Decided to start a series on booking United flights, where each post is specific to flying to a certain region. Europe being often the most popular and in some ways the easiest, it seems like a good place to start.
So if you want to maximize or spice up your Europe trip, I’ve got a few dozen suggestions. But I’ll try to keep my best examples and concepts laid out in this post.
A flight from the US to Europe is typically 60,000 miles in economy (100k/135k for biz/first). We’ll talk about booking a ticket, finding availability, routing rules, stopovers, and making a Europe trip into a global trip. I’ll start with stopovers and kind of work backwards.
Some quick definitions here.
A stopover is an indefinite break in the itinerary that turns a layover into a second destination. They can be as long as they want.
An open-jaw is a part of the ticket where the airline is not responsible for your transportation. It is when you fly into one airport and out of another in a different city.
A layover is a connection in the itinerary under 24 hours.
You have plenty of places that you can see on the way to Europe, but first I’ll just mention that of course, you can stopover in Europe. It doesn’t matter what two destinations you want to see. Backtracking is irrelevant both on the US and European side, just pick two places and go.
You get one stopover and you get two open-jaws on roundtrip tickets. If you really want to maximize this, look up the price of discount airliners. Say you want to see four cities in Europe: London, Paris, Budapest and Rome. The obvious thing to do would be to look for discount airline flights between London and Paris, and then Budapest and Rome. So you fly into London and out of Paris.
But really, ignoring for a second the geographical convenience of doing it this way, you could go about it any way you would like. Check the prices from Rome to London and then Paris to Budapest. Or Check prices from Budapest to London and then Paris to Rome. Whatever. Once you have found some cheap flights that work for filling in the gaps created by open-jaws, go ahead and book your United flight accordingly.
If you found discount airline flights from London to Paris for cheap, and then Rome to Budapest, I would book my United ticket as follows:
- US to London
- Paris to Rome
- Budapest to the US
This way you have two stops and one open-jaw on each.
Besides open-jaws within Europe, the world is really your playground. Unfortunately, Europe isn’t the most powerful zone so combining with others makes the price go up. Regardless, we’ll talk about all the options.
Stopover in North America
You can have a stopover [almost] anywhere in the US or Canada (excluding Alaska and Hawaii). Again, for the most part, it doesn’t matter where as international flights have region rules. But the routing rules for what does and doesn’t work within the US is a post for another day.
Unfortunately, you can no longer route through the Caribbean or Central America on the way to Europe. This is new to me, and quite unfortunate. Yet, it makes sense as there are very few direct routes (like FRA – MEX). But it’s especially a bummer since they took away routing through South America too. But we’ll survive.
And other than not being able to combine Europe with Oceania and Australia (technically), you can do nearly anything else.
When starting in the US, you can combine Europe as a stopover (the yellow pin in the pics below) with any of the following regions (displayed with the blue pin):
North Africa for a price of 40,000 miles each way.
South Africa for 40,000 miles each way.
North Asia for 32,500 miles each way.
Central Asia for 40,000 miles each way.
South East Asia for 32,500 miles each way.
And Japan for 32,500 miles each way.
So again, you can make Europe a stopover on the way to any of these places. It doesn’t matter where, or your routing (for the most part). You can stop on the way there or on the way back. Things don’t matter much as long as one stop is in Europe and one stop is in the other region.
As mentioned, each one of these blue-pinned places would be the destination, and therefore cost a higher amount listed above each picture.
If you want to go to Africa, you’re paying 80,000 miles roundtrip but one of the ways you can stopover in Europe. So Chicago to Capetown could have a stopover in Paris. Further more, you have two open-jaws left. This means that you could fly into Paris and out of another airport, like London.
Again, it doesn’t matter if you backtrack or not, it is completely determined by region. So you could fly into Istanbul and then out of Helsinki, despite it being further away or apparently backtracking.
If you want to go to Southeast or North Asia, or Japan, you can also create a stopover in Europe. The good news here is that it’s barely any more expensive. A flight to stop in both Europe and this part of Asia would be merely 65,000 miles (instead of 60,000 miles). First Class is no more expensive or 2,500 miles more, and Business Class often 10,000 miles more. This is a stellar value.
