If You Like Maximizing United Airlines International Awards Then Read This Post

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If you read my site much you know that I am a former Continental gal – now a new United gal by default.  Most of this is because I live in Houston, and well, what other airline would make sense for me?  Also, on the whole I really liked Continental, and want to really like United.  So, because of my location and because of the very high value of UA miles, when given the chance, they are my focus.  As you also probably know if you read this site, most of my travel these days is pretty “simple”.  I go from Point A to Point B and back to Point A.  More often than not, those points are all within the US.  However, we are now starting to plan trips for when our daughter is a bit older, and I have been playing around with stopovers and open jaws on some European itineraries using United miles.

However, the light bulb in my head had not gone off in terms of tacking on a “free” stopover on the front of or end of the trip (a la American Airlines award tickets style – only better) to essentially get 1.5 trips out of one, I was concentrating on just using them on the overseas portion of the trip.  On international round trip tickets, United allows two open jaws (in or out of different cities on one round trip ticket) and a stopover (intentional stop in a city on a continuing ticket).  Though silly me thought it was one open jaw and one stopover.  So, if we are using the Point A to Point B description, that could be A to B (stopover) to C then D to E (or other similar iterations of those points), as described in this FT thread.  To put that in city terms, I could go Houston – London then Frankfurt to Houston (stop for months until I am ready for my next trip) to Anchorage for the same price in miles as Houston – London – Houston.  I would have to get myself from London to Frankfurt on a different ticket and would need to get a one-way ticket back from Anchorage for that trip, but that would cost me just 12.5 K miles instead of 25K if I needed a whole round trip ticket.  If I just wanted to go to London while in Europe I could to Houston – London – Houston (stop) – Anchorage for the same number of miles as well.  In case you are curious, all of those are 60,000 miles for a coach ticket plus some modest taxes and fees.

I got an email today from MileValue who directed me to a very helpful post on this exact topic that he just launched today.  So, instead of re-hashing what he already says in his post – just go check it out.  I can say that I got the same results that he did when playing around with this more today.

Am I the only “special” one who didn’t realize it was two open jaws and a stopover on UA international awards?  I know there are plenty of folks out there who are masters of open jaws and stopovers (and I am certainly not yet one of them, but I am learning), but I also know there are lots of folks out there that have probably not even heard the word stopover or (especially) open jaw, so hopefully this will open some eyes to new possibilities for those folks!  Thanks to MilesValue for the helpful post and the email. 

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  1. I think, actually, that you’re still missing out on at least a flight.

    You could go:

    Houston – London (stop) – Frankfurt (end)

    Then, you’re return trip could be:

    Frankfurt – Houston – Anchorage.

    This differs from your original example in that it INCLUDES the London to Frankfurt flight (you don’t have to buy it separately). Also, this itinerary uses only one open jaw (on the US end) and one stop-over. If you’re going to use both open jaws, you would do the outbound flight as described above, ending in Frankfurt. then you would travel overland (or by internal flight) to, say, Florence and fly Florence – Houston – Anchorage.

    Am I off-base?

  2. I’m thinking of booking this itinerary:

    LAX – NYC (stopover for a couple of months)
    NYC – PAR
    PAR – NYC

    I was actually playing around with this on the United website, but it didn’t seem bookable. (I found available for the LAX-NYC leg when I searched for a one-way award ticket, but not when I searched for a multi-stop award)

  3. joe, you are being pretty silly. If it’s already on the internet, how is posting it somewhere else on the internet considered “blabbing”?

  4. Wait until the stopover is eliminated. Then tell me who is being silly.

    Don’t think it will happen? Look at AA’s stopover rules compared to UA’s…..

    And from the title of this post, you’d think it was an amazing revelation!

  5. It’s not just reward tickets this can be useful for.

    For instance, YYC-YYZ return is $800 pretty much all year. But there is a YYC-ZRH fare for $924 with 1 stopover allowed in each direction. If I have to go to YYZ for the week anyways, I can tack on a weekend in ZRH for $124. Quite the cheap mileage run.

    Anytime you have to take a trip and the price is making you gulp, you should immediately start thinking/checking overseas options.

  6. I had never hear about open jaws or stops. Thanks for the post. And don’t worry about the negative trolls out there. This format is much easier for people like our family who are just getting into the miles/points game. Thanks for the continuing education!

