Although United Airlines removed its region-based award charts, shifted to dynamic pricing and increased its redemptions by 10%, there is still value to be had in the carrier’s award program — you just need to know where to look. The Excursionist Perk, which is essentially a free one-way award on a multi-city itinerary, provides ample opportunities to maximize the value you can get from award tickets. One of the best uses of the Excursionist Perk is when you can book three open jaws for the price of two.
Nerd tip: An "open jaw" is when there are gaps in your itinerary where you fly into one airport and out of another. For example, a flight itinerary of New York to Amsterdam, Athens to Moscow, and Istanbul to Los Angeles includes three open jaws: There is no air travel included from Amsterdam to Athens, Moscow to Istanbul, or Los Angeles (arrival city) back to New York (departure city). You must build your trip and include other travel to catch your next flight or return to your original destination city.
Here’s how you can leverage United’s three main award routing rules to get the most out of the Excursionist Perk:
The flight itinerary must begin and end in the same region (i.e., if your travel starts in mainland U.S., it must end in mainland U.S.)
The Excursionist Perk must be used in a different region than where travel began (i.e., 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 (i.e., 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.
Here is a full list of regions:
Using this perk, you could 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: New York → Amsterdam; Athens → Moscow; Istanbul → Los Angeles for 63,000 miles + $98 in taxes
To illustrate this example, we planned a month-long trip from mainland U.S. through Europe and back to mainland U.S. (but to a different city). Let's say you fly from New York to Amsterdam (flight No. 1), then travel around Europe by train and make your way to Athens. Then you fly from Athens to Moscow (flight No. 2) to explore Russia — the Excursionist Perk works here since Russia is considered part of Europe. Your final European destination is Turkey, so you can travel down through all the Eastern European countries to Istanbul. From Turkey, you fly back to Los Angeles (flight No. 3).
Because you book this as an Excursionist Perk award, your flight from Athens to Moscow 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.
Athens to Moscow: 0 miles + $49 taxes.
Istanbul to Los Angeles: 33,000 miles + $43.45 taxes.
Such a massive trip for only 63,000 miles + $98 in taxes is an excellent redemption (and getting your hands on that many United miles is not overly difficult through credit card welcome bonuses, via points transfers or earning from your regular United flights).
» Learn more: Dozens of ways to earn United miles
Alternatively, if you paid in cash for this trip in September 2020 it would set you back $3,492. By using your miles, you’re receiving nearly 5.4 cents per mile, a very solid rate. The math works out as follows: ($3,492 cash cost - $98 taxes) / 63,000 miles.
Based on our most recent analysis, NerdWallet values United MileagePlus miles at 1 cent apiece, so this redemption provides fantastic value.
The Excursionist Perk is the key reason for the high valuation, because 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 valuable — and despite some of United’s negative changes, good redemptions can still be extracted from the program.
» Learn more: The complete guide to redeeming United MileagePlus miles
The bottom line
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.
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