Use United’s Excursionist Perk to Get a ‘Free’ Flight

by Sam Roecker

Up until 2016, United had a free stopover policy on select award travel itineraries. Travel through certain international connecting cities, and set aside some time for a trip within a trip.

While the stopover benefit was valuable to some travelers, it was – like most award travel policies – opaque in nature. United discontinued free stopovers and Round the World award fares and introduced the Excursionist Perk, which is essentially a free one-way award ticket on select multi-city itineraries. Think of it as “buy two award flights, get a third free.”

When used a certain way, the Excursionist Perk can essentially function like a stopover. It can also be used to score some additional airtime in more unconventional ways.

What is the United MileagePlus Excursionist Perk?

The Excursionist Perk is a free one-way award on select multi-city itineraries. MileagePlus members can combine three one-way awards and – if the itinerary meets the criteria – one of the segments will be free.

There are, of course, a few criteria:

✅  The Excursionist Perk must be used in a region different from where you begin and end your trip

✅  An itinerary must end in the same region where it originates (e.g. North America → Asia → North America)

✅ The Excursionist Perk can only be used within one region (this region can be different than the other two, however)

✅ The cabin of service must be the same or lower on the excursionist leg as on the main legs

✅ Only one segment qualifies for the Excursionist Perk

🌟 More on United’s MileagePlus regions

🌟 MileagePlus Updates 

Europe is a great way to use the Excursionist Perk

The itinerary below shows how you can use the Excursionist Perk to book a ‘free’ flight in the middle of a multi-city itinerary. Booked separately, this itinerary would cost an extra 15K miles (or 8K for a nonstop flight in Europe).

How to Book Excursionist Perk

United Excursionist Perk Example

How to book an Excursionist Perk

Use the advanced search tool on and select multi-city under trip type. Destination 2 – the middle segment – is the ‘free’ flight using the Excursionist Perk. This itinerary meets the Excursionist Perk criteria:

✅ Travel begins and ends in the same region (North America)

✅ The Excursionist Perk segment is in a different region (Europe)

How to Book United Excursionist Perk

Use the multi-city function to book an Excursionist Perk

Using the United Excursionist Perk in Asia

The tricky part with using the Excursionist Perk is United’s very specific MileagePlus regions. United has multiple regions within Asia, including:

  • Japan
  • North Asia – China (Mainland), South Korea, and Taiwan
  • South Asia – Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam

In other words, even if a flight is “within Asia” geographically, it may not qualify for the Excursionist Perk.

Star Alliance business class award that does not qualify:

  • San Francisco (SFO) – Seoul (ICN) on Asiana → 80K miles
  • Seoul (ICN) – Hong Kong (HKG) on Asiana → 45K miles **does not qualify** 
  • Hong Kong (HKG) – San Francisco on EVA → 90K miles
    • Total = 215K miles 

Star Alliance business class award that does qualify:

  • San Francisco (SFO) – Hong Kong (ICN) on Air China → 90K miles
  • Hong Kong (HKG) – Singapore (SIN) on Singapore Airlines → 25K miles  Excursionist Perk
  • Hong Kong (HKG) – San Francisco on EVA → 90K miles
    • Total = 180K miles 
Excursionist Perk

HKG – SIN is in the same region (South Asia) so the Excursionist Perk applies

Adding a ‘Rogue’ Excursionist Flight

It is possible to use the excursionist perk to book a third flight that isn’t really related to the first two at all, so long as that flight is scheduled between the two main flights. That third flight can only be within the same region, but other than that is fairly flexible.

Say you were planning a long round-trip award between the U.S and Europe, but in between the departure and return dates had another, unrelated flight that you needed to take care of. The excursionist perk rules allow you to take care of your third flight, for free, even if it were between two cities in a totally separate region.

Take this itinerary, for example:

  • Chicago (ORD) – Frankfurt (FRA) on Lufthansa → 70K miles
  • Hong Kong (HKG) – Singapore (SIN) on Thai → 25K miles  Free–Excursionist Perk
  • Zurich (ZRH) – Chicago (ORD) on SWISS → 70K miles
    • Total = 140K miles 



A creative use of the Excursionist Perk…


While United doesn’t have a traditional stopover rule in place anymore, the Excursionist Perk can be used to replace that benefit. The added flexibility of being able to book a separate flight in a different region is another perk that makes this benefit unique and valuable when planning a round-trip international award.

Polaris Lounge @ IAH. Photo: United

The responses below 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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Levy Flight July 23, 2018 - 7:37 pm

A complication related to rebooking a segment. United rebooks all segments at that time, even if just want to modify one of them. If not all segments are available (including in your desired class in long haul) this can prevent your itinary being rebooked. One way around is to wait until are on trip and fewer segments have to be rebooked, and some late space becomes available, but this is far from ideal.

Sam Roecker July 24, 2018 - 9:26 am

Hi Levy, thanks for your great tip. Do you mind if I add this to the original post?

caveman July 23, 2018 - 7:41 pm

Can we book that over the phone?

Sam Roecker July 24, 2018 - 9:22 am

You sure can, although they usually charge a $25 phone booking fee. In my experience, United will waive the fee if there’s a problem booking on (error message or booking doesn’t ticket). Just be sure to take a screenshot.

Donald Mott September 22, 2018 - 9:51 am

I’ve booked this previously but the system does not seem to be working today. For example, Economy class (Saver) CLT/DUB, DUB/AMS, AMS/CLT is coming back at 68,000 instead of 60,000. In the booking engine, the award calendar shows DUB/AMS flights for 0 miles, but none appear in the actual flight list. I’ve looked at other itineraries and dates as well, but can’t find any way to book excursionist perk at this time. I’ve emailed United.

James October 9, 2018 - 1:58 pm

Same thing is happening to me – did you find a resolution?

Wow, Booked United’s Amazing Micronesia Island Hopper w/ Points & Miles! – Chenta's Reads January 12, 2019 - 11:37 am

[…] The DCA-MAJ segment is costs 35,000 miles, the ROR-IAD segment is 35,000 miles, and the MAJ-PNI segment is 0 miles because of the United excursionist perk. […]

Nathan January 30, 2020 - 8:27 pm

Good evening, I hope you can help me. I would like to know how I can book a United Award ticket between WAS -> CMB that has a stop in BKK. Is there a way to allow a few days in BKK before traveling the next segment, without paying for 2 separate segments WAS-BKK & BKK – CMB (42K + 25K)? Thanks in advance! _Nathan

James January 30, 2020 - 10:11 pm

This wouldn’t be possible. The excursionist perk flight has to wholly occur within a single region of travel and CMB is located in Central Asia and BKK in South Asia. In addition, you would need to have round trip travel for you to be able to use the Excursionist Perk.


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