US Airways to Stop Interlining Baggage on Separate Tickets

Reader Lane E. passes on a new US Airways baggage policy that I do not like one bit.

As a result of a new mandate by the Department of Transportation, US Airways has made the following change (effective 8/1/12) to the interline baggage check procedures:

Interline through baggage check discontinued

Effective July 24, the DOT has mandated new baggage rules requiring that airline passengers must pay the same published baggage fees[1] and have the same allowances for their entire itinerary. As a result of this new policy, effective August 1, 2012 US Airways will no longer be through checking passengers’ bags when they have been ticketed on separate tickets. For interline itineraries where the passenger has his/her entire journey on one ticket, we will continue our practice as it is done today, but when the tickets are split (e.g. ticket 1 US PHX-HNL // ticket 2 HA HNL-LIH) we will only check the bag to the destination on the US ticket.

To be clear, the Department of Transportation is not mandating this change. A government rule limits US Airways’ ability to charge its own baggage fees when interlining bags on separate tickets, so they will simply no longer interline bags on separate tickets. The customer pays more baggage fees. The customer has to pick up and re-check bags.

On the one hand, it’s an unintended consequence of well-meaning regulation, and perhaps we ought to scream at DOT. On the other hand it’s hard to be sympathetic with US Airways when they’re simply inconveniencing their customers (and when the marginal cost of interlining the bag is pretty much nil, once they’re set up to interline at all, and when they’re better positioned to fight DOT rules than affected passengers are).

This may seem like it’s pretty obscure but for the times that it matters, it really matters.

Say you use US Airways miles to book Charlotte – Munich – Istanbul on Lufthansa in business class. You’re actually flying out of Tampa, but there were no award seats available for Tampa – Charlotte, so you buy a US Airways ticket for that segment.

US Airways won’t through-check your bags onto Lufthansa, even though both trips are on US Airways tickets. You have to check your bags Tampa – Charlotte (and if it’s a coach ticket and you have no status, pay baggage fees), collect your bags in Charlotte, and re-check them in with Lufthansa.

Which also means that you need to increase your connection time in Charlotte to allow for baggage claim, checking back in, and re-clearing security.

And it’s increasingly the case, as flights are full, that you need to buy a short domestic segment when booking an award ticket rather than finding every segment you want available. It’s usually worth doing so — you get business class long-haul for your miles and may have to come out of pocket a couple hundred bucks, but far less than the cost of a paid coach ticket, while flying in a forward cabin. Full flights make award seats harder to get, so customers have to pay the airline more for part of their trip than before, and pay more for checked bags, and have to be inconvenienced by US Airways refusing to transfer their bags to the next carrier even when that carrier is a Star Alliance partner.

Sometimes as well I’ll buy part of a trip, and ticket the rest later. Maybe it’s an award with British Airways Avios points, and they charge for each segment. So I grab the major portion of my trip but I’m going to ticket the rest separately since I’d have to pay more miles anyway. If I’m checking bags I don’t want to ticket the connecting flight (maybe from Washington’s National airport, my home airport which US Airways dominates, to the international gateway city) on US Airways.

Or there might be a good business class paid fare originating from a particular city, but you can’t price it with add-on segments from where you’re starting your journey so you have to ticket that separately.

This is a terribly customer-unfriendly move and one which would cause me to book away from US Airways. It’s also something that the median traveler would have no idea to expect, since it’s not a standard policy for a major airline, it’s a change in policy that isn’t even currently reflected on the US Airways website, and isn’t something that you’ll learn from Expedia or Orbitz either. How many travel agents will even be on top of this sort of thing?

Doug Parker claims that consumers are clamoring for a merger between US Airways and American because of the significant benefits that they’ll get. I haven’t seen any data at all to suggest that’s true. But even if it is (it isn’t), it would be based on a misunderstanding of what they’re getting.

