The Department of Transprtation ruled about four years ago that airlines can only charge you a single checked baggage fee even when you’re traveling on multiple carriers. If they collect $35 from you and you’re traveling on more than one airline that $35 gets split — instead of letting each airline collect a separate $35.
That’s all good and reasonable, and the baggage policy of the most significant carrier on the itinerary ought to control.
However the fully anticipated result (we cannot really call this an unintended consequence since it was predicted and predictable) was that US airlines no longer allow you to through-check luggage onto other airlines when traveling on separate tickets, at least when those airlines aren’t in the same global alliance.
Several oneworld airlines like British Airways and Cathay Pacific immediately updated their policies to no longer through-check bags on separate tickets. Flying British Airways first class connecting to Qantas business class on separate tickets? You have to collect your bags and re-check them. BA won’t even through-check luggage on two of their own tickets.
American will still let you check bags on separate tickets for oneworld partner airlines. (They also still treat separate oneworld tickets as a single ticket during irregular operations though I have to imagine that policy won’t last.) However American will not let you check bags onto partner airlines that aren’t a part of oneworld if traveling on separate tickets.
I’m about to run into this issue myself.
I put a first class award on hold for Etihad’s Dallas – Abu Dhabi flight, but there’s no saver award space on American at all that day for Austin – Dallas. Nothing comes back available as an exception award when requesting space ‘to complete an itinerary’.
Etihad’s Boeing 777-200LR First Class
All flights Austin – Dallas that day for the 190 mile segment cost 50,000 AAdvantage miles.
All of these flights price out at $177 one-way.
If a saver award was available, I’d get the flight included for no additional miles or money. The booking would be on a single ticket, and I would be able to through-check bags to Abu Dhabi.
But since American isn’t making a saver award available, I have to spend more and I’m not going to be able to through-check bags.
American’s poor domestic award availability doesn’t just mean I have to come out of pocket (buying a domestic segment is like paying hidden fuel surcharges) it means I’m inconvenienced as well. I need to book a longer connection, wait to claim bags in Dallas, then re-clear security. American’s policy (and Delta’s and United’s) puts extra stress on the security checkpoint sending more people through unnecessarily.
Not all agents follow these rules. A Delta agent in Sydney happily through-checked my bags onto American for a separate-ticket connection at LAX. Of course it doesn’t matter much there since off an international arrival you pick up your bags, drop them back off, and re-clear security anyway.
Checking in with foreign carriers usually allows you to through-check onto American, Delta, and United. I checked in with Etihad recently in Abu Dhabi and they had no problem through checking a bag onto American in New York when traveling on a separate ticket. Etihad will through check onto American but American will not through check onto Etihad when traveling on separate tickets.
This is a policy in place that’s purely punitive, which doesn’t even really benefit the airline:
- This is an itinerary that would always have received through-checked baggage service up until a year and a half ago.
- It would never have involved checked baggage fees to begin with (and still won’t) as a first class itinerary, flown by an Executive Platinum (or any elite) traveler.
- And since I’m booking an award it doesn’t even run into airlines’ new attempts to inconvenience customers traveling on separate tickets to keep them from booking the cheapest paid fares.
In most industries businesses compete to try to deliver more value for lower prices (or at least to earn a price premium by delivering more value). In the U.S. airline industry the strategy is to make money by giving customers less.
Waiting at baggage claim, then re-checking luggage, is a pure waste of customer time. I don’t blame this man sleeping on a baggage carousel.
It’s striking for airlines to offer even less accommodation for checked bags when their employees do things like this of course: