Searching With United Airlines

Note: Read the primer on Using Miles if you have not already.

united logo

Note: If you are specifically looking for a partner award that includes Shenzhen Airlines, skip to Searching With Aeroplan below. Keep in mind that, due to United’s recent devaluation and poor IT support, you may have trouble getting any awards that include these two airlines to price out correctly.

Award ChartLink (Note that there are different prices for flying on partners vs. flying on United only).
Changes: FREE if within the U.S., Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Mexico, and the Caribbean. For other destinations, $75 if sixty-one or more days prior to departure or $125 otherwise.
Cancellations: FREE if thirty-one or more days prior to departure or $125 otherwise.
Close-In Booking Fees: 1,500 to 3,500 United miles.
Stopovers and Open-Jaws: Excursionist “Perk” instead of stopovers. Unlimited open-jaws.
Fuel Surcharges: None.
Sweet Spots: One-way economy flights within one region (outside North America, nonstop, under 800 miles only) cost 8,000 miles.

    1. Go to United. If you have their credit card or elite status, sign in. You will be given better award availability.
    1. Fill out the form and submit.
    1. Specifically check any dates you are interested in —  the rewards calendar is not always accurate.
    1. Review your flight options. Note that in the example below, we have found a business class seat on the 19th even though the awards calendar indicated there was no such award available. united3
    1. Toward the bottom of the page, you may also filter by price & schedule, airports, and/or experience. This can be useful if there are many results. You can do things such as filtering out long layovers, forcing your connection to be in a particular city, etc.
    1. (Optional) If you are searching one way at a time, repeat this process for any other legs of your trip and assemble them into a round-trip or Multi-City Search once you have found availability on all of your flights.
  1. Select your flights and complete your booking.

If you could not find available flights, see below.

Searching with Aeroplan

Note: Due to United’s recent devaluation, the only purpose of searching with Aeroplan is to look for availability on Shenzhen Airlines.

The Aeroplan search engine will often find more creative routings than the United search engine will. And unlike United, it includes flights on Shenzhen Airlines in its results.

  1. Go to Aeroplan. Create an account if you do not have one already.
  2. Fill out the form and submit. aeroplan1
  3. If you checked My dates are flexible, the results will include an Availability Calendar. If you did not check the box, you can still access the Availability Calendar from the top right of the screen. aeroplan2
  4. For any routings that look interesting, click Details to see the individual flight details. These are the flights you will need to piece together for your United award booking. If you found a flight that looks good, skip to Piecing Together A Multi-City Itinerary.

Piecing together a multi-city itinerary (United Airlines)

Note: Multi-City Search no longer offers any benefits over a straightforward one-way or round-trip search and is only useful for utilizing the Excursionist “Perk.”

  1. You can piece together your segment-by-segment itinerary using United Multi-City Search. Below is a screenshot of a form that has been filled out for a flight from SFO to MXP. united5
  2. Select your flights and complete your booking.
  3. Occasionally you will encounter an error during checkout. This is normal with more complicated routes, and it means you will have to call United at (800) 421-4655 to complete your booking over the phone. You may be asked to pay a $25 phone booking fee. Often you can get this waived if you point out that the website would not allow you to book the award.

Advanced Tips & Tricks

Excursionist Perk – The Excursionist “Perk” is United’s stingy way of offering a stopover/open-jaw that occurs entirely within a single region. The rules are as follows:

  • The Excursionist Perk cannot be in the MileagePlus defined region where your travel originates.
  • Travel must end in the same MileagePlus defined region where travel originates.
  • The origin and destination of the Excursionist Perk is 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.
  • If two or more one-way awards qualify for this benefit, only the first occurrence will be free, i.e. if you have more than three segments in your itinerary.
  • Any layover longer than 13 hours is considered a stopover and requires the use of the Excursionist Perk on a round-trip award. This also means that you cannot book a one-way award with a 13-hour layover.

Note that there is no mention of the excursion needing to connect with any of your other flights; therefore, a routing such as SFO-LHR, SYD-AKL, LHR-SFO is valid, where SYD-AKL is your free excursion.

Likewise, there is nothing in the rules preventing you from using cheap domestic flights as the first or last legs of your trip. The closest requirement is that your starting and ending cities must be within the same region, but having a cheap domestic flight at the start or end (or both) of your trip can satisfy this. For example, suppose you want to fly SFO-LHR and SYD-AKL in business class. If you tack on a flight from IAD-EWR in economy class for 5,000 miles, this will trigger the Excursionist Perk to make your SYD-AKL flight in business class free because SFO and EWR are in the same region. And because IAD-EWR is the last flight in your itinerary, you don’t actually have to fly the flight if you otherwise have no use for it. Lastly, if you are starting your trip outside of the US, there may still be cheap flight options that can be used to trigger the Excursionist Perk, e.g. intra-Hawaii and intra-Japan flights.

Occasionally, multi-city search will not show the same availability that you can find with one-way search when you are trying to utilize the Excursionist Perk. If you are unable to build the full itinerary you want due to missing availability when switching to multi-city search, your best bet is to search for and book just the one-way flight first. Changes are free within 24 hours, and you should be able to either Add Another Destination online or call United at (800) 864-8331 and ask them to make the change. If all else fails, you can still cancel the flight with no penalty as long as you are within 24 hours.

Avoiding the Close-In Booking Fee – United charges a $75 fee if you book an award flight within 21 days of departure. To potentially avoid this, you can book your flight on a random date that is more than 21 days out, call United at (800) 864-8331, and ask them to move the flight to the date you actually want. As long as you do this within 24 hours of booking your award, they will not assess a change fee. With regard to the $75 close-in booking fee, you are hoping that they forget to apply it. Apparently, this works fairly often, but they’ll occasionally remember to ask you to pay it.

United Global First Lounges and Arrivals facilities – If you are flying United Global First or United BusinessFirst to Europe and arriving before noon, check this list for arrival airport facilities. You will need to request access at check-in, but this is a nice way to freshen up when you arrive.

Improving Award Search Results – I’ve seen reports that playing around with the award search engine can result in finding more results than performing a straightforward search from the homepage. For instance, I saw one example where the initial search was a dummy booking with an incorrect departure city, and after changing the departure to the correct city from the search results page, extra award options were shown (as compared to performing an initial search with the correct cities). I have not experienced this myself but thought it worth a mention.

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