sales city led to a price of CL$242,586.Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.24.24 PM

That is $393 or a 36% discount on the price designed for Americans.Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.25.01 PM

You can continue to select different sales cities and might find a cheaper price, but generally the cheapest price will be the foreign country where the flights are.

To get the price in pesos, head to lan.com. Along the top, you’ll see United States (English) as the default selection.
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Change it to Chile. This will give you a Spanish-language site of course.

Getting the Foreign Website into English

If you use Google Chrome as your browser, you’ll be asked whether you want to translate the page to English.Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.26.07 PM

Going through the purchase steps, I was able to replicate the price of CL$242,586.Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.27.42 PM

Avoiding Foreign Transaction Fees

The last step would be to purchase the ticket with a card with no foreign transaction fees to avoid being dinged 3% on top of the $393.

If you want a free ticket, purchase the flights with your Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® and then redeem Arrival miles to remove the $393 purchase from your statement. See how to redeem Arrival miles.

If you want to earn 3x ThankYou Points per dollar, use your Citi Prestige® Card, which also gets you $250 in free flights per year. See my review of the Prestige.

 

If you don’t have either, you can also get 2x ThankYou Points per dollar on the Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards Card or 2x Ultimate Rewards on the Chase Sapphire Preferred, both without foreign transaction fees.

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Citi Prestige® Card with 30,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $2,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months, lounge access, $250 per calendar year in airline fee credits, and more

  • $250 Air Travel Credit each year
  • Complimentary 4th Night for any hotel stay
  • Earn 30,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after $2,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open.
  • Earn 3x points on Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 2x points on Dining at Restaurants and Entertainment
  • 1 ThankYou® Point per $1 spent on other purchases
  • Travel with ease and enjoy chip based technology

Application Link: Citi Prestige® Card

 

 

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I gave a well-received presentation on Trick Awards at the Chicago Seminars in October.

The presentation dealt with free one ways, negative price one ways, open jaws, stopovers, avoiding fuel surcharges, and award chart SUPER sweet spots.

Enjoy!

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As you read this, I’m 35,000 feet up on my way to Medellin, Colombia.

I was in Tucson over the weekend for a tennis tournament, and I didn’t have any exit flight booked. I really wanted to return to Colombia because I had enjoyed Bogota so much and heard even better things about Medellin, but award space didn’t appear to be available for a Monday departure from Tucson to Medellin.

I used two tricks and a little bit of creativity to come up with a Saver award, save myself $75 in fees, and give myself a chance to hang out with a buddy I haven’t seen in a few years.

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  • What were my two tricks?
  • How did I save $75?

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I met the author of Don’t Call the Airline (great blog name, right?), a Canadian frequent flyer miles blog, at the Chicago Seminars.

He came up to me and told me about how he had earned 20,000+ Virgin Australia Velocity miles and status by flying a Delta AWARD ticket.

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  • What did DCTA do to “earn” the miles?
  • Is the process repeatable?

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You can still pay United’s award prices from January 2014 and before for premium cabin awards.

The catch is that you need to be changing an existing award that you booked February 2, 2014 or earlier. Any award you booked before that date–no matter the origin, destination, cabin, and airline–that you haven’t flown yet should be eligible to be changed to any other award at the old award prices.

I recently changed a First Class award from North Asia to the United States to a different routing on a different airline and paid zero extra miles even though the current price for the award is 50,000 miles more than I originally paid.

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I get to fly in this suite after my change!

The MileValue Award Booking Service is ready to help you if you have an old United award you want to change to something better at the old prices.

  • How can you find out if you have any awards that are eligible to be changed at the old rates?
  • What are the old rates?
  • How do you make the change?
  • What change did I make?

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I actually haven’t ranked my travel tips, but I love this one because it’s super simple and saves me from getting lost all around the world.

But it’s not my #1 travel tip, which would probably be “use miles” or “travel more” or “travel solo” or something like that.

It may not even be my #2 travel tip because you can save a lot of money with these two:

Anyway, here’s how I avoid getting lost worldwide when I don’t have cell phone data. I used this trick in Slovenia last month because T-Mobile doesn’t offer free data there, and I’ve used it to navigate the dusty streets and alleys of Kampala, Uganda without issue.

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I fly a lot of flights in economy class. While all my longhauls are in business or first, when I fly domestically or hop around Southeast Asia, Europe, or Australia, it’s almost always in coach.

It’s just not worth using airline miles to book short flights in first class. I prefer to book cheap economy flight with Arrival miles and save my airline miles for international first class.

Last week I read an article called “30 Pilots And Flight Attendants Confess Their Best Kept Secrets,” and one of the secrets was actually an amazing tip I can’t believe I didn’t already know.

It won’t quite give you this much space in economy, but it does make flying in the back a little more comfortable.

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Cathay Pacific First Class

How have I given myself more room in economy this week?

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The 50k mile bonus offer is back on the Lufthansa card mentioned in this post until 6/30/14. Get it now!

