this applies to United MileagePlus award tickets, which are relatively flexible (and generous)
my parents wanted me to go with them to Japan this fall, and well, if my nearly-million-miler-mom is going to pay for my award ticket, dōmo arigatō misutā robotto! regardless of where those miles are coming from, though, use them to your advantage by visiting more places for the same price. some people advocate tacking on a free one-way at the end of a round-trip or a stopover (Million Mile Secrets has a nice summary of your hacking options), but my favorite tactic is what i call the two-destination-plus.
the two destinations
because United allows you a stopover on your way to or from your destination, you can effectively see two cities for the price of one. in this case i’m stopping over in Seoul (destination 1) for a week on the way to Japan (destination 2), where I’m taking advantage of the open-jaw rule whereby i don’t have to fly back from the same city i flew into — in this case, i’m flying into Tokyo but returning from Osaka.
you’ll notice, though, that i have a layover in Shanghai (the plus) on the way there. it occurred to me today that i can hopefully finally knock the Shanghai maglev off of my bucket list (which i’ve been threatening to do for a long time now) so why not change my outbound flight to Seoul from a bleh couple hours at LAX to an overnight in Shanghai so i can ride the maglev? the beauty of this is that a layover — i.e., a break in your travel plans of less than 24 hours — doesn’t count as a stopover. if you can time it right so your inbound and outbound flight are just under 24 hours, score! you can do this multiple times if you can find workable flights. tack a couple cities on!
sidebar this is one of the benefits of being a Platinum or higher elite level member with the program: free award ticket changes. i probably would have paid the change fee for this otherwise, but even better than that? better planning — that’s free! [lesson learned!]
just choose the “Multiple Destinations” option when searching for your award ticket. the system will complain with a generic error if your routing isn’t valid, and sometimes it won’t show you all the flights that are available. for better results, do your searches as multiple one-ways, which i’ve found may show more flights, and call it in and tell them the website wouldn’t book it properly in hopes they waive the ticketing fee if you don’t qualify for an elite-freebie. in my experience, though, the Multiple Destinations search works decently well.
i have been able to book award tickets to Asia via Europe, though this may or may not be available any more, but how great is that, to get a trip to Europe with your Asia trip (or a trip to Asia with your Europe trip)?
all of these real examples are the same price as a plain ol’ round trip. these are award reservations i have for later this year:
A One-Destination-Double-Plus with Getaway (more about Getaways later)
- Thursday: San Francisco → London (arrive 12:15 PM Friday) — redeye so i am not missing any work (thanks to being on east coast hours though i’m on the west coast, i have late afternoons free)
- spend the afternoon and night in London working (again, east coast business hours, my workation modus operandi)
- Saturday: London (depart 7:05 AM) → Oslo — this is less than 24 hours so it counts as a layover
- (Getaway week in Iceland, flights there on a separate ticket)
- Saturday: Oslo → Los Angeles (arrive 9:23 PM Saturday)
- spend Sunday at my cousin’s graduation (which I would have bought a plane ticket for anyways)
- Sunday: Los Angeles → San Francisco
- San Francisco → Amman
- knock Petra off my bucket list
- Amman → Dubai
- Points Summary’s Middle East DO
- Dubai → San Francisco
examples from past trips:
A Two-Destination-Plus (though i could have easily gone into town on my last layover)
- Friday: San Francisco → Taipei (arrive early Sunday morning)
- read about my layover
- Sunday afternoon: Taipei → Singapore
- Thursday: Singapore → Yangon
- Saturday redeye: Yangon → Tokyo
- Sunday: Tokyo → San Francisco
- San Francisco → Penang
- Penang → Hong Kong
- Hong Kong → San Francisco
A Two-Destination-Plus (where i actually did spend a day in Tokyo)
- Wednesday: San Francisco → Bangkok
- Monday: Bangkok → Ulaanbaatar
- Saturday: Ulaanbaatar → Tokyo
- Sunday: Tokyo → San Francisco
you can add on a third destination (like Iceland above) if you can find a cheap flight — not a hard task given the proliferation of low-cost carriers (or just plain cheap flights) that are out there.
here’s an example of a two-destination with getaway: i flew from San Francisco to Hamburg (destination 1) and spent a handful of days there going to concerts (with a side trip to Copenhagen via train), then flew to Istanbul (destination 2) where i, says the award ticket, spent over a week. but little did United know, i bought a cheap ticket to fly to Kiev (with a side trip to Chernobyl) for four days (the getaway). sure, i had to fly back to Istanbul for my flight home, but three countries (not including Denmark) for 65,000 miles and a couple hundred dollars? yes, please. and please, make your miles work harder — take advantage of what basically amount to free-er trips on your free trips!
— Jonathan Khoo (@jonk) September 8, 2012