Huge Value Is Possible When Maximizing The United Excursionist Perk

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Maximizing the United Excursionist Perk – Huge Value Possible!

Back in August Ryan wrote a post on how to use the United Excursionist Perk to get a free flight on award itineraries. He covers how to construct a multi-city itinerary in detail, showing how to search for each leg individually and then putting the whole thing together. It’s a great resource for building an award itinerary with a stopover to see more than one destination. What I want to cover now are some more advanced uses of the Excursionist Perk. United likely didn’t plan for the perk to be used this way, but…we are talking about maximizing the United Excursionist Perk so let’s get to it!

How To Earn United Miles

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves we should discuss the best ways to rack up United MileagePlus miles. The quickest and easiest way is to transfer Ultimate Rewards points over the United. They transfer to United MilagePlus miles at a 1 to 1 ratio.  Here are the best cards for racking up Ultimate Rewards points:


Premium Cards

These cards earn fully transferable Ultimate Rewards points.

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred – 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points with a $95 annual fee. The perfect starter card and it offers a ton of value the first year.
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve – 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points with a $450 annual fee.  The best perks card in the Chase program and a great card for road warriors.
  • Ink Business Preferred– 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points with a $95 annual fee.  The largest UR points offer Chase has
No Annual Fee Cards

You need to carry a Chase premium card listed above to unlock these points and allow them to be transferable points.  Otherwise they are only worth 1 cent a piece in cash.

  • Chase Freedom Unlimited – 15,000 Ultimate Rewards points with no annual fee. A great everyday card since it earns 1.5X in everything.
  • Ink Business Cash – 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points with no annual fee.  This may be the best way to rack up UR points with its 5X earning potential.
  • Ink Unlimited – 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points with no annual fee. A great everyday business card since it earns 1.5X in everything.

Think of the Excursionist Perk as a Free One-Way Flight

When maximizing the United Excursionist Perk it’s easy to think of it as getting an extra “free” destination/stopover as part of an award. But I want you to erase that from your brain. This is the most basic use, but it doesn’t actually operate like this. Let’s go over the rules again:

  • The Excursionist Perk cannot be in the MileagePlus defined region where your travel originates.
  • Travel must end in the same MileagePlus defined region where travel originates.
  • The origin and destination of the Excursionist Perk is within a single MileagePlus defined region.
  • The cabin of service and award type of the free one-way award is the same or lower than the one-way award preceding it.
  • If two or more one-way awards qualify for this benefit, only the first occurrence will be free.

Ryan’s example is a classic use. He plans an itinerary with the following segments:

  • Chicago to Rio de Janeiro
  • Rio de Janeiro to Buenos Aires (free, Excursionist Perk)
  • Buenos Aires to Chicago

Maximizing the united excursionist perk- Basic Round Trip
Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

You can see the Excursionist Perk segment highlighted in green. This itinerary meets all the rules in the following ways:

  • The Excursionist Perk segment is not in the U.S./Canada zone (i.e. not in the originating zone)
  • The itinerary ends in the same zone where travel originated
  • The Excursionist Perk segment is entirely within a single zone (the Southern South America Zone)
  • The cabin he picked for the Excursionist Perk segment was the same or lower than the preceding flight (ORD to GIG was in business, GIG to EZE was in economy)
  • He only added one additional award, which is free.

But…there is so much more you can do.

Getting A Bit More Creative

If you’re using the Excursionist Perk all within a single trip, you’ll book something similar to Ryan’s example. But you have a bit more flexibility. For starters, each segment can be an open jaw. You don’t have to originate and end at the same airport (just within the same region), and the Excursionist Perk could have been an open jaw as well. It didn’t need to originate where the first segment ended and terminate where the final return would depart.

Consider the situation where you want to plan an amazing multi-stop European vacation. Let’s pretend that you’re originatring in Chicago want to see London, Paris, Amsterdam and Athens. Let’s also assume that you want to visit family in NYC before heading home.

Because London has awful taxes when departing, it makes the most sense to fly their first. We’ll make the first award ORD to LHR.

Flights from London to Paris aren’t typically all that expensive, but the train is the better solution since it takes you from city center to city center. Paris to Amsterdam is also not an ideal routing for the United Excursionist Perk, as neither is a Star Alliance hub, and you’ll need to connect somewhere. Train again would be best.

