How to put together a United award trip with stopovers

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As extraverts, Drew and I love traveling with our friends and if we can help them get the hang of this miles-collecting, free-travel hobby a little bit, we most certainly will.  For instance the other evening I was helping a friend use her United miles (Hallelujah, she had United miles!) for a route I knew would be totally booked.  What can you really do to get someone to Sydney right before Christmas booking only two months in advance?

Well you can always see if a stopover will increase your options.  It is United miles we’re talking about, after all, which allows two open jaws and one stop-over for every round-trip award ticket.

We have another friend who calls this a “dark art” or “black magic” but hey, once you remove confusing words like “open jaw” it’s not so elusive sounding.

Let’s clarify the terms first

Open Jaw

An “open jaw” is a break in your ticket, that can be applied to any stop for which the passenger actually gets off the plane and leaves the airport.  So this means it can be applied to your destination, your stopover, or your return destination.  You wouldn’t apply it to a layover or create a new stop for it.  It would be applied to a stop you’re already making.

For instance, let’s say you are going from Chicago (ORD) to London (LHR) to visit friends, then back home to Chicago.  BUT you realize that your friends in London have time to hang out with you and want to do a little Paris road trip.  Thus, you could create a break in the ticket at your destination, deciding to fly home from Paris (CDG) instead of London (LHR.)

So your open jaw ticket would look like this: ORD–>LHR (destination) //open jaw to CDG// then CDG–>ORD

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As mentioned above, there are two of these nifty little breaks allowed per award ticket.  So on the ticket above, if you decided you also wanted to apply an open jaw to your return destination, you could land in SFO (San Francisco)  instead of ORD (Chicago) if you really wanted to.



Ok, so what about this stop-over hokus pokus?

A stopover is actually pretty simple.  It’s any stop you put into your ticket that’s more than 24 hours.  It can be as long as you want, so in a sense, it’s just a second destination, or at least sometimes it’s easier thinking of it this way.

So using our previous example, let’s say that after your road trip to Paris with your friends, you wanted to squeeze one more famous site out of your trip.  Let’s say Rome.  You could make that your stopover on your way home, making the new route ORD–>LHR,// CDG–>FCO–>ORD.

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Ok…so how do we book this shenanigans?

How to book it

Ok like I said, your stop-over might even come in handy just as a way to offer more options for a very busy route.  Obviously in a scenario like that, a layover could help too but let’s say you want to make the most of the fact that you’re not finding any availability for a direct route.  This is a likely scenario when considering summertime travel to Europe or travel that requires specific dates.

Or perhaps you want to make the most of your miles anyway, regardless of availability, so you’re trying to see as many places as possible.  Let’s use the ticket above as our example.

First, we’ll do some one way searches to get an idea of availability and to make it as easy as we can for that darned multi-destination search tool.

1.) Start by searching one-ways on

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In red I’ve highlighted the areas we’ll be selecting to make this search as manual as possible so that we have control.  But this isn’t a one way ticket? Right, but we’ll start out searching each leg of this trip with one ways so that we can have control of what’s what.

So as you can see, I’ve selected “One way”, “My dates are flexible” and “Award Travel.”

But my dates aren’t flexible? Again, don’t worry about it, we’ll be able to control the dates in a second…

2.)  Select your dates and survey the options.

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See! I told you we’d have the chance to select specific dates.

If you’re a cheapo like me, you’ll look for the yellow or green dates on the calendar, as that will indicate dates for which economy saver awards are available.  If the date you want to use is blank white, go ahead and click on it anyway to see what options come up because this little calendar is not always accurate.

I came up with this option, pictured below.  It does include a layover but a fairly short one at only an hour and a half waiting time in the airport.

I know that it’s a saver economy award because of the blue “select” button all the way to the left.  The farthest left column is the economy saver column, and any select button in blue is a saver award.

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3.) Repeat the steps for each leg of the journey

Follow these same steps for CDG–>FCO and FCO–>ORD (or wherever your real ticket is taking you.)

4.)  Plug your specific information into the multi-destination search

Now that you’re armed with specific dates and even specific flight numbers, you will be able to book this ticket one way or another.  You can first try the multi-destination tool, and if it doesn’t work, don’t give up.  Call.  Often the agent will say “hmmm ok the search is still looking…maybe there’s no availability,” to which you can reply, “I can give you specific flight numbers if that helps?”

Ok, but like I said, we’ll be searching with the multi-destination tool first, just in case you can book yourself online.

Go to the blue form that we first started with and this time instead of selecting “One way” you’ll click on the “Multidestination” option next to it.

It will bring you to a new form with probably too few form fields, so you’ll have to click “add another destination” at the bottom.

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This may or may not work for you but the good news is that if it doesn’t, a number will pup up along with the error screen.  You can always call that number and walk the agent through the ticket you have in mind.

One note, since I used Europe as my example, I could have made my stopover nearly anywhere instead of FCO (Rome), but I could not have made it in Oceania or Australia.  That would have been an illegal route.  Miami?  Sure.  Istanbul?  Sure.  Sydney? No.  Those regions can’t be combined like that so…just a note in case you wanted to get more creative with that stopover.

There you have it.

Search with one ways to create exactly the ticket you want, then get it booked.



2 Comments on “How to put together a United award trip with stopovers

  1. any idea how many united miles this took? I saw some crazy united 95k trip on that looked like it went around the world; so I’m assuming ORD–>LHR,// CDG–>FCO–>ORD wont even come close to 95k?

    • If it’s the ORD–>LHR//CDG–>FCO–>ORD example you were asking about, it should price out at 60K. Are you going to book it? 🙂

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