I’ve been corresponding with a reader about a trip from the US to China using AAdvantage miles. His trip is coming in just a few days, and he put a Cathay Pacific first class award on hold.
Getting one first class award seat is a whole lot easier than getting two these days. Cathay’s daily Boeing 777-300ER Boston flight is a good bet for first class space opening up.
The problem is getting to Boston. And it’s a generalizable problem. You can often use your American miles on their partners, but if you don’t live in the gateway city you’re leaving the country from it’s rarely possible to find award space on American to get there.
Technically there’s a process to ask American to release seats ‘to complete an itinerary’ (or ‘to complete a party’ say if there’s 2 seats available but you need 3). However I don’t remember the last time I saw such a request approved.
- This is why I say that almost all American AAdvantage awards have cash co-pays, not just awards on British Airways. You have to fly to the international gateway city and you usually have to pay for it.
- But American has made buying a separate ticket to your departure city a trap.
American will no longer through check luggage on separate tickets, even with oneworld partners and even between two American Airlines flights with one exception. American’s policy is more draconian than United’s (happy to through check onto Star partners) and Delta’s (will through check onto SkyTeam partners, and I’ve even checked through onto non-SkyTeam partners despite policy).
This reader purchased a ticket to Boston and planned to check bags. He gave American more money as a penalty for American’s lack of saver award space. It was still within 24 hours of his purchase and he could cancel for a refund. So I offered advice about how to buy the ticket.
American will only through check luggage on separate tickets:
- When the connecting airline is a member of the oneworld alliance
- When the separate ticket is booked as part of the same reservation
Note though that the strategy doesn’t work with American’s non-oneworld partners. If you book an Etihad award or an Air Tahiti Nui award American’s policy is not to through check on separate tickets. Period.
The best strategy is to book the award ticket and then ask an American agent over the phone to sell the revenue ticket into the existing award PNR. If the agent you speak to doesn’t know how to do this, hang up and call back.
Otherwise — just buying separate tickets as part of distinct reservations — American will make you collect your luggage, re-check them, and re-clear security. It’s a waste of customers’ time, and on award tickets for little reason.
It’s one thing when there are two paid tickets.
- Government regulations require the check bag fee to be split between the airlines, rather than allowing both airlines to charge fees. So US airlines stopped through-checking onto other domestic carriers with bag fees. Blame airline greed, but ultimately blame the government whose regulation makes this worse for flyers.
- They want customers to book a single ticket, to prevent taking advantage of possible airfare savings breaking travel onto two different bookings. So they make the money saving strategy super inconvenient.
With award tickets, domestic to international, this really isn’t an issue. For elites and co-brand credit card holders who don’t pay checked bag fees anyway this is offensive.
This reader is an old school experienced frequent flyer that’s flown premium cabin award tickets all over the world. Most of his history is with US Airways, so he’s not unfamiliar with the program. Yet he wasn’t aware of this policy.
How many people know to call up American and ask them to sell paid travel inside their award reservation to protect their ability to through check bags?
And how many customers would just book a separate ticket — with a legal connection — and find on the day of travel there’s not enough time to leave security, collect bags, re-check bags, and re-clear security before boarding their international flight?