Maximizing Stopovers, Transfers and Open Jaw Ticketing on United/Continental Awards

by on July 27, 2011 · 48 comments

in Continental, Points Guy Pointers, United

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This post is focused on maximizing Continental and United awards. The Continental Onepass program will cease to exist after 12/31/11, but until then you can transfer United and Continental miles back and forth (see this post for more information). For other posts in the “Maximizing Awards” series, check out American, Delta, US Airways, Air Canada and British Airways.

United/Continental  is a Star Alliance member, which means you can redeem your miles on all 26 other Star Alliance carriers, plus United’s other airline partners: Aer Lingus, Hawaiian,  Island Air, Jet, Qatar and Taca and Continental’s other airline partners Copa, Virgin Atlantic, Eva, Amtrak, Cape Air, Hawaiian, Aeromar and Island Air.

Things to know before you get started:

1. Don’t bother with is a far superior search engine. However, most other partner and even some Star Alliance awards can only be booked over the phone: United Domestic award reservations: 1-888-467-0507, International award reservations: 1-888-674-4680; Continental: 1-800-621-7467 (I generally experience long hold times with Continental, so I prefer calling United).

2. You can put awards on hold while you wait for miles to post, though some agents may be cranky about this, but they will do it when push comes to shove.

3. A non-refundable quick ticketing fee of $75 applies to all award reservations purchased within 21 days of travel. It is $50 for Premier, $25 for Premier Exec, and free for 1Ks and GS passengers.

4. Continental and United allow one-way awards, though no stopovers are allowed.

5. On roundtrip awards, an open jaw and a stopover are allowed. For example, you can fly Los Angeles to Frankfurt, stop for a couple days, then continue on to London. Spend some time there, Chunnel to Paris and then fly Paris to Los Angeles – all for the price of a roundtrip award (see award charts on my master list).

6. You can combine Star Alliance and non-Star alliance partners on an award on Continental, but not on United. For example you can fly Virgin Atlantic (other airline partner) and Lufthansa (Star Alliance partner) on the same award on Continental.

7. You can fly to Asia via Europe, but you need to stay within 15% of the Maximum Permitted Mileage on the route you are flying. often prices trips to Asia via London on Virgin Atlantic.

8. I find Continental reps to be helpful and chatty. I’ve had agents (before the days of one-way awards), allow me to book a transatlantic trip and then a domestic trip, instead of a roundtrip international ticket. This allowed me to somewhat get around the fact they used to not allow one-ways. For example, I went Chicago-Frankfurt and then New York to Chicago, and it priced out at 1/2 transatlantic business and half domestic coach, which is generally not allowed.

9. United/Continental are flexible with routing and allow you to exceed their “maximum permitted mileage” by 15% for awards, which is very generous. I generally don’t have issues with this, so you shouldn’t need to concern yourself with this unless you are trying to put together a real crazy itinerary. For more information, especially on the MPM rules, check out this post by Matthew at

10. If booking a United standard award you cannot mix saver and standard space, while on a Continental award you can. That means if you book a ticket from Chicago to Rome via Brussels and there is only standard award space on ORD-BRU, on CO I could add on a saver BRU-FCO seat at no additional miles while on UA I’d have to book the ticket separately for 20K more miles in business class. I anticipate these two differences will be resolved post-merger to mimic Continental’s current practice.

11. Know your Star Alliance partners and routing options. For your convenience here is a list of Star Alliance partners and their hubs per as of 7/16/11.
a) Adria: Ljubljana, Pristina
b) Aegean: Athens, Thessaloniki
c) Air Canada: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary
d) Air China: Beijing, Chengdu,Shanghai
e) Air New Zealand: Auckland, Los Angeles, Hong Kong
f) ANA: Tokyo (Haneda, Narita)
g) Asiana: Incheon, Seoul
h) Austrian: Vienna
i) Blue1: Helsinki
j) bmi: London Heathrow
k) Brussels: Brussels
l) Continental: New York/Newark, Houston, Cleveland and Guam
m) Croatia: Zagreb
n) Egypt Air: Cairo
o) LOT: Warsaw
p) Lufthansa: Frankfurt, Munich
q) SAS: Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm
r) Singapore: Singapore Changi
s) South African: Johannesburg
t) Spanair: Barcelona, Madrid
u) Swiss: Zurich, Geneva, Basel
v) TAM: Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia
w) TAP: Lisbon, Porto
x) Thai: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Hat Yai
y) Turkish: Istanbul, Ankara
z) United: Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington D.C.
zz) US Airways: Charlotte, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Washington D.C

