Complete Guide to United Routing Rules

Routing rules with United award tickets are completely unpublished.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.


Stopover Rules

  • 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.

Screen Shot 2013-12-27 at 1.19.33 PM

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.


Routing Rules

Segment Limits

* 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.

Asia. 😉

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:

  1. Go to
  2. Click the box that says “Award Travel”
  3. Click the “Multiple Destinations” selection
  4. 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.

  1. Your route isn’t legal
  2. It can’t find available flights

The trouble is, it’s hard to know which is which because 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
  • “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.


Pricing Errors

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.

Who cares?

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.

Related Posts:


  1. I had an AAdvantage rep tell me once that even on an international itinerary, that the domestic stopover portion is only 4hrs but that the 24 hour stopovers only applied to the international portion after the N. American gateway. Any truth to this?

    • Layovers for international are 24 hours. But those aren’t stopovers, stopovers are more than 24 hours.
      Hope that answers your question.

    • Are the United routing rules (as well as stopping rules and open jaw rules still) still the same as of November 2015 as mentioned in this article?


  2. FT has a few examples of the connection limits not being official, even in bookings of the last few weeks. YMMV. Generally speaking I think the limits you list are for the computer, but the call center can get you past that if you huaca. However, if you have a PNR, more agents seem to also be listing all your attempted changes and refusing. Almost better to huaca immediately upon resistance rather than get a note in your file if you try to persuade awhile or ask what the problem is.

    • Interesting, maybe I should check out FlyerTalk soon. I haven’t seen an example though. It would really seem odd the agents system has different routing rules or that they could over ride it, but ya never know.
      Will look more. Thanks.

  3. can you verify if this route is legal for stopover,



    • Looks legal to me. 😉 Good luck choi.

  4. Have been reading your posts for awhile, don’t think I’ve ever commented before, just wanted to say I really enjoy them and I’ve really learned a lot about using United miles from you.


    • Joe, I sincerely appreciate taking the time just to tell me that. Let me know if you ever need anything. And of course, thanks for reading.

  5. I am planning a trip to Australia next year. My home airport is SLC. Is there any way at all to do this with a stopover in Asia (SLC-SFO-PEK-BNE (open jaw) SYD-SFO-SLC)? Because I need to connect through SFO or LAX, it looks like my only option would be to fly United one way to BNE (with a connection in LAX or SFO, a 23-hour layover in PEK, and another connection through BKK), then take another airline home from SYD-SLC. Am I correct that I cannot book another one-way home on United? Am I missing any obvious way to do this all with United miles?

    • Sure, stopover in Asia is allowed. It would be a good break in the double longhaul flight.

  6. United has some routing rules, but mostly it’s “whatever the computer will price” and the computer will price things that it shouldn’t, and sometimes won’t price things that it should.

    When the computer fails, agents will usually make up rules/reasons why the computer did it (assuming the computer is right). Legacy Continental agents are reluctant to ever question the computer. United agents are taught not to.

    It’s agents searching for justifications for what the computer has done that gives rise to confusion over award rules (lots of false explanations given by agents).

    Your destination is the furthest point in your travels (comparing your stopover and your destination), “the point of turnaround.” The computer won’t always auto-price it that way (see above about the computer making mistakes). But that’s the correct definition.

    All in all, United’s rules are opaque (where they even exist) but in 90% of cases that accrues to the benefit of frequent flyers. Occasionally we are told we cannot do things that we think we ought to be able to based on past history and other similar awards. But the fallacy there is in assuming there are consistent rules consistently enforced. And when we can’t do something, it’s usually something many other programs wouldn’t permit either.

    On the whole, we do quite well by United’s rules. :)

    • Right, if an agent is explaining routing rules for you… you have issues. Routing issues. 😀

      However, the rules seem pretty consistent. At least up until lately. However, there are always other ways.

  7. Based on these rules, I would think that it should be possible to do the itinerary LAX-SYD-AKL(stopover)-BKK(destination)-LAX for 65k miles. However, it is pricing out at 80k on United’s website. Am I misunderstanding something? Here is a screenshot of the priced out itinerary

    • The concept is probably better explained in the Most Powerful Zone post. But Australia is a more powerful zone and therefore it should price as an Australia ticket (80k). However, if you start from Hawaii, the combining of the two would price as a SE Asia.

  8. FYI, you’re wrong about not being able to have an open jaw at the stopover point…it can be a PITA to ticket (since it won’t price typically), but no shortage of examples of an OJ/SO in Europe from Asia to the US or vice versa. I booked one myself 😉

    • Can you send me an itinerary screenshot? And was the ticket booked within the last two months? Because it was a recent change to the rules. So I’ve booked a number myself, just not recently.
      But if you have a recent ticket I would love to see it.

