The Single Most Customer-Unfriendly Policy in Travel – And a Workaround

Booking Qantas first class awards but not being able to find American Airlines space Austin – Dallas to connect to it reminded me that it’s worth reminding you of why this can be a huge headache when you travel (and not just because you have to buy a domestic flight when booking a ticket with miles) — but that there’s also something you can do to get around the hassle.

American Airlines has what I think is the single most consumer-unfriendly policy in travel. They won’t through-check bags on separate tickets.

US Airways was the first to have the rule, but American has taken it much farther.

In 2012 US Airways stopped through checking bags on separate tickets because they wanted to keep your full checked bag fees. The Department of Transportation said you could only be charged for checked bags once, so airlines figured out a way to stick it to you — charge you for checked bags, not pass those bags onto another airline, so that airline could charge you for your bags also. The unintended (but predictable – because it was predicted) consequence of this DOT rule to help customers was to leave them worse off.

Delta quickly copied and so did United, but these airlines let you through check bags on separate tickets still if travel was on an alliance partner. That’s the policy American moved to after US Airways management took over.

On June 1, 2016 the oneworld alliance stopped requiring its members to through check bags on separate tickets. American specifically said they wouldn’t make this change. They lied. A mere month later they announced no through checked bags on separate tickets — even if both tickets were for travel on American Airlines.

Cathay Pacific and Qatar both tried this but quickly reversed course because it’s unabashedly a bad idea and nothing but punitive for customers.

Airlines aren’t even making more money on checked bag fees, in most cases there’s still free checked bags for international travel (outside of new Basic Economy fares) and certainly premium cabin passengers and elites don’t pay checked bag fees anyway but the policy applies to them.

American though doesn’t want you to take advantage of fare deals to one city and then buy a connecting ticket so this is a way to try to get you to spend more money on tickets in order to avoid the hassle. And how big a hassle is it?

For international travel this may mean having to clear immigration and customs when you wouldn’t otherwise need to. That may even mean having to get a Visa. So it’s not just extra time you need. And oh by the way the airline isn’t telling you about these requirements.

Ironically American will still protect you during irregular operations when traveling on separate tickets even though they won’t through check bags (though many agents don’t know about the protection policy).

This is a trap you have to watch out for when booking award tickets.

  • American award availability is bad.
  • So if you find international award space on a partner, you often have to buy the American flight to get to the international gateway city.
  • But if you do that American isn’t going to let you through-check bags onto their partner airline. You have to collect your bags and then re-check them with the partner.

There’s no fare benefit and there’s no checked bag fee benefit to doing this. It’s just punitive.

There is a workaround, but most customers don’t know this, American doesn’t really publicize it, and not all agents know how to do it.

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

American will allow you to through check bags on separate tickets if:

  1. Those tickets are in the same reservation
  2. One ticket is for award travel
  3. And that travel is on a oneworld partner (but not partners outside of oneworld)

This workaround is no help if your award travel is on a partner outside of oneworld like Air Tahiti Nui, Fiji Airways, Alaska Airlines, Etihad, or Hawaiian. There you’re just hosed. As much as anything it’s one of the things American did to kill my loyalty.

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. How exactly do you “sell the paid travel inside the existing award reservation”? I have to call a reservation agent for this? Exactly what wording should I use?

  2. Spent the entire blog post giving a history lesson and then leaves us hanging on what the workaround is. Weird post.

  3. “sell the paid travel inside the existing award reservation.”

    Please explain.

  4. “sell the paid travel inside the existing award reservation“


    Gary I have read your blogfor 4 years. I am a points guy. I track points like some people track their
    401 k. …………..but what???????

  5. in addition to wondering WTF you’re talking about, i’d like to know if this works on other alliances as well or if it’s only a oneworld thing. does it work on other airlines within oneworld or is it only AA?

  6. This is the typical writing I read all the time on this blog. Gary really needs to go back and re-read his own writing to make sure it makes sense. It takes just a few minutes Gary and the quality of your blog would increase by a large factor.

  7. Totally agree with your characterization of this AA policy, applied even to Exec Plats traveling on paid international premium class tickets. It’s SO annoying…

  8. Same question as readers above. Can you explain how to “sell the paid travel inside the existing award reservation?”

  9. @ben senise – generally speaking other alliances (and many other airlines in oneworld) will through-check bags on separate tickets when the separate tickets are on alliance partner airlines.

  10. Gary, if I was to call and ask an agent to do this, can you describe the process? What specifically do you ask of them? I think we’d all appreciate.

  11. American killed my loyalty when it removed MRTC and stopped counting Citi AA miles towards lifetime status. Checked bags are the least of my concerns.

  12. Same thought as everyone else. I read this and am leaving having learned nothing because i have no idea what you’re saying. I don’t need circles and arrows but a little better explanation would be helpful.

  13. huh. Still no answer to the question raised from the very first post above!

  14. Gary, seriously, can you just rewrite the explanation? Nobody understands it. This feels like an inside joke your readers are not a part of.

  15. “Sell” is jargon from travel agent world. In this case it means to add a segment to an itinerary. What Gary is suggesting is to first book the award ticket, then call in to reservations and have them add paid segments onto the same ticket/PNR.

    Agreed that Gary could’ve made this more clear by using less jargon.

  16. readers mostly dont want to think or research, because they click your link to credit cards you are supposed to spoon feed them for all of their travel needs.

  17. Qatar will through check to other One World airlines. Last week I checked in with Qatar in Philadelphia on a paid ticket to Colombo Sri Lanka. I had a separate ticket to Cochin India from Colombo on Sri Lankan the agent checking me in was new and unsure how to do it but with the help of a supervisor bag tags were printed with the correct flight segments to get them to Cochin. They even checked me in and printed boarding passes for the Sri Lankan flight. I was prepared in case they said no and had gotten free 48 hour transit visa for Sri Lanka. But, with the bags checked through and boarding passes in hand I just stopped at the connections desk upon arrival in Sri Lanka to be sure everything was in order. The agent glanced at my onward boarding pass and directed me to the Sri Lankan Business Class lounge. Never went near immigration or baggage claim. On arrival in Cochin our bags were among the first on the belt. It takes such little effort to make traveling a little less stressful. Requalified for AA EXP with this trip with only one flight on AA metal. I take advantage of One World emerald status earned through AAdvantage. But, fly American to earn it? Not if I can do on another OW partner.

  18. *insert IT’S A TRAP meme here*

    Gary explained this sell inside tactic in a previous post. That previous post is linked in the underlined text about a trap to watch out for.

    He wants you to click his links.

  19. Just as a data point, I was able to get AA to check through baggage. I had two separate tickets. One a domestic AA ticket, the other an international ticket booked as an AA codeshare on JAL and when checking in they were able to check through to my final destination. She stated as an EXP, they could do it.

    No idea if this is a one off, or true.

  20. I don’t understand why people are confused about this post. AA has offered to do this for me when booking an award. You should talk to AAdvantage when ticketing and they will sell you a paid ticket that shares the PNR. That’s all.

  21. A link would suffice to clarify confusion IF the link worked across platforms. Using Milefeeds on my Apple X, the link is merely an underline, placing emphasis on my lack of knowledge.

  22. Gary,
    I have been 1K on United for years, and only once have they let me check luggage all the way to my destination on 2 separate tickets. My two tickets have always been United or perhaps just one of them on a Star Alliance partner. Very frustrating!!

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