As always, feel free to comment below with questions.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Guest

    #7. is completely possible using UA miles. I have done it multiple times and nobody at UA has ever batted an eye.

  • Andrew Churchill

    A few corrections:
    5. Double open-jaw is permitted on UA or Star itineraries. A stopover is definitely permitted on UA-only with single/double open-jaw, and may/may not be permitted on Star itineraries with single/double open-jaw, depending on the rep you get and the somewhat ambiguous rules list.
    7. You most certainly can fly US-Asia via Europe – offers it all the time. On UA, where MPM rules apply, you could route via any point on earth so long as you remain within the 15M band (i.e., 15% over MPM).

  • infamousdx

    #5. I think TWO stopovers are allowed now since the June 15 changes…

  • Kris

    What are taxes to Europe like on Continental award tickets? I really want to go to Europe, but my AA miles are bookmarked for Asia and my British Airways miles for South America, because the taxes are so ridiculous on European awards.

  • Anonymous

    That link says one stopover on a roundtrip award

  • Anonymous

    Taxes are reasonable- you can price sample trips out at or Just try to avoid the $75 ticketing fee for booking within 21 days of travel

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Andrew- I’ll update the post.

  • infamousdx

    Ooops… totally meant 2 open jaws. Sorry!

  • Rick

    I have done PHL –> MUC –> PUS (Korea), PUS –> SFO –>PHL on round trip ticket award, the rep thought you couldn’t back track but you could, only can be done over the phone. The route to PUS from PHL seems to go through Europe

  • Rick

    That was on Continental, but United rep said I couldn’t do Transatlantic to, and back via Transpacific, unless I book two 1 way, but you can’t do stop over on one way.

  • Deals We Like

    Great post Brian! I actually booked a continental flight last night to Asia via Europe (London). Was able to do it online with ease. Taxes were extremely low at about $35 for a one-way ticket. Also, they were the only carrier that had low fare awards available right around Christmas. Delta was requiring an arm and a leg and American had zero availability.

  • Guest

    So even when including LH/LX segments, United won’t charge the hefty fuel surcharges these airlines charge in their own programs on redemptions?

  • Guest

    I agree with the previous two comments about No. 7. allows you to find US-Europe-Asia route using award travel.

  • foofiter

    I second this.

    I booked ATL – FRA – CDG – BKK in F using United miles. I did this before the 6/15/11 changes but even when you search on today EU routings show up!

    They are the only ones that allow going to asia via Europe!

    I attached a grab of a search I did 30 seconds ago!

  • Dan


    Timely post. I have a question about stop-overs: Does UA/CO require that they be done only at a hub? Next year, I’d like to fly IAD-FRA-BCN and then open jaw it with a MUC-AMS-IAD on the return, with MUC-AMS operated by LH and AMS-IAD operated by UA. Is this a permissible routing?

  • foofiter

    Here is an example of #6:

    United -> Virgin Atlantic -> Thai

  • Kilton9


    Love the blog. Regarding #2: I assume this precludes someone else from booking the same award and taking away your availability. Any idea how long an award can be put on hold?

  • Nguyen

    Thanks for another excellent article! On the round trip coach award, may I ask if we can go from SFO-IAH-CUN (Cancun) using Continental, and on the way back, can we stop at Houston for a few days before heading back to SFO?

