Another Airline Admits it Made a Mistake, Will Again Check Bags Through on Separate Tickets. Will American Relent Too?

On June 1 the oneworld alliance (which includes airlines like American, British Airways, Iberia, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, and more) changed its policies so that member airlines no longer had to check bags to their final destination for passengers traveling on more than one reservation on a oneworld airline.

Almost immediately British Airways and Cathay Pacific became the first oneworld carriers to forbid through-checking bags on separate reservations.

Airlines still can through-check bags on separate tickets, the alliance just doesn’t require it anymore.

On June 10, an American Airlines spokesperson reassured, “we will continue to thru-check bags on multiple PNRs with oneworld carriers.” Yet on July 19, they notified travel agents they were doing the exact opposite.

In December Cathay Pacific realized this was punitive, likely harming exactly the customers they didn’t want to inconvenience, and walked back the policy.

Now oneworld member Qatar Airways is rolling back the policy as well, effective March 1.

From March 1, the Gulf airline will once again allow passengers to have checked baggage sent ahead from any Qatar Airways flight to any connecting flight on any Oneworld airline – even if those flights are booked on seperate tickets.

The only caveat will be that the time between two flights is within the airport’s ‘minimum connection time’ or MCT – a period which is typically two hours.

Australian Business Traveller notes an airline’s refusal to through-check bags on separate tickets is “a time-consuming headache which no business traveller needs, but Qatar Airways now plans to do away with that headache.”

Refusing to through-check bags on separate reservations is purely punitive and doesn’t even really help the airline.

I’ve shared my own frustration with it booking awards with American miles on their partner Etihad. While Etihad’s Dallas – Abu Dhabi flight is easy to get in premium cabins, Austin – Dallas can be super tough. On a two week trip with my wife I have to check a bag.

  • 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 without a saver award available, I have to spend more for the Austin – Dallas ticket. American’s poor domestic award availability means I have to come out of pocket. American’s poor domestic award availability is like a hidden fuel surcharge, but fair enough.

  • However it doesn’t just mean more money — for the privilege of buying an extra ticket on American, I’m not able to through-check bags. I need to book a longer connection, wait to claim bags in Dallas, then re-clear security.

This sticks it to customers without even really helping the airline: Airlines don’t want to share their checked bag fees — the Department of Transportation requires one checked bag fee for your whole journey but travel on different airlines means the airline collecting the fee has to share it with downline carriers — so they just make you pick up yours bags and re-check them so you have to pay again if you’re on a separate ticket. But this itinerary would never have involved checked baggage fees to begin with — I’m an American Executive Platinum and this is a first class award ticket. So it’s pure inconvenience, to no benefit.

And American wants travel all on one ticket as a way to incentivize travelers not to save money when two tickets are cheaper. But this is a case where I’m spending more, not less.

Now, American will allow customers traveling on separate tickets to include them in a single reservation where one ticket is award and the other one is paid — but only when both involve travel within the oneworld alliance. That’s no help to me with travel on American and on their non-oneworld partner Etihad.

And it’s no help flying paid business class on American Airlines to Hong Kong, and connecting on a separate ticket on Cathay Pacific in paid business class. I’d have to collect bags in Hong Kong and re-check them. (But flying the opposite direction, Cathay will through-check onto American.)

In contrast, both Delta and United will through-check bags on separate tickets as long as both tickets are for travel within their respective alliances. American’s policy is thus more restrictive than either of their major competitors.

Will American learn from the experience of oneworld partners Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways — that this idea is just plain sticking it to their customers?

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.

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. Another example is that LAN often does not even allow booking flights 6-11 months out. So if one wants to fly PMC-SCL-DFW one can only purchase the SCL-DFW leg at say 10 months out. Then you are stuck purchasing a PMC-SCL ticket 2-3 months before departure on a separate PNR.

  2. “the Department of Transportation requires one checked bag fee for your whole journey but travel on different airlines means the airline collecting the fee has to share it with downline carriers”

    I thought on international itineraries, the “most significant” carrier’s policy prevails … including not charging a baggage fee at all if that carrier would not charge one. In other words, if you’re flying AA for AUS-DFW and EY DFW-AUH, because EY is the “most significant carrier,” if AA through-checked bags to EY, EY’s policy would prevail and AA would not be entitled to charge any fee at all?

  3. AA won’t even check thru bags when both tickets are on AA, which is ridiculous. This policy is one time where I’d really like to see AA copy-cat DL and UA and allow thru-checking on separate tickets.

  4. Contrary to this article I have had AA check in agents through check bags from AA to Qatar on separate tickets. Twice in the last six months.in fact.

    First time in October it was on AA award connecting to QR revenue. Second time in January was for AA revenue to QR revenue. Both times it took a bit of pleading. I had to work the agent. But it happened.

    Going the other way I have had QR check to AA on separate tickets. But not to BA. Don’t know why.

  5. I flew on American flight as an EXP with a second flight on American on a different PNR and they initially refused to check my bag. A supervisor and a colleague and 25 minutes they finally approved it. RIDICULOUS. I’m flying on a Platinum status match to Delta this year and LOVING it!

  6. Airlines don’t like to thru check to separate PNRs due to baggage liability concerns. So many problems can occur when reservations are not linked but bags are being transferred anyways. “oh sorry sir, i can’t help that your bag didn’t arrive, another airline checked it in so check with them” etc etc. Doesn’t really have anything to do with bag fees/moneys since most people interline to international destinations which dont even have bag fees to begin with.

  7. @Tony liability concerns? if you want to understand why a change is being made you need to ask, “what’s different?”

    generally speaking when an airline through-checks to another airline, it’s the final airline that’s responsible not the one that accepted the baggage originally.

    it’s not the liability driving this, which isn’t new, but has been the same for many decades. what’s new is the desire to force customers to be on a single ticket, to wait to make ticket purchases until they know exactly what their plans are, as a revenue protection measure.

    but it’s applied as a blunt instrument, even to an airline’s best customers on most expensive tickets and on award tickets when the separate ticket is revenue to THEM. which is moronic.

  8. Sorry to contradicts what you have said that UA and DL has the policy for send luggage thru with separate tickets…Not sure about DL but I know for sure with UA doesn’t work. It happened twice… one with UA/LH and vice versa (LH/UA within Europe) with UA/AV within US… within UA/NH in US as well… I had to re-check luggage in MIA, LAX. The same with AC, LH… I’m not sure why people says that UA…and Star Alliance… definitely that is not a SA policy and is up to each airline if they want to do it…

  9. AA initially refused to check out bags through from DCA to SYD earlier this year because the connecting tickets were on separate PNRs. We only managed to convince the supervisor to make an exception when I told him that we bought the two tickets in April 2016 *before* the new policy came into effect. They actually made a note in the system to record it.
    Yes, the tickets were cheaper this way. I doubt we would have made the connection at LAX if they hadn’t been checked through.

  10. How do I find an airlines policy on through checking? I am about to fly Alitalia and am trying to see if we can through check the bags on 2 separate PNR’s but I cant find an answer any where. If they are part of the Sky Team Alliance does that mean they will do it since others int eh alliance do it as well?

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