Stopovers — a break in air travel more than 24 hours long — give travelers the chance to explore a city that may be en route to or on the way back from their final destination. There’s nothing quite like getting two vacations for the price of one, but stopovers aren’t as available as they used to be.
Smaller airlines like WOW Air, Icelandair and Air Canada allow travelers to work in stopovers in major cities Reykjavik and Toronto. Alaska Airlines is a rare U.S.-based airline that allows free stopovers on one-way award tickets, while United, American and Delta no longer allow free stopovers.
But for United loyalists, there is a loophole.
The Excursionist Perk
Members of the United MileagePlus program have the option to incorporate free stopovers into award itineraries.
United quietly replaced stopovers with what it calls the Excursionist Perk in 2016. United’s Excursionist Perk allows for free one-way awards within select multicity award itineraries. To be eligible, MileagePlus members must book an itinerary that includes three or more one-way award flights.
How it works
Your trip has to begin and end in the same region, and your third flight has to be within a single, separate region. That means you could fly from New York to Paris, Paris to Rome and from Rome to New York for 60,000 miles — the price of two one-way Saver Award tickets between the U.S. and Europe.
Or, for example, fly from Chicago to India, India to the Maldives, and from the Maldives back to Chicago, for the price of two one-way award tickets between the U.S. and Asia.
To book the Excursionist online, select a three segment multicity itinerary that’s within the program’s rules. You’ll be charged miles for two legs of the trip but not the third.
The fine print
If you’re hoping you can squeeze in a first-class hop between two economy class flights, you’re out of luck. The cabin of service for the free segment of your trip has to be in the same class of service or lower as the other segments. If you’re using your miles to splurge on business- or first-class travel, you can stretch that splurge further on the third flight.
You can redeem the Excursionist Perk only once per itinerary, and you’ll want to keep United’s region definitions in mind as you’re planning. United considers Hawaii, Mexico and Japan to be independent regions. Asia is broken into three regions, not including Japan. South America is broken into two regions. Europe is considered a single region, making it one of your best and easiest options for Excursionist Perk redemption.
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Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
Maximize the British Airways award chart to save Chase rewards points
NerdWallet’s top travel credit cards
How to get started with frequent flyer programs