  • Gary Leff

    “You technically cannot fly to Asia via Europe”

    This has never been a rule. At United it used to require paying the higher Europe-Asia mileage price, though that was inconsistently enforced. But it’s always been permitted since the introduction of Star Alliance awards with United, and with Continental since their entry into Star Alliance. And of course the rule is now just MPM-based, and there are separate MPMs for Atlantic vs Pacific crossings US-Asia.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Gary- I thought when CO joined *A they didn’t allow Europe routing- or at least it was very quiet. I changed the post to reflect otherwise

  • Liz

    I have a question related to Continental/United rewards, albeit not exactly this post- I am trying to upgrade a flight as a present for my parents, who are traveling EWR-DEN on Continental, DEN-SLC on United, and back, all booked through Continental. I’m being told that I can’t use miles to upgrade the United flights, because it is still considered a separate airline for these purposes. (Merger? Says who?) Is this correct? Any ideas? Thanks for the help!

  • abcx

    Geez, I didn’t even notice that. It’s right there – it’s true you can now do two open jaws!

    BTW, can an open jaw be in the middle of the trip? I.e., can I do something like JFK-MUC-DEL-LHR open-jaw – BRU-MUC-JFK? Astute readers will realize that I am basically trying to circumvent the APD. Of course, with two open jaws I might do an open jaw at DEL too…the mind reels with the possibilities.

  • gene

    can you please explain/provide an example of a double-open-jaw? thanks

  • Anonymous

    Flying New York to London, then the return segment being Paris to Chicago

  • Hemi

    Hey travel-enthusiasts….I am looking to book a reward flight from FLL-DXB. Not sure which points to use. I have over 50k points with BA, Continental, United, Delta, Amex, Chase Sapphire (all thanks to this blog). Any advice on which program will get me there using the least points??

  • Anonymous

    Star Alliance (Cont/United) are probably your best bet. Just use to search for availability. Though BA does have a 50% off promo until Aug 12, so check out that option as well

  • Phil

    Just booked my two week vacation (San Francisco) to London for next July. I added two 12 hour layovers (Edmonton and Chicago) and a two day stopover in Munich for a family of 4 for 60k miles each. I would not have even been able to find 60k mile tickets, much less the layovers/stopovers, without the info on this blog.

    Here are a couple points:
    - For any beginners (like I was), read the US Airways post on the same topic first. That post has some more basic information.
    - For item 2, maybe I didn’t push hard enough, but I was told that they could only hold UA flights waiting for my returns to open up (I wanted a 2 week hold). Later I was told that I could hold my star alliance itinerary for 72 hours until the last legs opened up.
    - I used the ANA tool to find most of the legs (one of the reservations agents even asked me how I was finding the flights), but I did find the UA website easier for the intra-US part of my itinerary.
    - I was charged a$25 fee per ticket for using a reservations agent even though there is no way to book this type of trip on the website.
    - A skilled agent can definitely make a big difference. One guy couldn’t figure out how to do SFO-YEG-LHR (second leg on Air Canada) even though I already had a held reservation for the same flights on a different day. Politely got off the phone with him and called back to talk to a much more skilled (and friendly) agent who did it in a snap.

  • Adamu98

    just to add as long as you get a return award and to follow the points guy example ,something like nyc -london-brussels then paris -chicago now also poss (can be longer than 24hrs in london)

  • Fernando

    Anyone want to help me out? Planning on going to the UK in October or November for a week. In either Business or First. DFW to LHR :)

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  • Irene

    Does the open jaw have to be in the same continent? I’m trying to fly from GUM-BCN . Then either TPA-Gum or LAX-Gum. Would that work with the stopover and open jaw that is allowed?

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  • Nate

    United Airlines has a 20% low fare guarantee. They basically give you 20% voucher off next flight and I think the same price as the fare you found. The question I have is, what if the flight is on US Continental? I’m finding that almost all their same flights are about $15-20 cheaper. Same flight number/time and everything. Since they are affiliated now, does that qualify for the 20%?

