Reader Dan asked,
A while back I asked you about the possibility of connecting Delta award tickets with revenue tickets.
The concern being that a late arrival on a revenue ticket might make me miss my award flight, and Delta would not be responsible for getting me on the next flight.
You were kind enough to reply.
This is a problem. oneworld policy is to treat separate tickets on oneworld as though they were through tickets. But to answer your question about Delta, no I do not believe so. So give yourself plenty of time for error..
A recent article claimed it is possible to do this on United. Jason Steele at “The Points Guy” published the following regarding doing this on United. However, I did not get a response when I asked how to do so.
“One of the big problems I’ve had with United awards is a complete lack of saver space on domestic flights between hubs. Even though I live in Denver, a United hub, there seems to be very little award space between here and the other United hubs, despite a multitude of daily mainline flights. And when I do find space, those few seats are invariably in coach. On occasion I have had to purchase a domestic positioning leg if I want to find business or first class award space, but at least United checks my bags through and protects me in the case of a missed connection.”
Do you know how to accomplish this linkage?
(Question slightly edited for readability and to insert links rather than leaving them as HTML)
There’s really two questions here. First is dealing with delays and misconnections when traveling on two separate tickets. Second is checking luggage all the way to your final destination when traveling on separate tickets.
The question is especially important because:
- Sometimes separate tickets can save you money. Not all fare rules allow ‘end-on-end ticketing’ so you have to buy a positioning flight in order to get a cheap fare.
- Award travel may be available internationally, but not to or from your home city. So you get the great international first class space you want, but have to buy a short coach flight to connect (or use miles from another alliance frequent flyer program).
Checking Luggage to Your Final Destination When Traveling on Separate Tickets
US airlines have mostly eliminated the ability to through-check bags when traveling on different airlines outside of the airline’s alliance.
Delta made this change two years ago. American announced this change in the fall and then delayed it to February 2015. United announced their policy in the fall as well effective March 1. (US Airways was actually first in the US with this policy although I encountered it years-earlier with British Airways.)
This all results from DOT rules that limit checked bag fees when traveling on more than one airline.
With American and United you can check bags through to your final destination if travel is all within each airline’s alliance even if on separate tickets. Interestingly, this allowance does not apply if flying on one of their non-alliance airline partners.
Just because this policy exists doesn’t mean it’s impossible to through-check bags. I recently checked bags all the way home on a Delta international flight connecting to an American domestic flight on a separate ticket. (Doing this let me just drop my bag back off once I had cleared customs, instead of taking it to another terminal to re-check.) I find that policies like these are less-well enforced originating outside the U.S. and also for premium cabin customers.
Buying Separate Tickets and Dealing With Delays and Cancellations
When you are traveling on separate tickets you generally are not protected in the event of irregular operations. That’s true even if it’s two United tickets or two Delta tickets, but doubly true if the two tickets are on separate airlines.
One exception is that American’s policy is uniquely generous. American’s published policy is to treat two tickets within the oneworld alliance as though they were a single ticket. Travel has to be on oneworld airlines, and tickets must be issued by oneworld airlines, but in that case in the event of misconnect, “the carrier responsible for the disruption will be required to reroute the customer to their final destination.”
When I do buy separate tickets I realize not only that there’s a chance of a flight delay or cancellation on the day of travel, but also that flight schedules change in advance of travel. You could be left without enough time to connect from your first ticket to your second ticket.
Therefore, I tend to do two things when on separate tickets:
- Wait to buy the domestic connection until closer to departure, this minimizes the risk that a schedule change creates a problem.
- Leave plenty of time to connect. I prefer in fact to have enough time that if my flight cancels, that the next flight would get me to my international departure. (There’s no guarantee of course that the later flight won’t be full.)
I’m generally more worried about this on the outbound portion of my trip. I want to make my once a day international flight, that I may not be able to get rebooked on for the next day. If my flight arriving from abroad is late I’m less worried. I can usually stand by for a later flight home. Or if I’m truly stuck, the consequences won’t be as great even if I have to use miles or cash for a new ticket.