Flying on Separate Tickets? Here’s When You’re Protected if Flights Go Wrong

It’s usually risky to fly one itinerary on separate tickets. That’s because when you’re on one ticket, if you face a flight delay or cancellation the airline responsible for the irregularity has to get you to your final destination. But if you’re on separate tickets they usually don’t — they just have to get you as far as the end of the ticket you’re flying them on.

Nonetheless, it’s sometimes necessary to book separate tickets:

  • You have an award ticket, but award space wasn’t available starting in your home city or all the way to your final destination. So you book an award but buy a flight segment.

  • You’re flying airlines that don’t interline and can’t be ticketed together. Say you’re flying Air France to Tahiti and then the domestic carrier in French Polynesia onward to Bora Bora.

  • Cost savings. You buy a ticket out of Boston for a fare sale. If the reservation started in New York you wouldn’t get the great price. It’s still a fabulous deal even when you buy your New York – Boston shuttle flight.

  • You don’t know where you’ll be starting your trip from! You know you’re going to Asia but need a positioning flight once your plans firm.

  • Plans change, you’re ticketed to Hong Kong but while there need a sidetrip to somewhere in Southeast Asia, and buy a ticket that connects up to your existing return flight.

These are just a few examples of why people might find themselves on separate tickets.

American Airlines has long published a policy that says if you are connecting on two American tickets, or you’re connecting to or from oneworld, they’re going to treat you as though you were flying on just one ticket.

I was advising someone recently that had a domestic ticket from Austin to New York and a separate ticket from New York to London. Their outbound delayed, they were going to misconnect. They had a US Airways ticket connecting to an American one and they got rebooked for their transatlantic flight to British Airways.

The most frequent question I get is whether this policy is just limited to American, or is actually a oneworld policy. I’ve always believed this to be alliance-wide but hadn’t ever seen it published.

It turns out that oneworld provided confirmation that it’s an alliance policy last Fall on Flyertalk. (HT: Alex D.) Although you must be through-checked for your onward flights in order for the protections to apply, at least under the broader oneworld protections.

As an alliance, oneworld member airlines follow agreed procedures to provide through check-in service for passengers holding separate tickets involving another oneworld member airline. However, we have chosen not to highlight this service on our website.

…Once a passenger is through-checked, that passenger is provided protection in the event of a flight disruption, even if the passenger has chosen to purchase separate tickets.

The reason for the requirement that you be through-checked onto the flights on separate tickets is because systems may not know about your connections otherwise.

Traveling on separate tickets for a single itinerary can compromise our member airlines’ ability to provide proper through service for our customers. For example, our ability to provide through check-in service can be compromised if passenger names are not entered in exactly the same way during the two separate booking processes; one booking under the name of Smith/JohnA (for example, in the BA system for the LHR-HKG flight) may not support proper system links to a separate reservation made under the name of Smith/JohnAlexander (for example, in the CX system for the HKG-SYD flight).

While customers can overcome the through check-in concern with website check-in for both segments, further baggage handling problems may be caused by those separate check-ins, as the second carrier – in your example, CX – may not receive adequate baggage information from the first carrier.

This doesn’t help connecting between a oneworld airline and a non-oneworld one, even if they’re an American partner. (American won’t even through check bags under that circumstance any longer.)

But it’s great for staying within the alliance, and provides a real incentive to stick with oneworld.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. […] Flying on Separate Tickets? Here's When You're Protected if Flights Go Wrong – View from the Wing Also du kannst es nur probieren, der check in agent wird erstmal nein sagen, mehr als probieren kannst du es nicht. Generell ist es jedem check in agent möglich dein Gepäck an jeden xbeliebigen Ort zu schicken, dazu muss er einfach ein weiteres Segment in der GDS hinzufügen, aber entweder wissen sie es nicht, wie es geht oder sie haben kein Bock… […]

Comments

  1. do you have to call them before travel to link your itineraries? does this work even if one is miliage and the other ticket is revenue?
    lets say the agent doesn’t know about or refuses to honor this policy?

  2. so is the only way to be through-checked via the checkin desk at the originating airport of the first leg (not online)? What if you don’t have any luggage?

