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Airfare is generally one of the most expensive aspects of travel. Even with airline miles and points, it can often be pricey to see multiple cities on a single trip without draining your points. However, it doesn’t have to be expensive! The United Excursionist Perk is a great way to see more places and travel further for only the price of taxes and fees.

What is the United Excursionist Perk?

The Excursionist Perk from United allows you to add a free additional one-way flight to a multi-city award ticket. For example, suppose you want to fly from Los Angeles to Paris, Paris to London, then London back to Los Angeles. The Excursionist Perk would make the middle flight free (with the exception of fees and taxes).

The Excursionist Perk allows you to add a “free” middle flight to your multi-city flight plan

What are the rules for using the United Excursionist Perk?

In order to use the Excursionist Perk, there are some rules that you must follow:

  • Booking has to be made on one flight plan. This means that in order to activate the Excursionist Perk, you have to book the itinerary as one multi-flight trip. The perk will not work with three separate or individual one-way flights bookings.
  • Perk only applies to award bookings, not cash tickets
  • Flight must involve at least two regions
  • Origin and destination of your Excursionist Perk flight has to be within the same region, which is defined by United
  • Award type of the Excursionist Perk flight has to be the same as the start and end flights. That means that you can’t book a business class flight in the middle unless your starting and ending flights are also business class.
  • Final destination region must match the origination region

United’s region map

United classifies the world into 17 regions. Some regions are extremely small and limited, like Hawaii, Mexico, and Japan. However, other regions are massive and contain a lot of different countries. Understanding these distinctions is important when planning an itinerary using the Excursionist Perk.

Why the United Excursionist Perk is so valuable

The most simple way to get value from this perk is to book an additional flight within your travel plan. If you’re traveling from the mainland US, perhaps that’s an extra city in Europe or South Asia. You could even add an island hop in Hawaii. There are a lot of possibilities with this perk. You’re only limited by where United Airlines flies. Also, you’ll have to pay any fuel charges, taxes, and fees when booking.

How to use the United Excursionist Perk

To use the Excursionist perk, you’ll want to book directly from United Airline’s website. I recommend logging into your account first, then clicking on Advanced Search. You’ll want to select “Yes” on the Do you want to book a MileagePlus award ticket question. Then you’ll want to select the multi-city option under Trip type.

You’ll want to select these two options when using the United Excursionist Perk

You then specify the destinations where you want to fly, dates, and times (if you have a preference). You can also specify the number of connections, though I would leave all options selected. This allows you to see all the award seat availability for your destination.

While you can limit the number of connections, I recommend selecting all so you can evaluate the available flight options

You’ll then select your flights. Keep in mind that the points listed are for each leg. Once I select my flights, I am then shown the middle flight. You’ll notice that the award miles needed for this flight is 0. This is Excursionist perk being applied to your itinerary. Once I select this flight, I’ll then be shown the final flight to complete the booking. It’s that simple!

Using the United Excursionist Perk, you’ll notice that your middle flight will cost 0 miles. Though you will have to pay any fees and taxes.

Top off your United account with Chase Ultimate Rewards points

Since United is a travel partner with Chase, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to them if you have a premium Chase travel card. This includes the Sapphire Preferred, Sapphire Reserve, or Ink Business Preferred. It’s a great way to see more places without having to pay for another full-price flight.

Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card
Points earned on a Chase card like the Sapphire Preferred can be transferred to United Airlines

Getting creative with the United Excursionist Perk

A lack of specificity in the rules

You may have noticed a bit of ambiguity in the wording of the rules. Specifically, the origin and destination of your Excursionist Perk flight have to be within the same region. However, it doesn’t specify that it has to be in the same region as your starting and ending flight. The final destination region must match the origination region. Though the entire US mainland is one region. This means that you could end your flight in a completely different US city. 

The Excursionist Perk rules offer some flexibility for those looking to maximize the benefit

Mixing flights in different itineraries

Since Los Angeles and New York are in the same region, we are meeting the requirements of starting and ending a flight in the same region. The middle flight needs to be between two cities of the same region, and the itinerary has to involve two regions.

The lack of specificity allows you to plan trips in the future by mixing flights within different itineraries. I could use the perk to book three unrelated flights as my multi-city itinerary as long as they follow the rules. For example, suppose I planned to visit New York in September and February. However, I also planned to be in Paris in November for work. I could book an itinerary where I am flying from Los Angeles to New York, then Paris to London, then Los Angeles to New York again. The middle flight still shows 0 miles. This is because we are following all the rules associated with the perk.

You can mix flights in different flight itineraries in order to plan for future trips and save money. However, there are risks to this approach!

There are risks!

I will add a few caveats with this strategy and approach though. For one, you would need to have planned out your flights way in advance. This can be challenging with work schedules and commitments. In order to maximize this approach, you would need a large gap between your starting and final flight. The gap is needed since your middle flight needs to occur in between the two. If there is a change in your travel plans, you could be facing multiple bookings to edit, which means a lot of change fees. As you can see, there are inherent risks with mixing and matching flights in your flight plans.

The key to maximizing the Excursionist Perk is carefully planning your travel way in advance

I don’t know if I would pursue this approach. The option is there for those of you with aggressive travel planning. However, I know that in our experience, life can be unpredictable, especially when traveling. While this approach can save you money, it does limit your options in case your plans change or your travel is interrupted.

For most people, the simple way of just adding another stop on your travel plans is going probably be extremely valuable in itself. For those of you that have mapped out your travels for the entire year, this could be an easy way to score some free award flights, even if you have to pay the taxes and fees.

Additional tips & considerations when using United’s Excursionist Perk

1. There is no mileage or segment limitation:

As long as your middle flight starts and ends within the same region, it doesn’t matter how long the flight is, or even if there is a long stopover. That means that you could layer in long stopovers to see even more places.

2. Focus on larger regions for more value:

The larger United regions offer the most value in terms of the “free” middle flight

You’ll get the most value on middle flights within a large geographic region. Areas like the mainland US, Europe, Africa, South Asia, and Australia and New Zealand are worth examining.

3. Clear your browser cookies:

If you’re searching for different flights on the United website, the site might begin to crash or show no availability. If this happens to you, I recommend clearing the cookies in your browser and trying again.

4. Consider the United Explorer card:

You’ll see additional award seat availability as a Chase United Explorer cardmember

The United Explorer card provides free check-in bags, priority boarding, and most importantly, additional award seat availability. If you have the card, you will see more available award seats on flights. I still prefer to use my Chase Sapphire Reserve when booking my ticket. However, having the United Explorer card has helped me with finding additional award flight options. It’s worth considering if you plan to book a lot of air travel with United.

Chase United Explorer credit card
Two of the most underrated benefits of the Chase United Explorer card is access to additional award seats and priority boarding

Have you tried using the United Excursionist perk? Have you been able to score some amazing middle flights? Also, let us know if you have any additional tips or questions.

If you’re interested in applying for any of the cards in this post, we encourage you to compare credit offers. We do get a commission if you use our link. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but it helps us to continue building content for our site and channel.

Trip Astute has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Trip Astute and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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