The last time I flew US Airways cross country, admittedly a year ago, I had plastic cups for wine in first class. This is an airline that charges a change fee for any change to an award ticket, including upgrading a reservation to business class when you’ve already paid business class miles but that class of service wasn’t available on a single segment of an itinerary but opens up later. (Ok, you can often call back and avoid the fee by finding an agent who won’t charge it, but that’s another ‘feature’ of US Airways — agents who have no idea what they’er doing.) They allow no changes to awards after departure of first segment, and it’s not possible to book a one-way Star Alliance award with them either.

Granted they’ve improved their on-time performance, they’ve added first class to a good chunk of their regional fleet (a product several notches below their competitors), and will finally be getting inflight wifi.

But their policies are frequently closer to Spirit’s than to American’s, this new one is a good example, and a reason why I dread their taking over their larger competitor.

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. Wow, this is awful. So if I’m flying AC from LAX to PEK and then SQ from PEK to SIN, I have to collect my bags in PEK? How does that even work in a country I don’t have a visa to enter?

  2. Let’s take a look at the TPA-CLT on a paid ticket and then connecting CLT-MUC on LH scenario you painted above.

    Imagine what happens when your luggage gets delayed and you have to board your LH flight without claiming and checking it in CLT. US’s only obligation is to get your bag to CLT. You will be in Europe while your bag is in the good old USA.

  3. Indeed it is yet one more example of why DoT micromanaging is frequently bad for consumers. The airlines are actually in business to make a profit, not for providing everything to everyone for free like so many seem to think. Yet some keep going to DoT hoping to get something for nothing, and in the current administration government regulation runs amok, so this is what we get.

  4. @Stacey – no, it’s if you check in with US Airways, flying a US Airways flight, and connecting on a separate ticket to another airline they will not take your bags and tag it for that other airline.

  5. Or if you booked 2 separate tickets with tight connections and you are doing carry on and they want you to gate check. What happens then?

  6. What if you’re say StarGold where the baggage fees are waived; will US tag all the way?

  7. Excellent post Gary. I really appreciate the analysis. Due to my location, I have to book gateway flights quite often in order to reach gateway destinations and this is a horrible policy.

  8. If it is all on one ticket you are fine, US Airways will check through to Thai. The change here is that if you check in with US Airways and your connection IS ON A SEPARATE TICKET to a DIFFERENT AIRLINE then you will have to collect your bags, US Airways will not transfer your bag to that other airline.

  9. This is a great post with excellent analysis. I tend to think that US agents will still interline bags when pressed hard. As you know from redeeming awards, US does everything manually and I have flown US more than a bit the last year domestically and it seems they do things manually on their airport systems as well. In other words, especially as US salivates at a potential AA merger, they won’t touch their systems, so agents will still be able to interline bags even if they are not supposed to, just like long selling an award seat.

    I’ve got to post a full report, but I would actually encourage you, Gary, to give US a try on your next transatlantic trip. My PHL-MUC flight last month was the best business class experience I’ve had in years–and you know I’ve flown many of the world’s best carriers. Great seat, great IFE, good food, and good service.

  10. @Matthew I *hope* agents will still do it. But I wouldn’t book a trip based on that hope. I would book away from them, I wouldn’t buy a US segment to connect to another ticket knowing that I might have to reclaim bags, and that I would have no right to have them interlined.

    Unquestionably US Airways has a good new business class seat. They don’t get enough credit for having pioneered that seat.

  11. As a US CP who will be flying the exact Kauai itinerary described in the example next month, how do you suggest is the best way to protest this awful policy?

  12. I’m happy that so far only one tea-party nut has responded to this post with their usual illogical rants.

  13. As the above comments suggest, you’re complaining about something VERY obscure here, Gary, that most travellers would not even understand. Indeed, in the millions of miles I’ve flown, I don’t think I’ve ever interlined bags on two separate tickets. You’d just be asking for trouble (lost bags). If this policy affects 1 in 10,000 of their pax, I’d be surprised.

    And since the change is being driven by new DOT regs that make the airline eat the cost of checking the bags, why rant against US on this? I’d also note that the problem can be avoided by any traveller by simply bringing no more than a rollerboard and a “personal item” with them: unless you’re travelling for unique purposes, it’s hard to imagine why you’d need more than that. Few rookie travellers would possibly be making these complicated flight arrangements.

