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:
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 – 15,000 Ultimate Rewards points with no annual fee. A card that rotates 5% back categories each quarter.
- 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
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:
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”.
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:
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:
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.