It’s been a couple of years since I’ve written about this, and I actually forgot I had done so. But I was warning someone about the risks of booking two separate tickets — that they needed lots of extra connecting time, that they needed to have a backup flight if the first one was cancelled — and that reminded me the advice isn’t always true.
If you’re going to take a once-daily international flight, and it’s important not to miss it, but maybe you need to buy a separate ticket in order to get to the international gateway city there’s always a risk. Maybe your first flight gets cancelled. What do you do?
I run into this myself. Often when booking an award ticket I need to buy positioning flights. Not everything may be available on points, whether from my starting city or for the last segment. I’d hate to give up a beautiful Cathay Pacific award ticket in first class, Chicago or New York JFK to Hong Kong, just because I couldn’t get the flight from DC to Chicago or New York. So I’m willing to come out of pocket to buy that segment.
Similarly with British Airways Avios, they charge you separately for each and every flight segment you book using points. So you might have enough for the flight from New York to Europe but not the flight to reach New York. So you have to pay for the with cash.
You’re still saving a lot of money by just purchasing a short domestic hop. It may make good sense to use miles. Even though you don’t get the entire portion of your air trip covered in a single award.
Being on two separate tickets is a risk, usually, if your flight is delayed or cancelled. Summer storms in the Northeast, or just air traffic congestion around New York, prevents you from getting to New York to connect to that Cathay Pacific flight.
If you’re on one ticket, then the airline that delayed you is responsible for getting you to your final destination. But what about separate tickets?
Usually the rule of thumb is that the airline is only responsible for getting you to the destination on that ticket. In this case, New York. And you’ll have missed your flight to Hong Kong, you can try to reschedule your award ticket, but you could well be out of luck if no award space is available later.
Similarly, if my trip terminates in Chicago and I’m buying onward travel to DC, I’d leave plenty of room for a misconnect, I’d hate to arrive in Chicago too late to connect to my scheduled flight home and be stuck buying a walkup full fare ticket (or booking a brand new award, for instance on another airline).
Except… if you’re flying on two oneworld tickets you may not need to worry!
American actually publishes a policy that treats two separate oneworld tickets as though they were a single ticket. In the event of misconnect, “the carrier responsible for the disruption will be required to reroute the customer to their final destination.”
AA to/from AA or a oneworld® Carrier
If a customer is holding separate tickets on AA or another oneworld carrier, customers holding separate tickets where travel is on oneworld airlines should be treated as through ticketed passengers. In the event of a disruption on the originating ticket, the carrier responsible for the disruption will be required to reroute the customer to their final destination. The ticket stock of the second ticket must be of a oneworld carrier, eligible under the Endorsement Waiver Agreement. You may contact AA Reservations 1-800-433-7300 (U.S. and Canada) or outside the U.S. and Canada, reference Worldwide Reservations Numbers for additional information if the separate ticket is for travel on a oneworld carrier.
This policy does not apply where one of the airlines involved is not a oneworld airline, or when the second ticket was issued by a non-oneworld airline.
This is a pretty big deal for the small number of times a year that I might book two separate tickets as part of a single trip. As long as I’m flying with American and their oneworld partners, on tickets issued by oneworld airlines, I’m protected.