American Will Still Protect You If You’re Flying on Separate Tickets and Things Go Wrong

It’s usually risky to fly one itinerary on separate tickets. That’s because when you’re on one ticket, if you face a flight delay or cancellation the airline responsible for the irregularity has to get you to your final destination. But if you’re on separate tickets they usually don’t have to do anything more than get you as far as the end of the ticket you’re flying on.

Fortunately — in a world where little seems to go the way of the customer — American Airlines has a policy of taking care of customers connecting on separate tickets as long as one flight is with American and the next is with either American itself or a oneworld partner. And I’ve confirmed that this policy is still in force.

There are Lots of Reasons to Connect on Separate Tickets

There are several reasons why you may need to to book separate tickets:

  • You have an award ticket, but award space wasn’t available starting in your home city or all the way to your final destination. So you book an award but buy a flight segment. (American will allow you to buy the revenue flight inside the existing award reservation if both tickets are theirs, and you definitely want to do this if you’re checking bags.)

  • You’re flying airlines that don’t interline and can’t be ticketed together.

  • Cost savings. You buy a ticket out of Boston for a fare sale. If the reservation started in New York you wouldn’t get the great price. It’s still a fabulous deal even when you buy your New York – Boston shuttle flight.

  • You don’t know where you’ll be traveling. You’re going to Asia and catch a deal, but not sure where you’ll ultimately decide to spend time. Or you know you need to go to Europe and grab an award seat, but you aren’t sure where you’re going to start your trip and will decide once plans firm.

  • Plans change, you’re ticketed to Hong Kong but while there you discover you need a side trip to somewhere in Southeast Asia, and buy a ticket that connects up to your existing return flight.

These are just a few examples of why people might find themselves on separate tickets.

American Protects You on Separate Tickets

American Airlines has long published a policy that says if you are connecting on two American tickets, or you’re connecting to or from oneworld, they’re going to treat you as though you were flying on just one ticket.

I first wrote about this policy four years ago. There have been myriad policy changes since then, even changes for travelers on separate tickets (they will no longer through-check bags on separate tickets except when both are in the same reservation) but the customer protection policy remains valid.

Last year I took a screen shot of the policy, updated in May 2018:

The only place I know of where it’s been publicly published is in ‘SalesLink’ their guide for travel agents working with American Airlines tickets. SalesLink was updated in February with more ambiguous language.

This suggests that you are protected when traveling on two separate oneworld tickets as long as those tickets are both in the same reservation. It is silent as to whether they’ll still help you if your two tickets are in different reservations.

American reassures me however that the policy of protecting customers on two tickets (in separate reservations) remains in place, and suggests they’ll even get SalesLink updated to clarify this.

Our policy is that we will assist customers on separate tickets, and in separate PNR’s during IROPS, as long as the other ticket is that of a oneworld carrier.

We will work with our sales team to update this for their agencies and provide guidance on how to support the customer.

This doesn’t help connecting between a oneworld airline and a non-oneworld one, even if they’re an American partner. But it’s great for staying within the alliance, and provides a real incentive to stick with oneworld.

Many agents do not know about this policy and may not help. Some agents will take offense to having the policy pointed out to them (“that’s not for customers to know about”). Hang up, call back, and be nice.

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. I live in a town that only has flights to Dallas via American Eagle. I travel frequently to Latin America. I often save a lot (25-30%) by booking my roundtrip to Dallas and my Dallas-Latin America flights on separate itineraries, even though it’s all on American.

    Exact same trip can cost hundreds less.

  2. Now if they would only through check bags on Oneworld flights with separate tickets or even just on AA metal flights with separate tickets. Even if they charged separate fees for each I could live with that.

  3. Agreed with DaninMCI.. I find that policy of not through checking bags asinine… Especially when the flights are all on AA metal!

  4. I’d note that it doesn’t apply to one of the reasons you cited- the two airlines don’t have an interline agreement. Obviously American will help when its two American or American and a One World partner.

    @Aaron, you can ask United to link two reservations if you call them. They make a note that the two reservations are connected, whether it be between two people who booked separately but are traveling together or two tickets one person booked that are part of the same trip. That helps a lot when things go wrong because United can see both. It won’t work if one is United and one is, say, British Airways though.

  5. Anyone have experience trying this with Royal Air Maroc? want to book Tun-JFK and have to choose between a ~1 hr connecting time in Casablanca (no award avail on tun-cmn, so 2 seperate tickets) or the alternative is doing a 12-19hr layover in Casablanca.

