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13 MileagePlus Awards to Book Before October 6

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October 6 will mark the end of the lucrative stopover era on United award tickets, leading to the elimination of some excellent award options through the current system. TPG Contributor JT Genter explores 13 examples of how you can utilize the current system for bookings before the change.

On October 6, United is “enhancing the way you book MileagePlus awards.” In reality, there are no real enhancements. United is decimating the current stopover system that — while complex — is incredibly rewarding for those who understand it. It’s not too late to study the program in detail and book some awesome trips before October 6. However, most of us don’t have the time to dedicate to learn a nuanced program that’s about to be phased out. So, I’m here with 13 example itineraries that you might want to book before the change goes into effect.

Since most of our readers are based in the United States, I’m going to focus on itineraries that start and end in the US — although they may require a one-way “positioning” flight. For those with a flexible travel schedule, there are much wilder (i.e., double open-jaw) itineraries that you can book. However, let’s keep it straightforward for now.

Note: In all of the examples below, the maps and example itineraries ignore any connection airports. However, many of these routings are going to require stops, so you’ll have additional connections along the way. The listed airports are the ones you’ll enter into United’s search engine to search and book these flights.

FREE ONE-WAY

Our United 737 on a (much) better day.
Add a free one-way domestic flight to a Hawaii or international round-trip award.

United’s current program allows one “stopover” per round-trip flight. A stopover means any stay of over 24 hours in one international location that isn’t your destination (4 hours or longer in the US). The fun part about the current system is that location can be anywhere — including your hometown! So, you can effectively get 1.5 trips out of one round-trip booking.

The simplest way to do this is to tack on a one-way flight anytime after your original round-trip flights. As long as your round-trip flights left the US/Alaska/Canada region, you can head anywhere in the US (including Alaska, but not Hawaii) or Canada for no additional miles. For slightly more miles, you can head to Hawaii, Mexico or the Caribbean. So, use this to fly a far-away or typically expensive domestic destination. Just make sure that your one-way return flight doesn’t cost too much — or there’s award availability on the route back.

Under United’s new rules, your free stopover “cannot be in the MileagePlus defined region where your travel originates.” This new rule eliminates these free one-way flights, as you’ll no longer be able to stopover in your home city. So, take advantage of this option before it goes away October 6.

1. USA — Hawaii — USA — USA

One example of maximizing a round-trip award ticket to Hawaii.
One example of maximizing a round-trip award ticket to Hawaii. Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper.
  • Example itinerary: MIA-HNL-MIA-SFO
  • Current rate: 45,000 economy; 80,000 first
  • Starting October 6: 57,500 economy; 105,000 first

Say you’re based in Miami (MIA) and want to head to Hawaii for vacation. After your initial trip, you can add on a free flight from MIA to anywhere in the US for free. Why not utilize your free one-way to get a free transcontinental flight to Los Angeles (LAX)?

In this itinerary, the stopover is deemed to be your origin airport. Without getting too technical, this means that you can also have an “open jaw” in Hawaii — fly into one Hawaii airport and back from another Hawaii airport. So, fly into Honolulu (HNL) and enjoy Waikiki for a few days, take a Hawaiian Air flight down to the Big Island (this wouldn’t be included in the United award booking) and then fly back from Hilo (ITO).

2. USA — Europe — USA — USA

Get a free transcontinental one-way after your round-trip flights to Europe.
Get a free transcontinental one-way after your round-trip vacation to Europe. Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper.
  • Example itinerary: SFO-CDG-SFO-PHL
  • Current rate: 60,000 economy; 115,000 business (140,000 on partners)
  • Starting October 6: 72,500 economy; 140,000 business (165,000 on partners)

If you’re based on the West Coast, you might like the option of making your one-way flight transcontinental and heading to the East Coast. Similar to the Hawaii option above, you have the option of an “open jaw” in Europe. So, you can fly into one European city and fly back from another.

If you’re flying in business/first class, make sure to weigh the extra cost of flying on partner airlines. If you’re looking to save some miles, make sure to search for flights into a European city served directly by United. If you’re taking advantage of the open jaw option in Europe, limit your search to airports also served by United.

3. USA — Mexico/Caribbean — USA — USA

After your trip to Cancun (CUN), you can book a one-way trip anywhere in Canada or the US (except Hawaii). Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper.
  • Example itinerary: SEA-CUN-SEA-ANC
  • Current rate: 35,000 economy; 60,000 first
  • Starting October 6: 47,500 economy; 85,000 first

You can head anywhere with your free domestic one-way. And since United includes Alaska and Canada in the same region as the contiguous 48 states, you can even get a free one-way to Anchorage (ANC) after a beach trip to Mexico or the Caribbean — all for just 35,000 miles in economy.

