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Some hotel loyalty programs offer a fourth-night or fifth-night free discount if you book with points, but there’s not really an equivalent among airlines. The closest is probably the United Airlines’ Excursionist Perk, which is basically a free one-way flight on a multi-city award ticket.
Booking this award isn’t as complicated as it seems, and we break it all down so you can use the United Excursionist Perk to your advantage.
What is the United Excursionist Perk?
The Excursionist Perk lets United travelers take a one-way award flight for free if it’s part of a multi-city trip that includes a one-way award trip within the same “region.”
How does the Excursionist Perk work?
To figure out how the Excursionist Perk works, you need to be familiar with United’s three routing rules:
The flight itinerary must begin and end in the same region (e.g., if your travel starts in mainland U.S., it must end in mainland U.S.). See qualifying regions below.
The Excursionist Perk must be used in a different region than where travel began (e.g., if your travel starts in mainland U.S., the Excursionist Perk must be used in a region outside mainland U.S.).
The Excursionist Perk must start and end in the same region (e.g., if you take your free one-way award in Europe, you cannot use it to fly outside of Europe).
Your flights can originate in different cities as long as they remain within the same region. Because some destinations within a region can be far apart, you could be really creative in your travels.
United Excursionist Perk regions
Each United destination falls into one of 17 regions. Here's the full list.
Using this perk, you can plan a long trip with many destinations, and take a different means of transportation (car, bus, train, boat, etc.) to get to your next flight.
Example of a United Excursionist Perk trip
U.S. to Europe for 60,000 miles + $83 in taxes
To illustrate this example, we planned a two-week trip from the mainland U.S. through Europe and back to the mainland U.S. The sample itinerary is as follows:
New York → Amsterdam; Paris → Athens; Istanbul → Los Angeles.
Let's say you fly from New York to Amsterdam (flight No. 1), then travel from the Netherlands to France by train. Then, you fly from Paris to Athens (flight No. 2) to hop around Greece — the Excursionist Perk works here since you’re still within the same region (Europe). Your final European destination is Turkey, so you can travel through all the Eastern European countries to Istanbul. From Turkey, you fly back to Los Angeles (flight No. 3), just to add another U.S. city onto your trip.
Because you book this as an Excursionist Perk award, your flight from Paris to Athens costs you zero miles. We looked up this redemption in economy class and the award priced at the following rate:
New York to Amsterdam: 30,000 miles + $5.60 taxes.
Paris to Athens: 0 miles + $34.60 taxes.
Istanbul to Los Angeles: 30,000 miles + $42.47 taxes.
» Learn more: Which United credit card should you get?
Alternatively, if you paid in cash for this trip, it would set you back $3,453. By using your miles, you’re receiving nearly 5.6 cents per mile (here's the math: ($3,453 cash cost - $83 taxes) / 60,000 miles). This is a significantly higher rate than NerdWallet's baseline value of United MileagePlus miles at 1 cent apiece. In other words, it's a great redemption, providing more than five times our valuation.
The Excursionist Perk is the reason that you’re extracting such an excellent value, as you’re receiving three awards for the price of two. But if you were using cash, you’d be paying for all three flights. The example illustrates why miles are so valuable.
» Learn more: The complete guide to redeeming United MileagePlus miles
Final thoughts on the United Excursionist Perk
The Excursionist Perk’s generous routing rules allow you to book three open jaw awards for the price of two. As long as your flights remain within the region requirements, you can fly into and out of any countries within the regions, allowing you to craft creative multi-country trips. These types of trips aren’t for everyone, but given the discontinuation of round-the-world tickets in 2016, the Excursionist Perk still provides travelers a way to have a trip with many different destinations.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2022, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card