American Changes Checked Baggage Policy Again — For the Worse

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.

Member airlines also wouldn’t be required to check customers in to their final destination on the second reservation, either.

Airlines still can do this and I asked American Airlines about any changes to their policy.

On June 10, an American Airlines spokesperson told me (and several other outlets),

oneworld still requires all members to thru-check when all tickets are in the same PNR, but does not require it when they are in separate PNRs. Each carrier can unilaterally decide what they will do. American is not changing anything at this time, and we will continue to thru-check bags on multiple PNRs with oneworld carriers.

A mere one month later, on July 19, they notified travel agents they were doing the exact opposite. (HT: David F.)

This is a policy which in many cases is purely punitive and doesn’t even really help the airline.

I reached out to American and learned this new policy goes into effect September 1 although I’m not sure how they can retroactively apply it to tickets purchased before the new policy was implemented.

There’s one small saving grace. Customers traveling on separate tickets where one segment is an award ticket and another has been purchased can through-check bags. Travel must be on American or oneworld partners, and not on partners outside the oneworld alliance (like Etihad or Air Tahiti Nui). Tickets much be in the same reservation.

In the past I’ve been unable to get American to book paid and award travel in a single reservation. That has usually involved setting up an award ticket and the agent trying to sell a revenue ticket inside that PNR.

However American tells me that:

  • Agents can create new records including both award and paid travel by phone.

  • Existing award travel can be combined into a booking with paid travel I think the problem I’ve experienced arises when trying to create paid travel inside an award booking.

It’s something, at least even if it’s a pain and of benefit only in limited circumstances.

And 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. There’s no need to try to create a single reservation booking to do it, and it isn’t limited to award travel. American’s policy is thus more restrictive than either of their major competitors.

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, 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. […] Zitat von AndreasCH Sollte eigentlich, Aussage ist ja, nicht mehr innerhalb von OW. Meine Eltern konnten problemlos im Juli/August 2016 von EI auf AA und von AA auf EI durchchecken. Das ist jetzt ab den 1.Sep auch nicht mehr möglich American Changes Checked Baggage Policy Again – For the Worse – View from the Wing […]


  1. Gary – Thank you for this post. It’s nice to know about the revenue/award tickets, but I feel that’s going to be easier said than done when you’re arguing with the check in agent about it.

    By the way, you gotta stop putting that damn YouTube video in every post about a negative change to a baggage policy. It’s a stretch each time.

  2. And even if you are able to find an agent with the knowledge and willingness to create a combined PNR for you, don’t forget there will likely be an extra fee for the phone booking (for us non-EXPs).

  3. @Gary, thank you for the update. A question from someone not well versed in this?:

    We used AA miles to book saver award to HNL (MSP-DFW-SAN-HNL) with a separate PNR of 5k miles for HNL-LIH as final destination. At the time we were told by a phone agent that they would through check (last leg is AA miles of 5k on Hawaiian interisland).

    Will this trip now be a problem? Arrive 3:25 pm and interisland depart 5:24pm.

    Any thoughts or advice please?

  4. So, any bets on how long it takes DL and UA (or Skyteam and Star, respectively) to also adopt this “enhancement”?

    With the lack of competition as we have it, my expectation is that it is a matter of weeks, not months until the other two decide that they can now safely eliminate this bit of customer service, too.

  5. @Carl – assuming that this trip is September 1 onward, and you cannot combine the reservations (I don’t think they’ll be able to), American’s policy is that they won’t through check bags onto Hawaiian since it’s a separate ticket and reservation. It seems to me that is a change to your contract post-purchase, and exactly the kind of thing you should complain to DOT about — especially if you incur additional baggage fees as a result, since this policy is a direct response to DOT rules that are meant to ensure you only pay one checked bag fee when you check a bag one time. You can plead your case at check-in, that you booked before the new policy went into effect. If you aren’t successful and flights are reasonably on time you’ll have time to collect your bags and re-check them. And then you can complain to DOT after the trip.

  6. The retroactive application of this policy would be a real punch in the gut. I have a bunch of tickets booked for future travel, many of which relied on the old policy. Aside from the wasted time created by otherwise avoidable immigration clearance and baggage collection, I’ll be faced with considerable costs/fees to change multiple itineraries. Hopefully, this won’t be the case – but if it is, would trip interruption insurance be any help (provided both itineraries were booked with the same credit card)?

    In any case, is there any way to clarify under what circumstances through-checked baggage will be accepted for previously booked separate-ticket connections?

  7. Doesn’t this sometimes boil down to how experienced the agent is at the check-in counter? My last trip (United) PIT-LAX and then LAX-MEL (United) on separate tickets – the bags “could not” be checked thru to MEL. On the return, MEL-LAX (United), then LAX-IAH-PIT (United) on separate tickets – the bags were checked thru to final destination without any problem.

  8. Its pretty embarrassing to watch American unravel simple customer friendly features to make it harder on their own customers to travel. They’re making it much less desirable to fly AA with each additional negative change.

  9. I think the new AA is aiming to be the clear leader in the race to the bottom in everything – from on-time performance, to customer service, and frequent flyer program. That reminded me the “old good” USAirways that was trying to charge for soft drinks at one time and was the first among the major USA airlines to remove blankets and pillows. The new AA management still has a way to go but they certainly know how to that from the past experience…

  10. Is there something in print we can point to regarding the exception for award ticket and paid ticket, both on AA or a OneWorld partner?

