United Stopovers aren’t dead! Far from it!
On Oct 6 United switched stopover rules, and on paper, it seemed that all the tricks I’ve written about were dead. But every ending is a new beginning.
It is true that many of the United stopover and routing tricks I discovered over the years area dead. For example The Most Powerful Zone concept is completely dead. The United Stopover Routing Rules and United Stopover Secrets... all totally irrelevant.
However, I’ve been playing around with stopover tricks with the new system and while it’s disappointing to lose some gems, I’m totally excited to share my finds.
I’ll break up the findings into two posts. Today will be an overview, and tomorrow will be a specific trick to make stopovers with United even better.
Know that all the things I’m about to discuss are bookable on United.com when checking “search for award travel” and clicking “Multi-city“. And while a number of tricks are gone, the booking engine online is way better! Anything can be booked online now, unless United isn’t showing the award space (like Singapore flights).
You can view the United Stopover changes in my post here.
Summary of changes (in United’s words):
- Stopover can not be in your originating region.
- Travel must start and end in the same region.
- Stopovers must be in the same region as the destination.
- You can add more oneways on the same ticket, and they just charge you for the oneway.
What’s really happening are two things. 1) United is now really giving you a free segment. And 2) That segment has to be within one region.
That’s my interpretation of the rules and rewording. If you understand my rewording, you’ll understand what you can and can’t do.
In addition you’ll need to understand that 3) you have to return to your region of origin to get your free segment.
Once you understand those three things, you can know that 4) you get one stopover per multi-city booking and open-jaw(s) are allowed.
So let me try a summary in my words.
Summary of New United Rules (all in my words):
- One free segment per booking.
- Free segment has to be in the same region (but different than the region of origin).
- Booking must return to region of origin.
- 1 stopover per booking, open-jaws are allowed.
- As many segments are allowed as you want, you just pay for them all like you would a bunch of separately booked oneways.
My interpretation of the rules, as you’ll see now and in the next post, is much more appropriate.
One important concept mentioned in #5, is that it will price segments one at a time, and it will give you one free segment in a single region.
What would happen if you tried to book a stopover in Europe on the way to Asia? Well, it wouldn’t be a “stopover” in that it would be free… you would just pay for each segment.
It would price out like this:
- USA – Europe = 30k
- Europe – SE Asia = 55k
- SE Asia – USA = 40k
Total = 125k
That’s hardly a deal, and it’s exactly what the price would be if you just booked a bunch of separate oneways. In fact you could do US to Europe, to Africa, to Asia, to Australia, to Oceania, and then back to the US… It will “let” you book that, and again it would just price it out like a bunch of oneways.
The big reason to book as a multi-city is that you will get a free segment if you have a segment in a single region.
And I move to the language of “free segment” instead of “free stopover”, because that’s how they actually price it… as you’re about to see.
Example Of A Basic Stopover
Let’s take a basic example. USA to Europe, free segment (or stopover) in Europe, then back to the US.
WAS – FRA – IST – WAS
What happens? Well, WAS – FRA and IST – WAS are 30k each, and as I mentioned it just makes the FRA – IST segment 0 miles.
Notice that the economy segment is free but the business isn’t? That’s because my previous segment was in economy… But we’ll come back to that in a bit.
Stopover with an open-jaw
If you didn’t gather from my saying “open-jaws are allowed”, you can have multiple open-jaws.
This is one of the biggest wins of the new system.
ORD – FRA / VIE – IST / FCO – WAS
That’s three open-jaws and a free segment (or stopover) for 60k! That’s one open-jaw better than the old rules, and you couldn’t have had two of those stopovers in Europe under the old rules.
How does it price out?
- ORD – FRA = 30k
- VIE – IST = 0k
- FCO – WAS = 60k
Here’s the key… and pay attention to my wording here:
The free segment is always going to be the first segment in a single region different from the region of origin.
In other words, if you kept adding a bunch of segments after, the free segment is going to be the first one within a single region.
Let me first give an example of a bunch of segments, and then explain how the pricing works.
Dear Bloggers, just a reminder – if you are writing about a trick or rule that you read about on this blog, you *should* give a backlink and credit. Thanks.
Multi-Segment & A Stopover
USA – Europe – (free) segment within Europe – SE Asia – segment within SE Asia – USA
Again, you can do whatever you want… you just end up paying for it. I’m not saying this route is a good idea, but I want to explain how the pricing works.
