United MileagePlus Sweetspots (AKA Exploiting the ‘Excursionist’ Perk!) Part 1

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I posted a few days ago about how until 12th November 2017 you can buy United MileagePlus Miles for between 0.84p-1p per Mile. I ended that piece by saying I’d share some thoughts on how to get massive value from those Miles, so here’s Part 1 of the lowdown on United MileagePlus sweetspots.

The first thing to say is that United just had a devaluation last week, so a lot of the prices you’ll see elsewhere on other blogs are now out of date. You can check out the new award charts here – note that MileagePlus has different pricing for using Miles on United flights than it does for redeeming with Star Alliance partners.

A quick look through the award charts will show you that on the face of it there aren’t many obvious United MileagePlus sweetspots these days. There are still a few, like Oceania to Oceania (the distances can be vast!) for 12,500 Miles in Economy or 30,000 in Business Class one-way; and the introduction of new 8,000 Mile awards for direct flights within a single region (not including North America) that are under 800 miles:

To really exploit United MileagePlus sweetspots though, you’ve got to dig a little deeper into the programme and make use of some of the quirks:

‘Transiting’ a third region…

When you search for award flights, MileagePlus will quite often throw up routes and pricing that seem a little surprising. It’s not uncommon to see results come up that include connecting in a region outside of the two regions you are actually travelling from/to – and the crucial point is that the amount of Miles required isn’t necessarily any higher despite the fact you are going through a region that would otherwise require more Miles to travel to.

Say, for example, you would like to fly between Addis Ababa and Lisbon, you would normally be charged 30,000 Miles in Economy and 55,000 in Business Class, as according to the regions list that’s Central/Southern Africa to Europe.

Instead, you can search for Addis Ababa to Casablanca (Northern Africa region) and you’ll probably see options like the below, which routes through Istanbul and Lisbon, for 20,000 Miles in Economy or 45,000 in Business Class:

If you don’t have any checked bags (or ensure there’s an overnight connection so you can pick up your bags), there’s nothing to stop you ending your trip in Istanbul or Lisbon rather than carrying on to Casablanca. There are a huge amount of examples like this that you can have some fun researching. There’s actually something even better though that I want to get onto…

The ‘Excursionist’ perk

Forget everything you know about how award tickets normally work – it’ll only serve to confuse you here. The Excursionist perk is plain weird, just accept it and enjoy the benefits.

United explains it as follows:

“The Excursionist Perk is a free one-way award within select multi-city itineraries. Members who book an itinerary with three or more one-way awards will be eligible to receive one of those one-way awards for free, if it meets all of these conditions:

  • The Excursionist Perk cannot be in the MileagePlus defined region where your travel originates. (For example, if your journey begins in North America, you will only receive the Excursionist Perk if travel is within a region outside of North America.)

  • Travel must end in the same MileagePlus defined region where travel originates.

  • The origin and destination of the Excursionist Perk is within a single MileagePlus defined region.

  • The cabin of service and award type of the free one-way award is the same or lower than the one-way award preceding it.

  • If two or more one-way awards qualify for this benefit, only the first occurrence will be free.”

It’s probably easier if I just show you what that actually means:

As you can see, the itinerary above is Manchester to New York, staying there for a few nights, then continuing onto Los Angeles (also staying for a couple of nights) and then flying back to Manchester. What is interesting is that the New York – Los Angeles leg prices at zero Miles.

At its most basic level, the Excursionist perk allows you to add on a free one-way within the region you’re traveling to, when you book a Return flight (use the multi city search function on the United site to add the free intra-region leg in).

That’s useful, but it gets a lot better (and weirder!) than that.

Before getting onto the really interesting stuff, I need to point out that you can have as many open-jaws as you want with these tickets. In the above example, it would have been just as easy to book an award that went Manchester – New York – open jaw to Chicago (use Avios or whatever to get there from New York) – Los Angeles – open jaw to San Francisco (again using Avios etc) – Brussels:

As long as the the award ticket ends back in the same region it started in (in this case Europe), you can fly back to anywhere within that region. That’s useful, but the sharp eyed may recall two other rules I mentioned earlier:

  • The Excursionist Perk cannot be in the MileagePlus defined region where your travel originates. (For example, if your journey begins in North America, you will only receive the Excursionist Perk if travel is within a region outside of North America.)

