Recently Wandering Aramean came out with a post talking about an issue he had booking a ticket for a friend. Eventually, an agent told him that there was now a limit of 4 segments (3 connections) each direction.
Meanwhile, I noticed tons of people saying that they had trouble booking tickets with United. And the reasoning was all over the board. No “circle trips”, “you can’t cross both oceans”, calling them round the world trips, you’re no longer allowed two open-jaws, no backtracking, just because, etc…
Most of them didn’t make sense. Well, sort of. The one that seemed to make sense was a limit on segments. Until I found example after example after example of bookings I could make (and other people made) with 5 segments each direction. I recently posted an itinerary that United allowed in The New Best Use of United Miles post.
How to learn United’s Routing Rules
The reason this change (whatever it is) has been so crazy is because they don’t publish routing rules at all. There’s no indication on paper of what’s allowed and what isn’t. Just basic stopover rules, like 1 stopover and 2 open-jaws. Which tells us nothing about the intricisies of the system.
Yet, I’ve made it a hobby to learn these rules. There are a few ways to learn United’s routing rules. It’s why I was able to learn and create a post on the United’s Most Powerful Zone – a technique that allows an award price to be tricked by adding a lower priced region.
It’s how I learned what regions can and can’t be combined in the beginning of the post on United’s Stopover and Routing Rules, where I say what routes are and aren’t legal.
The reason I learned the rules is trial and error. Here’s what you can learn from what I learned to discover new tricks going forward.
Everything is completely region-based
I can’t stress this enough. Look at United’s award chart. The regions in the sheet are what I’m referring to.
If Asia and Europe can be combined, that means that it doesn’t matter where in Europe you stop, you can combine it with anything in Asia. Period. So people who don’t get which places can be routed with which other places, don’t get this concept.
Prove it once
“So I can stopover in Paris on the way to Bali, but can I stopover in London?”
One you’ve confirmed that Europe (Paris in this case) can be added with SE Asia (Bali in this case), then you know that anything in Europe can be combined with anything in SE Asia.
Thus, all you have to do to learn the rules is dummy-book your route on a paralleled route with availability to prove its validity.
This next break down is key for most everyone…
The United Error Screen comes for 1 of 2 reasons
All United Errors during the award booking process can be credited to either:
- United not finding availability, or
- It not being a legal route.
What’s complicated is that there’s no way of knowing whether or not United is not finding availability because:
- There is no availability, or
- United.com is dumb and slow and when you bog the award search down with more segments (like with Multiple Destination searches), United just gives up. Thus, it doesn’t see results and gives the error.
But go back to the rule before and prove your route. If you’re not finding availability for Charlottesville to Santorini, Greece to Medan, Indonesia… try easing up a little. That’s too many short segments for slow, old, and dumb United.com.
Instead, try searching DC to Frankfurt, to Bangkok. It’s still using all the same regions, right?
Does that make sense? If you can prove DC to Frankfurt to Bangkok is a legal routing, than you can prove that Charlottesville to Santorini to Medan is legal as well. At least in terms of regions.
And if you’re trying to do an open-jaw, come up with an open-jaw parallel too. Prove that the route is legal, then you know that the error can be attributed to United.com.
Also note that even trying different dates, months further out with better availability can show very different results.
United.com and the program the agents use have the same rules
If that route is legal, the agents can book it. And really the only difference between the agents’ program and the program behind United.com’s award search is that United.com times out. It has to. Otherwise you have tons of people on United.com while it tries to search for every possible result.
So to keep their searches fast, it times out.
But the point here is, the rules are the same. The algorithms that determine what is or isn’t legal, and what determines the price, are all the same.
If you don’t get an Error, it’s valid
That’s right, if you start a search at all, it’s legal.
If it gives you an error on the first step, who knows. But if you’ve already selected the first leg, you’re good. Even if as soon as you click the blue “select” button it then gives an error, you’re still good. It’s clearly an availability issue. If it was a legality issue, it wouldn’t have let you get that far.
So all you need to do to prove it, is not get an error when you press search for the first time. Just once.
The Most Powerful Zone is the most important concept
I guess my main contribution has been the most powerful zones post, because I realized that everything complex hinges on this concept.
Pricing is determined by the most powerful zone concept. What zones can be combined is somewhat proven by this. And now the legality of routes is being determined by it.
Truly read that post if you don’t get it just yet. What I’m about to say depends on it.