  14. I have booked a flight for next march from Denver to S.F. to Auckland to Brisbane, Australia using US Airways miles through Star Alliance. I fly on United to S.F amd New Zealand airlines the rest of the way. Will United check my bags through to Brisbane?

  15. Understand the issue, have interlined bags, have noticed that the value of flying US Airways has been on a downhill run in the past year.

  16. @iahphx —

    1. If it’s so obscure and something that rarely happens then it’s not a huge cost to the airline.

    2. “I’d also note that the problem can be avoided by any traveller by simply bringing no more than a rollerboard and a “personal item” with them” .. I’d say such complicated travel arrangements are most likely to involve international travel, with several legs not just a straight roundtrip, and thus likely span a decent amount of time. I travel with just a rollaboard on short trips. But two weeks, and with suits, I can’t just do a carryon…

  17. BMI used to do this and it used to drive me nuts. They were so bad they wouldn’t even “interline” a bag onto one of their own flights.

    Fortunately BA will (currently) check the bag through and/or interline onto a separate ticket for any alliance partner so the problem with BMI is now gone.

    @IAHPHX I disagree that this is obscure. I think this is an issue for many people who fly from smaller airports and while I am more mid-tier than hardcore, I come across this issue several times a year.

  18. When possible, US Air is a great airline To AVOID. this is but one good example. No matter if is a serious inconvenience to a seriously loyal customer – there are a few I’m told. Their only concern is boosting that ancillary revenue a few more bucks. I guess I’m lucky – they have minimal presence where I usually originate.

  19. You about gave me a heart attack when I read your “Say you use US Airways miles to book Charlotte – Munich – Istanbul on Lufthansa in business class…” sentence, because that’s EXACTLY what my wife and I are doing in about three weeks. But fortunately, we live in CLT so only have one ticket, heart attack avoided!

    I agree this is not customer friendly change at all. However, just to throw in a little defense of US Airways, if you were to fly cross country on US today, you would have real glassware for your wine. You’d also have a pretty good shot at inflight wifi–I think US actually has pretty good penetration, at least on transcon flights–better than you may give them credit for. I fly US regularly and I have inflight wifi frequently enough to justify subscribing to the Gogo monthly pass.

  20. Blaming the DOT for this would be, at least in part, misplaced or otherwise deceptive.

    Some other airlines have refused to interline check-bags across separately ticketed itineraries even years before Doug Parker got control of USAirways, even before the DOT. An airline trying to lower its own costs while raising the costs for consumers and pointing the finger of blame in every direction but in the mirror is just what this was before and what it still is.

  21. The real problem here is that they are taking away this option even for their alliance partners. When QF recently stopped interlining on separate tickets, they continued to do it for Oneworld flights. As I travel on award tickets a fair bit, this sort of ing really bothers me as I will often add domestic segments and interlining really helps.

    As for that PEK example, at airports like that (where you always have to collect and recheck anyway), tagging bags the whole way is really useful to help avoid bag fees for do,estic segments as most times, the bag drop agents don’t check allowances.

  22. As I noted in my post, they’re even taking away the option when both sets of flights are on their own ticket stock!

  23. I wrote a strongly-worded e-mail to US Airways and told them that I will be taking my business to their “friendlier” neighbours at UA. Such a move is a betrayal of my loyalty to US – and to Star Alliance.

  24. This is just another one of the ways that USAir is attempting to cut costs but at a major inconvenience to travelers. It makes you question some days, who the idiot is making these types of customer friendly decisions. While this probably won’t affect many travelers,the ones that it does affect will be majorly inconvenienced when it happens. Count on this action to really cause a lot more complaints to an already over worked complaint department at US.

  25. What if I am flying on two different tickets on the same airline (US)? Example: award ticket LIH-PHX (US) connecting in 90 minutes to PHX-CLT-RDU (all on US, separate revenue ticket). Will I be able to check bags all the way thru to RDU from LIH?

  26. @HansGolden – I think I read somewhere that US Airways went back to allowing interline baggage on separate tickets concomitant with their move to oneworld but I do not recall where I may have seen that.

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