    Have a connection next week from AA to US on separate tix with only 40 mins in between. I was planning on just checking in online for both segments but it sounds like this is not a good idea. Carry-on only

  3. First of all AA-US, in their published policy, doesn’t have the through-checked requirement. Check in for both segments. But can’t hurt to check in in person and make them aware of your ongoing travel.

    If the agent doesn’t know about the policy, ask them to look up the policy for separate tickets. If they won’t or don’t get it right, talk to someone else for help.

    And it doesn’t matter whether one is a paid ticket and the other an award.

  4. I had a misconnection event last year on seperate tickets, and I’m wondering if I could have done something better.

    My ticket was the EY “F” blunder, doing CMB-AUH-ORD_DFW (last sector ORD-DFW AA flight number) and connecting to a seperately purchased AA DFW-LAX. I had called AA earlier to tag the flights together.

    In essence, I missed the AUH-ORD flight as CBP decided that flying for this cheap deal was suspicious, and the EY flight left without me. EY rebooked me on the next AUH-LHR-DFW (last sector LHR-DFW on AA). I had called AA but they refused to rebook me and in the end I used some points for the DFW-LAX sector.

    Was there anything else I could have done in this instance?

  5. Well, no matter what the official policy may be, on the ground, TAM in Brazil operates completely differently.

    For a start, they refuse to through-check luggage to a OneWorld carrier for onward travel on connecting ticket – obliging collection & re-check at the connecting airport. Not long ago, my inbound (revenue) flight to GRU was delayed, and because I had to collect my bags, I just missed the check-in deadline for my onward (award) flight with Iberia. Very inconvenient.

    What is worse, they don’t even allow for through-check on their own flights! I recently wanted to book an award from Sao Paulo to Miami, but was only able to find transcontinental space on TAM for GIG-MIA. To reach Rio, I was going to book a revenue flight (also with TAM) from Sao Paulo – but based on my past experience, I checked with TAM first. Turns out, they wouldn’t even accept to through-check me GRU-GIG-MIA on their own flights. And since I would have had to collect my bags, the connection would have been too tight. Needlessly unhelpful, all around.

  6. Actually, AA would even pull a non-oneworld ticket if their flight is causing a misconnection. In my experience, an agent at DFW was willing to change a DFW-(AA)-SAT-(UA)-LAX to a DFW-LAX non-stop because the first flight was delayed.

  7. Good to know.

    Not Oneworld related, but I had to book two separate tickets recently with AirAsia (needed to connect in KUL but couldn’t buy two segments in one reservation). I had a chat with AirAsia and they told me that, should my first flight be delayed, they would make other arrangements to get me to my final destination at no cost for me.

    I still planned a 4 hours layover since we had to get the bags and check in again (other option was 2 hours layover – a little too short for my taste in that situation), and ended up not having any delay, but it’s good to know they would have made the arrangements to get me to my final destination without any surcharge.

  8. A) if you’re flying for business and you have to fly separate itineraries (something I do quite often in Africa) you have to take the “so be it” attitude. Things are going to go wrong. Just remember you’re on your employer’s dime and find a way to make the best of it.

    B) I straight discourage you from doing this for vacation travel. If it can be helped, avoid separate itineraries.

  9. @TTT well, American played by the rules here. The only thing you could have done is asked for help from a bunch of different people in hope someone would have given more than was due.

  10. @Gary – May wish to update your wording there: “It turns out that oneworld provided confirmation that it’s an alliance policy last Fall on Flyertalk.”

    OneWorld did not provide confirmation on Flyertalk. A OneWorld (OW) representative provided confirmation of a purposefully and explicitly unpublished benefit to an individual user in private (at least, the user never confirmed in that thread whether he received permission to republish the email communication).

    It’s a GREAT benefit, and one that I’m relying on for a RTW in November, but it’s probably not something you could use to convince any given OW airline rep to make sure you’re delivered properly to your final destination. Specifically, people in that thread (I read the whole thing a couple of months back when I booked said RTW) cited BA as an offender for violating the policy.

  11. @G-flyer Further off topic, but TAM has also canceled an Avios leg (IGU-GIG) on my friend without notice. At first I thought my friend was just getting pushed around a newb, but I looked into it, and not so. Afterwards BA evnetually refunded the miles, but my friend had decided to book the revenue price (like, $600+) in mean time. I was pissed, and am very careful with TAM now. Don’t bother counting on their FCFS CGH-GIG bus transfer either — always overbooked. Fortunately, a $15 alternative isn’t.

