Why you should never, ever book your flights this way

Booking an international flight on multiple airlines with separate itineraries can be risky. The potential for problems can far outweigh the savings.

Elizabeth Marini found this out the hard way. Her parents purchased her a ticket on TAP Portugal flying out of John F. Kennedy International Airport. She then booked her connecting flight from Boston to JFK on a separate itinerary on Delta Air Lines.

This became the precursor for her distressing trip.

When adverse weather conditions forced Marini’s outbound flight to be delayed, Delta rebooked her on a later flight. The Delta representative at the airport assured her that she would make her TAP flight connection. That all changed when an accident on the tarmac caused Marini’s subsequent flight to be delayed. She missed her flight on TAP and was classified as a no-show. Her only option was to either purchase a new ticket at the walk-up fare or forgo her trip to Portugal.

Even the most experienced travelers can find themselves in a quandary, but for infrequent travelers, it is especially difficult to know the ins and outs of travel. Marini experienced a worst-case scenario because of circumstances that were beyond her control. “While I understand weather is unpredictable, I don’t think I should be out over $1,700 because of a personal injury accident at the airport that caused further delays,” according to Marini.

In retrospect, had Marini booked her flight on the same itinerary with a TAP code-share partner, such as United or JetBlue, she could have been spared the added expense. In a code-share situation, each flight is subject to the terms and conditions of the code-share partner airline. With this protection, the airline experiencing the problem would have then rebooked her on a later flight on TAP at little to no charge.

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If you find yourself in a similar situation, contact the airline as soon as you realize you are going to miss your connecting flight. Ask if it will rebook you on a later flight at no cost. Even though the airline is not required to do so when your flight is on a different reservation record, you may get a representative who is sympathetic to your situation.

Before booking on multiple carriers that are not affiliated, consider what you could be facing if your travels go awry. A flight delay, cancellation, or being denied boarding could result in missing your next flight. The tug-of-war between you and the airlines could end with neither airline taking responsibility. You will be the one feeling the pain, along with your empty wallet.

To complicate matters even further, once you are considered a no-show, all subsequent flights on that airline, including your return, will automatically be canceled. A no-show status creates a domino effect.

Your checked baggage can also become a burden — literally. Many airlines will no longer check your bag through to your destination when flying on a different carrier unless it is a code-share or an alliance partner airline. That means you will have to claim your bag at the carousel and recheck it with the next airline (that could be in another terminal). You may end up paying multiple baggage fees, and the risk of your bag getting lost increases as well.

There is also the matter of immigration and customs for international flights. When traveling on multiple airlines on separate itineraries, you will need entry clearance at the intermediate airport before you can board your new flight. If that country requires a visa, you will be required to have one before you are able to board.

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Another setback travelers have encountered is arriving at the right city, but the wrong airport. This inadvertently occurs when booking flights on different airlines to a city with multiple airports.

Bottom line: You have to bear the financial risk, and it could be substantial.

When you book your tickets on the same airline or a code-share, your rights are protected. If your flight is delayed, canceled, or you are denied boarding because the plane is overbooked, the airline will rebook the affected connecting flights, usually at no cost. In some instances, a connecting flight may be held for a delayed flight carrying several of its passengers.

If you absolutely have to book with multiple airlines that are not affiliated, here are suggestions on how to minimize your risks.

    • Look into purchasing travel insurance that covers onward travel, and make sure the policy will provide coverage for the above scenarios.
    • Use an experienced travel agent. They know how to book multiple flights and can advocate for you if a problem occurs.
    • Book your tickets on one itinerary and schedule your first flight on the earliest one available. Schedule your connection on one of the later flights of the day. If you run into problems, you will have more time to make your connection. You could also opt to get a hotel room and fly your second leg on the following day.
    • Complete your flight check-in 24 hours in advance. If any flights have changed, this will give you more time to rectify the problem.

Be financially prepared to cover the cost of a new ticket(s) in case you end up missing a flight.

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Marini was the victim of a multiple-airline dilemma. Even though she was not at fault, neither Delta Air Lines or TAP Portugal was obligated to help her — and they did not. In her words, “this was a horrible travel experience.”

We receive many cases like this at Elliott.org, and most end in disappointment and financial hardship. What Marini faced was disheartening. We’d like to keep you from experiencing the same.