  • Earn 20,000 award miles after your first purchases or balance transfer
  • Earn an additional 30,000 award miles when you spend $5,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening
  • Earn 2 award miles per $1 on ticket purchases directly from Miles & More integrated airline partners and 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases
  • Cardholders receive a companion ticket after first use of the account and annually after each account anniversary
  • No Foreign transaction fees on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • Redeem miles for flight awards and upgrades on Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, SWISS, Star Alliance member airlines and on other partners
  • $79 Annual Fee. Please see Terms and Conditions for complete details

Application Link: The Lufthansa Premier Miles & More World MasterCard

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United massively devalued its award chart on February 1, 2014, in particular for First Class awards on partner airlines.

Lufthansa First Class from the US to Europe went from 67,500 United miles each way to 110,000 miles each way.

Exacerbating that enormous price increase is the fact that Lufthansa First Class awards are generally only bookable two weeks before departure with United miles because that’s when Lufthansa finally releases First Class award space to partners.

While conventional wisdom was that Lufthansa First Class would only be bookable at its old 67,500-mile price for flights through early March 2014, I suggested in a post that you could lock in the old price for Lufthansa First Class through February 2015 by booking Lufthansa First Class at the old rate before the devaluation and later using the cancel-and-rebook-later trick.

What is the cancel-and-rebook-later trick? How was I able to change my award to Lufthansa First Class at the old price last week?

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Update 3/6/14: This post is outdated. See Master Thread: Holds on United Awards

In What You Need to Know about United Award Holds, I ran through the two ways to hold a United award online:

  1. Any award that contains a partner segment can be held for free if your account does not have sufficient miles to ticket the award immediately. Bill wrote about this trick at length with screen shots.
  2. Any award can be held through the PayPal trick as long as you do have sufficient miles in the account.

The first trick is dead!

How can you now hold a United award?

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I was featured in a recent Forbes article called “20 Holiday Travel Secrets from Industry Insiders” about tips for cheaper and more comfortable holiday travel. My main suggestion for holiday travel that made the article was:

Use credit card points

Because airlines usually black out holiday travel dates for cashing in frequent flyer miles, “Use credit card points that are good on any flight, any time, on any airline like Arrival Miles [from the Barclaycard Arrival(TM) World MasterCard® – Earn 2x on All Purchases], Capital One miles, and FlexPoints [from the U.S. Bank FlexPerks® Travel Rewards Visa Signature® Card]. In the case of a FlexPerks award, you even get a $25 credit for baggage, food, or lounge access on the day of travel,” says Scott Grimmer, founder of MileValue.com.

What are my other top tips for cheaper and more comfortable holiday travel that didn’t make the article?

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United.com has one glaring flaw in the way that it was programmed that you can correct to become a better award searcher than united.com.

This is the ultimate trick when united.com tells you there is no Saver Award Availability on the route you want on the date you want.

How can you be better at award searching than united.com?

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Reader Christopher emailed me an exciting tip the other day: free oneways are possible on United awards within the continental USA and Canada. I already knew free oneways were possible on international United awards and awards to Hawaii, but this was news.

He sent me some screenshots, and I was able to replicate his findings and add some more of my own. I learned four things:

  1. Christopher’s tip: You can get a free oneway on roundtrip Standard economy awards within the US and Canada. That means three oneway Standard awards for 50k United miles. This is a savings of 25k miles.
  2. You can book a roundtrip award that is half in Saver economy space and half in Standard economy space with an additional oneway in Standard space for 42.5k United miles. This is a savings of 20k United miles.
  3. You can add a oneway onto a roundtrip Saver economy award ticket within the US and Canada for 10k miles. That means three oneway Saver economy awards for 35k United miles. This is a savings of 2.5k miles.
  4. You can add a oneway onto a roundtrip Saver business/first award ticket within the US and Canada for 10k miles. That means three oneway Saver business/first awards for 60k United miles. This is a savings of 15k miles.

Free Oneway on Roundtrip Economy Standard Awards

United has two prices for award ticket: the Saver price and the Standard price. I think of the Saver price as the “real” price and the Standard price as the “double” price. Saver space is heavily capacity controlled, and Standard space is almost always available.

Within the upper 49 US states and Canada, United charges 12,500 miles each direction for economy Saver awards and 25,000 miles each way for economy Standard awards.

That means a roundtrip Standard economy award is 50,000 miles, which I consider to be a horrible deal in the vast majority of cases. Why? I value 50,000 United miles at about $900, which is quite pricey for a domestic roundtrip.

But Christopher sent me screenshots of free oneways on domestic roundtrip Standard awards.

Here’s an example:

LAX-Orlando, Orlando-LAX, LAX-Chicago for 50k on all Standard space

In the example above, all the space is Standard economy space, denoted by the YN in parentheses at the end of the Fare Class line.

That means that

Los Angeles to Orlando on December 23, 2013

Orlando to Los Angeles on January 2, 2014

alone should cost 50,000 miles as a roundtrip Standard economy award. But in fact, the whole award costs 50,000 miles total including the third segment from Los Angeles to Chicago in economy. That means Los Angeles to Chicago added zero extra miles, and Los Angeles to Chicago is a free oneway.

Or if you prefer, you can think of this trick as getting three oneway trips for 50,000 miles, meaning 16,667 miles for each one. That’s a 33% premium over the Saver price, but it could be worth it in some cases.

