Warning: This post is more advanced and complicated but will lead to some great bookings. Routing Rules does not mean that you are allowed 1 stopover and 2 open-jaws (although those are rules). Also, many of the rules laid out below are based on experience as the rules are not actually in print.
I meant to write this as a follow up on a post about what the routing rules are not/no longer are/never were. But what I mean by “real” routing rules is simply that there seems to be a difference between what [little] is published and what you can or can not actually do. This is a post dissecting and analyzing what consistently does work and what does not work.
The first thing you need to know about using United miles is that everything is zone based. While it appeared that the restrictions were (/should have been) mileaged based they are now completely (/supposed to be) based on zones and regions. Just like the award pricing chart, things are zone based.
When flying from North America you can fly to Europe, anywhere in Europe, and it’s one price because things are zone based. Duh, right? (See the award chart here). But the routing rules are also zone based. For example, United does allow you to route in combination with specific zones like Asia, the Middle East, Africa.
Understand that the above is not speaking anything about how United prices tickets that have multiple zones, if you want to understand that and master the pricing tricks read the post; The Secrets of Award Pricing Engines – The Most Powerful Zone.
South America – United’s Black Sheep
United, however, does not allow you to route through South America on the way to Europe. In fact, it no longer lets you route through South America on the way to anywhere. It used to be very easy to price out Rio De Janeiro or Buenos Aires on the way to Johannesburg, South Africa. No longer. It seems that South America is no longer on the way to anywhere! Lets hope that United didn’t hire a geographically savvy programer. (If anyone has had success booking US to JNB via SA please let me know!)
The concept remains that these are zone issues. When I say zone I generally mean the regions as defined by United’s award chart. Although things seem to mostly work or not work by continent. Well, who cares. Zone, region, award… area. It’s all the same.
Let’s go ahead and talk about regions that can and can not be combined in one award ticket. These are regions besides South America, which can now only be combined with the Caribbean/Central America area. I’ll mention the things that don’t work together, read in between the lines to know what combos do work together and then read the Secrets of Award Pricing article to see which region will be picked when pricing. 😉
Regions that can not be combined
Australia. You can not route through Africa or Europe on the way to Australia.
Africa. You can not route through Australia or Oceania on the way to Africa.
Europe. You can not route through Australia or Oceania on the way to Europe.
Oceania. You can not route through Europe or Africa or the Middle East on the way to Oceania.
* Based on my testing this list seems accurate but please let me know if anyone has had a different experience. However, I’m stubborn and a “need to see it to believe it” personality. Please share any screen shot proving that you have booked one of these tickets that I said can not be booked. *
How it prices awards
The most important concept for booking open-jaw/stopover tickets is to understand how it prices tickets. It prices separately from starting point to destination, = 1 price. Then it prices separately destination to ending point, = 1 price. Together, those prices give your total. Let me try to make this more clear with an example.
First, a simple roundtrip from Chicago to London. The computer will look and say the first half of the trip is Chicago to London and will price it at 30,000 miles (for economy). And then it will look and say London to Chicago is 30,000 miles and give you a total of 60,000 miles. Very simple.
But if you were to stopover in London on the way to Bangkok it would then price both directions from the destination, which is Bangkok. I can’t stress this enough, but understand that it does not matter which you do first London or Bangkok, Bangkok will be your destination (thus making London your stopover) because Bangkok is a more powerful zone. United has an order of regions (that I share in the post mentioned above), and the more powerful regions are made the destination. It’s all formulaic. If this is too complicated ignore this last paragraph or read this post!
Back to the point…
Why does this matter? It’s just a roundtrip price! Well, the thing is that open-jaws change things. For example, what if you open-jawed from London to Bangkok? For example, you fly Chicago to London and then fly Bangkok to Chicago, now you have two destinations to price from. This will price like two one-ways really. In fact, ignore the stopover and think in one-ways to/from the destination. This will be 30,000 to London and 32,500 from Bangkok to Chicago.
Rubber meets the road
Stick with me and it will be worth it! I hope.
You can open-jaw home to any region. Chicago to London and then London to … wherever you want. Chicago to London and then London to Puerto Rico. It will therefore price Chicago to London as 30,000 miles and then London to Puerto Rico as 27,500 miles. (In fact, you could route through your hometown on the way back and throw away (meaning not get on the plane) the last segment to Puerto Rico. Never throw away the ticket unless you are done flying the ticket as they cancel the rest of the ticket when you don’t show up for a flight). The point here is that it prices the ticket as one-ways.
United prices tickets and restricts their routings based on one-ways!
When I say one-ways I don’t mean segment but instead halves of the ticket based on the destination as the middle.
What does this mean? It means all kind of things and if you do some creative thinking and read between the lines you’ll realize just what you can do when I say the following. You can open-jaw to any region just so long as you change regions, and provided that it’s within the routing rules for that one-way. *mums the word about that*
Another way to work this is simply if you want to combine two regions that technically can’t be routed together. Remember how I said that Europe and Oceania can’t be in the same ticket? Well, that’s true for one-ways. But look at this ticket:
This is a ticket that goes from Chicago to Frankfurt, Germany. That’s the first destination and it’s priced as a one-way: 30,000 miles. Next is a ticket from Delhi, India home with a stopover in Guam on the way. This is a legal routing because Central Asia and Oceania can be routed together. The fact that it routed through Europe and Oceania is kind of misleading because they aren’t on the same one-way because I open-jawed so the ticket is Central Asia home with a stopover in Guam. And because Central Asia is a more powerful region than Oceania this means that it will price Central Asia to US and will be 40,000 miles. Total the ticket is 70,000 miles and sort of combines Europe and Oceania.