This leaves AMS-ATH as the ideal candidate for the Excursionist Perk. It’s flown nonstop by Aegean (although you could fly any connecting itinerary as well). But then you decide that a stop in Bulgaria sounds nice, so you book Amsterdam to Sofia via Warsaw. You can enjoy an overland adventure to Athens.

From Athens you can then finish the trip by booking your final segment to New York City.

Total cost: 60,000 United miles and ~$115 in economy. You’ll still need to book your final flight home as another ticket, and the intra-Europe travel, but you’ve now maximized your Excursionist Perk to give you a great initial itinerary. Here’s what it looks like:

Maximizing the united excursionist perk open jaw
Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Segment 1 is in red, segment two in green, and segment 3 in purple. Each is an open-jaw. I use “segment”, even though each can consist of multiple flights and carriers.

Mastering Complicated Itineraries

Now let’s take things to the next level. We’ve seen that each segment can be an open jaw, which is awesome. But what about the definition of originating and terminating in the same award region? Turns out, that final flight we booked didn’t need to start in Europe and end in the U.S. We could have booked the Chicago to New York segment as the final one, ending the “round-trip”.

Maximizing the united excursionist perk
Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

This reduces the cost to just 42,500 miles in economy. But you will have to get yourself from Europe back to New York. Maybe fly Emirates fifth freedom Athens to Newark flight, one of the best uses of Emirates miles?

Think about what this means. A “round-trip” is defined as simply beginning and ending in the same award zone. Since the final segment is intra-US, can the first segment be intra-US? Absolutely. You could actually book your long-haul awards to Europe using other miles, as long as the intra-Europe flight is sandwiched between two segments on a round-trip domestic award. It’ll still be a free Excursionist Perk!

Say you’re planning a trip to Las Vegas and you live in Los Angeles. You could book the tail end of the trip (assuming it occurs before your Europe vacation) using just 5,000 United miles as the first segment of your multi-city itinerary:

Then add the Excursionist Perk segment for your Europe trip as the second leg. Your final can be whatever you want, as long as it ends in the U.S./Canada zone. Maybe another trip to Vegas? Then you’ll pay just 10,000 miles and get the intra-Europe economy award for 0 miles (United normally charges 15,000 miles).

The timing of the flights is essential. The initial segment must occur first, then the Excursionist Perk segment, then the final “return” flight. If your plans don’t allow for this, it won’t work. This example also requires you to think through planning three trips at the same time. I know most folks don’t operate this way, but if you can, you can really maximize your miles.

How We Are Maximizing the United Excursionist Perk

I’ll argue that adding a second destination to a “normal” round-trip is a completely fine way to use the United Excursionist Perk. You gain a good amount of value in many cases. But here are some better, although more complicated, ways to use it for amazing value:

  • Book the return from a trip and the outbound of a second trip (to the same award region) to get yourself a free domestic one-way.
  • Book a cheap domestic U.S. “round-trip” to get a free one-way in an expensive region on a separate trip. The last segment can even be a throwaway.
  • Book an intra-Hawaii segment as part of a vacation there to get a “free” domestic one-way in the lower 48

Let me illustrate the first. Let’s assume I’m planning to go to Europe twice this year, and also have a trip planned to New York City between the two. I could book my return from the first trip, the outbound (or inbound, if I’d rather) of my trip to New York City, and then the outbound of my second trip to Europe. It might look like this:

Maximizing the united excursionist perk

Again, red is initial segment, green is the free Excursionist Perk segment, purple is the final segment.

There are endless possibilities with the second option, depending on your flexibility and savvy when planning multiple trips at the same time. Greg the Frequent Miler used a great option when planning his #40kFarAway itinerary: book a cheap intra-US segment to give yourself a free intra-Africa flight. The Central and Southern Africa region is huge, and flights are often very expensive. Here’s how his worked, domestic segments in red, Excursionist Perk in green:

Maximizing the united excursionist perk

I’m taking a guess at his actual itinerary through Africa, but this is what you can get on Ethiopian. He paid just 10,000 miles (5k in each direction). That intra-Africa flight he took is easily worth $300-400, or 17,500 miles one-way, so this is insane value. Look at all that flying you get for free for booking the short, cheap domestic ticket.

Actually, he did this twice, to get two free Excursionist Perk awards. He won’t even fly the ORD-IAH segment until this winter.

The final option targets cheap intra-region hops (intra-Hawaii and intra-Japan are just 5k) that you may need as part of an itinerary on a different trip. You can use it to nab any free domestic ticket for effectively 5,000 miles, assuming you throw away the return segment of the round-trip.