The New 4 segment rule disproven
I’m not saying this wasn’t an important discovery, I’m just saying it’s not accurate. Never the less, this is what Seth was told by an agent. If I’m not mistaken, goofy United confirmed it over twitter.
Actually looking back they said both, “When booking a mileage ticket, the routing has to follow the rules of the fare as if it were a purchased ticket.” and “Most have always had a 3 connect max. This isn’t a new rule.”
I hate to call United agents dumb… but… This is contradictory and neither are true in the first place. Mileage tickets are not governed by the same rules. And further more, “purchased tickets” don’t have a “3 connect max”.
All around this is the dumbest response ever. And to say it isn’t a new rule when people have been booking tickets with like 10 connections is plain ignorant.
Or as Seth said in his post, “I don’t know where they get these answers but they’re definitely not based in any recent reality I’ve been a part of.”
Therefore, don’t listen to anything United says. They are ignorant. And this isn’t to be rude but it’s just a fact that no one knows all their rules except the guy who programmed it. And he’s probably a little confused.
In the recent New Best Use Of United Miles post, I show the following screen shot.
So, the point of the image was to show how you can trick a route. Round trip from the US to Africa is 80,000 miles. Yet… look at the picture above. Beautiful yes. But the point today is elsewhere.
The price above proves that the stopover is in Africa and the destination is Japan. Yet, the connections from DC to Tokyo are Addis Ababa, Johannesburg, Zurich and Frankfurt. That’s 4 connections and 5 segments.
This is true over and over, with and without stopovers. This absolutely proves that this is not determined by number of segments alone.
Everything I’ve said so far is true. Now…
Now it could possibly be that there is a code that says for this region it’s 3 connections and for these two regions it’s 4 connections. Although, I have no reason to assume such.
What issue I am noticing
A very common route is to have a stopover in Europe on the way to SE Asia. It’s currently 65,000 miles roundtrip. You see 2 destinations. Like this:
But this has been made better by adding open-jaws on both ends, seeing 4 destinations. For example, DC to London, and then continue from Paris instead. So the next segment is Paris to Phuket. Then continue the flight home from Bangkok.
Yet, when I hit search on the above, I got:
But let’s switch it up some from the first picture above, without the open-jaws. That one seemed to work. So let’s do this, open-jaw on the destination. Now we’ll fly into Phuket and out of Bangkok:
And it worked. Totally legal:
Just want to clarify one thing, if I reverse it – into Bangkok and out of Phuket – it still works.
So we know an open-jaw on the destination works, but not both the destination and the open-jaw. Could that one agent a commentor mentioned be right? Is it possible that despite the terms and conditions, 2 open-jaws are no longer allowed.
Well, I’m just going to alter one thing here… I’m going to open-jaw so we return back to the wonderful Charlottesville instead of New York:
And? It worked:
So what the heck?
Why does it allow two open-jaws now and not then.
Let’s try the same route but no open-jaw in Thailand. Just an open-jaw on the stopover. Into London and out of Paris:
What happens if we reverse it? Bangkok first then open-jaw in Europe:
Let’s try a different example.
Open-jaw on the stopover of SE Asia on the way to the Destination India:
Yet, the route worked without the open-jaw.
Open-jaw on the stopover of Ecuador and Peru:
Well so I don’t have to post the same dang error pic, I’ll just tell you it errors out. But if I do just LIM or just GYE, it’s fine. Even if I open-jaw EZE to SCL or anything else… it just doesn’t matter.
So here it is folks…
When you use an open-jaw on a stopover it doesn’t work.
I’m telling you, if it was an availability issue, eventually I could find an example that doesn’t error out. But the fact that I can book it easily to GYE or LIM or whatever, it says that United can find availability to/from easily… but it doesn’t book the open-jaw.
This is why knowing what the stopover and destination is, is going to be important. Because it doesn’t matter if you go to Bangkok first or Paris first, Europe is always the stopover and SE Asia the destination in that example. Everything is zone based.
I’ve spent way too much time on United.com doing stopovers in the last year or so. Way too much time. I think my eyes are going bad. Unless, I start booking stopovers on the phone I may need glasses soon.
And I’m telling you… This is not an availability error (at least not the Europe one I tested), it’s truly a legality error.
I would prefer to think this is wrong. Maybe I should continue testing. But it seems to fit the bill.
Of course, it could be an illegal route because of the connections caused by the open-jaw (as in the previous theory). But that doesn’t seem to make sense. 1) Open-jaws don’t cause connections, and 2) I tested the routes to and from each airport – London and Paris. And it seems to be fine.