Do the math for each potential award. Just because there is a free oneway doesn’t mean the award is a good deal, and just because Standard space is involved doesn’t mean the award is a bad deal.

For instance, the three segments above would cost $748.70 if purchased with cash. Plugging the award into the Mile Value Calculator, the award only gets about 1.3 cents of value per mile.

But just because my one example isn’t a great award doesn’t mean great uses of this trick don’t exist. This trick seems to encompass any three oneway Standard itineraries. If you are looking to book three very expensive oneways, 50,000 miles could be a good deal. Possible uses:

  • Booking a roundtrip Standard award to an event that is causing airfare prices to spike and Saver spaces to disappear, like the Super Bowl, and adding another expensive oneway trip. (Although there is plenty of award space to EWR at the moment for next year’s cold-weather Super Bowl.)
  • Booking a roundtrip award at the last minute where Saver space is not available, and adding another expensive oneway. (Ideally you would have status too, so the close in ticketing fee for booking an award within 21 days of departure would be reduced or waived.)
  • You live in a small city where very little Saver space is released, so you are stuck with Standard space. Three oneways using Standard space for 50,000 miles isn’t so bad since paid fares are probably expensive.
Charlottesville, VA to Las Vegas roundtrip plus Charlottesville to Houston oneway in Standard space for 50k

Cheap Oneway on a Roundtrip Mixed Standard/Saver Economy Award

The foregoing example makes theoretical sense to me: you can get a free oneway on a Standard roundtrip economy award within the US. But I can’t explain this second one.

If the outbound of a domestic roundtrip is in Saver space and the return is in Standard space, you can add a oneway to the end in Standard space, and the total award will price at 42,500 miles. I have no idea where that price comes from.

LAX to Orlando in Saver, Orlando to LAX and LAX to Chicago in Standard

The roundtrip from LAX to Orlando should cost 37,500 miles since oneway is in Saver space and oneway is in Standard space. The oneway from LAX to Chicago should be another 25,000 miles.

But instead of 62,500 miles, the price is 42,500 miles total. This is getting to the territory where I could see a lot of itineraries making sense. If I really needed a domestic oneway ticket as a Standard award, I would make sure to ticket that award using this trick.

Cheap Oneways on Roundtrip Saver Economy Awards

Most of us probably book Saver economy awards within the US if we book domestic awards at all. A roundtrip Saver award is 25,000 miles.

You can add a oneway on to that for 10,000 more miles. That’s not a huge discount–2,500 miles–but it’s nice to know.

Chicago to San Francisco roundtrip plus Chicago to Tampa oneway for 35k

 

Cheap Oneways on Roundtrip Saver Business/First Awards

A roundtrip Saver award in domestic first class costs 50k miles. I can’t imagine that ever being a good value for me, since domestic first class is just a slightly wider seat, seven extra inches of leg room, and a meal worth maybe $10.

But 50k miles is also the price of a roundtrip on flat beds on United’s p.s. flights from JFK to LAX and San Francisco in business class. That’s a price I might actually pay since those flights exceed six hours, and a bed is a big upgrade over an economy seat.

In another price I can’t explain, the price to add a oneway in domestic first class to a roundtrip in domestic first or business class is 60,000 miles total.

JFK to LAX roundtrip in flat beds, LAX to Chicago in domestic first for 60k miles
LAX to Dulles roundtrip plus LAX to Chicago, all in domestic first for 60k miles

 

Why do these four tricks work?

I assume these are glitches.

Any way to get more out of the tricks?

The tricks that maximize the value of Standard space are useful for very few awards, namely awards where the equivalent cash ticket would be very expensive. Unfortunately on those flights, even Standard awards might not be available because Standard awards don’t have “last seat availability” for the general public.

But if you have the United Explorer card or United elite status, you can get any seat, any time for the Standard award price. That means three super expensive oneways can be had for 50,000 miles, which could be a great deal.

I got an error message when I tried to replicate the methods in this post.

That happens a lot on united.com multicity searches, which is the only way to search for free oneways on United. Ordinarily I recommend calling in to piece together the award when you get an error on united.com. But since I think these prices are caused by a glitch, I would say that an error message just means you are out of luck.

The only error messages I’ve gotten on these searches are when I tried to string three flat bed p.s. flights together like JFK-LAX//LAX-JFK//JFK-SFO, and when I tried to take the free oneway back to where the roundtrip went like ORD-SFO//SFO-ORD//ORD-SFO.

Recap

A reader tip sent me to explore free stopovers on United domestic awards. I found:

  • You can get free oneways on domestic roundtrip Standard economy awards. That means three Standard oneways for 50,000 miles.
  • You can get a cheap oneway on a domestic roundtrip economy award that is half Standard/half Saver. That means two Standard oneways and one Saver oneway for 42,500 miles.
  • You can get a cheap oneway on a domestic roundtrip Saver economy award. That means three Saver oneways for 35,000 miles.
  • You can get a cheap oneway on a domestic roundtrip Saver business/first award. That means three Saver business/first awards (including up to two on flat beds on the transcontinental p.s. flights) for 60,000 miles.



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