4. USA — Europe — USA — Hawaii

Tack on a one-way flight to Hawaii for just 5,000 miles more than the round-trip to Europe.
Add a one-way flight to Hawaii for just 5,000 miles more than an economy round-trip to Europe. Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper.
  • Example itinerary: PHX-BCN-PHX-OGG
  • Current rate: 65,000 economy; 122,500 business (145,000 on partners)
  • Starting October 6: 95,000 economy; 180,000 business (215,000 on partners)

After your round-trip to Europe, you can tack on a flight to Hawaii for just 5,000 (economy) or 7,500 (business) more miles than a round-trip to Europe would otherwise cost. If you live in certain West Coast cities (including PHX in the example above), you can redeem Avios for a one-way economy flight back from Hawaii for just 12,500 miles.

5. Europe — USA — Caribbean — USA

Use a low-cost carrier to get to Europe for a vacation to both Europe and Barbados.
Use a low-cost carrier to get to Europe for a vacation to both Europe and Barbados. Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper.
  • Example itinerary: AMS-LAX-BGI-LAX
  • Current rate: 52,500 economy; 95,000 business (105,000 on partners)
  • Starting October 6: 65,000 economy; 117,500 business (130,000 on partners)

If you live in a Norwegian Air, WOW or Icelandair gateway, you can use this to your advantage. Fly one-way transatlantic on the low-cost carrier and fly back on United. Then, when it’s time for another vacation, you’ll have a round-trip to the Caribbean.

Astute readers may have noticed that the stopover in this example isn’t in the same region as the origin. However, this routing won’t be allowed after October 6 thanks to a different new rule: “the origin and destination of the Excursionist Perk is within a single MileagePlus defined region.” The so-called “Excursionist Perk” in this example is LAX-BGI — which are in separate regions. Thus, this wouldn’t be allowed for free under the new system.

DOMESTIC + INTERNATIONAL TRIP

In the above examples, you have the option of taking a one-way flight separate from your base round-trip. However, if you book before October 6, you can use the current stopover rules to get a combined domestic and international trip.

6. USA — USA — Caribbean — USA

If you're headed on a domestic award trip, you can add a flight to the Caribbean or Mexico for just 10,00 more miles.
Add a flight to the Caribbean or Mexico to a domestic round-trip for just 10,000 more miles in economy or first. Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper.
  • Example itinerary: SFO-EWR-AUA-SFO
  • Current rate: 35,000 economy; 60,000 first
  • Starting October 6: 47,500 economy; 85,000 first

Need to book domestic flights to a wedding or reunion? Spice up your itinerary by adding a flight to the Caribbean or Mexico to the beginning or end of your journey. Whether you book in economy or business class, it’ll cost just 10,000 more miles round-trip to add this getaway.

7. USA — Canada — Hawaii — USA

At the right time of year, you can book a trip with both snow and sand.
At the right time of year, you can book a trip with both snow and sand. Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper.
  • Example itinerary: IAH-YVR-HNL-IAH
  • Current rate: 45,000 economy; 80,000 first
  • Starting October 6: 57,500 economy; 105,000 first

Want to visit both Canada and Hawaii in the same trip? You can book a round-trip to Hawaii and get a free stopover anywhere in Canada on the outbound or return. You can go skiing at Whistler outside Vancouver (YVR) and then relax your tired muscles on the beach in Hawaii.

8. USA — USA — South Asia — USA

Use the stopover rules to get a mini-trip to San Francisco (SFO) on your way to Asia. Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper.
  • Example itinerary: ATL-SFO-SIN-ATL
  • Current rate: 80,000 economy; 140,000 business (160,000 on partners)
  • Starting October 6: 92,500 economy; 165,000 business (185,000 on partners)

The jet lag resulting from flying to Asia can be rough. Break up the trip by stopping on the West Coast for a bit before continuing to Asia. Routing through San Francisco (SFO) on your way to Singapore (SIN) gives you the opportunity of flying on United’s new 787-9 Dreamliner.

TWO-DESTINATION SWEET SPOTS

Due to how United’s current routing rules prioritize regions, there are some incredible sweet spots that you can take advantage of. Sadly, these won’t be allowed under the new rules requiring the stopover to be in the same region.

9. USA — Africa — Japan — USA

Get an around-the-world trip for the same price as flying from US to Japan round-trip.
Get an around-the-world trip for the same price as flying from US to Japan round-trip. Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper.
  • Example itinerary: IAD-JNB-NRT-IAD
  • Current rate: 70,000 economy; 150,000 business (on partners)
  • Starting October 6: 120,000 economy; 230,000 business (on partners)

Under United’s current rules, the Japan region trumps the Africa region. So, you can stopover in Africa on the way to Japan. This is especially crazy as award flights to Africa are priced more than flights to Japan. If you’re planning a trip to the Africa, you might as well add a trip to Japan to save miles and see a very different destination.

