United Airlines and it’s Star Alliance network of almost 30 airlines covers most of the globe with its routes and United MileagePlus miles are great for booking awards. United Airlines also has extremely generous stopover and open-jaw rules for many possibilities to maximize miles. One of my favorite ways to get the best value from my United miles is to add a free or discounted one-way trip to every international award or itinerary between different regions. You can even add free one-way trips onto your trips to Hawaii and the Caribbean!
- Svetlana and I each added free one-way trips between New York and Los Angeles to a round-trip award to Grand Cayman and paid 35,000 miles total
- Natalya added a free one-way trip from Grand Cayman to a round-trip award ticket to Cancun also for no extra miles
The trick to booking these awards is to take advantage of United’s stopover and open-jaw rules for round-trip tickets.
- United Airlines allows a stopover and two open-jaws on any award itinerary between different regions.
- If you book a simple round-trip, you’re not using any stopovers or open-jaws.
- When you also add an additional one-way trip within North America from your home city months before or after, you’re still taking a round-trip, but it has a stopover and an open-jaw.
- You can still book your round-trip plus a one-way trip within Mainland U.S. for the same number of miles.
And that’s how you get a free one-way trip with your United miles!
Stopovers and Open Jaws on United
What is a stopover?
A stopover is when you have a stop for over 24 hours en route to your destination. Say you are heading to Paris. On the way, you can stop in New York for several days or months for free. United Airlines will allow one stopover either on the outbound or inbound leg on any round trip award itinerary between different regions. A stopover will only count if it’s for more than 24 hours. If it’s fewer than 24 hours, it’s considered a connection.
What is considered a different region? If you are originating from the U.S. mainland, any region other than Mainland U.S., Alaska and Canada is a different region. That means you can have stopovers on trips to the Caribbean, Hawaii, Europe, Asia, South America, Mexico. Lots of options!
United will allow you to stopover for as long as you want, but your award trip must end within a year of the ticket issue. This means that if you’re buying a ticket on July 15, 2013, then all travel must end by July 15, 2014. Within those limits, you can spend as much time as you want at your destination and as much time as you want on your stopover.
You just cannot have a stopover on round trips that stay within mainland U.S. and you cannot have stopovers on one-way awards. They must be round-trip.
What is an open-jaw?
An open jaw can happen in one of two ways:
- You return to a different city from which you leave. For example, a trip to Paris leaving from New York and returning to Los Angeles.
- You return from a different city than one where you arrive. For example, a trip from Los Angeles to Europe that lands in Paris and returns from Barcelona.
United Airlines allows either of these and actually allows two open jaws on any award itinerary.
Combining Stopovers and Open-Jaws For Free One-Way Trips
While stopovers and open-jaws allow much more flexibility in redeeming award tickets, the part that makes awards interesting is combining stopovers and open-jaws to get free one-way trips either before or after your round-trip. In other words, you get 1.5 trips instead for the same number of miles. The trick is to create a stopover in the city where you live. Let’s look at a classic example for using miles on award trips:
You want to plan a trip from New York to Paris. If you book a simple round-trip in economy for 60,000 miles, then there are no stopovers or open-jaws on the trip and you’re not taking advantage of the flexibility of United’s rules.
Now let’s say that you book the following:
- a round-trip to Paris from New York in July
- much later, in December, a one-way trip from New York to Los Angeles.
Let’s count your stopovers and open jaws. This trips starts in New York and returns to Los Angeles. That’s one open jaw and the outbound leg.
On the return leg from Paris to Los Angeles, there is a stop in New York. That’s one stopover.
This trip actually fits the rules for a round-trip award on United airlines between Mainland U.S. and Europe and still costs only 60,000 miles. But now you get to take a round trip to Paris and a one-way flight from New York to Los Angeles all for the same cost.
Let’s go through a few more examples of routings and see whether they are valid or not valid. Some of them are more complex than others so it’s not important to understand all of them at this point. Once you understand the first few, you can move on to learning to book these award trips. But do come back to this list for some more ideas on how to maximize United miles!
- NYC-Paris (destination) Paris-NYC (stop) NYC-Los Angeles. This is the valid routing we just discussed.
- NYC-Grand Cayman (destination) Grand-Cayman-NYC (stopover) NYC-LAX. Valid. You’re leaving from New York and returning to LA. That’s an open jaw. Along the way, there is a stopover in New York.
- NYC-Paris (open-jaw at destination) Rome-NYC (stopover) NYC-Chicago. Valid. You’re leaving from New York and returning to Chicago. That’s one open jaw. A second open jaw happens when you fly into Paris and return from Rome. That’s two open jaws. There is also one stopover in NYC.
- NYC-LAX (destination) LAX-NYC (stopover) NYC-Miami. Not valid. This award stays within a single region and you cannot have stopovers unless the award is between different regions.
- Grand Cayman – SFO (stopover) SFO – Cancun (destination) Cancun – SFO. Actually valid. It’s no problem to travel from Grand Cayman to Cancun with a stopover in San Francisco. This is the routing Natalya pulled off last year for her Caribbean vacations.
- NYC – Paris (destination) Paris – NYC, Chicago – LAX. Valid. You have a stopover in New York, an open-jaw at your stopover and an open-jaw between the origin (New York) and the destination (LAX).
