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I’ve written a few times about booking a free one-way on a United international or Hawaii award ticket, but today I got a chance to actually put it to use on a family trip. I want to share this to hopefully inspire others to go beyond thinking that is something too wacky or too advanced or impractical for families, and to really add it to their “bag of tricks” for a future trip (or trips). This is not something solely for the uber-advanced outliers in the miles and points world, this is something many of us can do. For those curious, no this isn’t breaking any United award rules – it is just maximizing them.
For the winter Olympics in Russia next year I am flying in and out of Istanbul. I have booked separate revenue tickets from Istanbul to Sochi as reward availability is not good…to say the least. I booked individual award tickets in business class to and from Istanbul as the booking calendar opened for February 2014 a month or so ago. I did this as I wasn’t sure what would happen with availability, and I didn’t want to lose out. Since my elite status with United allows me free award changes or cancellations my plan all along was to re-book as a round trip with a free one-way added if availability permitted at a later date.
As luck would have it, availability has held steady so I was able to cancel my individual one-way tickets and book it as a round trip. This is key in getting to add the free one-way that I was after. Of course if I wasn’t concerned about availability, I could have just been patient and booked it as a round trip from the beginning. Next was deciding what one-way to attach to the trip. I decided to book a one-way from Houston to Vancouver for next ski season on the back-end of my Istanbul trip since it was a trip I was probably going to use miles for anyway. This way my outbound Vancouver ticket is essentially free. The trip had to happen after my Istanbul trip in order to be put on the back-end of the ticket. If it happened before it would be put on the front end of the ticket.
Sometimes, booking itineraries with multiple destinations on United.com doesn’t go well and you need to call in, but this priced out online with no issues. I selected the “Multiple Destinations” option and searched for Houston to Istanbul, Istanbul to Houston, and Houston to Vancouver on the dates I wanted.
Luckily for me it came back with availability in business/domestic first class for all flights. A round trip from Houston to Istanbul is 100K United miles in business (a flight well beyond my personal threshold for coach). Adding the extra flight at the end to Vancouver in “domestic” first class added exactly 0 miles to the price of the ticket. All I had to pay was a couple bucks extra in taxes.
I could have selected any available destination in the lower 48, Alaska, or Canada with the same result. I could have added business class to Hawaii for an extra 7,500 miles or the Caribbean for 2,500 extra miles, but I had no need for those right now so I went for a trip that was already on my radar. Interestingly enough, I would save miles if I were in economy and tacked on the Caribbean.
Why does this work? Simply put you are taking advantage of both a stopover and an open-jaw that are allowed on these types of United award tickets. A stopover is staying in a city along your journey for a period of time. That could be two days or several months. An open-jaw means flying in/out of different cities. In my case I have an open-jaw as I am technically starting my journey in Houston, but ending it in Vancouver. I could also have had a second open-jaw by flying into Istanbul, but returning from another city. In my case my stopover is in Houston. On the return leg I fly back to my home city of Houston and stay for several weeks before continuing on to my “final destination” of Vancouver.
I will still have to book a separate ticket to get back to Houston from Vancouver using either miles or cash (or attaching it as a free one-way on the front end of another big international award ticket if my travel plans allow), but my outbound ticket is now virtually free by taking advantage of award ticket rules and planning ahead.
The first few steps in the miles and points world just involve learning some basics and starting to build up your mileage accounts, but if you want to take it to the next level, it is tips like this that will help you stretch your miles further than you thought possible. I am now flying on a non-stop from Houston to Canada during ski season in first class for no additional miles…and you can too. That makes the United/Ultimate Reward points that I redeemed for my trip that much more valuable.
Feel free to share your stories and tips surrounding implementing United stopovers and open-jaws. I also strongly recommend reading MileValue’s series on “free one-ways” as he has done a great job breaking it down into an understandable process.