Alleged United Routing Rule Changes

There has apparently been some heated debate in the community about United supposedly changing their routing rules. Due to the fact that I don’t have much time for blogs or FT anymore,  I stayed out of it. But I was asked to personally comment on the changes and so…

I was pointed to multiple routing rules posted by United, and reported on by bloggers I respect, so I’ll tread lightly. But most of these claims seem to go against the epic post I wrote, The New United Stopover and Routing Rules with Pictures , a must read with 296 comments.

Here are the claims:

  1. US to North Asia can not be via South Asia
  2. US to North Asia/South Asia can not be via Europe
  3. US to North Asia can not be via the South Pacific
  4. US to Africa can not be via Asia or South America

So lets look at these 1 on 1.  (I’m testing these by going through the booking process online.)

1) US to North Asia can not be via South Asia

This is not being enforced at all.

2) US to North Asia or South Asia can not be via Europe.

Also busted. Easy booking, and is not being enforced at all.

However, there are a lot of agents giving problems with tickets that cross “both oceans”. This is the most confusing thing to me, as it’s not at all consistently enforced and seems to require you to fly more miles. And when I looked for a ticket online that was US to Bangkok with a stopover in Vienna, it routed me through Europe both ways. It showed no routes through Tokyo, instead only through London. However when I change the first Vienna stopover and replace it with a random Asia stopover, the return ticket then did show routes through Tokyo.  So it’s not that our Vienna stopover can’t be done…it’s that it sometimes forces a longer ticket crossing over the Atlantic both times.


3) US to North Asia can not be via the South Pacific.

Busted as well. This is not being enforced at all.

This post is going quickly.

4) US to Africa can not be via Asia or South America

Ummm…. I’ve been saying this for ages. This isn’t news. Please, again see the epic post The New United Stopover and Routing Rules with Pictures.


So what’s the big deal?

Good question. So far, United has routing rules they don’t use or enforce… which… I think that means, they aren’t routing rules.

But I have two fundamental beliefs about United.

1) They do not care about members of our community… at all.

Rather, they want your money and would love not to give you anything in return. But don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike United. Of the crappy airlines that the US currently has, it’s not the most crappy. But still, they would love to deval their program without any warning.

In fact it looks like they are planning to. Beware!

2) They’re too cheap to actually do it.

The number of people who use stopovers well… is probably as small as the number of people who have read this aforementioned post. Why would they invest tons of $$$$ to fix it?

Furthermore, airlines are using antique computer programs that would cost huge dollars to overhaul. And for what reason? And United is making small tinkerings with their program every once in a while to deval their overly generous routing rules.

Thus, I seriously doubt they have any intention on actually building a new platform. Instead, they plan on just fixing what they have.

But again, their computer system is old. A lot of people don’t know this, but the software they are currently using was built before World War 2.

Okay… that’s not true. But it’s really crappy.

And it’s entirely zone based. It’s totally a computer that says, if they fly [here], then they can’t fly [here]. And it’s about as good as their program could get. However, if they intend on changing something, I have a feeling that you’ll see other bigger opportunities starting from other places. That’s just my hunch.

Either way, you should kind of think of United as an 18 year old with his first car.

“I just added a new totally baller sound system. 10,000 watts out of this baby. And the seats are like actual fur…

Yea, and after I save up some money I’ll try to take out the big dent in the door and the scratch down the right side. And then, if I have enough money, I’m going to paint this baby flat black.”

Except instead, it’s actually a crappy airline trying to figure out how to slowly screw the customers they perceive are screwing them (although I assume it’s a decent portion of revenue coming from their loyal flyers).

Yea, maybe after summer travel season we’ll have some extra cash to have John go in and code some of those routing restrictions we posted as routing rules.



Or maybe United just perceives this as fair warning. “Gosh, it was totally in the fine print somewhere… it’s not like we surprised you with this devaluation.”

Who knows, but these things aren’t in place. For that reason, and because I think United shows no sign of rebuilding a new program, I agree with Wandering Aramean that there’s no reason to cause alarm or state these changes as a fact… because it’s an untrue fact.

Yes, it says that. No, it doesn’t mean anything yet.

My instinct is to say, “oh my gosh, United is eventually going to devalue their mileage program!” and then I’m like, “no wait. ALL airlines are eventually devaluing their mileage programs.” This is surely a sign that they are planning on it. But again, I agree, there is no news to report.

Should you earn tons of United miles and blow them on epic stopover trips? Yes! Right now in fact. But because it’s awesome.

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  1. I think this is mostly on the mark.

    I don’t think anyone said that these changes were in effect now on the website or for autopricing, though.

    United published routing rule changes, and isn’t enforcing those with initial booking.

    A couple of things that make this a big deal, though you can still book these.

    * Agents may give you problems with manual rebooking, since you may be asking for things you aren’t entitled to under the rules.

    * While I agree it’s always better to book now and not later because of likely devaluations, (1) I think on the whole folks had capitalized they were safe with United for awhile since they just gutted their premium cabin partner award chart, (2) we have clues about a specific direction of devaluation rather than a general one so specific kinds of awards can be booked now vs waiting even a short while in case the published changes are implemented.

    Published rules – what members are entitle to – matter, not just de facto what members can get away with.

    Which makes the change worth knowing about, although important to understand you can still do things that aren’t consistent with those published rules.

    • Sure. I agree that does seem to show their intent, I just don’t think agents know the difference. But as far as I’m concerned, with United the rules are what the computer/agents can and can not book.

  2. What I don’t understand is why am I able to still book a stopover in Africa on the way home from SE Asia? A few weeks ago I tried it and it was fine, and again today I was able to book SEA-BKK-DAR-EWR without an issue.

    • If you read my routing rules post, Africa and Asia can be combined. And if you switch BKK for NRT, you’ll actually save miles.

  3. Actually, South America to Africa has a very good miles discount over going via Europe. If you can get cheap fare to GRU/GIG/EZE it may be well worth flying that way.

    • I guess my routing rules are very USA centric and thus the the not being able to do SA and Africa is only when starting in the US. But in the old days you could stopover in SA and then layover in Europe and destination in Africa. 😀

  4. I am fed up with your posts, Drew. The quality of the contents are so valuable that i am unable to find enough words to describe them. I just cant consistently keep repeating awesome or rocking. Better not to comment anymore, i guess:) God bless.

    • Thanks Kumar!

  5. You are not missing anything by not keeping up with most of the blogs. However, I consistently look forward to reading your posts and your newsletter.

    • Thanks Jonathan! Glad to hear you find value in these posts!

  6. Sticking to the facts and drawing clear, substantiated conclusions.

    Every one of your posts is a nugget of gold. Respect!

    • Thanks David!

  7. you sound like a stooge with the continued use of your newly found word “baller”. Please grow up.

    • I am a stooge.

  8. Love reading yours. Supported your writing with three apps and instant approvals!..SPG BArrival and CSP :)

    • Awesome! Thanks Abhishek. I’ll try to earn it with more good content ahead. :-)

  9. I can’t route NZ to south Asia via north Asia anymore so my plan to fly business class with Air NZ via Tokyo or Shanghai is out of the window. :(

    • I believe Shanghai is in North Asia and it does appear to still be a legal route, just checked.


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