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Reminder: You can add a free one-way on United awards

The first segment of this award (red) was essentially free (gcmap.com)

The first segment of this award (red) was essentially free (gcmap.com)

My entire family went to Hong Kong for some family stuff last weekend. While I used my miles to get a good last minute flight, my parents paid cash. Luckily, their cash fare allowed a stopover so they pushed a trip to visit us here in Boston back one weekend to this one.

This post is an illustration of how a proper knowledge of the ins and outs of miles programs can save you money.

My parents original plan

I was so busy catching up when I got back from Hong Kong that it didn’t even register with me that my parents were coming to Boston on a one way ticket. It didn’t occur to me until they were at the airport waiting for their flight to Boston to ask: “Wait, how are you getting home?”

They said they had bought Amtrak tickets. At that point I entered one of those “brain puts pieces together in slow motion” type montages in the movies.

– They’re coming on a one way ticket

– They need a one way ticket home

– They have an award flight to Australia coming up

– LIGHTBULB!

Saving money for the flight home

If you’re familiar with how to use free one-ways on United award tickets, this post is just a friendly reminder and I’m sure you can skip the rest. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, read on.

I took advantage of the fact that United allows stopovers on their round trip award tickets to book my parents a flight from Boston to Newark for $3. A stopover is defined as a stay in a transiting city – generally anything more than 24 hours will trigger this (though it can be as little as four depending on the circumstance).

The idea of a “free one-way” is using stopover rules to give you an extra leg to or from your home city in addition to your “main” round-trip.

Their original itinerary was a simple round trip

Their original itinerary was a simple round trip

My parents had booked a roundtrip flight from Newark to Sydney and back for next month. A regular roundtrip flight does not take advantage of a stopover – you just fly to your destination, hang out there, and then come back.

So what I did was I tacked on a flight from Boston to Newark a week before they depart for Australia. That changed their itinerary from this:

Newark => Sydney (destination) => Newark

To this:

Boston => Newark (stopover) => Sydney (destination) => Newark

Thanks to Platinum status and a free one-way, the flight from Boston to Newark (with a stopover of a week) only cost $3 in taxes and fees

Thanks to Platinum status and a free one-way, the flight from Boston to Newark (with a stopover of a week) only cost $3 in taxes and fees

Award space from Boston to Newark was plentiful – it’s only a few days from departure so United is trying to get rid of inventory. My dad is lifetime United Platinum so he doesn’t pay any close-in or change fees, so it was a no-brainer. If you don’t have status, it could cost up to $150 per person so you’d have to weight that against the cost of the train tickets.

With United you can get even fancier since they allow and open jaw and a stopover but I want to keep this short so I’ll end here. United is one of the few airlines where you can still get free one-ways: take advantage whenever you’re booking award tickets (even if you don’t have status you can book your original ticket that way).

Final Thoughts

This post is just another illustration of how you can use points and miles to save money on travel (in this case it was only possible with my dad’s status, but you can still use this principle for non last minute travel and save money). The concept of the free one-way was one of the toughest for me to understand when starting out – feel free to ask questions in the comments. What really helped “free my mind” when trying to understand this concept: don’t get locked into thinking of your home airport as your origin or destination.




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