    • Drew, I booked an open jaw with a stopover in November. I posted my itinerary on an earlier post. Also, another data point. I called yesterday to change my itinerary so that I fly SFO-ICN-TPE-DPS instead of to DPS through Europe. (my return is DPS-BKK-MXP (oj/stop) FCO-MUC-YYZ. They made the change for me, but told me it was an exception since now new rules for travel in one direction have a maximum segment limit of 4.

  9. I am United 1K because I have to travel for work and I have learned a LOT from your blog. Thank You!
    Last month I travelled from SFO – BKK(stopover) – HYD (India) back to SFO. While coming back to SFO our plans changed and I was not sure about my return date. The agent agreed to cancel my return leg and deposit the miles in my a/c without any charges as I am 1K.
    Although we didnt end up doing that but is this a glitch to get stopover in one-way tickets or the agent was mis informed and the system would actually have thrown an error?

    • Thanks much NG. And that’s for reading!
      Hmm… yea, agents do funny things and have to get a manual override to do things. I can’t imagine that they are supposed to, but I’ve seen funny things.
      I’ve thought of this before but simply haven’t pursued it. Would love to see examples. But the agent thinking they can is a good sign. So honestly, I’m not too sure it would work.

  10. Nice to think starting in Hnl has some benefits. Are there any other power zone advantages from Hawaii? I assume Japan isnt powerful enough to block out anything except Korea? Would love if it priced out a New Zealand award :)
    Thanks for all the great info!

    • Hawaii to Australia to SE Asia is the biggest one. But the price is really killer. I can’t think of any other powerful zone tricks, but since the price is so good, I’ve thought about starting in Hawaii for that reason alone. But for sure it should work with NZ assuming, ya know, the site lets you. But can still call.
      Japan starting from Hawaii?

      Thanks for commenting!
      Other Drew

  11. Thank you so much for this and your other posts. I am just getting into the miles game and find all of this so overwhelming. My boyfriend and I are headed to Germany for Oktoberfest this year, and I was hoping to use miles for that ticket and also get a ticket for our trip to Hawaii two months later. Is that even possible? I think it is, but with Hawaii being a different region, I get confused. Thanks so much! This blog is fantastic.

  12. Thank you so, so much for this post. I’m trying to book a bunch some international trips before the devaluation on February 1st and, after reading all of your United posts and playing around on, I realized that I’ll be able to do a trip to Sydney and Tokyo for only 45k miles from Honolulu. So excited! Now I have to play around and see whether I can get to Europe cheaply as well! Thanks again for all the great info.

  13. Another bummer today.tried to book this itinerary
    DEL(India)-VIE-CDG/BRU-ZRH/MUC-FCO and then FCO-DEL with a layover in MUC.
    All flights were direct flights so I wouldn’t be violating 4 flights to destination rule.
    Agent told me that the rules have changed and now there is only 1 stopover and 1 open jaw. Has anyone encountered similar argument before?

    • Called again and another agent tole me that the distance between unflown segment can not be smaller than flown segment. So, because CDG to BRU<BRU to ZRH that is why she was not able to price it.

  14. united award routing question please:
    -can i route from usa via middle east on my way to euro?

    ex: IAD-CAI(stop)-FRA(destination)-IAD


  15. Great and thorough article! Am not sure if I have fully understood it. Need to go back and read it in detail. Two questions on UA award travel.
    1. Can an award ticket from the US to Asia include an open jaw in South Africa (say, land in J’burg and depart Capetown)? Or are open jaws totally forbidden on stopovers?
    2. Does a Europe to Asia award ticket allow a stopover in South Africa?
    Thanks for your insights.

  16. Hi Drew – I love your site and will be coming to see you in Chicago at the Chicago Seminars. Until then, I’ve got a bit of a puzzle for you – I’m trying to fake a “round trip” ticket by booking inter-hawaii flights so that I can have a stopover on my “main” itinerary. To test this theory, I tried to book HKG-BKK(stop)-SIN then HNL-KOA. It priced out at 58,500 in economy, and I can’t figure why…any thoughts?

    Many thanks,

  17. Drew, great post-
    Found this link with the help of Rick and the frugal travel guy. In short, I am weighing the options on the cheapest way to get around the world, how many miles can I ballpark united will cost me? Is it the 200,000 RTW world I see on their site or am I missing a cheaper way to do it, incorporating this post. My locations are flexible and I am not 100 percent understanding the other options using less miles, while incorporating the stops and open jaws. I am getting up to 500,000 miles at 1.75 cpm. Thanks!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

We have spent the majority of our marriage traveling full time, living out of hotels.   All the while, we list our expenses publicly, budgeting $25,000 a year for our nomadic life while still staying in mostly 4 or 5 star hotels across ~20 countries a year.
Go to About Me to learn more.