Flying on Separate Tickets? On American You’re Still Protected if Flights 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 — they just have to get you as far as the end of the ticket you’re flying them on.

Nonetheless, it’s sometimes necessary 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 itinerary if both tickets are theirs.)

  • 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 starting your trip from! You know you’re going to Asia but need a positioning flight once your plans firm.

  • Plans change, you’re ticketed to Hong Kong but while there need a sidetrip 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 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 don’t believe I’ve written about this in three years. American has become much more draconian with several of its policies, even policies regarding separate tickets. They will no longer through-check bags on separate tickets but the customer protection policy remains valid.

American’s document containing this policy was updated last month. The policy remains.

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 won’t 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. Interesting! AA really needs to retrain their employees about this. AA staff both at the boarding gate and at the dedicated customer service desk at DFW refused to help in any way and insisted I had to contact LATAM myself when I recently had an issue with a connection to a LATAM (oneworld) flight. Same with the AA staff upon arrival in Santiago. Very frustrating.

  2. Let’s say you’re flying XXX-DFW//DFW-HKG on separate tickets … DFW-HKG on an award and XXX-DFW on a cash ticket. You didn’t buy the original ticket inside the award for whatever reason (didn’t know where you’d be … whatever).

    XXX-DFW arrives, say, 90 minutes before DFW-HKG takes off. But having to go reclaim your bags, and go back through security, you miss the DFW-HKG flight. You misconnected because of their policies, not because of the late arrival of XXX-DFW. Are you protected?

  3. @Gary. Thank you for pointing this out. The person who failed to eliminate this customer friendly policy will be part of the layoffs we announced today.

  4. That’s crazy and wonderful. I was not aware of this. I am aware that they no longer will through check your bag which could be really unhelpful and I’ll never understand why they do that but I have to say, the one time it was gonna be an issue for me the agent at check in said she wasn’t supposed to but would for me that day proving to me yet again the employees they have are often better than the airline allows them to be.

  5. The lack of the ability to through check bags is plain stupid. Even with separate tickets all on AA paper and metal they can’t and won’t through check bags. I usually carry on but sometimes you need to check a bag. The alternative is to go out of security and recheck. I have a feeling this is just nickle and dime stuff. I’m sure they think they will get extra revenue from such an unfriendly policy. It’s like the old George Bush “1,000 points of light” but for AA it’s “1,000 cuts of death”

  6. Gary: Would be helpful to review Delta’s and United’s policies as well, regarding their Skyteam and Star Alliance partners.

  7. Justin:

    The easy answer here is YES!

    Since you are on an AA to AA flight even though they are in separate reservations your bags can actually be checked all the way through to HKG even though you have separate tickets. Just provide both reservations at check-in and ask the rep to check them all the way.

  8. Justin:

    Sorry I totally misread your comment. No they will not through check your bag, but you are still protected provided your inbound flight arrived late. If your inbound arrived on time (on time is defined by AA and DOT as within 15 mins of scheduled arrival) and you did not give yourself adequate connection time you will have to pay fare diff and change fees.

  9. Thanks for confirming that this is still an ongoing AA policy …. I am doing this tomorrow. Too bad they won’t through-check any bags …. will just check both of our bags in DW name.

  10. Do not cout on this!
    About 3 years ago, the good old days, AirBerlin (non-existing now, but OneWorld member at the time) simply refused to put me on the next flight from Dusseldorf to Zurich and I had to pay 200 euros for the new one way ticket. It was NY->London->Dusseldorf on one ticket and a separate ticket Dusseldorf ->Zurich.
    AA flight was late from NY to London, BA put me on the next flight from London to Dusseldorf, and I was 20 min late to catch my flight from Dusseldorf to Zurich. Nothing what I could do: talking to managers, calling AA ….ect, even worse: AirBerlin manager was laughing “where did you get this policy” By the way I was (and is) Executive Plat.
    It was last flight from Dusseldorf to Zurich and if I do not pay, I had to look for the overnight accommodations.

  11. @Gary,

    1. can you add a link to this document?
    2. the case of connecting oneworld to AA does not make sense without an overall OneWorld policy. It says that the airline responsible for the delay should get you to your final destination. AA can say whatever they want, of course, but that won’t affect policies of other carriers. Is there an overall OW policy on this? There used to be at some point, but didn’t they eliminate it?

  12. I actually just had an experience where this very thing came into play – my first segment was a paid ticket, and my second and third segments were part of an award ticket (award space was not available between my origin and destination). Due to delays, I missed the award ticket and had to get rebooked. The agent I called helped me with no complaint and even reminded me to call about getting miles redeposited (the original award ticket was in business class, but only coach was available last minute). All in all, it ended up being a very good customer service experience.

  13. Good timing for this topic. I just booked separate itineraries that include two back-to-back BA flights in August. Since BA is part of oneworld, will BA operate the same as AA here?

  14. great to know. I’m doing this next March heading to Santiago on an AA award, with a tight connection time (1;45) to a Latam flight to Punta Arenas .

    I’ve looked all over AA site and not able to see this. Can you please post a link?

  15. @KD I’d love to be proven wrong but my understanding is BA won’t even protect on their own flights if two separate tickets.

  16. The key is ” the carrier responsible”. AA does’t operate within Europe. American Executive Platinum desk agent refused to contact BA for assining a seat for my trip where BA was part of AA itinerary, she told me “call BA”. In my case BA easy could put me on BA flight from London to Zurich bypass Dusseldorf, but they did not. The explanation was that distance from LHR->ZRH and LHR->Dusseldorf are not comparable. BA offered my voucher for dinner, not that I need it, have access to the first class lounge. I’m not new to traveling (Exec Plat for 10years, million miler …) but could not utilize this policy in Europe 3 years ago. I guess ones can depend on it in US and close by, but do not count on it in the countries where AA does not fly its metal.
    You can appeal to AA later and may get few miles added to your account for the trouble.

  17. I cannot find this policy stated on the last page of the sited PDF. It says that it was updated on February 2019. Does this policy still hold true?

  18. If I am flying Iberia but operated by Iberia Express to AA will this still apply? Also, I could not find it on the linked document, which was updated in February. Is this policy still in effect?

  19. Does anyone know if this policy is still in effect? Has anyone been able to actually use this benefit? I booked an award from ORD->LHR->BAH->CMB and now need to book a ticket from CMB->MLE due to recent events we no longer are spending days in Sri Lanka. Trying to see if this would work if I buy a Sri Lankin Airlines cash ticket with a 7 hour layover

  20. Flying from SYD through AUK to LAX with AA 82 on the second leg. Have separate LAX to BNA (Nashville) AA ticket (part of a round trip) to complete the trip. After customs, can the bags be deposited with American at the same point as international luggage with connecting flights on the same ticket? This would avoid taking luggage out of security, checking it at AA departures and going back through security.

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