Selling Paid Travel Inside an Award Ticket to Get Around Pesky Rules

I recently wrote about the workaround for American Airlines’ maddening policy of not allowing customers to through check luggage on separate tickets.

For instance if you book an award ticket on Qantas Dallas – Sydney, but there’s no award availability Austin – Dallas, and you pay extra then to buy Austin – Dallas on American the airline will only check your bag Austin – Dallas. They will make you leave security, pick up your bags at baggage claim, re-check your bags, and go back through security.

That’s idiotic. But there’s a workaround as long as you are traveling on an award ticket and buying a ticket and your award ticket is either on American or another oneworld airline but not on a non-oneworld partner (such as Air Tahiti Nui, Etihad, Hawaiian).

I explained that American will through check bags in this case provided you:

  • Book your award ticket
  • Then sell the paid travel inside the existing award reservation.

Lots of readers asked in the comments what I mean by selling the paid travel inside the existing award reservation.

  1. Book your award ticket
  2. Call American Airlines and ask them to sell you paid travel using your existing flight reservation

In other words, two different tickets (one award, one paid) but just one reservation (one ‘record locator’ or ‘PNR’).

Technically this can be done the other way around — buy a paid ticket, call up and ask the agent to use that existing reservation number to build the award inside of. However it’s more complicated that way on the back end.

Not every agent knows they can do this. So you may need to hang up and call back. But American’s rules and systems allow it, and it’s an official workaround for their maddening checked baggage policy.

If you buy a paid ticket and you separately book an award ticket they cannot be combined into a single reservation. The second ticket has to be sold ‘inside’ the record of the first ticket. Confusing as mud?

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. *FINALLY*? I wrote the first post last evening, folks were confused by it so I wrote my first post for this morning with a longer explanation…

  2. BTW Gary your original post wasn’t that confusing…hard to read it any way other than basically “add a paid ticket segment inside the existing award PNR”. Not sure why people were all up in arms about it.

  3. Hmm. Don’t know how you can say you posted it yesterday evening. The first comment indicating very few of us understood what you were referring to was posted at 3:37pm and there were by my count 12 more posts by people saying they didn’t have any idea what you were talking about by 6:21pm. 13 posts in 3 hours requesting clarification.
    I’ll bet if AA took that long to respond to clarify a situation no one understood you’d be screaming from the mountain tops.

  4. Does this protect you in the case of IRROPs on your first flight and you miss you second flight since it is on one PNR?

  5. The problem was that you were using the term “sell.” If I’m “selling” you something, that pretty much means that you give me money and I give you a good or service. So I don’t know how selling is supposed to mean buying since I’m the one buying a ticket and AA is the one selling it.
    If you had simply written “book your award ticket and then call AA and buy another ticket on the same PNR” then I and countless others here would have understood.

  6. @UA-NYC: then Gary could’ve used that “ADD a paid ticket…”, and not “SELL the paid ticket…” as how can a customer sell anything?

  7. So when you call AA to book the paid ticket, do those of us who do not have status have to pay the phone booking fee?

  8. This distinction of buying v selling reminds me of the amount of time it took me to wrap my head around why a “debit” to “cash” on a financial statement was an increase in cash.

    Maybe that’s why I didn’t do well as an accountant.

    Well, there’s that , and I can’t stand deadlines. It’s all I can do to make it to the airport for a flight ….much less go through the tax receipts on the floor of my car and office.

  9. @phjclimbing – you’re already protected when the two tickets are AA-oneworld or AA-AA though many agents don’t know that policy

  10. @losingtrader: debit credit is confusing but it at least does follow some logic.

    “Selling paid travel” on the other hand does not make any sense from customer/buyer’s POV, and it’s just bad grammar.

  11. I did the same thing a couple months ago but not for through-checking luggage. I am travelling to Cairo from ORD via AMM on RJ but there was only J award space from JFK on the date I required which is in the middle of December. I was afraid if I booked an award from JFK and a separate PNR paid ticket from ORD to JFK and there was a weather disruption I’d be in trouble and potentially lose the ability to be rebooked on the JFK to CAI via AMM leg. So when on the phone with the agent they were able to sell me a one-way ticket from ORD to JFK on the same PNR as the award flight so I’m covered.

  12. @Ed C.: Analogy is a bit of a stretch. AA is a paid service. Gary’s blog is free to you. I’d expect a proportionate difference is response timing.

  13. Gary, Can you do this if you didn’t use AA miles to book the award ticket. Say I used Alaska miles to book a CX ticket. Could I call up AA and ask to buy a ticket on their airline to get to the international gateway city and be able to check my bag through to the final destination?

  14. Same question as Buddy. If I used miles from a carrier other than American to book the one world award leg, could I still call American to buy the domestic leg?

  15. Is this still possible, or has AA now prohibited this? AA has an FAQ that says it’s not possible:

    “Can I combine award travel and a fare sale in one reservation? Expand

    “No. You’ll need to book 2 separate reservations. To ensure you can confirm both itineraries, it’s a good idea to put the award reservation on hold and then book the fare sale reservation.”

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