So what does this mean?
Well, again, it means that you need to understand the most powerful zone. Why? Because you need to understand which is the stopover and which is the destination. Why? Because if it’s considered the “stopover” you won’t be able to add an open-jaw.
I started to wonder this with Lufthansa as I was thinking about why I couldn’t book an open-jaw despite availability and all. I won’t comment on LH right now, but with UA it seems that:
Open-jaws are for destinations.
Simply put. It doesn’t matter if you return to a different destination or are going to one.
Okay… actually there is a segment limit…
Although if you’re keeping up with the United routing rules closely you may remember that Wandering Aramean’s issue had nothing to do with stopovers – it was a oneway award that didn’t work. It was a oneway ticket from the US to Australia via Asia.
To be honest, I haven’t nailed down why some one ways work and some don’t. But what I have noticed is issues with forced layovers. Issues with certain routings that add more connections and not others.
Still if you read his post, the issue was for oneway awards. At least the example he used. And even talked about a memo in April that talked about the restriction being worse on roundtrips.
Note that my example doesn’t even rule out the 4 connection theory on roundtrips. So it could be that most multi-region roundtrips are limited by 4 connections instead of 3. And one-ways restricted by 3.
Honestly, I don’t have enough data to make a conclusion yet. Is it a limit of connections in the region of transit? The region of origin? Does it have nothing to do with connections? Does it just have to do with connections in regions? Is it really worse with one-ways than roundtrips?
But why is it that an example trip won’t work when I try to add a layover in Tokyo, but it will add the extra connection somewhere else on its own?
Then there are examples of people not able to add segments on the end of a flight in the same region, but are able to added connections in the transit region. It doesn’t make sense, yet.
Basically, this part is saying the 3 connection thing/4 segment thing isn’t entirely true and Although I will say a lot of routes seem to work with 3 connections instead of 4. But again, it can’t be a rule of over all segments or it wouldn’t allow other trips to have 4 segments. It must be conditional on something else or coincidence. Also, keep in mind my example to disprove the 3 connections is a roundtrip.
I have hunches but I need more info…
Kalendil commented below with the following info, and it seems to make a lot of sense to me:
For future reference, I have gone through the rules for several dummy bookings and found the maximum permitted transfers for a few regions, RT from North America.
NA – Europe: Unlimited
NA – South S. America: Unlimited
NA – Asia (North or South), Central Asia, Southern Africa, Australia: 4
NA – Anywhere one way: 3
Thanks so much for this comment. I would love to see whether or not this is confirmed by people’s experiences! Hopefully some readers can test this while I Safari tomorrow and then fly. (Looking forward to one and not the other).
But there is a lot of info on this post on figuring out the rules and 2 heads are better than 1. If you try tickets on United.com or book tickets over the phone and they have multiple connections and work, please comment and share. If you have an example of an open-jaw on a stopover, also share.
If you have tickets that didn’t work, PLEASE SHARE. All caps folks… I went there. But really, if the agent starts telling you about how it isn’t working because no circle trips are allowed or no stopovers on full moons, or whatever they’ll say, ignore it. But truly, write down the route that didn’t work and tell me, please. 😀 Also, specify when you are trying to force a layover.
However, know that some agents don’t believe it will work and therefore won’t try… this doesn’t count. Only if the agent tries and it doesn’t price out or something.
- Don’t listen to any explanation by anyone who works for United.
- The 4 segment/3 connection rule is false. At least on roundtrips…
- Me thinks that open-jaws on stopovers are no longer.
- But you’re still allowed two open-jaws on the destinations.
- I can’t deny that there is an issue with connections somehow. I notice it most when trying to force layovers. There must be a rule behind it, but I can’t figure out what it is.
- What a fun game…
The rule is an overall bummer, whatever it is. But United is a “legacy carrier”. Th technical definition of a legacy airline is: perpetually broke and cheap.
Okay, I made that up. But I’m saying that their changes to the system are slight because they don’t want to over haul the entire system. Rather they do, but they won’t invest in it. Ways around and bugs will always exist.
One more thing: United has massively devalued their award chart, lack of award space, these added routing restrictions, and all airlines are reducing earnings on partners… United sucks. But I still love them.
I hope this post provided plenty of good information not only commentary on routing rules but information on booking.
Finally, I’ll be interested to hear thoughts on this post below. 😉