Dear 100 Hour Board,
I recently volunteered to get bumped off a United flight in exchange for a $500 flight voucher. There's nowhere in particular that I was planning on traveling, but I want to do something fun (probably international) with the voucher. I really want to get my money's worth out of it, though, and I'm noticing that there are several destinations where it would almost as cheap to just fly on an international airline instead, since United's prices are often hundreds of dollars higher than some of its competitors. Do you know of any particular destinations United flies to where its prices are more competitive and I could maximize the value of my voucher better? Or, do you at least know of any way I could search for this type of information without doing individual flight searches for each destination I might possibly want to consider? Also, where would you go with a $500 United voucher, no pressing need to use it for something practical, and enough money to make up the difference on more expensive flights?
- the world's my oyster
I kept this answer way over hours (maybe it's still useful? Probably not) but all the same I would recommend two specific flight-finding tools to aid you in your quest:
The first is Kayak Explore. It has a neat tool that you can use to explore places you could visit on your budget from different cities. A good way to find cheaper United tickets might be searching locations from United Airlines' biggest hubs: Chicago (O'Hare), Houston (George Bush Intercontinental), New Jersey (Newark), Denver, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. (Dulles), and Los Angeles (LAX), with international hubs in Tokyo and Guam—these last two could potentially be good options to fly to with your United ticket.
While it may not be there by the time you read this, at the time I wrote this I found a cheap United flight from Chicago to Lima, Peru in October for $454, which is decent and suggests you will be able to find flights in your United voucher budget. I'll also point out (and in the face of what I said earlier) that I also found well-priced flights from Las Vegas—not a United hub—to Ecuador for $487, so that's promising.
Since you're trying to search for exclusively United flights, though, another helpful tool might be the Google Flights advanced search, which is a busier interface than Kayak Explore but allows you to narrow the flights down to just the airline monopoly alliance United helped found, the futuristic-sounding Star Alliance. I'd hoped you could use your voucher for one of the other Alliance airline companies, but the United customer service rep I called told me you'd only be able to use it for fully-United journeys. Lame. Oh, I just found out you can specify what alliance you use on Kayak as well if you're using their normal flight search instead of their Explore option. Cool.
Regarding Google flights Google Flights calendar tool is also good at helping you find the cheapest day to fly for a particular flight, and Google flights also allows you to program in some pretty long layovers (for example, I once nabbed a six-day layover in Colombia at no extra cost) with their multi-city flight options (Kayak allows this also, apparently... it's like these guys are competing or something). Google Flights doesn't show always show every airline—was it Southwest that doesn't show up, or was it JetBlue?—but they're a useful tool.
If you don't have a particular destination or timeframe in mind, Kayak Explore can help you find those super-random, fleeting airline deals probably better than the more specific Google Flights, but I'd probably use Google Flights to find flights over Kayak for specific destinations at a certain time, if only because I know how to use it more effectively.
One last thing—if you find some very well-priced flight to somewhere international, you could use your United ticket domestically to get to that departure city... just a thought. Places like NYC and Miami have some great deals for Europe and South America, respectively.
Where would I go with $500 dollars? My brother wants me to join him on a holiday trip to the Philippines and the tickets were somewhere around $500 at the time he mentioned them to me, but I don't know if I'll be able to join him, but that sounds interesting, as did the flights to India I found on Kayak Explore.
Places I'd suggest you visit—in case you were asking—depend largely on where you've been and what kinds of things interest you most. If you're looking for outdoorsier things, I think South America has some great stuff, in particular Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru. If you are more about weird post-Soviet political drama and history, Eastern Europe is excellent for that. I haven't been to Western Europe, but I'd guess there's no shortage of people who'd love to suggest the heck out of their favorite places; at the present time I shall refrain. Same goes for Africa and Asia—they're probably great, but I don't know them. Yet.
I couldn't find a quick, easy way to find specific flights that are more competitively priced. I think you might have to either call United directly or just look up each individual destination.
As for how I would use the voucher, I would save it until next summer. My brother and his wife are planning on being sealed in the Dominican Republic! How cool is that?
-Sunday Night Banter