  • The origin and destination of the Excursionist Perk is within a single MileagePlus defined region.

Note how the rules say nothing about the free one way having to be used within the region you’re traveling to – only that it can’t be used in the region you originate in and that the free one way must be within a single region. 🙂

That’s all I’m going to say for now as I don’t want to overload anyone, but I’ll be moving onto the really good (if slightly advanced) stuff very soon!

Ok, a final hint to whet your appetite:


  1. Craig Sowerby says

    Nice one Joe. Looking forward to the advanced version.

    That last example is quite interesting to say the least… 😀 I used to do stuff like that with the old ANA total miles flown award chart.

  2. New Card says

    Fantastic post – wheels are turning in my brain now at the possibilities!

    When will the next post be up? 🙂

    • Joe Deeney says

      Cheers! – soon (next day or 2), I might turn this into a 3-part rather than 2 as it can get a little tricky.

      • New Card says


        It seems to me that one issue is: What is the cheapest (in miles terms) First Class flight that can be booked intra-Europe, so that the Excursionist (free) leg can also be in First?

        I’ve tried some dummy searches but have been unable to find anything from LON, perhaps there’s some unusual intra-Europe zone flight though 🙂

        • Joe Deeney says

          Superb question, and not one I’ve given proper consideration to just yet! – the other trick would then also be to find the best/longest First Class flights within another region too to make it worthwhile.

          • New Card says

            Thanks, and of course, maximising the free leg is the other end of the equation!

            I’m thinking one possibility on an Asia holiday could be e.g. an internal Japan flight in First – assuming such a flight exists (16k), then a more substantial excursionist flight in First (eg Thai First ex Bangkok) within South Asia (normally 40k but here free).

            Presumably the final leg would need to end in Japan, but this could be an Economy internal Japan zone flight (possibly 5k) which is never actually boarded, unless I am missing something?

            Total ~21k, for two useful flights in First (and a third flight not flown), still looks to be an excellent deal! Another option would be to kick off with a First class intra-North Asia (Beijing to Taiwan would be nice), but I’m struggling to find one…

          • Joe Deeney says

            Exactly right in terms of the thinking – the practical issue is finding the right routes as you say.

  3. Charles d'Auria says

    Thanks for this article, very interesting! If you have time I’d really appreciate part 2 before the offer on United miles expires (from your other article) Cheers

  4. Spk307 says

    The problem with the last screenshot is that it’s good only if you actually fly the first segment. You might have to be careful if you are suggesting people can skip the first segment as many airlines would not allow the rest of the ticket to be valid.

    • Joe Deeney says

      Hi SPK – no don’t worry, nothing like that is involved! You always have to fly the first segment of any itinerary, as you say. The question would be more ‘why would you want to skip it anyway?’ – with a bit of planning you could ‘nest’ trips and build some incredible value.

      • Craig Sowerby says

        I think a number of American readers would be quite interested in nesting the cross-country U.S. flight within some cheap 8,000 mile flights.

        But as you say, two halves of weekend getaways or a “ex-EU” positioning is great value for Brits so we’d be unlikely to want to just skip that first flight.

        • Joe Deeney says

          True – though for many US readers they’d actually be better off using intra Hawaii flights which are still just 5k and basically no tax I think (assuming they were going to hawaii), or could mix things up with trips to Mexico/Caribbean/Central America etc if they wanted visit any of those places (though the Miles required is a bit higher).

        • Joe Deeney says

          Excellent point re ex-eu positioning for cheap Qatar etc flights! – I’d not really considered it from that angle yet, but for ‘highly advanced’ level travel hacking that could be a great move.

  5. paul harvey says

    Thanks joe for the info as a beguinner in all of this any information will be a big help in finding which airlines ects do what

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