Traveling on Separate Tickets Can Be Risky, since if you're delayed on the first flight, you could misconnect and miss your connecting flight, or at the very least, your baggage could miss your next flight, with all the headache that entails. Generally, in the case of separate tickets, you'll need to buy an entirely new ticket for the flight you're about to miss, unless you purchased a more expensive fare that permits you to change it for a change fee (or if you no showed due to the delay, some more expensive fare classes permit a refund of most of the ticket value, for a fee).
But there are reasons you may choose to book separate tickets, for example:
- You found award availability for the long international segment, but need a positioning ticket either to get to your award ticket's departure city, or an onward ticket from its destination
- The airlines you're flying don't interline, so it's not possible to purchase a single ticket that includes both airlines
- Change of plans: you have an existing trip, but find that during it you need to travel elsewhere, then connect up to your pre-existing flights.
Protecting Against Misconnection on Separate Tickets
Overnight or Long Layover
There are a few things you can do to minimize the chance of misconnecting. Most obviously, you can build in an overnight at the connection city, or at least a very long layover, to reduce the chance of not making your connection.
Check Recent Flight Statistics
You can also check to see how often the flight you're on arrives on time, via a service such as flightstats.com, to get a sense for the probability of your flight arriving on time.
Don't Check Luggage
Ideally, don't plan on checking luggage and travel only with carry-ons, since in many cases check-in agents aren't required to check through your luggage to your final destination when you're traveling on two separate tickets, it's often at their discretion. And if you haven't built in a long layover, if you're forced to potentially clear immigration if it's an international destination, retrieve your luggage at your connection, then recheck your luggage, could make you miss your onward flight.
Likewise, if a helpful agent is able to put you on a different flight due to a misconnect, say one that goes to a nearby airport at your final destination, that could be problematic if your luggage is going to the original one.
If You Do Misconnect
Protection if You're Flying AA and Oneworld Alliance Partner
American Airlines doesn't advertise this, but it does protect passengers who are flying American Airlines on separate tickets, or AA and another oneworld alliance partner (such as British Airways, Cathay Pacific, JAL, Iberia, Finnair, etc.) on separate tickets (bolding mine):
“If a customer is holding separate tickets on AA or another oneworld carrier, customers holding separate tickets where travel is on oneworld airlines should be treated as through ticketed customers. In the event of a disruption on the originating ticket, the carrier responsible for the disruption will be required to reroute the customer to their final destination…”
Keep in mind this doesn't apply to luggage (American no longer offers to through check bags on separate tickets, even two tickets on AA or AA and another oneworld carrier) and it does not apply to passengers on separate tickets where one of the tickets is NOT on a oneworld carrier (even if it is an American Airlines non-oneworld partner).
While flying a combination of AA and a oneworld partner may not prevent a misconnect, it does have the advantage of providing protection against having to buy a whole new ticket.
Know Your Backup Plan
Have in mind a good backup flight if you do misconnect, and check its availability as an award ticket or purchased ticket. If it's not expensive, you may even want to book it as an award, just in case you need it. Just be aware of the frequent flyer program's fees and rules on redepositing an award, since programs such as Delta SkyMiles don't refund miles within 72 hours of departure, so if you don't need it, you wouldn't recoup the miles.
It may still be worth booking the backup to avoid being stranded for awhile, since most airlines' contracts of carriage are simply a contract to get you from point A to point B, without regard to how long that may take if flights are full.
Don't Forget Low Cost Carriers
While it may not be ideal, sometimes low cost carriers may be the only option of another nonstop between city pairs, especially in Europe or Asia. Rather than having to overnight unexpectedly in a connection city, check if a low cost carrier will get you there, even if it's to an alternative airport.
Baggage Misconnect? The Last Carrier You Flew Is Responsible
If you made the connection but your baggage didn't, don't forget to file a complaint with the last carrier you flew (even if you already know that another carrier was at fault). The last carrier that you flew is the one you'd file the missing luggage and complaint with, and you just may receive some goodwill compensation in addition to any other compensation you're owed.
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