*Note: These awards used to cost 25,000 miles before the 2014 devaluation, so some of the screenshots still show 25,000. But they will be 35,000 miles now, which is still a great deal!
Unlocking the value of 35,000 United miles
17,500 United miles will get you a one-way trip anywhere in Sub-Saharan Africa.
35,000 United miles will get you a round-trip anywhere in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The one-way awards are a great value in itself. For example, Seychelles to Cape Town for 17,500 miles and $30 is a screaming deal. BUT that is still child’s play compared to the ridiculous (and mostly unknown) value in United miles for round-trip awards that I am about to show you. The key to the round-trip awards’ value is United’s more flexible routing rules.
Routing rules for one-way flights = No stopovers and no open jaws allowed.
Routing rules for round-trip flights = 1 stopover and 1 open jaw allowed.
A stopover means you can stop for more than a regular layover (i.e. more than 24 hours) at any point during your journey and then continue on to your final destination. So you can stay as long as you want at TWO destinations instead of just one. This means that you can get HUGE value for 35,000 miles in Africa. Here are some examples:
Example 1: Nairobi –> Walvis Bay, Namibia –> Cape Town –> Nairobi (map of actual routing) for 35,000 miles + $169.60
I actually intend to fly this itinerary because I really want to go to Namibia’s Skeleton Coast and South Africa’s Garden Route. In the screenshot below, you can see that this itinerary would cost $1,421 without miles. With 35,000 miles, it costs $170. So that means that you are using your miles for 3.6 cents per mile (=($1,421-$170)/35,000) which is incredibly good value.
Compare that value of 3.6 cents per mile with the 1 to 2 cents per mile that most United customers are getting out of their miles: 25,000 miles for a domestic US round-trip that would probably cost somewhere between $250 and $500.
Example 2: Nairobi –> Tel Aviv –> Seychelles –> Nairobi (map of actual routing) for 35,000 miles and $114.07
Today I just discovered how to trick United’s award system into giving you a stopover in the Middle East for an African destination. A simple Nairobi-Tel Aviv round trip would be 70,000 miles round-trip. But if I add a side trip to the Seychelles, the system thinks that my final destination is in Sub-Saharan Africa and treats Tel Aviv as a routine stopover. Voila, 35,000 miles instead of 70,000 and a free jaunt to a tropical island in the Indian Ocean. Feast your eyes on the screenshot below.
This redemption yields a whopping 5.6 cents per mile (=($2,071-$114)/35,000) which is downright jaw-dropping even for the most expert of miles nerds.
Example 3: Nairobi –> Accra –> Dubai –> Nairobi (map of actual route here) for 35,000 miles and $163.20
Same concept as previous example; see screenshot below.
How does one search for and book award itineraries like this?
Go to united.com and look for the box on the left-hand side of the page that looks like this:
Then, if you are doing a simple one-way or round-trip with one destination, just tick the appropriate box and be sure to select “Award Travel” at the bottom before clicking Search. When the results appear, always search for the green and yellow days on the calendar, which mean that 17,500-mile “saver” flights are available. Many flights will not have the lowest level award prices available. Don’t buy those; just look for other dates.
If you want to try a round-trip with a stopover like I have done in the examples above, click “Multiple Destinations” at the top and it will bring you to a page where you can add as many one-ways as you’d like and put them together. To get the 35,000 mile price, you will need to put together a 3-flight itinerary like this where BBB and CCC are either both in Sub-Saharan Africa or one is in Sub-Saharan Africa and one is in the Middle East (which United generally defines as Egypt to Afghanistan).
For help on your destination and routing possibilities, check out the Star Alliance Route Map. Theoretically, any route displayed there should be bookable with United miles, but there are some flights that just never have award space available. You will most likely have to route through Addis Ababa or Johannesburg no matter where you are going, since Star Alliance’s two main African carriers are Ethiopian Airlines and South African Airways.
How does one get United miles?
1. Fly United or Star Alliance airlines and credit the flight miles to your United MileagePlus account.
2. Apply for the Chase United Explorer credit card for 50,000 miles. There are actually 2 United cards–the personal and the business versions, so you can get 100,000 miles pretty quickly. But, as always, read this guide before applying for any cards.
Note: Do not settle for the 30,000-mile credit card offer–everyone can get the 50,000 offer (if you really can’t access it with the link above, email me and I can help).
1. If you have United miles and you are living in Africa, redeem them to explore the continent because you will never find a better value for your miles than this.
2. If you are living in Africa and don’t have United miles, get them.
3. If you want my help in getting United miles and/or booking awards like this, email me at email@example.com