To recap what we’ve gone over so far:
- Europe and Oceania can’t be routed together.
- Routing rules and pricing are done in halves, to and from the destination.
- If you fly to Europe one way and then open-jaw so the second half of the ticket is leaving from a region that is Oceania-friendly (like Central Asia) you can book the ticket.
It’s worth mentioning that you pay for the highest priced seat. Even if you fly economy for all segments, if you have one leg that is in business or the higher priced standard award, you pay for it the entire way. Again, it’s priced in halves. So if you fly one way business and back economy, they are priced separately. One way will be priced business and the other economy. But it’s within that half, if one segment is at a higher price… you’re paying for it the entire way.
Routing Rules For Roundtrip Award Tickets
The number of regions crossed is not an issue. Again, the only issue seems to be which zones are combined, not the number of them. I just tested and priced out an award touching 5 regions: JFK-FRA-CAI-BKK-PEK-JFK. This seems to be more or less true for one-way tickets as well.
Backtracking is majorly allowed with roundtrip tickets. If you wanted to stopover in Dublin but have to route through Frankfurt, it will then let you route through Frankfurt again to get to your next destination, like Asia. Heck, you could then route through Frankfurt again on your way back.
Backtracking gets more absurd than that. Below is a screenshot of a ticket that goes to the Bahamas via New York, stops-over, and then continues on to Puerto Rico… Via New York! I’ll go over this more in an upcoming post on how to book the Caribbean Hopper.
You are allowed one stopover and two open-jaws on roundtrips.
Circle trips are apparently not allowed… but what is it? Among the very few plainly printed routing rules it says, “Circle trips are not permitted. For example, you cannot fly from San Francisco to Hong Kong, to Auckland and back to San Francisco.” Which is interesting because that ticket is totally bookable… So ignore what they say.
Different Routing Rules For One-Way Awards
Understand that these are not published rules but my experience and some of the terminology… I’m making up. Searching United.com for the phrase “Transit Region”, you’ll get no results.
Backtracking is not as acceptable. When I say, backtracking I mean going to the same airport. For our Caribbean Hopper trip that involved going to Aruba, then Panama and then Puerto Rico… You’ll notice that Aruba is not at all on the way to Puerto Rico. But region routing rules played on my side. However, I did not back track. For a number of reasons, it would have not worked if I routed through Panama City on the way to Aruba and then again on the way to Puerto Rico. It’s just not allowed.
It’s mostly true that there is only one connection allowed in the transit region when making layovers. If you’re doing the Caribbean Hopper like I did it; a one-way to the Caribbean via Panama, I could not get it to route through Cancun for a layover. However, I could build a stopover there on a roundtrip.
Ultimately it will break this rule if it’s the only way to get there. A similar situation routing from Asia to Oceania via Sydney, I could not successfully build a layover in Sydney if it wanted to route to Rarotonga via New Zealand. Meaning I couldn’t build a layover in the “Australia/New Zealand” region when it had two connections. However, when I did not try to book a long layover, and wasn’t using the multiple-destination tool, it did just that. For some reason it routed two connections in the region. In other words, this isn’t a routing rule any more than “circle trips” in that it seems to work.
In fact, note that I never requested a layover in PTY, it just gave it to me. Sometimes the difference is whether or not you ask for a layover… for whatever reason.
The difference between man and computer… well one of them.
There is so much more to possibly go over but to close it seems relevant to speak about booking over the phone vs online. It’s been said many times that the rules are not published and the agents may or may not know them. Actually… just not. Furthermore, their computer automatically prices things according to the pricing mechanism of greatest, or more powerful zones. Yet, their computer does not seem to be as restrictive as United.com’s award search. Why is that?
The multiple destination tool is quite fun but shows limited results. When piecing together the Caribbean Hopper trip I wanted to make a layover in Houston to visit my parents. Putting together the trip piece by piece I found availability each leg of the way and found tickets leaving in under 24 hours to make it a valid layover. While in one browser I show plenty of tickets to Houston in economy, in the browser where I’m actually trying to book the ticket using the multi-destination tool, it shows no seats! Actually it doesn’t even show the flight I found!
This is not an issue of routing rules but simply the multiple destination tool not showing all the results. Ever search ITA Matrix with too many airport options? It searches for 30 seconds, gets bored or something and just shows the results so far… It’s something like that! It just doesn’t display all the results.
An agent doesn’t have to deal with any of that. Plus they can piece together each leg without error screens or a limit on searches. The agent’s computer partially relies on the agent to know the rules and just prices the tickets based on the zones it touches and the number of destinations. If you have three destinations (aka, two stopovers (which isn’t allowed)) it will price things like oneways and be super expensive. So it knows those routing rules.
However, I hear it’s getting smarter. Again, I heard that people more recently have not been able to book South Africa via South America at all, even over the phone. If this is true, the computer either got programed with the rules or the agent’s learned the rules. Then again, I also heard quite a tale of a routing rule that broke the zone combos I listed not possible with Australia.
So there is possibly a shift coming tightening the rules. So it may be helpful to actually figure out what is possible and what is not. This is a good start on learning United’s award routing and I fully plan on showing what this means soon and how to get creative but also hope this makes sense. Hopefully this will be something coherent, scientific and something I can point back to.
If you read this to the end…You’re awesome! Going forward I think it most relavent to know how it prices and understand how it will price if you open-jaw to a different region. Please give feedback and questions as always.