New United Free One Way Rules as of October 2016

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Edited 12/19/16 because of this change.

United Free One Ways are now more powerful than ever. A few weeks ago, United tried to cripple free one ways, but has unintentionally made the new rule that you can add a free one way almost anywhere in the world onto your international awards.

First, a short history lesson.

On October 6, 2016, United drastically changed its stopover rules. Before you could basically book any three one way awards as a “roundtrip award,” using your stopover to tack on a free one way or to make a Three One Ways award. The new rules were designed to stop free one ways by adding some restrictions about the region where stopovers can take place.

We were given a few months notice that those awards would be killed on October 6, but we were shocked to learn on October 6 that previously legal layovers would increase the price of United awards if United’s computers didn’t offer the choice online. That is a blow because there are some great, previously legal, itineraries that united.com can’t find but that a good segment-by-segment searcher can find.

All that’s the bad news. The good news is that United’s new stopover rules are more generous than we anticipated. Travel Is Free did some digging to see what’s possible on united.com under the new rules, and there are some exciting possibilities, dare I say much more exciting than under the old rules.

Here are the new rules for United awards:

  1. You can book as many itineraries as you’d like on a single United award.
  2. If you book an international award that starts and ends in the same region, you can get one free one way award as part of your “roundtrip award.”
  3. The free one way award will be the first one way award wholly within one region that isn’t your origin region.
  4. The free one way award can be up to the same cabin as the immediately preceding paid segment.
  5. The free one way award can not be after the main award.

Let’s work through these rules step-by-step with examples, and I’ll explain the way to use the new rules to your advantage.

You Can Book as Many Itineraries as You’d Like On a Single United Award

Previously you could basically stick three itineraries onto a single award.

  1. Origin to stopover.
  2. Stopover to destination.
  3. Destination to origin (or open jaw.)

Now you can stick as many itineraries as you’d like onto a single award. United.com just adds up the one way award price for each one way itinerary and charges you the total price.

As an example, you can now book the following award online with ease.

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-1-35-15-am

You can stay in each place as long as you’d like and mix cabins to your heart’s content. You get charged the one way award price for each part of the award. So Chicago to Bucharest is 30,000 miles in economy, Sao Paulo to Lima is 40,000 miles in Business Class, and so on.

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-1-28-13-am The only exception is that Lima to Bogota in Business Class is free. More on why that is the free one way award in a second.

The total is the sum of each one way award price, or 195,000 miles in this case.screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-1-34-24-am

If you book an international award that starts and ends in the same region, you can get one free one way award as part of your “roundtrip award.”

This rule is self-explanatory. The only reason that “roundtrip award” is in quotation marks is because you don’t need a roundtrip at all. You just need to start and end in the same region on United’s chart.

To give an example of a decidedly non-roundtrip award that gets a free segment, consider:

  • Newark to Nairobi on January 1
  • Nairobi to Johannesburg on January 8
  • Newark to Raleigh/Durham on May 1

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-12-14-34-am

Not only is this not a roundtrip, but the open jaw is much longer than one of the segments and the award flies out of Newark twice without ever flying into it. And yet this award gets a free one way award, the Nairobi to Johannesburg part.

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-12-09-38-am

It costs 50,000 miles:

  • Newark to Nairobi: 40,000
  • Nairobi to Johannesburg: 0
  • Newark to Raleigh/Durham: 10,000

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-12-13-55-am

This is an example of an award that would not have been allowed under the old rules for several reasons, but is allowed under the new rules.

The free one way award will be the first one way award wholly within one region that isn’t your origin region.

The free one way award doesn’t have to be logically related to the rest of your trip at all. For instance, the following award includes a free one way:

  • Newark to London | November 1 | 30,000 miles
  • Bogota to Lima | November 9 | 0 miles
  • Bucharest to Newark | November 16 | 30,000 miles

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-4-33-53-am screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-4-34-29-am I can’t imagine a scenario in which you’d want to fly that, but it is legal. And it kind of makes sense that it’s legal because United clearly wants you to use its free one ways, which it calls the Excursionist Perk, to take a stopover in the middle of your award.

Switching the order matters. You can’t put the free one way first or last.

The following award prices at 70,000 miles.

  • Bogota to Lima | November 1 | 10,000 miles
  • Newark to London | November 9 | 30,000 miles
  • Bucharest to Newark | November 16 | 30,000 miles

The free one way award will be the first one way award wholly within one region that isn’t your origin region.

For example:

  • Houston to Mexico City | April 5 | 17,500 miles
  • Mexico City to Houston | April 12 | 17,500 miles
  • New Delhi to Goa | May 10 | 0 miles
  • Kona to Honolulu | May 24 | 6,000 miles

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-5-00-00-am screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-5-00-30-am

But if you switched the order of the last two one ways and flew Kona to Honolulu before New Delhi to Goa, the Hawaiian flight would be the free one and the Indian flight would be charged, meaning the award would be more expensive.

