Routing rules with United award tickets are completely unpublished. However, I’ve spent a heck of a lot of time trying to figure them out. Here’s what you need to know, everything from out of print and in print.
Stopover: An additional stop in a ticket that adds no extra costs and can be as long as you want.
Open-jaw: The section in a ticket where the airline is not responsible for your transport. It’s where you fly into one city but out of another. This could be useful on a cruise, for example.
Layover: Internationally a layover is a stop less than 24 hours, domestically it’s a stop less than 4 hours.
- One stopover and two open-jaws on roundtrip international tickets.
- Open-jaws can not be added to stopovers, but can be to destinations.
- Stopovers can be as long as you want (assuming you can book the ticket).
For example, one could book a ticket from Chicago to London and stop for two weeks. The stop, is a stopover. They would then continue onto Istanbul where they could visit for two weeks. Istanbul is their destination.
However, one can open-jaw on the destination and instead of continuing their flight home from Istanbul, they can do it from Athens instead. Flying into Istanbul and out of Athens.
Most people get confused and think that an open-jaw creates a stop, but it doesn’t. It can be added to a stop (except the stopover) but does not permit additional stops. It does technically add more destinations as you could fly into Istanbul and out of Greece. However, one would be responsible for their own transportation.
Additionally, since there are two open-jaws, you could fly back to New York instead of Chicago. This is another example of open-jawing, just returning to a place different than the origin.
* The rules in this section are a bit theoretical at the moment, but on my last post, no one gave a contradictory example.
Most tickets are limited by the number of connections (or segments) allowed. A connection is any layover or stopover. The rules are (everything is in roundtrips unless otherwise noted):
- All oneway award tickets = 3 connections
- North America to Europe = unlimited connections
- North America to Southern South America = unlimited connections
- North America to Asia, South Africa, and Australia = 4 connections
(Thanks to contributions by Kalendil in the post on Why Everyone’s Been Having Issues with United’s Stopovers).
All rules are region based
Everything is completely region based. Routing limits are no longer based on miles flown but rather zones combined and the above mentioned number of connections.
Zones that can not be combined (when starting from the USA):
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, Africa or the Middle East on the way to Oceania.
South America. It’s a black sheep and you can’t combine with any of the other zones mentioned above.
Read more in the post United Stopover and Routing Rules with Pictures.
Booking Stopovers Online
Booking over the phone is very possible for almost any route, but it has a (relatively small) fee of $25.
Still, I try to avoid this and enjoy trying new routes out online. Here’s how:
- Go to United.com
- Click the box that says “Award Travel”
- Click the “Multiple Destinations” selection
- Add in your flight details and use the “Add Another Flight to Your Trip” button to add legs, and then search.
It may work but it may not…
United Error message
If you get an error message it means one of two things.
- Your route isn’t legal
- It can’t find available flights
The trouble is, it’s hard to know which is which because United.com can “time out” and quit searching. It allocates a small amount of time for your search and the more legs you have the less award seats it searches and therefore finds.
This means that if you get the error –> it could be because of availability –> and that means either:
- There is actually no availability
- United.com “timed out” before it could find availability
To find out which one it is you have to basically figure out if there is availability yourself. To do that use a separate browser to try searching the flights individually using the oneway tool. I.e., first search Chicago to London, then London to Istanbul, etc.
If there is availability after all, then you can deduce that United timed out during your multi-destination search.
But just to prove that it’s a legal routing get it to show you at least one leg!
To do this you have to change something. We need to create a test route that mirrors the zones we’re interested in, but with the most wide-open airports and times possible. First try changing the first flight to a nearby date, or even other dates. You can perhaps use the other browser searching oneways to determine which date has the best availability. Or you could try changing to a later date.
If that doesn’t work, I would then try changing to a city within the same region. Remember that everything is region based. Flights originating in Chicago have the same routing rules as flights originating in New York. Thus, change your search to a hub (well, like ORD or EWR).
What’s the point? Again, the goal is simply to prove it’s a legal route. Even if it isn’t bookable, if it shows you even just the first leg, that means the computer is okay with the routing because it’s legal.
If it doesn’t work, just call. But the agents do not know the rules. They have been telling people all kinds of goofy stories including that you can’t cross both oceans. I’m sure it’s true for some airline… just not United.
Honestly, I’ve discussed this a ton and have a list to help you find pricing errors.
The example I always use is that a ticket to Australia is typically 80,000 miles roundtrip. A ticket to Fiji is 65,000 miles roundtrip. However, if you stopover in Australia on the way to Fiji it keeps the lower price. This is a trick to lower the price of a ticket to Australia and see Fiji.
That’s quite a trick and there are many more.
Read these posts:
How is a stopover or destination determined?
First, let me say that the stopover and destination matters because you can no longer add an open-jaw to a stopover. For example, if you do US to SE Asia to Europe to the US and think you can open-jaw in SE Asia because you stopped there first, you’re confused. It is completely determined by region, not order or city. SE Asia is always the destination when combine with Europe.
Also, that’s what the above posts are about. Because you see, United programs have made some kind of decision-making-tree that says if you start at Y and combine X/Z two countries, it will make X the destination and Y the stopover.
The only way I know which one will do which is because of the pricing. In the above example you think it would have made Australia the destination and Fiji the stopover because 1) Australia is further away and 2) Australia is more expensive.
But it didn’t, it said Oceania is always the destination when combined with Australia.
The simple answer is, see how it prices.
And again, I should add it’s all region based. The same would be true at any Australian city and any Oceania island.
*Skip this next complicated section
The time when the stopover and destination difference matters is when you open-jaw to a different origin.
Starting in different regions causes different routing rules because each region combination triggers different prices.
For example (enter inception with me!)…
Hawaii to Australia via SE Asia prices as a SE Asia ticket. It doesn’t matter if you add the stopover (which is Australia in this case) before or after the destination (SE Asia), as your stopover can be added to either direction.
However, mainland USA to Australia via SE Asia would just price as an Australia ticket. US to Australia is more powerful than US to SE asia. Yet, Hawaii to SE Asia is more powerful than Hawaii to Australia.
Well, what if you went Hawaii to Australia to SE Asia to the USA (instead of returning to Hawaii)? Would it make SE Asia the more powerful zone or Australia?
Do you see the dilema?
In this case, it would unfortunately make Australia the more powerful zone.
I should probably exit inception, but essentially there is now another factor in the decision making tree. The practical application is where you can add your stopover… Maybe I shouldn’t have brought it up, but hopefully I’ll have more soon.
*Start reading again.
Yes, “free oneways” are still available. I’ve seen no changes that would indicate otherwise. However, I would never do that when there are so many good United tricks. Burn your Delta miles being a newb.
United has added more and more restrictions but given the pricing system and the stopover and two open-jaws, it’s still one of the best programs ever. But these prices will change Feb 1, 2014, and it will be a big bummer to many especially those who fly premium cabins.
And it’s analogous to the frequent flyer world. United miles are better for those who learn the rules and know how to plan awesome routes. All though it has a leg up from European programs that automatically add fuel surcharges.
I want to make this as complete as possible, so if you have any general routing questions, or something not explained here in terms of rules.