It’s Time to Get Serious About United Stopover Doomsday October 6

Mileage doom approaches: on October 6, 2016 United will restrict its generous stopover award policy on award tickets. They spin it as reducing confusion. Confusion to others is gold to us.


united-stopoverUnited’s flexible award routing rules and its Star Alliance partners have made United’s my most valued miles. I have taken trips around Africa, in particular, that would have been financially ruinous if paid in cash. I am chasing all the countries in the world so a mile is most valuable to me when it carries me to a place where there is no economic alternative. United’s current flexibility allows multi-destination trips for the price of one. On October 6, much of that will be gone. Poof.

It is not just stopovers that are being cut back, there is also the potential that tickets with egregious numbers of connections will become more difficult to book.

Each day to the 6th I will post an idea from an actual trip I have booked. Here is a recent example of my trips, a 40,000-mile one-way ticket:


Key reading to get up to speed is:

Travel is Free for how you can take it to the limits:

View from the Wing for the details on the changes:

Wandering Aramean for the crucial missing piece:

The last one is critical because things are already changing.

My tips:

1. Study the referenced articles for the way things should be.

2. Dream up the craziest things you want to do. Don’t hold back.

3. This is not just about stopovers, this is also tacking many sub-24 hour connections on international tickets to quickly see multiple places. You can do a lot in 24 hours, tour the Vatican for instance.

4. Not all partners show online, and some show intermittently. You can use other Star Alliance airlines sites such as Air Canada Aeroplan to find availability for some, though keep in mind certain airlines limit certain premium cabin availability to their own members.

5. Use brute force trial and error on the United website to see what sticks. Important: if one flight option causes an error, another might work even if it makes no sense for it to be different, try all the options the website provides.

6. If the United website errors out, you can call agents as a backup, though getting good agents is not easy even with elite status. You may need United phone agents to use the ‘old system’ rather than the ‘new system.’

7. Don’t waste your miles on a trip ‘just because’ it can be done. United miles will still have value from October 6. Book something you really want.

Good luck!

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  • Brandon

    I’m actually not that disappointed about the United stopover changes. Some of my favorite aspects of United MileagePlus are still there. Frequent Miler mentioned some of these characteristics in one of his posts before.

    They’re in Star Alliance, so they have access to the best partner award space on international flights. It’s one of the few Star Alliance frequent flyer programs that have no fuel surcharges on any awards, and offer one ways for half the price of a round trip. Oftentimes, there’s only award space to the destination I want, on the date I want using United miles (well, I guess technically, you can usually book those same itineraries using LifeMiles or Copa miles).

    What also sets United MileagePlus apart is that they have generous award routing rules, where you can piece together seemingly any segments you want as long as there’s low level award space on each segment. As you said, that might change a little bit. However, we will probably still have enough freedom to choose slightly convoluted routes, if there’s no award space on a more direct routing for the destinations and dates we want. It’s also very helpful that we can book awards by phone, and the phone booking fee is waived if the itinerary isn’t bookable online.

    Lastly, they still allow a stopover and 2 open-jaws, which is pretty generous. They’re also one of the few frequent flyer programs that still allow a stopover anywhere on the way to anywhere. It just will have to be in the same award zone now, but I’m not that disappointed about it.

  • @Brandon – all excellent points and why I do not advocate burning mileage balances. A lot of great trips will still be possible. For the small group of us who take things to the max, the known changes to no stopover on trips wholly within a region and well as requirement to have awards with stopover start and end in the same region will restrict what we can do. Africa in particular will lose a lot of value on United awards. The unknown is how much of the piecing together segments will change with the new system.

  • Joey

    Sorry, but that one way 40k award in your example is ridiculous. How many of the 100+ countries that you’ve been to did you truly experience?

  • @Joey – I don’t get into the business of telling other people how to travel because it is a personal decision, only you experience you travels, after all, and however you travel there is someone to pop up and say you are doing it wrong. I don’t have time or inclination to leave life and wife behind, sell my possessions, and drift around the world. On the flip side, there is an awful lot you can do in 24 hours and the people who don’t believe that are the ones who arrive and spend the first day eating banana pancakes at their hostel ‘getting a feel for the place,’ by drinking beer with other travelers. I like how Gunnar Garfors puts it, “But what constitutes a visit to a country? I must have done something there and have a story to tell. It isn’t necessary to stay overnight, but I have to leave the airport or train/bus station. To merely step across the border doesn’t count.”

    For that particular 40k award, it started with needing to get from Sao Tome back to New York. There is no easy routing, and I certainly did not want yet another Accra overnight (the staff at the Pizza Inn at the gas station by the airport may recognize me by now). As I searched awards I say the long Rome layover pop up. I have transited Italy many times and never counted it (still don’t) though found the time just enough to visit the Vatican. I don’t know how to legally experience that much more than touring St. Peter’s Basilica and the museum. I then saw the routings through Lisbon and since I have not been the to Azores, and otherwise expensive flight, I was able to tack on Terceira, which is a small island well suited to a 24-hour visit. Other parts of Portugal I have visited on other trips. Going through Brussels on the way out was the only award space, and that, too was pleasant to visit that city for the first time. I previously did a road tour of WWI and WWI battlefields in southern and eastern Belgium, though had not visited Brussels. Finally, the Nairobi stop was just for the heck of it, another place have been though on business though not seen the Rift Valley sites outside of town. I had fun on the trip, saw places I otherwise would not and did it much more economically that longer visits. Think what you will, for me, it was a success.

  • john

    bwahahahaha, I second the banana pancake eaters! It seems like there is a healthy 50% of travelers that make the effort to go to the ass end of the world to simply sit in a hostel with other travelers.

    While your rate is a bit fast for me, I also second that an incredible amount of activities can fit into 24 hours. Usually when you are home you dont realize this. Commuting to work and back and then watching TV it feels like days are just wasted. But when all the time is yours in a foreign place it is amazing what can fit into a day (especially if you dont wake up at 10 to spend two hours on those banana pancakes).

    The phenomenon that always happens to me is that a two week trip feels like a year away from home because I have done so much more in that time than I do at home.

  • @john – and I do not always go so fast. Iran I spent 9 days, for instance. China, Russia, India, Brazil I have made numerous trips and still more to come. And so on.

  • TCCQuest

    An example of “brute force”.

    Trying to book (XXX)Home-PNI(Pohnpei)-ROR(Pulau)-(XXX)Home via the Pacific Island Hopper.

    LAX-HNL-PNI-ROR-XXX [Worked, proves pricing and legit routing from North America]
    XXX-IAD-HNL [works]
    XXX-HNL-PNI [works]
    XXX-HNL-PNI-ROR [works]
    XXX-HNL-PNI-ROR-GUM [works]

    Will also post comment in the Island Hopper post for any others trying to book.

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