United is a great program because they do not pass on fuel surcharges, which can save you hundreds of dollars in fees. Additionally, you can do a free stopover and get a free one-way flight using the Excursionist perk.
How Much It Will Cost
Award Chart: United Award Chart (includes Star Alliance Partners and definitions of zones). United has three different types of awards: (1) United Saver, (2) United Everyday, and (3) Star Alliance or partner airlines. Generally, it is cheaper to fly on United than their partners.
Fees: $25 for booking by phone, $75 fee for award booking within 21 days, $75 for any changes or redeposit 61 or more days, $125 for any changes or redeposit within 60 days. (assumes no status; if you have United status, here are their discounted award fees)
- You may be able to avoid the $75 close-in booking fee by booking a flight 21+ days in advance and call to change it within the first 24-hours (free cancel or change period) to the date you want within 21 days. The best numbers to call are 1-800-421-4655 or the Philippines number (+63-2-884-8272; 8:30-5:30 p.m. M-F and Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for their time zone). Avoiding the fee may require several HUCA (hang up and call again) since the customer service agents should charge that fee. Additionally, you can avoid the fee completely without the trick by using Singapore, Aeroplan, or LifeMiles to book United flights.
Fuel Surcharges: There are no carrier fuel surcharges on United awards! This can save you hundreds of dollars in fees on an award.
Airlines You Can Fly On
United's Star Alliance Partners
Adria, Aegean, Air Canada, Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana, Austrian, Avianca, Brussels Airlines, Copa, Croatia Airlines, Egyptair, Ethiopian, EVA Air, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, SAS, Shenzhen Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, SWISS, TAP Portugal, Thai, and Turkish Airlines
United's Other Partners
Aer Lingus, Aeromar, Air Dolomiti, Azul, Cape Air, Edelweiss, Eurowings, Great Lakes Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Island Air, Jet Airways, and Silver Airways.
Stopovers: You can have one stopover in the same region as the destination. (i.e. Charlotte to Munich (stopover) and continue to Athens).
Open-Jaws: Two open jaws are allowed on roundtrip award (or three with excursionist perk), but each open-jaw must be in the same region. (i.e. St. Louis to Singapore; and Bangkok to Charlotte)
Other Award Rules: One-way awards are allowed. You can combine the open jaw and stopover rule for roundtrips (Charlotte to Munich (stopover) to Athens; then fly Rome to St. Louis).
- There are some awards that you cannot do on a single award. Some examples from North America include: to South Africa via South America; To Northern Asia via Southeastern Asia; To Europe via South America; and to Australia via Europe or South America.
Credit Cards and Elite Status- Only credit card holders and people with United elite status get access to "XN" award space, which is additional economy saver award space for United flights. Premier Platinum and Premier 1K get better award space for business or first class United flights.
Waitlisting- You can waitlist for business or first class. You need to (1) book an economy seat (2) call United at 800-864-8331 to be put on the waitlist, (3) have enough points in your account for the upgrade. If business class seats become available, then you will automatically be upgraded.
Extra Saver Availability Routes- United publishes a list of routes that have extra saver availability. Just look for the green asterisk. However, the list only works on routes from Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco, and Washington Dulles.
Rules: This is a free one-way award within select multi-city itineraries. Members who book an itinerary with three or more one-way awards will be eligible to receive one of those one-way awards for free if it meets all of these conditions:
- The Excursionist Perk cannot be in the MileagePlus defined region where your travel originates (region definitions are below)
- Travel must end in the same MileagePlus defined region where travel originates. (if you book a one-way ticket, you could still use this perk by paying 8k miles for an economy ticket under 800 within the origination region)
- The formula is a flight departing one region + excursionist perk flight anywhere in the world outside of the original region + flight finishing in the orginial region.
- The origin and destination of the Excursionist Perk are 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.
- Business one-way; Business (excursionist perk); economy is valid. But economy one-way; business (excursionist perk); business is invalid.
- Booking- Use United.com's multi-city award search. You may find it easier to search award space one segment at a time, and then use the multi-city search to put it all together. You can verify that you correctly used the perk if the award pricing is the same without that free one-way. If after several searches United displays "no results avaliable," clear your cookies or pull United.com in different internet browser.
- Atlanta to Rome; Athens to Madrid (excursionist perk), Paris to Atlanta or another US city.
- Shanghai to LAX in business, SFO to NYC in business (excursionist perk), then flight Shanghai to Bejing (8,000 extra points in economy). That 8,000 point segment allows you to book the 35,000 points San Francisco to New York City route for free using the excursionist perk. (You could also technically throw away the third segment if you wanted)
- Hawaii to the U.S. Mainland + (some random flight outside of Hawaii and within the same region (e.g. Auckland to Sydney; Singapore to Thailand; San Francisco to Miami) + a 7,000 point economy flight from Maui to Honolulu.
- Istanbul to London; NYC to SFO in business (excursionist perk); Munich to Frankfurt (in economy for 8,000 points). (You get three flights in this example for 33,000 points whereas the single segment of NYC to SFO would be 35,000 normally by itself)
Airlines with High Fuel Surcharges: United might not be able to get you there for the least amount of points, but it may be worth using more points to pay less in fees. (e.g. You can fly on Lufthansa business class using ANA points for 88,000, but almost $1,000 in fuel surcharges and taxes. Or use 140,000 United points plus $130 for taxes.)
Flights on United: Flights on United in business class are usually about 20,000 points cheaper than flying on a partner airline. However, it might be worth it to fly on one of the top airlines in the world such as Lufthansa, ANA, Singapore, etc.
Under 800 miles: Only costs 8,000 points if (1) traveling outside of North America, (2) traveling non-stop, and (3) flight covers a distance of 800 miles or under. Use this sweet spot for those very expensive short flights abroad. (e.g. Guayaquil to Bogata is $506 one-way and would qualify).
Region Countries Mainland U.S., Alaska & Canada Mainland U.S., Alaska & Canada Hawaii Hawaiian Islands Caribbean Antigua, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Barbuda, Bermuda, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Curacao, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guadalupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Netherland Antilles, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Maarten, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos, U.s. Virgin Islands Central America Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama Mexico Mexico Northern South America Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, Venezuela Southern South America Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay Europe Albania, Armenia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Greenland, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom North Asia China, Mongolia, South Korea, Taiwan Japan Japan South Asia Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam Central Asia Afghanistan, India, Kazakhstan, Krgyzstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan Middle East Azerbajian, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Yemen Central/Southern Africa Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Cote D’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotto, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Reunion Island, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe Northern Africa Algeria, Canary Islands, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia Oceania American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, French Polynesia, Guam, Marshall Islands, New Caledonia, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Vanautu, Western Samoa Australia / New Zealand Australia (inc Tasmania), New Zealand, Norfolk Islands