10. USA — Middle East — North Asia — USA

Stop in the Middle East on the way to North Asia for no additional mileage cost!
Stop in the Middle East on the way to North Asia for no additional mileage cost! Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper.
  • Example itinerary: ORD-TLV-ICN-ORD
  • Current rate: 70,000 economy; 160,000 business (on partners)
  • Starting October 6: 115,000 economy; 220,000 business (on partners)

As with Africa/Japan above, flying to North Asia through the Middle East prices as a round-trip to the cheaper region (North Asia). While an economy round-trip flight from the US to the Middle East is 85,000 miles, you’ll pay 15,000 miles less by flying through the Middle East on the way to North Asia. So, add a destination in China, South Korea, Taiwan or even Mongolia and save miles while getting a two-in-one adventure.

Note: If you’re flying in business class, there doesn’t seem to be any advantage to flying on United flights from the US to Tel Aviv (TLV). The US-Middle East-North Asia segment requires at least one flight on a partner, so the entire itinerary will be priced at the higher partner rate.

11. USA — Japan — South Asia — USA

This is an example of a logical stopover that won't be free after October 6.
This is an example of a logical stopover that won’t be free after October 6. Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper.
  • Example itinerary: DEN-NRT-BKK-DEN
  • Current rate: 80,000 economy; 160,000 business; 260,000 first
  • Starting October 6: 97,500 economy; 185,000 business (195,000 on partners); 300,000 first

While the price difference on this routing isn’t going to be drastically worse staring October 6, this is an example of how the new United stopover rules aren’t very logical. When flying from the US to South Asia, you can route through Japan. For now, stopping in Japan for a visit would be included. However, this stopover will add between 17,500 (economy) and 40,000 (first) miles starting October 6.

MEGA TRIPS

Some of the absolutely best opportunities going away October 6 are trips which are essentially three one-way flights. Thanks to the current stopover rules, these itineraries price as just two one-way flights. If you optimize the regions, you can get flights around (or nearly around) the world for surprisingly few miles.

12. USA — Europe — Japan — Hawaii

Visit three incredible destinations for just 60,000 United miles in economy.
Visit three incredible destinations for just 60,000 United miles in economy. Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper.
  • Example itinerary: LAX-FRA-NRT-HNL
  • Current rate: 60,000 economy; 125,000 business (on partners)
  • Starting October 6: 115,000 economy; 172,500 business on United (195,000 on partners)

Want to fly almost around the world — stopping in Europe, Japan and Hawaii — for just 60,000 United miles? This is an incredible opportunity that’ll no longer be bookable at this price after October 6.

Fly from Los Angeles (LAX) to Frankfurt (FRA) on one of my favorite economy products: Lufthansa’s A380. Make sure to grab seats on the upper deck for the best experience. While Frankfurt isn’t the most exciting destination, many destinations in Europe are just a short train ride away. Then, head to a completely different world via a nonstop flight to Tokyo (NRT). After exploring Tokyo’s treasures, head to the beach! ANA has a direct flight from NRT to Honolulu (HNL).

All of the above flights price out at 60,000 United miles in economy and have plenty of award availability for next May. To complete the round-the-world trip, you’ll need 22,500 (economy) or 40,000 (business) United miles for a reward flight back to the States — or just 12,500 Avios (economy) if you live in certain West coast cities.

13. USA — South Asia — Europe — USA

TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig took this spectacular routing with United miles.
Maximize your two allowed open-jaws and one stopover like this itinerary booked by TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig. Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper.
  • Example itinerary: JFK-REP/MNL-CDG-EWR
  • Current rate: 80,000 economy; 150,000 business (160,000 on partners); 210,000 first (260,000 on partners)
  • Starting October 6: 125,000 economy; 212,500 (235,000 on partners); 275,000 first (355,000 on partners)

If you’re especially adventurous, you can book a route like this one that TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig booked and flew — in top-notch first class products the entire way. United’s current stopover program allows two open-jaws along with the one stopover. This gives you the opportunity to fly into and visit one city, travel to another city (not included in the award ticket) and then fly out from there — stopping over in Europe on the way home.

Considering the price for this routing is going to increase between 45,000 (economy) and 95,000 (first) miles, now is the time to book such an incredible adventure.

Bottom Line

October 6 is going to be the end of the lucrative stopover era on United. To United’s credit, at least a scaled-down version of the stopover will still remain in the MileagePlus program — unlike on American Airlines (eliminated June 1, 2014) or Delta (eliminated January 1, 2015).

Although it’s sad to lose such a valuable perk, there’s still time to take advantage of the current system. Just book your trip by October 6! As long as you keep the same itinerary and don’t change the date of the first flight, you can change the dates of later flights after October 6 and not lose the stopover.

Do you have any favorite United stopover routes that are being eliminated October 6?

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