  7. So do you have to live in an international gateway like Houston to make this work well? We are in BHM or could fly out of ATL.

  8. @Larry, I am admittedly not the expert here, but wouldn’t that be two stopovers (assuming I stopped in Houston)? If you just ended in Anchorage without a stopover in Houston that should work….but I may be missing something. 😉

    @joe, I am quite aware of that thread, and have posted in it sharing my thoughts. However, this post was created not to drive affiliate revenue (there are no affiliate links in it), but to direct traffic to a very well done post by MileValue that he shared with me. He is not breaking the rules or taking advantage of a short-term mistake, as United is quite aware that they allow a stopover and two open jaws, but I think there are likely many readers of this site who did not realize that they could maximize their international United awards within the set rules.

    In fact, the biggest takeaway I have from that FT thread is that this website very much serves a function. FT is a wealth of knowledge, but it isn’t the most welcoming place for many family travelers or newbies to the world of miles and points, and that is exactly who I serve to help.

    I very much enjoy contributing to Flyertalk and Milepoint when I can, and appreciate comments here as it is the community and helping one another that will allow us all to travel more. So, apologies if you find this post negative in anyway, as that is certainly not the intent.

    For anyone else who has questions on specific itineraries, I would mosey over to MileValue as he has many examples in his post (including ones I didn’t get into in this post) and should be able to help clarify things. I will say that you don’t have to live in a United hub to make this work….which makes it even better than the American AAdvantage version of this maximization!

  9. You do need to live (or plan on staying) in a city that flies direct from outside the US to make this work.

  10. This is awesome! I usually book award flights for 5 people — the size of our family. Does that make it more complex or do you think it will still work? Theoretically I know it would, but I’m wondering about it from a practical perspective. Should still work I guess.

  11. @ Tanya

    “You do need to live (or plan on staying) in a city that flies direct from outside the US to make this work.”

    That’s actually not true. I have an example on my site of flying


    all for 60k roundtrip, and Denver, the stopover point, is not the international gateway.

    For AA free oneways, you do indeed need to live in a city with direct international flights, but not for the free oneways on United. That’s why Mommy Points was saying this is much more valuable than the AA free oneway, and I agree.

  12. I just wasted time reading the flyertalk thread posted. Well, that’s 30 minutes of my life I’ll never get back. Seriously, folks, read some game theory. This is all so predictable. I liked FrugalTravelGuy’s point– flyertalk readership is larger than the blogs, so hammering the bloggers makes no sense. The internet has changed a lot of things, and then the market will respond to those changes, and then things will change again. One things for certain; things never stay still. Even if elitists want it to. Keep up the good work, MP.

  13. @Jim and Tanya, as MileValue says, this does not require you to be located in an “international gateway”.

    Also, I very much do appreciate the support from some on this post, and am glad you found the post helpful. I would ask that we not get into the name calling toward anyone here as I really don’t want this site to emulate what I think is unfortunate in some other corners of the internet. I do appreciate the support though.

  14. @Jim

    No, you don’t need to live at a hub! Look at my second to last example of a Santa Barbara based traveler; SBA is hardly a hub, but he can still get a free oneway.

    Everyone can take advantage of this.

  15. Joe: I’m not a real big fan of bloggers sharing secrets as I see you have noticed already. 😉 However I wouldn’t really group this trick in with many of the others these bloggers share unnecessarily. This one can’t be exploited by the masses quickly, therefore it will stick around for awhile. Of course the more people that know this “creative routing trick” and start taking advantage of it too much, the sooner it will get shutdown, but that’s still a long time away IMHO. So in conclusion, this is a relatively harmless loophole share.

  16. It seems to me that there are too many FT folks who feel they are somehow a superior and privileged group who have exclusive rights to “inside” information. Grow up Joe…Oh my gosh the incredible “secret” is now out! What a bunch of whiners…

  17. I can’t imagine how people like Joe would be if MP or a few other bloggers decided to write about fuel dumping… oh boy… *rollseyes*

    A topic like fuel dumping won’t happen unless a blogger knows how to FD themselves or decides to read a thousand pages about it on FT…

  18. MP, while I love the idea of an open jaw (fly to Rome, return from Venice), I actually think they are of limited use to those of us who fly with young families. My overwhelming concern when traveling with my daughter is how am I going to keep her entertained/fed/safe in an unfamiliar environment? Adding in extra stops would be something I would as she got older, but for now, I think the globe hopping will have to wait!

