One Way Airlines Make Life Harder That Doesn’t Even Improve Their Bottom Line

The Department of Transprtation ruled about four years ago that airlines can only charge you a single checked baggage fee even when you’re traveling on multiple carriers. If they collect $35 from you and you’re traveling on more than one airline that $35 gets split — instead of letting each airline collect a separate $35.

That’s all good and reasonable, and the baggage policy of the most significant carrier on the itinerary ought to control.

However the fully anticipated result (we cannot really call this an unintended consequence since it was predicted and predictable) was that US airlines no longer allow you to through-check luggage onto other airlines when traveling on separate tickets, at least when those airlines aren’t in the same global alliance.

The oneworld alliance no longer requires airlines to through check bags onto partners when the passenger is traveling on separate tickets.

Several oneworld airlines like British Airways and Cathay Pacific immediately updated their policies to no longer through-check bags on separate tickets. Flying British Airways first class connecting to Qantas business class on separate tickets? You have to collect your bags and re-check them. BA won’t even through-check luggage on two of their own tickets.

American will still let you check bags on separate tickets for oneworld partner airlines. (They also still treat separate oneworld tickets as a single ticket during irregular operations though I have to imagine that policy won’t last.) However American will not let you check bags onto partner airlines that aren’t a part of oneworld if traveling on separate tickets.

I’m about to run into this issue myself.

I put a first class award on hold for Etihad’s Dallas – Abu Dhabi flight, but there’s no saver award space on American at all that day for Austin – Dallas. Nothing comes back available as an exception award when requesting space ‘to complete an itinerary’.

Etihad’s Boeing 777-200LR First Class

All flights Austin – Dallas that day for the 190 mile segment cost 50,000 AAdvantage miles.

All of these flights price out at $177 one-way.

If a saver award was available, I’d get the flight included for no additional miles or money. The booking would be on a single ticket, and I would be able to through-check bags to Abu Dhabi.

But since American isn’t making a saver award available, I have to spend more and I’m not going to be able to through-check bags.

American’s poor domestic award availability doesn’t just mean I have to come out of pocket (buying a domestic segment is like paying hidden fuel surcharges) it means I’m inconvenienced as well. I need to book a longer connection, wait to claim bags in Dallas, then re-clear security. American’s policy (and Delta’s and United’s) puts extra stress on the security checkpoint sending more people through unnecessarily.

Not all agents follow these rules. A Delta agent in Sydney happily through-checked my bags onto American for a separate-ticket connection at LAX. Of course it doesn’t matter much there since off an international arrival you pick up your bags, drop them back off, and re-clear security anyway.

Checking in with foreign carriers usually allows you to through-check onto American, Delta, and United. I checked in with Etihad recently in Abu Dhabi and they had no problem through checking a bag onto American in New York when traveling on a separate ticket. Etihad will through check onto American but American will not through check onto Etihad when traveling on separate tickets.

This is a policy in place that’s purely punitive, which doesn’t even really benefit the airline:

In most industries businesses compete to try to deliver more value for lower prices (or at least to earn a price premium by delivering more value). In the U.S. airline industry the strategy is to make money by giving customers less.

Waiting at baggage claim, then re-checking luggage, is a pure waste of customer time. I don’t blame this man sleeping on a baggage carousel.

It’s striking for airlines to offer even less accommodation for checked bags when their employees do things like this of course:

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. Shouldn’t your ticket be for miles from North America to middle east.

    Why does Austin to Dallas matter separately and why do you care of its not saver?

    115k miles > 50 k miles

  2. AUS-DFW is a 2.5-hour drive. Door-to-EY gate flying would approach 2 hours. Why not have a friend drive you and pay for the gas (and trouble)?

  3. @Credit: you haven’t the faintest idea of what you’re talking about. Gary has a saver award NA-ME. You cannot combine a saver and anytime award on AA. He would have to pay extra either in miles or dollars for the AUS-DFW segment.

    Also, here’s betting AA miraculously opens up an award seat for LEF/G for the segment he needs. Must be nice to be a blogger.

  4. Delta has started a seemingly never-ending avalanche of customer-unfriendly changes (being copied by everyone else) that boggles the mind. Some of them are obviously tied to increasing revenue (which I understand, especially when planes are full), but increasingly it seems as if they sit around thinking of ways to make travel more difficult.

  5. First picture is on the line in terms of relevance. Yes, the picture shows the seat of the award you are booking. But, the post is about checking baggage, no?

  6. you should be able to combine a paid AA flight and an award flight on the same ticket. do a phone booking.

  7. So some credit cards include free bags but it seems this means domestic bags. So I assume if you have a complex foreign trip you’d have to pay bag fees also (even with the various cards)?

  8. Yet another take away. And it is really big if you need to book two tickets. I don’t get it. Every day they take something away, yet they think we are going to reward them with more revenue. Hard to understand how that works. I fly out of New York City. I almost never need to fly Delta, American, or United.

    @Anon. I have tried to book revenue and award tickets, but they wouldn’t let me do it. Maybe I had a bad phone agent. Maybe you will have better luck if you called.

    @George. Just WTH are you talking about?

    @Doug. Bingo.

    @Mark. If I am staying for more than a week, I want to check a bag. Also, sometimes I go on a shopping spree when I am away, in which case I need to check a bag.

  9. Didn’t AA just make a big deal about spending millions of $$$ adding people to help TSA to reduce long lines?? Now they are adding people to the TSA lines by forcing you to exit airside to collect and recheck luggage.

  10. AA WILL thru-check bags on separate AA/OW revenue/award TICKETS if and only if those tickets are in the same PASSENGER RECORD LOCATOR.

    1. AA IAH-PHX Revenue Ticket A
    2. AA PHX-SFO Revenue Ticket A
    3. QF SFO-SYD Award Ticket B
    4. QF SYD-PER Award Ticket B

    All of the above in one PNR. No AA-QF bag recheck in SFO.

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