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.

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.

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.

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.

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