One of the most intriguing parts of the miles and points hobby are the quirks and potential loopholes in different award programs. For instance, I just wrote recently about the fact that Korean Air considers Hawaii to be within the same region as the continental US — which means that you could fly from anywhere (theoretically, but not proven) to Hawaii, in first class for only 45,000 miles round-trip. Yikes!
And while this particular award is rather well documented, especially in the Chase Ultimate Rewards realm, there is another awards trick that I only just recently found out about — the United Excursionist Perk.
I don’t think this “perk” is really marketed very much, if at all by United, but it takes no signing up or minimum requirements to receive. Instead, it is simply “activated” if you are booking it correctly. So let’s get into it.
What is the Excursionist perk?
The excursionist perk is a “replacement’ of the United stopover policy, in the sense that when United decided to get rid of the stopover policy in late 2016 this was their “defense.” From the sounds of it, this was met with some harsh criticism, but luckily I really never was able to take full advantage of that policy.
In its simplest form, the Excursionist perk allows you to book a round-trip award to a MileagePlus defined region, with an extra one-way flight added in for free.
This is how it is defined from United:
While that explanation can be a bit wordy, lets try and break it down:
- The entire trip must originate and end in the same MileagePlus defined region
- The extra one-way award (or the ‘Excursionist Perk’ segment) must originate and end in one MileagePlus defined region
- The free award cannot be booked in a higher class
This is particularly interesting for me because I just recently got back from a trip to Europe, and I think I could have taken advantage of this perk. As an example, here is the itinerary that would have triggered this Excursionist perk.
IAD-ZRH ; ZRH-CDG ; CDG-IAD
While I booked this as two separate awards, then bought a separate ticket from ZRH-CDG, in the above scenario the ZRH-CDG routing would trigger the Excursionist perk and cost nothing! And booking this particularly itinerary is pretty easy with United.
How to book
United makes booking awards really easy in general. For this particular award, you need to click on the “Multi-City” button to book using the multi-city tool.
The next page is where you will have to fill out your desire itinerary. There are 3 separate one-way bookings with no date restrictions in between.
Upon clicking submit, you will be taken to the first flight from the origin to the Excursionist perk defined region.I selected the first flight from IAD-ZRH for example purposes.
This will take you to what should be a free segment within the MileagePlus defined region. (You’ll notice that trying to book in the higher cabin will not trigger this perk)
And finally, booking the leg home.
And the final award looks like this (you’ll notice that the taxes from the excursionist perk were combined with the round-trip taxes). 60,000 miles and $121 in taxes and fees for not only a round-trip award in economy to Europe, but also a flight within Europe.
This is really one of the more simple options, but there is also some really unique and potentially lucrative combinations that may require a bit of imagination. I think that the above example provides a simple walk-through of how the perk works, but with a little imagination this perk can take you a lot further.
Some other combinations that would trigger the perk
I am going to focus on trips originating and ending in the US, but if you do a bit more digging on this internet thing you can find some really interesting itineraries.
IAD-HKG then HKG-SIN (same MileagePlus defined region), and then back from SIN-HKG for only 80,000 miles+taxes and fees in economy. That saver level flight from SIN to HKG will cost you 17,500 miles in economy — pretty awesome savings!
I wanted to point out the above example because this is one of the best savings that you’ll get using this award. But I think you’ve got the idea on a basic level — add a one-way flight onto your trip within the same region, get it for free. There are some more imaginative opportunities, though.
Book two one-way flights within America, then get another one-way flight somewhere else free. In the original example, I mentioned that I flew to Europe and had to pay for the extra one-way flight within Europe. If I was better at planning ahead, I could have easily gotten this flight for free.
IAD-SEA and IAH-FLL (beginning and ending the trip within the same MIleagePlus defined region), with ZRH-CDG nested in that “trip.” Certain United partners and regions have time limits when booking these flights, so make sure you are aware of that before booking such an itinerary.
Here is a trip that takes a bit more creativity. Fly from IAD (America)-ICN, and then from ICN-PEK — the free one-way segment within one MileagePlus defined region (North Asia). The total itinerary costs 75k miles in economy, and you get to try the likes of ANA and Thai Airways. I wanted to point out this itinerary because the final one-way is from a different region (South Asia) than any other trip, then back to the region of origin (America).
While you are paying about $70 in taxes and fees, you’d have to find your way from PEK-KUL — which should be relatively straightforward on one of the many low-cost options.
Finding quirks like this are what make this hobby so fun and intriguing to me. This is a potentially very lucrative perk that I’m pretty sure not many people are aware of. I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the places that this perk can take you, but if you play around with it enough you’ll definitely find some pretty interesting (and free!) travel.
And honestly, while the literature that United provides about the Excursionist perk can seem confusing, it is quite simple. Fly from somewhere, or a “region,” and return to that same region — but in between, take a one way trip for free, as long as it’s within one region.