United Mileage Plus Makes Award Booking Even Easier: Stopover AND Open Jaw, Exceed Maximum Mileage By 15%

Via Matthew, United is apparently loosening its award routing rules today.

Historically, United has allowed:

  • One stopover or an open jaw on a roundtrip award.
  • Then they introduced one-way awards, including on partners. And that meant you could do a ‘double open jaw’ (they couldn’t restrict whether you flew back out of the same city you arrived in, or returned to the same city you departed from, since they were just one-way awards). But no stopovers on one-way awards.

Now, you can have a double open jaw on a roundtrip award. Why not just do two one-ways? Because if you need to cancel two one-ways and aren’t a 100,000-mile flyer you will pay two $150 change fees per person. So this means lower fees, is more consumer friendly to offer this option.

Now also you can have a stopover and an open jaw on a roundtrip award. This matches Continental’s rules. Here’s an example:

    You can fly Denver – Frankfurt – Athens (stop)
    Athens – Istanbul (destination)
    Zurich – Chicago – Denver

You have a stopover and a destination and you find your own way between Istanbul and Zurich (open jaw).

Previously you would have just flown to Athens and back from Zurich (open jaw) but not have been able to include the Athens – Istanbul segment. So a nice enhancement, this allows greater flexibility in booking awards and also saves money for folks because they can include more flying.

But wait, there’s more!. United has historically limited award travel to the published ‘maximum permitted mileage’ for any given city pair. Every origin and destination has a maximum number of miles published by IATA that you can fly as part of a mileage-based fare. And United limited award travel to flying that many miles. Occasionally I’ve gotten exceptions for awards that are a hundred miles over or so. Another exception is that if there is a published routing that is over the maximum mileage, and you’re primarily flying the carrier that publishes that routing, it’s allowed. But that’s not the general case.

Now United is allowing you to exceed the Maximum Permitted Mileage by 15%.

I thought Aeroplan was generous in allowing you to go 5% over. Continental doesn’t check ‘MPM’ that I’m aware of. US Airways just introduced the concept in their rules but I haven’t heard of anyone at US Airways actually ever checking a table of maximum mileages.

Bottom-line you can do a lot more out of the way flying, this is especially nice when you’re adding stopovers or piecing together available flights when award seats are tight.

Coupled with the fact that Starnet blocking, United’s practice of programming their computers to deny availability of seats that their partners are offering as awards when Mileage Plus doesn’t want to pay for them, has been exceedingly rare over the past 9 months… this program has gotten incredibly valuable. Whereas Starnet blocking had been a deal-killer when it was at its apex, when it was common for agents to believe and tell customers that Lufthansa didn’t fly to Frankfurt on certain days or that All Nippon Airways didn’t service Washington-Dulles (with their flight NH1…) without blocking as a major issue most of the time the program is wonderful. And now they’re getting much more generous, with one-way awards on partners and with much more generous routing rules.

But why is United does this? Certainly Continental was much more generous, they didn’t block awards and these routing rules are really just more consistent with what Continental already offered. United is doing all of the things I’ve wanted them to do, so far (and I don’t want to jinx it) it looks like they really are taking the best elements of both programs when I rather assumed that the opposite would happen.

Still, this has to increase their costs. And since the whole idea of Starnet blocking was about limiting costs, and Continental thought they were offering an award chart that allowed them to offer their generous awards in an economically realistic was but turned out a bit surprised by the cost side… I do worry along with Matthew’s ” the sneaking suspicion that mileage redemption rates are going to go up soon.” If the costs go up, they’ll want their prices to also. And it’s now been a couple of years since they’ve done that. Stay tuned!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. […] (maximum permitted mileage) between BOS and PEK is 8409 1-way, so round trip that would be 16818. United will allow you to exceed the MPM by 15%, so that bumps the MPM up to 19340.7 miles that you can fly on this award. Unfortunately […]


  1. I wonder if these new looser rules will make it possible to book award tickets between US and Australia via Asia? Or maybe they will maintain the restriction regardless of whether it’s within MPM+15%…

  2. Silly question – what is a Double Open Jaw?
    I get that an open jaw is to fly from Washington to London and return from Frankfurt … but what’s a DOJ?

  3. Oh never mind .. think I answered it for myself (google, duh!) … A double open jaw is fly from A to B and then return from C to D … example Washington to London on the outbound and then Frankfurt to Chicago on the return.

  4. So I read Gary’s blog

    Saw this thread on FT and decided to go for it.


    Wanted BOM-BOS; YYZ-SFO; SFO-BOM FOR 2 friends in C

    1 agent
    30 min then got cut off.
    Got name and details, bt no PNR

    2 agent
    Got PNR done
    did BOM-BOS, ORD-BOM
    got PNR
    then got cut off

    3rd agent
    I tried to add the SFO-ORD flight
    Took 30 min – got it done
    Tried to add YYz-SFO told me the it exceeded max miles!
    bom-fra-sfo-fra-bom = 19k miles
    bom-fra-bos–yyz-ord-sfo-ord-fra-bom = 21k miles tops (20% more at most)

    4th agent also tried.
    Told me I already had an open jaw BOS-SFO and now could not get another open jaw!
    I thought she was joking, but realized it was the system

    5th agent
    booked me to YYZ-stop over – sfo – return

    6th agent
    changed my FRA – YYZ to FRA- BOS

    The system is broken.
    The agents cant see beyond their problem.
    I prefer the US agents and please give me the SLC / Chisholm agents at DL. The AA ones are terrific anyway.

  5. I fly frequently on business btween India and US. When I lives in the US, I used to be a Mileage Plus member. Since moving back to India I became a member of Lufthansa Miles and More program. I normally use that number for ALL Star Alliance flights, including the last one in Sep 2010. However, for my latest trip (in March 2011) I decided to use my Mileage Plus number. I was in for a surprise when the miles got credited. I got HALF the Base miles on UA as I got on LH when I flew the SAME flight number between the SAME cities in the same Class Z (Business Class), paying almost the SAME Money. When I wrote to UA they said they do not consider “Z class” as Business and Lufthansa’s policies were “different” than UA’s, and basically, that was tough. As an example, on flight LH 750 between Frankfurt and Calcutta, I received 9185 base miles in LH in Sep 2010, but 4599 miles on UA. Even on an atlas, it is closer to 9000 miles than 4500 :). There is a ticket open (REF:12151345A) with UA to explain this where I have sent them a reply after they said inane things like “You cannot claim miles from 2 different airlines for the same flight”. Will keep you posted. But, it seems, switching to Miles and More will give members more miles for the SAME flights than UA.

  6. I am trying to do following

    SFO-BOM(Stopover)-ZRH (Dest)
    BERLIN- SFO (open jaw)

    United representative is not ble to get me this one saying to many stop over. Suggesting SFO-BOM and BER-SFO as round trip and buy additional leg BOM-ZRH, which cost me 30k more miles per person.

    Any suggestions and help appreciated..

  7. can you tell me if I can use united to go 1. sjc to fco (stop) then cdg to ams (stop) then ams to sfo? what about 2. sjc to fco (stop) fco to cdg(stop) then ams to sfo? Thanks

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