ORD – VIE – IST – SIN – BKK – ORD
How would it price?
- ORD – VIE = 30k
- VIE – IST = 0
- IST – SIN = 55k
- SIN – BKK = 17.5k
- BKK – ORD = 40k
Total = 142.5k
Which is the free segment?
Again, what’s important here is that VIE – IST is the free segment.
See, technically the free segment is the one that is 1) within a single region and 2) not the region of origin. In this case there are two regions that would qualify for the free segment, VIE-IST and SIN-BKK.
But the key is that the first segment is the free one.
But what would happen if we reversed the route? Let’s use the same picture as above but price it backwards:
- ORD – BKK = 40k
- BKK – SIN = 0
- SIN – IST = 55k
- IST – VIE = 15k
- VIE – ORD = 30k
Total = 140k
Obviously neither are a great deal, but I want to show how it works, because we’re about to talk about the great deals.
Multi-Segment /w Open-Jaws & A Stopover
One super interesting aspect is that open-jaws have no limits. There are no real routing rules since now we price per segment.
You can go around the world hitting every region, and it would be allowed! … But you’d pay a fortune in miles.
Similarly, you can just kind of stop and start again anywhere.
By the way, an open-jaw is basically when your ticket lands in one airport and leaves from another. It’s a segment of travel where United isn’t responsible.
An open-jaw could be flying into Rome and out of Vienna.
Or what’s crazy it could be flying US to Rome, and then continuing from Bangkok to do Bangkok to USA. How you get from Rome to Bangkok doesn’t really matter, as long as you leave enough time.
You could book an AA miles ticket or swim. Doesn’t change the United booking process.
So you understand what’s possible, and why, let’s give an example.
EWR – NRT – GUM / IST – FRA – ORD
How does it price?
- EWR – NRT = 35k
- NRT – GUM = 12.5k
- IST – FRA = 0
- FRA – ORD = 30k
Total = 77.5k
I suppose it’s not a terrible price, but you’re still needing a giant ticket to get from GUM to IST. Which is fine, because it’s just an example.
Remember IST – FRA is the free segment because it’s first segment in a single region. NRT – GUM is cheap, but it’s the region of “Japan” to the region of “Oceania”.
Technically we could have just thrown off the NRT – GUM part and we still would have the free segment, but I want to use the example in a minute to exemplify a trick.
Also, this exemplifies a few things:
- How United is pricing a bunch of segments one at time.
- How United is allowing huge open-jaws (one from GUM / IST, and another is returning to ORD instead of EWR).
- How United prices the first segment in a single region as zero.
Pricing Different Classes
If not obvious, all of the rules apply exactly the same regardless of which class you fly. The only difference between these routes when flying economy or first class, is the price you pay!
Since United now prices per segment, you can pick and choose what class you want to fly for each segment.
If you booked an entire route as economy the free segment can only be in economy. But if you booked an entire segment in business class, the free segment can be in business class as well.
However, what happens when you mix and match economy and business (or first)? When is the free segment in business and when is it economy?
The class of the free segment can be (up to) the class of the previous segment.
Let me give an example:
Mixing Class Example
Let’s do the same example as above (EWR-NRT-GUM / IST-FRA-ORD), but where only the blue segments below (NRT-GUM & IST-FRA) are in business class and the rest are in economy.
How would it price?
- EWR – NRT (economy) = 35k
- NRT – GUM (business) = 25k
- IST – FRA (business) = 0
- FRA – ORD (economy) = 30k
Total = 90k
IST – FRA in business would have been 30k but it’s free, 1) it’s the first single region segment, and 2) the segment before it was in business.
The kicker is that NRT – GUM in business is cheaper than the free segment.
And again, obviously the shortest segments possible aren’t the ones I want in business class, but I’m trying to show that you can pick and chose, and which segments are qualified to be free.
Stopover Tricks Coming Tomorrow! & Conclusion
All I’ve shown so far is how the computer thinks and how the computer prices things. The rules they’ve published only tell us so much, and the rules I’ve figured out by testing tell us a lot more.
What tomorrow’s (Tue, Oct 25) post will teach us is just a couple more mechanisms at play, and then some tricks to really make the most of United.
Again, everything above is most of the rules… but if you’re really good at reading between the lines, you’ll discover a number of cool routes and options.
But you don’t have to… because tomorrow’s post will reveal a ton of United stopover tricks!
Hope to see ya tomorrow!