  12. Hi Gary

    Suppose it is not one-world all the way but the first segment gets delayed? Does any credit card insurance cover losses? What if one of the tickets is on award? What if both are? I am asking this because you pay only taxes by your credit card. Which card should I use to maximize the insurance benefit in similar cases?

  13. This is interesting.

    My GF and I are flying from JFK to Berlin on AirBerlin (Business clas reward tickets). Since the trip isn’t until next spring we haven’t figured out how to get to JFK (BWI-JFK and PHX-JFK). This makes it sound like the same path would be to use AA paid flights and if something goes wrong they would help us get to Berlin?

  14. Is there a policy about checking luggage through?

    IE: ORD-JFK on paid ticket 1
    Then JFK-BCN on paid ticket 2?

    Will they check the luggage all the way through on the outbound?

  15. I bought a $159 Jetblue nonstop Boston to San Diego for late July to grab it before it went away. Only later I found a return for the same price on my target dates. So I had two one-ways. I asked JetBlue if this put me at a disadvantage if I had to change the whole trip or for any other reason and they said they treat the trip the same as a roundtrip ticket. The Res are still on separate PNR’s though.

  16. Last summer I was on two separate tickets both operated by Iberia. the first one was a positioning flight from Porto (OPO) to Madrid booked with BA Avios. The 2nd one was continuing a longer itinerary from USA to Asia with a stopover in Madrid (JFK-MAD-stopover-MXP-HKG-NRT), booked with US Dividend miles. Iberia in Porto refused to check me through for the MAD-MXP part saying that not only these were separate tickets, but that they were booked with BA/US and it was impossible to check them through.

  17. AA’s policy failed me three weeks ago. I was flying CUN-JFK on an AA ticket then JFK-HKG on a QF-issued ticket. CUN-JFK was cancelled and I was routed CUN-PHL-LGA and left with less than two hours to get to JFK (MCT is three LGA-JFK). I made check-in with less than 15 minutes to spare and no time to freshen up in the lounge before the 15 hour flight. I’ve emailed AA and they said tough luck, “We cannot be responsible for travel on another carrier purchased outside of your American reservation”. They haven’t even refunded the SWU I used for CUN-JFK when I was downgraded to coach on the other two flights.

  18. I booked separate tickets on LAN from CUZ to LIM and then onward on American from LIM to MIA. (For some reason, when I tried to book the LAN segment on the AA website in conjunction with a RT business class ticket from the US to South America, a reasonable $1090 fare turned into a $3000 beast, even though the LAN segment is only $180 priced separately). With ten hours in Lima between flights, I’m not overly concerned about misconnecting, but it’s still nice to know the protection is there. Thanks for the info.

    Is “through-checking” as simple as it sounds? Do I just ask LAN in CUZ to through-check my luggage on to my destination in the United States? Or is through-checking something separate from luggage? Or is there any way to link the reservations in the AA computer since it’s all oneworld?

  19. This month, I’ve successfully through-checked luggage and received all boarding passes at first check-in on two separate BA itineraries (SFO-LHR, LHR-FRA) and one a second occasion, separate itineraries BA-AA (FRA-LHR, LHR-DFW-SFO). I told agent about the second itinerary and they effectively joined the segments for me each time

  20. I may not be an expert so I could be doing it wrong but I run into this when booking BA Avios awards the most. I usually book by segment as I find them and since they charge by segment anyway. I’ve never had major issues.

  21. Talked to an AY rep on Finnair chat. She claimed that through check would work but AY wouldn’t cover the second flight on separate PNR if the first one was delayed and connection missed.
    Could be that the person wasn’t aware of the policy being alliance-wide.

  22. Gary,
    You noted that “It has been moved. It is still in existence.”
    Can you please provide a link where I can have it printed and take to the airport (hope it is not needed, but just in case).
    Thanks.

  23. Just recently had British Airways fail to through-check me on two of their own flights…and I’m a Gold, flying in J and Club Europe. Very aggravating to have to get through immigration in LHR, get my bags(which were amongst the last off the plane even though marked “priority”). Made it with only minutes to spare. I have done this many times in the past with no problem. Their policy seems to have changed on this. No apologies given at this point.

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