United's Excursionist Perk
In this Guide to the United Excursionist Perk, we'll show you how to use this award to get amazing value from your MileagePlus miles. United MileagePlus miles remain some of the easiest airline miles to accrue and use. Although their value has been reduced through award chart devaluations, there are two features that continue to make the MileagePlus program worthwhile. The first is that they never pass along fuel or carrier surcharges on award tickets, which means you can book things like Lufthansa first class without paying $1,000 in added fees. The second is the United Excursionist Perk, described in detail below. You can do all sorts of cool things with the Excursionist perk.
What Is the United Excursionist Perk?
The United Excursionist Perk is a feature of United award booking that lets you book a stopover for free. Well, this is what it is in its simplest form. The United Excursionist Perk rules allow you to do much more than that. United calls it a “free one-way award within select multi-city itineraries.”
Here are the United Excursionist perk rules, straight from the website:
- 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 inventory 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.
At face value these allow for a simple stopover in the destination zone on a round-trip award. This is the “simple” use of the Excursionist perk, which I will cover first.
Simplest Use of the United Excursionist Perk
Let’s use the typical trip to Europe as our first example. I know very little is open in Europe right now due to COVID-19, but hopefully things get better later in 2021. I’m hoping to visit Munich during Oktoberfest. But what if I also want to visit Vienna afterward? This is potentially a good use of the United Excursionist Perk.
The ideal itinerary would be JFK-MUC-VIE-JFK on the United partners Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines (even though we’re using United miles, I avoid flying United whenever possible). Flying Lufthansa first class is a little problematic, as I’d need to wait and see if they do indeed fly that product on the route by this fall and wait until the last minute to book (since that is what Lufthansa makes you do).
The first leg (JFK-MUC) is the outbound, the second leg (MUC-VIE) is the Excursionist Perk (which will be free), followed by the final return segment (VIE-JFK). This meets all the rules. It is a round-trip itinerary, the Excursionist Perk is within a single zone that is not the zone of origin, and the final portion of the ticket returns to the zone of origin.
United charges 154,000 MileagePlus miles for a round-trip business class ticket. Normally, a one-way segment within Europe costs 27,500 miles, but this is now free! Amazing.
Advanced Excursionist Perk Tricks
Now let’s take things to the next level. It turns out that I could have booked an Excursionist Perk for the ticket above within the Middle East zone. This would have been stupid, as I’m not planning to fly from Cairo to Dubai during that trip. But you can still do this. The Excursionist Perk zone can be any MileagePlus that is not the zone of origin. That’s what I want to illustrate! Excursionist Perk segment in purple.
A more realistic advanced example is changing my trip to Europe. Say I want to visit the Bahamas after both Munich and Vienna. I could book the following ticket:
- New York – JFK to Munich (outbound)
- Munich to Vienna (Excursionist Perk)
- Nassau to Newark (return)
I don’t even want to think about flying into Newark. But I don’t have any other good options since it needs to be a United ticket. Again, this is one reason I avoid flying United. The point, though, is that this is still a valid use of the Excursionist Perk, as the final segment returns me to my zone of origin. I’d need to book the Vienna to Nassau ticket separately, most likely using miles for British Airways first class. Separate ticket segments in green.
You can add more flexibility to the trip using the Excursionist Perk. I could take a train from Munich to Vienna and then use my Excursionist Perk to fly to Santorini for a few days. I could return to Las Vegas instead of New York at the end of the trip (same United zone) and then fly home in JetBlue Mint (that actually sounds like the most fun). The options are limitless.
My takeaway point is that you can do quite a lot with the Excursionist Perk if you’re willing to do some intense award planning.
Special Case: The Discount Domestic Flight
There is one more best use of the United Excursionist Perk that I want to mention. Depending on your travel plans, you can tack on a cheap domestic award fight. I know that’s difficult in the age of coronavirus, but it’s something to keep in mind.
The key here is to consider adding a domestic ticket when you need to book an award within a particularly cheap United zone. This includes things like a domestic flight within Japan and a nonstop short-haul economy flight within a single zone for just 8,000 miles.
Instead of just booking your one-way award ticket, turn it into a “round-trip” and use it to book a cheap middle segment as an Excursionist Perk. The final segment can even be a throwaway. Hawaii is a great example, so let’s use that. Say I want to fly between islands. United charges 7,500 miles for Hawaiian airlines economy, which I guess is sufferable for an hour. Actually, it’s not. This is just an example, though, so bear with me.
Instead of just booking and being done, I’m going to use the United Excursionist perk to add-in a domestic U.S. ticket. Let’s plan to travel from New York to Las Vegas, which normally costs 12,500 miles in economy. As an United Excursionist Perk, it’s free.
Then I add on a throwaway intra-Hawaii ticket, even if I don’t plan to take it. The total cost is 15,000 miles. The intra-Hawaii one-way and domestic one-way normally cost 20,000 miles (7,500 miles plus 12,500 miles). I’ve just saved 5,000 miles off my domestic award from New York to Vegas.
The other zone for which this works well is intra-Japan, where flights cost only 5,500 miles one way.
The United Excursionist Perk rules allow you to do a whole lot more with it than you might think. Some of the advanced uses require a lot of planning, but if you’re looking to book a trip with several stops, it’s a great tool to know how to use. The Chase Ultimate Rewards credit cards make it easy to earn lots of United MileagePlus miles, as it is one of the partner programs.
Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.