A flight to Bali could have a stopover in Paris too. But one more thing I’ll add in this example, not only can you add an open-jaw in Paris (so you fly out of London), but you can add one in your destination as well.
In this case you could fly into Bali and out of Kuala Lumpur, and similarly find a cheap flight on AirAsia to get you from Bali to Malaysia. But again, it doesn’t matter it’s a region thing. You can fly anywhere in Asia and out of anywhere else.
In the Middle East and Central Asia you will find the same rules and the more expensive 80,000 mile roundtrip price, like Africa. But you could create a stopover in Paris on the way to Delhi, and you’ll essentially pay for a Delhi trip.
Getting to the point
All these principles are applicable by region. I say that you can stopover in Paris on the way to Bali… but that is hardly the point. The point is that you can stop anywhere in Europe on the way to anywhere in SE Asia. Same with any of the regions mentioned in the pictures above.
Similarly, you can open-jaw anywhere in the region (sometimes outside the region too). This means that you can open-jaw not just from Paris to London… but from Moscow to Barcelona.
And on the other end you can open-jaw anywhere in SE Asia. Bangkok to Bali, or Phucket to Saigon… it doesn’t matter.
There are a few “illegal” regions that can’t be combined with Europe, like Oceania. The only way to get around this is a rather large open-jaw. For example, if you fly US to Europe and made Paris your destination, by continuing your flight from India. In other words, Paris and Delhi are your destinations, but it’s just split by an open-jaw. You can now add a stopover in Oceania on your way back from Delhi. Because as far as the computer is concerned, it’s pricing India to the US and the rules there would allow Oceania.
This is a hard concept to tackle on this post, but if you’re really interested you can read the United’s Stopover and Routing Rules post. It’s overly in depth.
Star Alliance availability to Europe is pretty stellar. But of course summer for any airline from the US to Europe is huge, especially July and August. The earlier you can book a ticket for this time the better. Unless you just are completely flexible.
I will say, sometimes tickets open up last minute. If you are particularly a first class junkie, one of the best ways to get across the pond is changing your ticket last minute for Lufthansa First Class. You’ll have to pay a change fee given that they usually only open up the couple weeks before a flight.
Unfortunately, there aren’t a ton of other first class products to get across the atlantic. Swiss doesn’t open up to United and I’d rather fly Austrian’s new business class than pay for United’s First, but that might just be me. And United First is one of the only options far in advance.
Business Class on Star Alliance is nothing short of plenty to Europe, at least from the east coast. Air Canada, Austrian, Brussels, Lufthansa, Swiss and Turkish all have good business class products. As always, some products are better than others. Newer bigger planes, tend to have newer better seats.
From the west coast, business class is shorter in general, as you are mostly relying on United to get you to a place that these European airlines fly, or the west coast space is less often and more competitive.
Note that United doesn’t currently show Brussels or it’s non Star Alliance partner, Aer Lingus on it’s online search engine.
Booking & Fees
Most flights can be booked online by simply checking “Award Travel”. Tickets with stopovers or open-jaws must be booked by using the Multiple Destinations tool. It’s pretty intuitive (for the most part) as you just put in the dates you want and the destinations you want. But if you’d like to read a step by step, read How to Book United Stopovers.
- $75 close-in fee for booking within 21 days of travel
- $25 booking fee for booking over the phone
- $100 change fee for changing your ticket within 21 days or for changing the destination
You can work in a stopover anywhere in Europe and it won’t change the price at all. Working in stopovers is possible on the way to any other region, but you are essentially making Europe your stopover and the other region your destination. That’s just semantics and the meaning is that you’ll end up paying for whatever region you combine with – Asia, Africa, or the Middle East.
Making a Europe trip a stopover on the way to Southeast Asia is an incredible value as it’s just a few miles more. And while there’s no bad use here, think about this: AA and USA are offering “off-peaks” to Europe for 40,000 miles. Lufthansa is 50,000 miles, and many other airlines have deals too. So why use United miles to Europe?
For me, it’s because you can open-jaw and stopover in Europe or elsewhere. Using United miles gives you an advantage, a way to see more places… if you aren’t going to use that, collect AA miles.