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  • Mike

    Anybody know how long after Jan. 1 you can continue booking award travel on I just tried booking an itinerary on both continental and united, and united clearly sucks big time in comparison. I’m planning on flying in January or February, but the actual dates aren’t set yet so I’d like to wait as long as possible before booking. Still, if the continental booking is going poof on January 1, I’ll try to commit and book before then. Advice?

  • Newguy

    Totally new to this, but have been inspired by your blog to get started in the points game. Started by signing up for Chase Sapphire (through your site) and also the United MileagePlus card, so I should have 100,000 United points coming my way soon. Question: is there a time limit to stopovers on United award travel? Do stopovers have to be under 48 hours? Do they have to be shorter than your time in your destination city? For example, if I live in LA, and I want to spend 6 days in Paris and 5 days in Rome, could I fly: LAX-Paris (stopover city), stopover for 6 days, then fly Paris-Rome (destination city), stay for 5 days, then fly Rome-LAX on the return leg? Thanks for the great blog.

  • Nabeel

    5. On roundtrip awards, an open jaw and a stopover are allowed.

    I’m trying to piece together a trip from Chicago-Tokyo (stopover) – train to Osaka (open jaw) – fly to Hong Kong (destination) – Chicago but apparently that’s not allowed. Does my open jaw and stopover have to be in the same zone? If yes can I reverse the itinerary to do Hong Kong first, stopover for a few days, fly to Osaka, and then fly home from Tokyo?

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  • AArroyo

    I want to travel from San Francisco to Puerto Rico with a stopover in New York. How can I book this online using miles? How long can I stay in NY, is there a max number of days?

  • Sonya

    What is the maximum number of legs permitted on a United award flight? Thanks!

  • HCMets

    I’m new to this, but is it possible that they’re viewing Tokyo as your destination and Hong Kong as the stopover on your way back to Chicago? If so, they might not allow it because Hong Kong is in the opposite direction as Chicago. But reversing the itinerary should solve this, I’d think. How’d it work out?

  • Christian

    I’m wondering if you can book a one way award now, and then combine it with another one way award a few months later to make a round-trip award? I’m hoping to book a flight on Qatar airways flight from BKK to IAD, and then get a first class flight on LH from IAD->KIX a few days before departure, while adding the connection between KIX and BKK. Anybody ever try this?

  • tukahe

    Hi, I am fairly new. Is it possible to choose where you a stopover and for how long without increase in fair? I am looking at one way from MCO to DEL in Oct 2012 with stop in LHR ( if possible, two days). Any thoughts? Help plz.

  • DealsSeeker

    Can you please update this post with post merger rules?

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  • Nathan

    Hi, I was wondering if I could put a question to your expertise. I booked an admittedly very sweet first class, double open jaw ticket for 150,000 miles: JFK to Auckland, then Seoul to Dulles – WITH A STOPOVER IN DOUALA (yes, not a conventional routing). The full itinerary is as follows: JFK-NRT-BKK-SYD-AKL / ICN-FRA-ADD-DLA-DLA-ADD-IAD. Now when I called in recently to have the FRA-ADD portion on Lufthansa upgraded to first (it had been booked in business since LH only opens up first 2 weeks before travel), the agent at the Star Alliance/Round The World desk said she would have to “document” the reservation as it was an “illegal booking.” She said if I wanted to make any more changes – even date changes – they’d have to redeposit my 150,000 and charge me 350,000 for a RTW first class fare. She said basically that I was very lucky to have been allowed to book what I did and that I should be grateful and take it. But the whole reason I wanted to go through Frankfurt was to try out LH First and their dedicated departure terminal, Porsche ride, etc. The availability is there but they won’t click the button. Do I have any ground to stand on to try and insist that the booking is valid as a double open jaw RT to Asia and not a RTW ticket? I’d love any feedback! Thanks, Nathan

  • Michael Rasmussen

    This is a wonderful series. Any updates to be aware of now that Continental is fully no longer with us? Or are there any non-obvious refreshers?

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