What You Should Take Away

I could go on all day with different options for maximizing the United Excursionist Perk, but I’ll spare you any more of my shenanigans. Here’s what I want you to take away:

  • Think of the Excursionist Perk as a free one-way itinerary in Region B region, sandwiched between two others that being and end in Region A.
  • Think outside the box when planning awards using the Excursionist Perk. There is so much power here. Working awards on one ticket into multiple trips is a fantastic way to stretch your miles.

The United Excursionist Perk is one of my favorite elements of their award itinerary rules. The loss of the old United award routing was a huge blow, but I’m glad there is something with so much potential left.

Is your head spinning? Hit me up in the comments if you have any questions about maximizing the United Excursionist Perk routing or itineraries.

Ian Snyder
Ian Snyder
After igniting his passion for award travel while planning his honeymoon, Ian now enjoys using points and miles to see the world with his wife and three internationally adopted kiddos. He loves dissecting loyalty programs to find maximum value. His goal is to demonstrate that extraordinary travel is possible for the ordinary family.

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  1. Hi! So you said you can fly AMS to Athen via Sofia, does United allow you to take a long layover? I’m feeling inspired after reading your post and thus far it’s the easiest excursionist explanation I’ve read (and I’ve read A LOT!). Planning a trip Asia (either Japan or Singapore/Thailand) and want to maximize our points (we’re a family of 4). Thanks so much for your help and wonderful insight!!

    • Thanks for reading, Maggie!

      For international itineraries, you should be able to take a layover of up to 24 hours. I’m not sure if this applies within the EU/Schengen area the same. I’ve used the long layover option to visit a couple cities briefly. It certainly is nice when you can take advantage of it.

      • Thank you so much for your reply! So I think then the only way to get a layover on a one way flight is finding a long layover, correct? I wish United would just charge 5k more for a stopover like aeroplan anyway thanks again!!

        • Correct. Look for a long layover on the segment.

          You can build in additional segments in the middle of the trip. The first one is the Excursionist Perk. Then you pay for the rest, whatever they cost in miles.

  2. I have a 2-segment excursionist perk flight in Brazil, I plan to check in but fly only the fist segment, not taking the 2nd flight, can I check my luggage to the first destination only? Will this impact my return flight to the US? I could call UA & pay the change fees to drop the 2nd segment, but just try to save the fees, thanks.

    • You must take the second segment. You could possibly ask to only check your luggage to the first city, but this could also be problematic.

      If your return to the U.S. is on the same ticket, then it will be canceled if you skip the last segment. If you miss any flight, any remaining flights on the reservation are canceled.

      The main way of exploiting the Excursionist Perk is to potentially make the *final* segment the throwaway, if the first and last are cheap and the first and Excursionist are the ones you need.

  3. Your post ends saying “Is your head spinning? Hit me up in the comments if you have any questions about maximizing the United Excursionist Perk routing or itineraries.” Yes I do. It’s not a complex question but I have asked other miles bloggers this same question and no one has ever bothered to give me any answer….I will try and see i you will. It’s simple…..2 people want to use miles (and they have lots in United and other air and CC companies) and go from Seattle to Argentina and back with a great stopover or interesting itinerary using points or miles and flying economy so as to maximize our points usage. We don’t want to just use miles to fly back and forth to BA we are looking to stopover hopefully in an interesting other country or countries. Do you have any suggestions?

    • Hi Marsha,

      Thanks for the question. I can absolutely provide some thoughts. If you’re looking to use United miles and the Excursionist Perk as part of the trip, you would be able to visit anywhere else in Southern South America for “free”. This includes Brazil, Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia and Uruguay. My personal suggestion is to take the Colonia Express ferry from BA to Montevideo to see Uruguay as well, and then use the perk to visit somewhere in Brazil. United partners with Azul airlines, which is nice. You’d get three destinations for one itinerary and one separate land/water transit.

      If you have other points to work with, I would suggest something like using Membership Rewards transferred to Aeroplan to do the same thing. You could also do this with ANA. Both will allow you to stop in other regions besides Southern South America. Maybe something like Ecuador, Colombia, or Costa Rica?

    • Such a cool and savvy use of your 40k miles. I gotta look over the final routes, but yours so far takes the cake. 😉

  4. Can I use the perk if the flights are in Star alliance or if my first leg in a flight is United say example (iah to ord) but then Swiss to Zurich? And then my last flight home is ORD to Iah United


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