Machu Picchu

A few weeks ago, I sat down to start planning our trip to Peru for next spring. It can be tough booking award travel with my fiancé’s inflexible vacation schedule. For this trip, we needed to leave on a specific Friday in May after 5pm. I guess finding the best route with these limitations adds to the puzzle-solving that is award travel. Through my research, I realized this was a great opportunity to try out the “Excursionist Perk” from United. Weird name, I know it, but you’ll get used to it.

So What is the Excursionist Perk?

I’ve read articles about the United Excursionist Perk and have always wanted to try it, but I’ll admit, it can be a bit confusing. Basically, you get a free one way segment added on to a round-trip or multi-city itinerary that follows these rules:

  1. The trip must start and finish in the same region. A flight from JFK to Paris to LAX would qualify, but LAX to JFK to Paris would not.
  2. The free segment cannot occur in the same region from which your trip starts and ends. Basically you’re itinerary must include another region.
  3. The free segment needs to occur in one region only. For example, Singapore to Bangladesh would work because they’re both in South Asia but you cannot fly Singapore to Japan because Japan is its own region.
  4. The free flight must be in the same or a lower cabin. So for Business Class bookings that means you can book Business Class or Economy. Furthermore, if you book a Saver seat, you are limited to Saver awards only, but if you book an Everyday seat, you are able to  book Saver or Everyday award seats.

Confused yet?

My Excursionist Perk Example

I knew we needed to get from Boston to Cusco to hike the Inca Trail, but I was also interested in stopping in Lima. The order of our itinerary didn’t really matter as long as we had at least two days to acclimate in Cusco before our trek.

Transfering Points

I wanted to book through Aeroplan initially since I have a lot of Amex points. However, the itineraries I was seeing on Aeroplan were wayyy more than better itineraries on United. The only problem…I had 4,000 United miles.

Enter Chase. I really hate spending Chase points even though they are relatively easy to earn. However, I felt like the itinerary I found, and will explain below, was worth it. I needed 110,000 miles, so I bit the bullet and transferred all of my Chase points over to United.

Chase United Transfer

Unfortunately, I still needed 10,000 United miles.

Enter Starwood Preferred Guest. I have a decent amount of Starpoints but transferring to United from SPG is never a good idea since the ratio is 2 Starpoints to 1 United mile. No thanks. Instead, I sent 8,000 Starpoints to Marriott. Since every Starpoint is worth 3 Marriott points, I ended up with 24,000 Marriott points. Then, I converted my 24,000 Marriott points to 10,000 United miles.

Marriott to United Transfer

The transfer from Marriott to United to about a day. Once I had my 110,000 United miles, I was ready to get booking!

Booking the Excursionist Perk

United’s online search tool is very easy to use for award travel. For the Excursionist Perk, all you have to do is enter your flights segment by segment.

United Excursionist Perk

Our first segment was Boston to Cusco. I was happy to find a flight that left just after midnight so we would not have to miss work and we’d still arrive pretty early in the morning. While Economy wasn’t an option, I was fine booking Business Saver at this price. Avianca’s Business Class is not great, but I think we’ll appreciate the recliner and extra legroom for this overnight flight.

United Excursionist Perk

Our flight from Cusco to Lima counted as our free segment. You’ll know the Excursionist Perk is in effect when the cost is 0 miles plus tax. Luckily, Business Saver was also available for this segment.

United Excursionist Perk

For our flights from Lima to Boston, I opted to save some points and book Economy Saver even though Business Saver was available.

United Excursionist Perk

Thanks to the Excursionist Perk, we will be flying from Boston to Cusco to Lima to Boston (with some Business Class segments) for 110,000 and $146.92. You can’t beat that!

Final Thoughts

When planning this trip to Peru, I didn’t actively think to use the Excursionist Perk. I kind of stumbled upon it and I’m glad I did. While it looks confusing, once you iron out your itinerary, it’s very easy to book. Seeing 0 miles for one of the flights is pretty cool, too! This is a trip I’ve been talking about for years, so I’m excited to see it coming to life.

Have you been able to take advantage of the United Excursionist Perk?

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