American Has Changed its Fare Rules to Charge You More, Here’s How to Beat Them

About a week ago, I noticed this on my Facebook feed from Steve H.,

I have just outsmarted American Airlines and saved myself $1000 in the process.

I have to go [Syracuse – Washington DC – Indianapolis – Austin – Syracuse] over a two week period in late May and early June.

Pricing it as one intinerary could be done for no cheaper than $2174 according to American, and no other airline was cheaper. After trying a couple of other strategies, I found the winner:

Buy the [Indianapolis – Austin] as a roundtrip from [Indianapolis] buy [Syracuse – Washington National], [Washington National – Indianapolis], and [Indianapolis – Syracus] as three one-way tickets.

Thanks to my willingness to arrive in Syracuse very late on my return, the total for this strategy was $1145, saving me $1000.

This is a pretty complicated example of something, but since he tagged me in the post I replied, that the “cheapest one-way for one of these segments did not allow ‘end-on-end’ ticketing the fare rules, causing you to pay a higher fare when combining it with other flights”

Increasingly American Airlines has been imposing a new rule in its fares to make your tickets more expensive.

It used to be that if two one-way fares, say San Diego to Dallas and Dallas to Fort Lauderdale, were cheaper than the fare for San Diego to Fort Lauderdale you’d pay the cheaper ‘sum of the two one ways’ for your ticket.

Now for many of the cheapest fares in many markets American has updated their fare rules to prohibit “End of End Ticketing” which means you cannot combine the cheap fares, you have to pay the more expensive fare.

Let’s take a simple example from my home town where the savings aren’t going to be as great but the phenomenon is easy to see.

If I book a one-way ticket Chicago – Austin connecting in Dallas, the price comes up at $181.60.

But if I book two separate one-ways, Chicago – Dallas and Dallas – Austin, it’s cheaper.

Chicago – Dallas is just $35.10.

Dallas – Austin is $109.10.

That’s a total of $144.20, or a savings of $37.40 or ~ 20%.

Here’s a more dramatic example. Here’s Austin – Chicago, two days later Chicago – Dallas, then two days later back to Austin. The cheapest fare for this itinerary using American’s non-stops between each city is $1058 on the days I picked at random.

Purchased separately, however:

  • Austin – Chicago non-stops range from $117 – $170
  • Chicago – Dallas non-stops range from $74 – $184
  • Dallas – Austin non-stops range from $80 – $155

Ticketing separate one-ways you’re looking at prices between $271 (a savings of $787) to $509 (a savings of $549).

When you’re booking a multi-city trip, it’s obvious how you can take advantage of this. You definitely want to compare the cost of buying one-way tickets to the cost of buying a multi-city ticket. Just buying one ways means big savings here.

But let’s say all you’re buying is that one-way ticket from Chicago to Austin. How do you pocket the $37 savings off that $181.60 one-way?

Again you buy two one-way tickets.

Here’s two key things to know.

  1. When you are traveling on separate American Airlines tickets, you can still check your bags to their final destination. You just need to show the agent details of your connecting flight that’s on a separate ticket.

  2. When you are traveling on separate American Airlines tickets, the airline will treat it as though it was a single ticket in the event of irregular operations. If your first flight is delayed, and you miss your connection, you’re protected.

This second one is unique and surprising to many people. Not even all American agents know about this. But that’s the policy.

Policy retrieved March 30, 8:30am Eastern

American publishes super cheap fares to compete with ultra low cost carriers like Spirit Airlines. But they only want to use those fares to compete with Spirit, not to undercut their pricing in other markets. So they’ve tightened their fare rules. But you can still circumvent that by booking separate tickets. It’s worth comparing price.

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. Truly fascinated to learn about the separate tickets being treated as one during IROPS. Amazing, thanks Gary.

  2. @Gib It’s a oneWorld specific alliance dictated policy. The same is NOT TRUE on United or Delta.

  3. @Gary
    What a coincidence that you would post about this very topic today just when I was about to email you and ask you to write about it. I was looking today for IAH-PHL tickets for June and couldn’t find anything below $519 on American… But 2 one-way tickets on AA were way cheaper: I found IAH-DFW for $87 and DFW-PHL for $181. I couldn’t make any sense why this was happening and literally thought about asking you…

  4. @Gary Can you post the link to where you found the AA/Oneworld policy for IROPS protection? The link I have is dead and can’t seem to find the updated URL.