The free one way award can be up to the same cabin as the immediately preceding charged segment.

  • If the charged one way before the free one way is in First Class, the free one way can be in economy, Business, or First.
  • If the charged one way before the free one way is in Business Class, the free one way can be in economy or Business.
  • If the charged one before the free one way is in economy, the free one way must be in economy.

For example:

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-1-21-02-am

  • Chicago to Bucharest in Business Class | April 5 | 57,500 miles
  • Addis Ababa to Cape Town in Business Class | April 12 | 0 miles
  • Chicago to New Orleans in economy | May 10 | 12,500 miles

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-1-19-49-amscreen-shot-2016-10-27-at-1-20-04-amStrategy

I think the obvious strategy is to add a free one way after all your international United awards. To maximize this strategy, book normally expensive one ways as your free one way.

I’ve made this table of the price of intra-region one way awards and the partners you can use to fly them. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think United has any partner for intra-Caribbean or intra-North Africa awards. (You can fly Copa on a one way that goes from the Caribbean to the Caribbean via Panama City, but it doesn’t price as 0 miles. Egypt is Middle East, not North Africa, so Egyptair doesn’t fly intra-North Africa.)screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-12-51-55-am

How far after the main award can your free one way be? The only limitations are that all travel must be completed within one year of your original booking and that united.com only lets you book 11 months in advance. (If you want your free one way to be between 11 and 12 months from your original booking, you’ll have to book it for within 11 months and make the change later when the schedule opens up farther.)

Bottom Line

This is probably my favorite story of the year. United tried to take away our free one ways a few weeks ago. It seemed like a waste of time and engineering talent to me because what percentage of people actually booked free one ways or Three One Way awards?

While trying to take away our free one ways, they messed up their computer programming and actually made it possible to book free one ways almost anywhere in the world–greatly expanding our options when previously free one ways were only available to/from your home airport to/from somewhere in the upper 49 states and Canada.

The new rules for booking United awards are:

  1. You can book as many segments as you’d like on a single United award.
  2. If you book an international award that starts and ends in the same region, you can get one free one way award as part of your “roundtrip award.”
  3. The free one way award will be the first one way award wholly within one region that isn’t your origin region.
  4. The free one way award can be up to the same cabin as the immediately preceding paid segment.

Enjoy your loophole free one way on United’s most expensive intra-region awards which are 20,000 miles one way in economy or 30,000 miles one way in Business Class.


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29 COMMENTS

  1. Wow. I am completely done with this blog now. Cut and paste job from all of the hardwork done by TravelIsFree without any backlinks or HT? Pathetic.

    • A perplexing comment in light of this sentence: “Travel Is Free did some digging to see what’s possible on united.com under the new rules, and there are some exciting possibilities, dare I say much more exciting than under the old rules,” which in the post includes a link to Drew’s post.

      And cut and paste? I think I greatly improved on the presentation and moderately improved on the understanding of this topic. If you didn’t learn anything from this post, you didn’t read it.

  2. I’m with Jay on this one. The initial discovery was credited and a link provided. No dirty pool here, I’d say.
    Scott, how tough and/or expensive is it to change the last leg of an award itinerary one travel has begun?

  3. @scott grimmer
    very interesting!
    could you do a domestic USA round trip and afterwards a one-way excursion for zero extra miles within another region?
    ex: IAD-ORD-IAD // MAD-WAW?
    i could not get it to price correctly.
    thanks

  4. I don’t think this is a cut-and-paste. I think this is a great post, with Scott’s own usual detailed analysis, and the original is acknowledged. I checked out the original post. I actually like Scott’s better.

  5. While I do think a more prominent attribution location would be fitting, he did link to Travel Is Free. Also, Scott has been writing about United free one-ways for like 4 years, so it’s not like it’s new ground. This post also has a piece of unique content that I hadn’t seen elsewhere yet: the ability to put the free one-way at the end of the itinerary. I’ve been writing about this topic for the last week and hadn’t thought to try that myself, so kudos to Scott for his find!

  6. I’m trying to book a RT ticket from SFO-ICN with a stopover in Tokyo.

    how can I use this to my advantage? I tried SFO-ICN, NRT-SFO and then my “free stopover” ICN-NRT (or NRT-ICN) and it doesn’t work out. –always charges me that last portion

    or I even tried SFO-ICN, ICN-SFO and then MEX-SFO (just as a random choice) and still charges me for that MEX-SFO

    what am i not understanding corretly?