  6. One World carriers won’t do this and they are jerks about it. Example: JFK to Madrid on Iberia on one ticket, 3 hour connection in Madrid to Tel Aviv on another Iberia flight. Both flights tickets on Iberia stock. (business class! ) They will not check bags through or even print a boarding pass for me at JFK for the MAD – TLV leg. “Sorry – not permitted” . Why torture customers?

  7. @DaninMCI, I’m based in St. Louis and I often book separate tickets when traveling to Asia. Round trip to LAX and then another round trip from LAX to my final destination -say NRT or PUS. If you fly premium economy like I do, the difference in price can be upwards of 1000+ if you book the same flight on a single itinerary.

    My point is, AA agents have always checked my bags from St Louis all the way through to my final destination and vice versa coming back to the US. Hope that helps.

  8. Gary, in practice this may be very much a YMMV. You may recall in recent past you even helped me provide this language to AA EXP desk, AAdvantage Customer Service, and the Exec Office regarding a misconnect from AA to IB due to an AA mechanical delay. All refused to acknowledge the policy and uniformly said I, as a customer, had no right of access to the SalesLink documentation…all but accusing me of hacking their systems. I was out over €1000 and still have a bad taste over how I was treated as a 3MM and multi-year EXP.

  9. I’m going to try to check AS through to Cathay today on separate tickets.
    They do have an interline agreement.

    Even so….and even if they take the bag and route it properly, what’s the liability if they don’t get it over to Cathay (they have 7 hours and I don’t want to carry my luggage around)?

    I’m not referring to my liability of having no clean underwear if the bad doesn’t make the flight

  10. @Gary – What are the odds of success of actually getting agents to abide by this policy though? To Jack’s point above, if multiple layers of AA bureaucracy won’t honor this policy for a high tier elite then what are the odds regular customers are actually going to be able to get this enforced?

    Also, do you think we’d have better odds dealing with this via customer service call center or in-person at the airport where the misconnect occurs?

  11. “RJB says:
    April 24, 2019 at 10:11 am
    One World carriers won’t do this and they are jerks about it. Example: JFK to Madrid on Iberia on one ticket, 3 hour connection in Madrid to Tel Aviv on another Iberia flight. Both flights tickets on Iberia stock. (business class! ) They will not check bags through or even print a boarding pass for me at JFK for the MAD – TLV leg. “Sorry – not permitted” . Why torture customers?”

    I had a similar experience when flying Iberia to MA to connect with an AA flight to PHL – all on one AA ticket and upgraded to business class for the second leg. They said they could not print the second ticket and would not let me on the flight. Finally they relented after being connected to the AA Platinum desk who confirmed all was OK with the booking. Still would not print the ticket but MAD immigration official was sympathetic and let me through for the terminal transfer (no checked bags). Will be doing the same thing from Tel Aviv in September and am nervous that the situation may be repeated. Any advice?

  12. Good luck with this. I had a situation with a personal ticket to Europe booked months in advance, and a business trip that gave me 2.5 hours to connect at JFK. On the day of travel, my connection was at risk for whatever reason was plaguing JFK that day, and most regional jet flights were cancelled. Admirals Club and EP desk were unwilling to help me, only to remind me that they only had a responsibility to get me TO JFK. Finally found a sympathetic EP rep who worked something out which I was grateful for, but the whole experience left a bad taste in my mouth.

  13. Don’t try with British Airways. They totally messed up my travel with my daughter two years ago. Two separate flights because I booked them months apart, BA would not check our bags through to final destination even though all flights were BA. Had to collect and recheck bags at LHR. Fast Track was exceedingly slow (90 min!) so we missed our flight. BA made us pay to rebook with them on another flight and then refused to reinstate our Avios points we lost because we missed our flight. No apologies.

  14. They wouldn’t check bags through for me on separate AA PNR’s last month, both flights on AA metal. Its a real PITA about this baggage policy they’ve come up with.

  15. I could find no policy regarding flights on one ticket, one PNR, but connecting from AA to a non-OneWorld airline. Example: book an award on Qantas from Fresno to LAX (AA), then from LAX to TLV (El Al). Any ideas/thoughts/tips?

  16. Last summer my family of 3 flew J on Singapore Air from Manchester to Houston. Had a 5 hour layover at IAH before a flight on United to SDF. Singapore Air flight was a reward flight while the United was a separate paid ticket. While checking in I asked the agent if they could check our bags all the way to SDF and print our boarding passes on United. 30 seconds later I had 3 bag tags and 3 boarding passes all the way to SDF from MAN. I know Star Alliance is not OneWorld, but just a data point. We all know they CAN do it, it is just a matter of if they WILL do it. The Singapore agent was very helpful and courteous when I asked.

  17. I would like you ask them why the policy isn’t communicated to the public. What’s AA’s reason “that’s not for customers to know about”?

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