  5. 03/28/2016 I was trying to purchase from MCI-DFW-NYC and it was giving me over $1,200 round-trip (RT). I said that makes no sense. I did MCI-DFW RT on one ticket and DFW-NYC RT on another. Much cheaper. Then I did MCI-DFW one-way (OW) and it was only $95. Then DFW-NYC $121 OW. Then NYC-MCI $132 OW. MUCH cheaper. But would not let me book it. So I called EXP and they said for the past few days, there have been some glitches in the system and it is pricing higher and to go ahead and do the OWs. So I did. I paid one-quarter of the the computer was trying to cheat me out of.

  6. The answer to thie IROPS dilemma is to book tickets with a card like Chase Sapphire Preferred, which has extensive travel benefits that will cover such things as missed connections, etc. due to IROPS.

  7. On a separate note, I live in DFW. Last week, I had a ticket AUS-DFW-HKG-KUL-HKG-DFW-AUS. I had a separate ticket DFW-AUS and then AUS-DFW on the return. Two separate tickets. I was about to leave DFW-AUS and door about to close when I got a text the AUS-DFW was cancelled so I would miss my HKG flt. I got off the plane and the gate agent (GA) told me these are two separate tickets and she cannot protect me and there is nothing she can do. Which is contrary to what is written at But I didn’t have this rule handy with me and I did not want to argue.

  8. Based on the FT thread, it seems like two things are going on. The rule that Gary cites and a glitch in the multicity booking engine that treats ar one way from X to Y in Monday and a one way from Y to Z on Tuesday as being put through flight, not two true one ways.

  9. Why are you just mentioning AA? All three legacies are not doing this . . .UA and DL have also changed their fare rules to stop end-on-end multi-city pricing. There are threads in both the UA and DL fora on FT.

  10. Why are you just mentioning AA? All three legacies are now doing this . . .UA and DL have also changed their fare rules to stop end-on-end multi-city pricing. There are threads in both the UA and DL fora on FT.

  11. And if you have to cancel your three-leg, three-ticket trip, now you get to pay $600 in cancellation fees instead of $200. Fun times.

  12. @Gary – Will this be the beginning of the end of those AA/OW policies then? I was just telling a friend about that tonight. Interesting also that you think this has to do with the LCC/ULCC phenomenon. Spirit has similar rules, but can similarly be worked around. For example, I had to book separate tickets for family to travel MYR-FLL and FLL-MGA on NK, even though I could have booked ORD-FLL-MGA as a single ticket.

    On the topic of major carrier responses to ULCC competition… I tried to book a flight on DL tonight from Google Flights. All was well until the final confirmation page, where it would not allow me to select a seat. I otherwise would have never known I was booking a Basic Economy fare!! At least Spirit beats you over the head with their messaging during the entire checkout process, so you know what you’re buying. Went back and found the flight on Delta’s site, where it was very clear in the search results, and I had the easy option of paying $10 more for a chance at an upgrade (and $60 more than that for confirmed F).

  13. All I can say is “Don’t mess with me American, unless you want to go the way of United which is ZERO FLIGHTS THIS YEAR!”

  14. Gary, check out the new EK awards via AS MileagePlan, did they give us any notice of these changes?

  15. This is unrelated, but recently I wanted to use AA points to book a 300 mile non-stop, one-way flight on American. Thought I could get it for 7,500 miles, but it was 50,000. If I wanted to fly the next day on a Monday it would’ve been 7,500 or a week later, etc.

    Thought that was kind of shady on American’s part.

  16. @Carl So what ended up happening? Did you have to rebook your HKG flight and pay change fees?

  17. @Chris-She refused to protect me. I had to take action. I asked if there were any earlier flights from AUS to DFW. She said there is one at 8:45 and I asked her to add me to the standby list. She did. She took no initiative to be creative or helpful. So I left DFW-AUS at 7, arrived at 8, went to Admiral’s Club, she checked on 8:45AM flight back to DFW, said I am #1 on the list (since I am EXP) and then went to gate and was the last to board. Sat way in the back, no first class, no main cabin extra. Got an aisle, thank goodness, not a middle seat. 36 minute flight. Got back to DFW, went to Admiral’s Club in D, then into FlagShip International Lounge, hung around until flight to HKG. They are not interested in helping you, you need to be in charge of yourself. Sorry for the delay. After that weekend, this past weekend I flew DFW-ORD-DFW-PEK and back. Ben (Lucky) and I were on the same flight from PEK-DFW on 4/4/16.

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