    • NRT-ICN is not in one region. It goes from Japan to North Asia. MEX-SFO is not in the same region. It is Mexico and Continental US. Your free one way has to be within one region.

      • Thanks Scott. I (think) I understand now. these new changes are so confusing and I can see how they can be of advantage to some users. Unfortunately for me (travel 1-2x/year, with 2 kids) it probably doesn’t help me much.

        However, I tried SFO-ICN RT and then my free OW being SFO-EWR and it wanted to charge me miles for the last portion (SFO-EWR). am I again not understanding correctly? (SFO and EWR being in the same region).

        If that should work, then can I do (SFO-NRT, NRT-SFO) for 70k and get my (SFO-EWR) for free?

        Thanks.

  7. How do you do that search? Every time I am trying to book Multi-city award on United it gives me an error:
    “We are unable to process your request. Please see the message below for details.
    We were not able to find any available seats meeting your requirements. You may modify your search criteria, or call 1-800-UNITED-1 (1-800-864-8331) within the U.S. or Canada; elsewhere contact your local United Reservations Office.”

    I need SFO or LAX -> KIX or ITM, KIX->NRT, NRT/HND->LAX. Tried different searches, there is availability on OW or RT, but always an error on Multi-city.
    What I am doing wrong? Thanks!

  8. As the above person- I also cannot make this work in multi- city,
    Would appreciate a post going thru step by step.

  9. @Scott Grimmer gets on his high horse and misfires: “United tried to take away our free one ways a few weeks ago….[W]hile trying to take away our free one ways, they messed up their computer programming and actually made it possible to book free one ways almost anywhere in the world–greatly expanding our options when previously free one ways were only available to/from your home airport to/from somewhere in the upper 49 states and Canada”

    That claim is not only ridiculous, it is wrong in impugning malicious motives to UA for the change. That you were able to find tricks “around” the new changes is not because UA hired incompetent programmers that a clever guy like you could beat (can you even program a computer?). UA simply wanted to enforce one thing and one thing only: the number of stopovers allowed per round trip award trip, which, according to the rules, should ALWAYS been ONE, but a bug in the software allowed more. Secondarily, they also wanted to automate the search of multi-city award travel and I believe that they did a great job. Anything that you are able to do with the new system is possible and will remain possible, despite your bravado, because UA did not care much whatever else you would be able to do with it [they, in fact, allowed you to do more with it by liberally permitting an almost unlimited number of “open jaws” and you should be thankful and more gracious!]. They fixed what they wanted fixed: to implement a version of “stopover” that prevents them to continue bleeding revenue — mission accomplished.

    Bottom line: UA’s intention in making this change was not as nefarious as you made it sound. How do I know? Because I asked them and they told me, as I reported here: https://goo.gl/4zMSEv and here: https://goo.gl/PJHVcy

    Nice work, but do not cheapen it with unwarranted [read: bogus] claims and false bravado.

    G’day!

  10. @Scott Grimmer also claimed: “…–greatly expanding our options when previously free one ways were only available to/from your home airport to/from somewhere in the upper 49 states and Canada.”

    That claim is also demonstrably bogus. For starter, let’s get the terminology right. What you call “one way” should be referred to as a “stopover”. Second, for the past 5 years, I have done complex, multi-city one-way award travel in N and SE Asia [i.e., outside of my home region and 49 states and Canada], yearly, with stopovers allowed galore because of the “IT bug”, which the new rules change is meant to fix to prevent the company from continuing to bleed revenue at a time when they were trying to turn things around. I can provide a link to a publicly available post in which I had expressed puzzlement 2 years ago about getting a stopover on a one-way award trip, which was verboten under the old rules.

  11. November 3, 2016 at 3:20 pm
    I don’t know how it worked for you to put the free one way at the end.
    for example, i can book:
    JFK-VIE
    SIN-HKG
    VIE-JFK
    for the same price as JFK-VIE RT, 220k in F

    but when I try to book
    JFK-VIE
    VIE-JFK
    SIN-HKG

    the price goes up to 245k in F…

    how did you do it?

    • Same with me. I was able to price a free Excursion in the middle of a trip but could not get the free Excursion at the end of a trip.

  12. Scott,
    You wouldn’t happen to have a global map color-indexed by United’s region chart? I think that would be visually helpful for your readers to easily plot their international trips while maximizing the intra-region one-ways. My girl and I love your posts. We’ve schemed our way to 11 countries (4 trips) in 2016 and have 6 more (3 trips) planned for early 2017. I’m so far down the rabbit’s hole that is the points/miles universe I couldn’t come back if I wanted to. I don’t.

    Could you please address the above commenter’s issue with the inability to reserve a separate region one-way after the trip? I assume that when I try I will have the same issue.

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