Stephanie Patterson

Stephanie is a published book author and travel columnist with a focus on preparation and protocol. She is committed to helping travelers be informed and avoid potential problems while traveling. Stephanie's most recent book is "Know Before You Go: Traveling the U.S. and Abroad". For travel insight when planning your trip, visit Know Before You Go Travel. Along with writing, Stephanie does interior designing. Read more of Stephanie's articles here.

  • KennyG

    “Marini was the victim of a multiple-airline dilemma. Even though she was not at fault, neither Delta Air Lines or TAP Portugal was obligated to help her — and they did not. In her words, “this was a horrible travel experience.” How can you say she was a “victim” and not at fault when almost your entire article appropriately details all of the risks someone takes on when they book separate flights, on separate itineraries, especially on different airlines, which in this case specifically where not even code-share airlines, and it was international travel. Then to backhandedly give a slap to Delta and TAP for not helping seems a bit much. Sometimes the traveler, maybe out of lack of knowledge, maybe because they think they can save a few dollars, but for whatever reason, actually makes a mistake, unfortunately in this case a costly one. Perhaps this story is one that should be a learning lesson plain and simple as opposed to a learning lesson plus a shot at the airlines and pronouncing the traveler a victim of the airlines.

  • JewelEyed

    I think it means that she wasn’t at fault for the delay which threw her trip into chaos, but it was certainly an inadvisable solution for her travel needs.

  • vmacd

    Travel insurance might have helped.

  • Annie M

    So would a travel agent.

  • KennyG

    I agree that she was certainly not responsible for the unforeseen travel delays, but for the fact that she seemed to have made an “inadvisable” [a nice way of putting it I guess] solution, does not, IMHO, make her into a victim and the airlines fodder for a backhanded slap. Again, as I repeatedly get beaten up for in the comments section, “personal responsibility”.

  • James

    It is unfortunate that a regular flier is unable to link reservation codes between flights.

  • Wuerzburg

    On the few occasions where I have had to do the same type booking, I always build in an extra layover night at the connection airport.

  • KanExplore

    It’s always a risk, and best to do it when leaving lots of time for the connection. If connecting international to international you often do not need to clear immigration regardless of which airlines are involved, as long as you have no checked bag, will not need to leave a secure area in any terminal change, and do have a boarding pass for the next flight. Many airports have a relatively smooth transit procedure for showing your boarding pass in a transit zone, going through another screening, then proceeding to the other airline’s flight.

  • KennyG

    If you are changing airlines, on an international flight, that may require a terminal change as well, checked baggage or not, not all airports are able to provide “secure” transit areas between terminals or even within terminals that serve multiple airlines, that will not require you to clear customs/immigration, or other security checks. Unless you are intimately familiar with the airport layout for whatever airport you may be transiting thru, you raise your risk of trouble by attempting to “do it yourself” as this traveler did.

  • michael anthony

    I do think carriers should be more forgiving when something happens beyond your control. An accident on the tarmac? Not the paxs fault, but say goodbye to that gift of $$$$ you just gave the carrier.

    A few years ago there was a massive injury car crash that closed all lanes into the main entrance of O’Hare. No one was getting in. People got out of cabs and were walking on the side of the road, a good 2 miles to try to get to their flights. All the carriers knew, but there were scores of stories of “sorry, you were no show. Say goodbye to your money”

    And people wonder why paxs get so tense when flying.

  • 42NYC

    I’m surprised tap didn’t at least try to work with her – but at the same time they don’t work with delta and have no control over deltas actions. In their eyes this situation is no different than someone who overslept and mossed their flight (where again I wish an airline would be more accommodating but understand why they’re not.)

  • sirwired

    I agree that this wasn’t her fault, but it wasn’t the fault of either airline either. If she didn’t set up her trip so somebody was going to come to her aid if it all goes south, then one can hardly blame the airlines for not doing so.

  • Lindabator

    agreed – when my clients want to do something like this – I suggest the 8:00 am – 9:00 am flight INTO the connecting city and the 8:00 pm flight out — long layover – yes. Lower chance of problems – absolutely. (Sometimes have to do when they use miles on a specific route and have to add on a segment)

  • Lindabator

    there is no way to “link” what is not either booked on the same itinerary, or with an actual partner – and Delta and TAP are not

  • Lindabator

    or 1st flight in and last one out works for most cities

  • Attention All Passengers

    The price of an airport hotel room leaving the day before continuing to a very important or international flight far outweighs the aggravation of even thinking about all the things that can go wrong. I wish I could be the person that does not get anxious or worried about anything. On the other hand I consider myself a realist and book accordingly.