  11. So why bother with airline alliances of they aren’t going to let you check your luggage through? Another reason to just be a free agent and disavow loyalty to any one airline of alliance. AA better offer **substantially*** better fares in order for customers to put up with the extra burden AA is imposing on them. I will not be picking up luggage and rechecking therefore I will not be selecting AA and One World for future if I can help it?

    Why does AA want to cut off their nose to spite their face?

  12. @beachfan There’s nothing to print. Through checking is only available if the award and paid booking are on the same PNR, which is the same rule as fully paid or fully award bookings. I don’t know why Gary called is a saving grace since it’s not an exception at all.

  13. Within the last few days I had an AA agent offer to book a paid leg within an award reservation, where that leg was unavailable as an award. Definitely a new policy, because I tried unsuccessfully to book this same itinerary several times over the past month and each time was told by a supervisor that it was “not possible”. Just another AA stealth devaluation – – no award availability on the short connecting flight (on a route that AA flies about 15 times/day), so you are forced to buy one leg.

  14. If the whole goal is to get additional checked bag fees, why can’t they just charge it up front when you check in and then the airlines can account to each other for the fee on the back end?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m completely opposed to paying an extra fee. But paying that fee AND going to baggage claim then back through security is so much worse. Plus I imagine this will cause more people to miss their connections and make security lines even worse.

  15. You need to set up the multi-ticket itinerary on the phone. You cannot book and ticket separate Award and Revenue tickets online then put them together later on the phone. I’ve tried it, multiple times, escalated to a supervisor, and no joy. The other crazy baggage rule since May is the 2-bag rule in First in a 2 cabin aircraft. I buy First IAH to PER flying AA-QF-QF metal via LAX and SYD and my bag allowance is just 2 bags. For a First Class ticket. If I buy the same metal but ticket as QF marketed out of IAH as Business class I get 3 bags. That’s INSANE. Why buy AA revenue tickets?

  16. Never heard of booking paid and award on the same PNR so good to know. My experience with AA agents is many are great and many don’t know well the basics, so trying to do this will definitely be hit and miss with the agent roulette.

  17. The new rule is already in effect. I had an American Airlines flight from San Francisco to Santiago (Chile) connecting with a LATAM flight on a different reservation and they could not send the luggage through the system (they tried at the counter, but it didn’t work) so I missed the LATAM connection. Fortunately, LATAM put me in the next flight free of charge.

  18. @Gary @jennie the DOT and TSA should be all over this nonsense. It’s crazy. It actually increases the load on security screening and saves the airlines nothing because the bags still have to travel from origin to destination except now they do so with increased handling by both passenger and airline check-in staff.

  19. Traveling DFW MAD connecting to Iberia MAD NCE. Separate tickets. Will I need to collect my bag in Madrid?

  20. This is a good reason to avoid any American Airlines flights. When traveling, I don’t have the time or energy to claim baggage mid-trip and re-check it and go through security all over again. Connection times aren’t long enough to do that! No more American flights for me.

  21. Have an award ticket jfk hel-> svo on finnair biz. ..bought a separate ticket on aeroflot Econ to tlv. Will the gate agent connect the bag at counter in jfk? Or will i have to get a visa and pick up bag in svo and recheck? Any advice would be helpful.

  22. I have a domestic American Airlines flight to LAX and will be flying Qantas to Australia. I do have a separate ticket for the international portion of my flight, and I don’t mind having to claim my bags In LA to transfer to Qantas. Will American charge me for my luggage to get to LAX if I am travelling on an international flight? They are one world partners, and Qantas allows you two free bags. Please let me know. Thank you!

  23. Hello, I am currently faced with the situation you stated above (“Customers traveling on separate tickets where one segment is an award ticket and another has been purchased can through-check bags. Travel must be on American or oneworld partners”), where I have separate tickets – one on Qanatas, booked with miles, one on AA, paid. Is this documented anywhere? The AA reps I called had no idea it existed, and were essentially requesting proof of the policy.

  24. Any help with my question above would be sincerely appreciated! My flight departs in about 5 days, and it would really help if I was able to combine the tickets into one record.

    Please and thank you to anybody who can help!

  25. Gary, AA is now refusing to thru-check bags even when the separate PNRs are entirely on American. Confirmed with an EXP agent, and obviously, at the airport on check in.

  26. I’ve got a little time (48 days) to work this out and have at least five hours between connections, so I SHOULD be okay, but who knows?!

    BNA-ATL on AA award ticket then ATL-LHR-DUB on BA. F for Transatlantic leg. Separate PNRs & tickets for AA & BA.

    After I drop my bags, where will I next see them? ATL? LHR? DUB? Will I have to collect and re-check in ATL and re-clear security (with no TSA Precheck) or will they go through? Will I have to collect and clear customs in London and recheck? Or will they go through to Dublin?


  27. Have a asiamiles awarded ticket from lga to ph and purchased another ticket from ph to las
    The check in agent said check through is not allowed so I have to reclaim my luggage and missed my original flight

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