How to Handle Flight Delays and Checked Bags When Traveling on Separate Tickets

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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:

  1. Wait to buy the domestic connection until closer to departure, this minimizes the risk that a schedule change creates a problem.
  2. 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.

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. Gary,
    I generally call ahead to ask if an airline has an interline baggage agreement with the other airline I will connect to.
    For example, I recently called Delta Airlines to ask whether they have an interline baggage agreement with Cathay Pacific. I was traveling from boston to jfk on delta to catch the Cathay Pacific flight from JFK to Vancouver.They had answered this in the affirmative. I then asked them to put on my domestic ticket notes that I have a connecting flight with Cathay Pacfic and gave them my flight details.
    A lot of times the Delta representative may refuse to put in the notes but if you call back often enough you will reach someone who will be nice enough to be willing to do that.
    Thats my two cents worth.

  2. Very timely for my purposes – you only mention legacy carriers though. Got any info on the others? I’m a big fan of both United and Southwest, with an upcoming trip that combines the two.

  3. an interline agreement may not be a guarantee, but it at least means it’s possible in the event you find an agent nice enough to do it…

  4. Another way airlines are screwing up customers.

    AA’s policy isn’t “overly generous” to the least, but outright despicable in cases where you were FORCED by AA to buy a ticket on another record due to lack of availability (e.g. you had to buy LAS-LAX to connect to an award on FJ to NAN because AA had no award seats on LAS-LAX and AA does not allow you to add a paid segment to an anward booking — now you’re stuck with 2 records and bags that can’t be checked through).

  5. Gary… you say you leave yourself plenty of time between flights but you give no mention to how much time you generally allow. Can you touch on this for both domestic and international connections on separate tix please? TIA

  6. I would say that Delta’s policy is inconsistent. Last summer I had a paid Delta ticket connecting to a Star Alliance award ticket and they checked my bag through. Now, the bag got lost and took several days to reach me but they checked it through no questions asked.

  7. I am travelling from Tel Aviv via Dusseldorf to JFK in August on two award tickets issued by BA for travel on Air Berlin. Air Berlin have told me I will not be able to thru check my baggage. Same airline, same alliance as the ticket issuer, well less than 24 hours between the connections. Figure that one out!

  8. @Gary – A little clarity, please: does this apply between all OneWorld carriers? e.g. BA takes responsibility if Cathay Pacific screws up your connection or something?

    Thank you for your writing, Gary.

  9. On Amadeus separate PNRs can be linked using the ‘in conjunction with’ function.

    This is especially useful when mixing revenue and award travel.

    In my experience LH, LX, NZ, OZ, SA and UA recognize this. It came in handy a few years ago when my JNB IAD flight was four hours late. United accommodated me on a later flight no questions asked and even accommodated my request to switch to TPA instead of SRQ which is what I had originally wanted, but at the time of booking wasn’t available.

  10. As a case in point, I’m taking the 6:00 a.m. United flight to O’Hare from my home airport instead of the 1:00 p.m. one in order to connect with my upcoming 4:30 p.m. Delta (KLM) award ticket to Africa. Two hours certainly should be enough time to make the Chicago connection, but I feel more sure of it with seven hours. That will also give me time to try one of those Tortas Frontera sandwiches.Too many sad stories from people who allowed normal connection times in this scenario and got caught short due to luggage issues and flight delays.

  11. Since our home airport has very limited flights (only 2-3 nonstop flights per day to LAX, fewer to other hubs), we “pre-position” the day before our international flights. We stay in a 5-star hotel using Amex Platinum FHR, which usually gets us noon check-in and always 4:00 check-out. Then we plan fun things to do in the hub and consider our adventures there to be part of the vacation. Much lower stress than same-day connections on separate tickets.

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