Wednesday, April 17, 2013

United Airline Awards - Free Stopover

Some of you have been asking me what's the next trip I'm going to take my parents on.

Well, we've been to a few places in the United States, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Asia and South America. The remaining major regions are the 3 A's (Antarctica, Australia & Africa) and Europe.

Now, my father's always said that "you can always go to Europe, but you can't always go to ____." For the most part, I have to agree. But at the same time, I feel like my infant passport isn't real until it has a few European Union stamps in them.

So after a long discussion with my parents, I made the case for a European vacation over Memorial Day week. I know it's over a month away, but after being home for 2 weeks, I'm getting pretty excited to look forward to a new trip - 8 nights in Munich & Paris.

We booked this trip using our United Mileage Plus miles but made sure to use a few of the United features available for international round-trip awards, like the Free Stopover. Normally, a saver fare award for US-Europe round trip costs 60,000 United miles in economy class, 100,000 miles in business class, or 135,000 miles for first class.

Free Stopover

So if I wanted to just fly New York (JFK)-Paris (CDG) then it would cost me 60,000 United miles. But for the same number of miles, I can stop stop anywhere in Europe (within reason) I want for up to a year then continue on my award trip to my final destination. You can use this feature either on the outbound or the return. I'll give you our itinerary to give you an example.

As you see here, we're flying out of New York (JFK) and heading to Munich (MUC) for 3 nights then continuing on to Paris (CDG) for 5 nights before returning to New York.

Now, our actual "destination" city is Paris (where we're actually trying to go & spend time) and we decided to stop in Munich first.

JFK - MUC (stopover) - CDG (destination) - JFK

But the way United's IT logic engine works, our official itinerary's destination is Munich followed by a stopover in Paris on the way back. In either case, it ends up being the same # of miles.

JFK - MUC (destination) - CDG (stopover) - JFK

So now we get to see 2 cities for the price of 1 round trip award ticket.

Open Jaw

United also allows for you to fly out of 1 airport and back from another for the same price in miles. For example, we could have done our trip this way:  outbound JFK-MUC and return CDG-JFK.

Of course, since we wouldn't save anything doing it this way, it makes no sense to exclude the "free" flight between MUC-CDG in our case. But this strategy can make sense if you really wanted to drive through the Alps or take the overnight train. Where an Open Jaw comes in especially handy is when you don't want to go back to the first airport to get back home. Examples include:
  • If you were backpacking through Europe for the summer (starting in Warsaw, ending in Barcelona) and didn't want to return to Warsaw to get back home. 

  • If you were island hopping in Hawaii with your parents and wanted to fly into the Big Island (ITO) but fly out of Kauai (LIH). Yes, I did just say "but fly."


Double Open Jaw

United lets you combine both of these two features to get maximum value out of your mile redemption. Let's say that instead of coming back to New York, my father wanted to take my mother and I to Chicago to visit my friend Jack and his parents. Then we can just change our final destination to be Chicago (ORD) instead of New York (JFK).

Since ORD and JFK are in the same Region (North America), it doesn't cost any more miles - same 60,000 miles for economy round-trip. Why? Because it's now just 2 different one-way tickets on the same itinerary.

This feature comes in handy when you need to go somewhere immediately after your primary trip (like a friend's wedding or bachelorette party). But doing a double open jaw means you don't get another free stopover. You still get to stay as long as you want in either Munich or Paris (because you're on your own getting from one to the other), but you don't get to stop anywhere else on your way from JFK-MUC or on your way back from CDG-ORD.

Also, you're on your own from getting from Chicago back to New York.

Stopover + 1 Open Jaw

This is essentially treated 100% same as a Double Open Jaw, except you're flying from MUC-CDG. Whether you fly or not, United Airlines doesn't care. It's up to you based on what your travel plans are.

Free One Way

And finally, there's another permutation of these features commonly called a Free One Way, but it's basically a Stopover... in your home city.

So let's say that I find out that Paris is very close to EuroDisney World and I'd rather spend all 8 nights in Paris as opposed to splitting time with Munich. We could eliminate Munich altogether and then we'd have a regular boring round trip award ticket this coming May.


BUT, I know that my father's friend Ryan is getting married in Denver in late August. Now, we could combine the flights into a single round trip open jaw itinerary with a stopover in New York.

JFK - CDG (destination) - JFK (3 month stopover) - DEN (final destination)

So now I have a free one-way flight JFK-DEN without paying any additional miles. While I'd still have to find my own way back home DEN-JFK, domestic one way tickets usually price out at 50% of roundtrip tickets. So this way, I've saved my father a bit of cash.

If you're interested in learning more and how to actually book these Stopover, Open Jaw, Free One Way award itineraries, then you should check out Hack My Trip's post "Maximize Your Miles: Stopovers and Open Jaws on United."

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