  • cscasi

    And that was mentioned in the article. I would definitely agree and if I did some routing like that, I would purchase that as protection, because I would not want to bear the cost of a late/missed connection with flights configured as this person had done. One cannot predict weather and delays (for whatever reason(s)).

  • Lee

    I still don’t get how people travel without travel insurance given all the things that can – and do – happen to adversely impact one’s trip – i.e., medical or accident situations as well as situations such as this. Travel is pricey as is medical care – It is baffling that it is not something one builds automatically into a travel budget when paying, especially, for overseas travel (outside of U.S. – though even then, I buy it for certain trips). Overally, it is a small percentage of one’s overall travel budget for such trips

  • Byron Cooper

    We learned this the hard way too. We booked a flight to London for a cruise last year. The cruise ended in Bergen, Norway. We had to take British Airways to London and United home. The baggage could not be checked through. We built a long enough layover to account for getting the baggage, changing terminals, going though immigration. It took three hours and we barely made the United flight. We will not make this mistake again. This was so we could get free flights over the Atlantic. I do not see a problem taking one airline in one direction and another airline home if the price is right.

  • sofar

    Same. In these rare circumstances, I shoot for a 24-hour gap, and it can be a nice way to explore another city. Won’t help if severe weather sets you back a couple days, but this has covered me for run-of-the-mill mechanical delays. I once had an 8-hour delay and didn’t need to sweat, knowing I’d built in an entire extra day.

    The last time I booked an itinerary like this, it was to save money — booking all the way through on code-share airlines would have cost us more than $400 extra PER ticket and an absolutely hellish route. So I connected with a budget carrier. But I knew I was gambling and built in a 30-hour layover and stayed in a cheap airport hotel.

  • John McDonald

    we almost always use frequent flyer tickets within the USA & USA to Canada & paid to tickets to USA from Australia.
    Only once in about 10 years have we missed a connecting flight. We were using a U.S. domestic ff ticket connecting to a paid international flight home to OZ. The inbound domestic flight couldn’t land at our departing airport, due to low visibility.
    We could see it circling on the monitor which showed a map, with aircraft on it. It went round & round for what seemed like a hour or more. Then aircraft had to deice. So what was a perfect connection at our departing international airport, turned into a perfect wave goodbye to our flight. Our domestic aircraft came within 20 metres of our international flight, so we ran in vain to the international gate only to see our aircraft pulling out of the gate. In reality, the airline had probably given our seats away, an hour or more before we got there.
    Anyway, was not 100% sure how we’d go getting home on a later flight. Later, as in the next day as only 1 flight a day.
    Spoke very nicely to the airline person who was still at check in counter, who told us, although economy was showing full on his computer for the next day, there were ample business class seats. This sounded good, as we didn’t care who got the business class seats, as long as we got on. The airline guy, even asked us, if we wanted our luggage & we said stuff it, keep it at the airport.
    So turned up next evening, nice & early & guess what, although the airline concerned offered last minute upgrades for a relatively small fee, not many people had taken up the option & so economy remained virtually full, or at least there were not enough economy seats for all of us to sit together in economy. So they gave us the economy boarding passes & told us to check at the gate. We asked & person there said business class is now full. So sat down & 2 minutes later, they called us up & gave us business class seats. The next great thing was that the airline had brand new A330’s, so business class was superb. We were part of a big group, who had split us, once we all arrived in USA & did our own thing, so maybe that helped.
    The airline Fiji Airways. Fiji Airways does not fly nonstop to Australia from USA, but does fly direct via Fiji from LAX daily to Sydney(& now also 2-3 times a week from SFO) & has good connections to other Australian airports (Brisbane, Melbourne & soon Adelaide) + they also fly to all 3 major New Zealand airports.
    The beauty of flying Fiji Airways is you get the option to stopover in fabulous Fiji & completely relaxing before heading back to the rat race.
    Curiously, for an airline, who’s purpose is to serve Fiji, you can stay for 72 hours in Fiji, without having to pay Fiji departure tax of FJD$200 per adult(about USD$100) but stay one minute more & you have to pay this fee, which adds up if large family. 72 hours maximum, then usually means 2 nights, as 3 nights usually means over 72 hours. I would like to spend longer in Fiji, without having to pay a regressive tax, but that’s another 1st world problem.
    & our luggage arrived home with us.

  • BubbaJoe123

    One reason is that travel insurance is actually extremely expensive, given the actual risks. It’s incredibly profitable for travel agents.

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