United says the Excursionist Perk is not defined by time, except that it definitely is.

This post started out as another long diatribe about booking travel to the Faroe Islands, and yes, I realize that this blog probably doesn’t need another one of those. However, over the course of writing it, I realized that it’s actually about what does and does not constitute a layover under United’s newish routing rules. (For a summary of these rules, including United’s execrably named “Excursionist Perk,” just google it and you’ll find a million articles.) Let me back up. I was trying to search for awards from SFO to FAE via CPH, but United wouldn’t find anything with only one stop. Instead, I kept getting this happy little error:

After clearing the filters, I instead got some really super 2-stop itineraries like this one:

Even though SAS has saver availability on the SFO-CPH flight on March 31st, United still wouldn’t pull it up as an option and instead kept forcing me onto other transatlantic legs with a connection that put me in CPH late at night. Luckily, Aeroplan was willing to cooperate… although it still left open the question of why the itinerary shows up on one site but not the other.

It turns out that the issue has to do with timing… Since the CPH-FAE leg isn’t until 11:00AM the next day, the layover straddles the stopover rules of Aeroplan and United. Anything under 24 hours counts as a layover for Aeroplan, whereas for United it’s less clear.

Back when United actually had a stopover policy, they used the same 24-hour rule. In their FAQ on the matter, they specifically say that the new “Excursionist Perk” policy is not defined by time, which I guess means that United can seemingly arbitrarily decide when a connecting flight becomes an Excursionist Perk flight.

This theory was borne out when I tried to book the itinerary I wanted using United’s mutli-city award tool. I started by searching for SFO-CPH and CPH-FAE as separate legs, and United wanted to tack on 15,000 miles to book the connecting flight:

Remember that the Excursionist Perk only applies on round-trip itineraries that start and end in the same region, so when I added a flight back to San Francisco onto my original search, that CPH-FAE flight became an Excursionist Perk and priced out at zero miles.

This may already be common knowledge, but I wasn’t able to find anything about United’s maximum layover time in any of the articles about the new routing rules. If you think about it, the claim that the Excursionist Perk isn’t defined by time doesn’t really make sense, since there has to be some cutoff after which United no longer considers a flight to be a connection and instead treats it as an Excursionist Perk. (Typing “Excursionist Perk” over and over again while writing this post has only reinforced how much I hate that goddamn name.)

I tried to find out from United whether the whole “not defined by time” thing was true, and it definitely isn’t. In fact, here’s what they told me:

13 hours?!?! That’s pretty restrictive, especially since a lot of flights to Europe from the west coast leave in the evening and arrive in the early afternoon. In this case, if you were continuing on to a destination that only had a couple flights a day, there’s a really good chance you’d need to wait overnight for the connecting flight. Spending 10 hours at an airport hotel hardly counts as a stopover, though, so I’m definitely not a fan of this new policy. And it is a stopover policy, by the way. United may like to say that the Excursionist Perk replaces stopovers, but all that really means is that they changed the name in order to avoid publishing the details of a much more restrictive and customer-unfriendly policy.

In the end, this is annoying because it restricts the best itinerary in the case of my Faroe Islands search to round-trip awards. Given how stingy SAS can be with premium cabin space, it’s probably not realistic to find business class seats in both directions on days that will work for my trip, so my only option in this case would be to book with Aeroplan instead. Also, I just want to point out again how ridiculous it is that United won’t let you book a one-way award with a 13 hour layover.

Does anyone care about this? I’m always hesitant to post about stuff I discovered, since I’m never confident that I’m the first person to discover it… although I feel like it’s worth posting anyway, since I’m also probably not the only person who doesn’t know about it either. THIRTEEN HOURS?!?!?

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  1. […] United says the Excursionist Perk is not defined by time, except that it definitely is – Windbag Miles […]


  2. Christian says:

    Wow that sucks. Good to know, but sucks.


  3. Truth says:

    Seems like a lot of whining that YOUR obscure trip didn’t work for YOU. While I’m sorry you can’t get what you want, this is pretty tiny in the list of Things Life Throws At One.
    Your blog, you get to gripe. But, really….


    1. Windbag Miles says:

      Thanks for your comment. Best of luck in all your future endeavors.


    2. James K says:

      I have no idea where you’re coming from here. Because of this post, I now know that you only get <13 hours on a United "layover" instead of the <24 offered by most airline frequent flier programs. It's definitely useful, and not just OH POOR ME.


  4. ErikV says:

    Thanks for the research. This is definitely more restrictive and a very odd cutoff (13 hours???) even by United’s less than transparent standards.


  5. Sexy_kitten7 says:

    The EP is not defined by time because it is essentially a stopover. You can stay for 1 day, 5 days, a month! Time is on your side.
    The problem you have run into may be how United calculates stopovers. Apparently the 24 hours they mention is really 13 in practice (if true). You would have the same issue if you wanted to book a “simple” SFO-FAE RT. The EP is a red herring.
    “United wanted to tack on 15,000 miles to book the connecting flight” because it’s not a connecting flight. The award engine no longer supports multicity through-ticketing and hasn’t since day 1. It is strictly point to point. For example, if you search SFO-EWR and get routed via DEN, you pay the regular price. But if you search the same flights leg by leg, you’ll pay roughly double. That’s because they treat every specified point as a stopover, regardless of “connection” time.
    As an aside, the segment fees increase on the 3rd because you turn the connection into a stopover, presumably incurring customs/immigration fees. The same principle happens domestically: any connection over 4 hours costs another TSA fee ($5.60).


  6. […] United says the Excursionist Perk is not defined by time, except that it definitely is. […]


  7. Ryan Booth says:

    I was confused for a while. I think that, instead of describing this in terms of the Excursionist Perk, the better way to describe it is just that you are limited to 13 hours on layovers. This is a great post, and thanks for letting us know. I know that some other FF programs have dumb rules on that as well, such as Singapore, which allows layovers on international connections up to 24 hours, but limits domestic layovers to just 4 hours, which is way too short.


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