The Steps to Booking Round-Trip Awards with Free One-Ways
Now that we have an idea of what kind of routings we can take, we’re ready for the steps to planning awards with free one-ways.
- Plan a valid routing.
- Search for award seat availability one segment at a time.
- Book the award online, if possible, or call customer service, if necessary.
Planning The Trip and Finding Award Seat Availability
The United Airlines website is not very good at planning itineraries with multiple segments and you’ll get the best results if you search one leg at a time. As my example, I am going to show how to plan a round-trip to Paris this fall in October and add a free one-way trip to LAX next March in 2014.
The first step is to check the routing and make sure what we want to do is valid. This itinerary has one stopover and one open-jaw. This is completely valid.
Because we want to search just one segment at a time for the best availability, I will break up my search into three parts:
- NYC to Paris
- Paris to NYC
- NYC to LAX
Any award seats you can find for each of these segments can be used to book the whole trip. To start searching, simply visit the United Airlines website, type in your dates, select One Way and select the check box for Award Travel.
The flights prices for each segment will display. I need to look for the flights with blue ‘Select’ buttons. Those are the ones with the low price award availability. If I can find flights all in the lowest Saver award level, I will be able to book a round trip flight to Europe AND a one-way flight from New York to Los Angeles all for 60,000 miles total.
Going there, I find a flight on Austrian Airlines connecting in Vienna leaving Friday evening on September 27. Sounds good to me.
For the return, there is a flight on Saturday, October 5 going through Canada. Also convenient for my schedule.
Finally, I need to find my flight from New York to Los Angeles next March… and I find something in the morning on March 1.
If you add up the prices of the individual legs, you will see all three flights price out to 72,500 miles total. Pay no attention to that. It’s still a round-trip flight between Mainland U.S. and Europe and will cost 60,000 miles total.
The important thing to do at this point is to write down all your flight numbers so you know which flights to look for on the next step when you book your ticket.
Booking The Award
Ideally, you should be able to book the award right online by going through the multi-city award booking option. While the United Airlines website is quite good at displaying award availability when you search one segment at a time, it occasionally misses a few flight options when trying to do multi-city. If you don’t find the flights you want this way, you just have to call United customer service at 1-800-864-8331 and book your itinerary over the phone.
To book online, go back to the United Airlines website and click on the Multiple Destinations link on the flight search.
On the next screen, I type in all my dates and destinations.
and, at the very bottom, make sure to check Award Travel and hit search.
Since I already searched for availability, I know exactly which flights I am looking for. Once I put all my flights together, I can see the total price for the full trip. 60,000 miles plus $124 in taxes.
and, of course, that’s for the full itinerary with the exact flights we found when we looked.
Where Can We Go With Our Free One-Way Trips?
If you start your award ticket in Mainland U.S. and add a free one-way trip within Mainland U.S., then it won’t cost any extra miles at all. It’s completely free. United will price your round-trip award as the sum of two individual legs based on the regions of origin and destination of each leg. If your free one-way award is completely within Mainland U.S., your origin and destination regions don’t change.
You don’t even have to start and end in the same region. You can use the United Airlines interactive award chart to figure out the regions and pricing, but let’s go through a few examples.
If you want to go to Hawaii, it usually costs a little bit extra from most regions, but not much. As an example, we’ll say you want to book a round-trip ticket to Paris from New York and then a one-way trip to Hawaii, all in economy. The award will be priced as two legs:
- New York to Paris: 30,000 miles.
- Paris to Hawaii: 32,500 miles.
The round-trip flight to Paris costs 60,000 miles. If you end your trip to Paris in Hawaii, you will have to pay an additional 2,500 miles. While it’s not free, it’s still a great deal given that, when booked separately, United will charge 20,000 miles each way for a flight to Hawaii. If you use United miles on the way back, the trip to Hawaii costs you 22,500 miles rather than 40,000.
If you end a trip to Europe in the Caribbean, it’s actually cheaper than ending in the Mainland U.S. That’s because the one-way price from Europe to the Caribbean is 27,500 miles. Back to our Paris example. Say you want to book a round-trip from New York to Paris and then, later on, you want to book a trip from New York to Grand Cayman. The pricing is similar to Hawaii.
- New York to Paris: 30,000 miles.
- Paris to Grand Cayman: 27,500 miles.
You’re actually saving 2,500 miles by booking a trip to the Caribbean!
You can use the logic here to end in all kinds of regions and figure out your award pricing. While adding one-way trips to other regions will usually cost more than just the round-trip, you can save plenty of miles by combining multiple trips at a time.
- United Airlines allows a stopover and two open-jaws on its award itineraries between different regions.
- Taking advantage of these rules lets us add free or very cheap one-way trips to many of our international award itineraries.
- We can get incredible value with our United Airlines miles and get 1.5 trips for the price of one just by learning a few simple trick and applying them every time we book award tickets.
You may also like to check out some of our other great United Airlines miles redemptions:
- Saving $1000 with United Miles: Natalya’s trip to Grand Cayman and Cancun
- Tickets to Grand Cayman with United miles plus free one-ways
- Singapore, Phuket and Tokyo for 65k United miles
- Kenya, My First Trip To Africa: The Plan and Qatar Airways First Class