  19. @gregorygrady, I understand where you are coming from with the concern about “tricks”, but I do agree this isn’t really one that is going to be blown up by more families knowing it exists. (in fact, I would argue it isn’t exactly a trick as it is a stated rule for award tickets). I would agree that it is creative routing, and that it still takes some homework and research for travelers to utilize it on a regular basis. Thanks for weighing in.
    @Stephan, it is a age old debate that has bubbled up recently, but hopefully will settle back down for a while in the near(ish) future….at least for a while. No secrets revealed here – just award routing rules. 😉
    @everyone, I feel ridiculous even posting this, but just as an FYI I will edit any more posts in this thread (or others) that involve calling anyone names. Disagree with each other (and me) all you would like, but this is not going to be a place where that happens. So, I don’t normally moderate comments, but I will be moderating that out of comments starting now so that this remains a friendly and helpful place.
    @Jimgotkp, that would get ugly. I know a small bit about FD, but have not ever done one and can’t imagine a time where I would in any near future. That said, there are bloggers who are experts on FD and could write about them if they wanted, but they choose not to as they would likely destroy FDs that they write about in very short time. Anyone that wants to know about FD has to spend some real time researching, learning the code, etc.
    @Askia, I agree, which is why my real research of maximizing them is only just getting started. My daughter has been too young for us to enjoy that type of trip (though every kid is different). However, we are starting to look at trips for when she is a bit older, and they will make more sense. At the very least, tacking on a stopover at your airport of origin at the end of the trip, and having a one-way to somewhere else to start the next trip for free is something that can and should be utilized by families. That was really why I wanted to share this into. 😉

  20. MP, as a mom, I’ve found your blog to be very useful -thank you! So glad your readership has increased over the past year, but hope comments remain helpful and respectful. Play nice kids!

    BTW, agree with other posters with small kiddos, many of us know about the “tricks” etc already from reading FT, but we can’t utilize them anyway so it’s not like suddenly the masses will kill it!

  21. The whole FT vs blogs argument seems silly. If a “trick” is too valuable to be posted on the blogs, the answer is simple: don’t post it on FT. By the simple act of posting on FT, you open up this info to the internet, including us “leeches”/sar. So it’s really the FT people who are to blame for posting info where bloggers can find it. Genie, out of the bottle, etc….

    Follow your own advice, keep your tricks to yourself and a few trusted friends, but don’t post it anywhere, and there will be no problem.

  22. Joe needs a different hobby than ripping on MP every post.

    @MP, block this guy. Contributes nothing valuable to the discussion.

  23. I wish I knew about this 2 years ago when I booked two award tickets on UA/Star Alliance to Dubai. But since then I have gotten a lot of value from this.

    One other trick I have noticed is if you place a stopover in a zone where the miles are less, then continue to your destination where the award miles normally would be more, United will give you the price of the award ticket in the amount of the first stop over. (I have only checked this for one 2-zone combination: Fly from the US to the Indian subcontinent via the SE Asia Zone -Thailand, for example, and the ticket will only be instead of the normally 80,000 to/from India =15,000 air mile savings). I have a business in India so this is of great use to me. You could also fly to India via a city in Africa including Southern Africa (where the tickets are often extremely pricey), do a stopover there (visit the beaches of Mozambique for example), and then continue to India for only 80,000 miles. Seems like a great value here too.

  24. I am really confused by this – so I just booked a ticket to india and then to Singapore. Please see below.

    IAH – AMD (Stop for 7 days)
    AMD – SIN (Stop for 7 days)
    SIN – IAH

    does this mean i can book IAH -EWR with no additional usage of miles?

  25. Awesome post. It is hilarious that someone might consider this information proprietary.

    I have actually done this 17 years ago when I booked my first award ticket to Hong Kong with an 10 month stop over in Tokyo. Over the years, I had forgotten about this added usefulness. Thanks for the reminder!

  26. I’m in MSP with a lot of UA and US miles so it’s good to hear I don’t need to live in the hub/gateway city… but this sure would be even cooler if LH started a flight to MSP.

    Anyone know the stopover/open jaw rules for DL?

  27. I just got off the phone with UA agent and she said with the old system we could place award tickets on hold if not enough miles in account but with “new system” we cannot. I must got a bad agent LOL

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