Booking a trip on two airlines has risks

Cashing In with Tony Mecia

Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. Every week, he answers readers’ questions about credit card rewards programs in his “Cashing In” column.

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If I found a great flight deal from another city on another airline, how should I book my travel? 

Book a flight to the departure city, but make sure you leave plenty of time in between to account for delayed travel and rechecking baggage. 
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Dear Cashing In,
I found a great deal online on flights to London in May – it’s only $300 round trip on Norwegian Air. But it is from New York, and I live in Ohio. What’s the best way to take advantage of that deal? I’d like to use points if possible. – Barbara

Dear Barbara, 
If you don’t live in one of the country’s biggest cities, it can be frustrating sometimes to see great fares that are available from somewhere else. New York and Boston can have good deals to Europe. Miami can be cheap to the Caribbean and Central America. Los Angeles can have low fares to Mexico.

Fares from the biggest cities can be lower because there are more potential flyers from those places, which spurs intense competition among airlines. In addition, international low-fare carriers like Norwegian have been expanding recently in the U.S. and tend to choose to fly to the biggest U.S. cities.

Credit card travel insurance may help

The best fare I found in early May from New York to London was $340 round trip on Wow Air. But if you look at fares from Cleveland on the same dates (without unreasonably long layovers), the lowest fare is $926 on Aer Lingus and United. That’s a huge difference: It is almost $600 more per ticket to fly to London from Cleveland than from New York.

The obvious move here is to buy a separate ticket between Cleveland to New York, because that would be far cheaper ($186 on Delta) than paying the higher fare between Cleveland and London.

If you book them as separate itineraries on different airlines, however, beware: If one leg of your trip is delayed and you miss your second flight, the airline will have little sympathy for you. You might have to buy an expensive new ticket or pay a hefty change fee.

For instance, say you booked a flight on Delta to New York and then a flight on Wow Air to London. If that Delta flight is delayed and you miss your Wow Air flight, Wow Air won’t simply place you on the next flight for free. From the company’s point of view, you just missed your flight through no fault of theirs. Delta won’t be any help, either. You might have some recourse through travel insurance that comes with your reward card, but it would be a huge hassle.


Tip: When you book flight legs on separate airlines, you'll need time to recheck baggage before boarding your next flight.

Book separate flights with long layovers

Additionally, if you book separate itineraries, any luggage you have will not flow seamlessly from one airline to the next. You would have to claim your luggage in New York and check it again. That takes time.

The best advice is to build in plenty of time between flights and not cut it close, so you won’t be sweating about missing a flight and so you have plenty of time to deal with checked luggage.

As far as reward points, you have a few options. You generally can’t transfer points to low-fare international airlines such as Norwegian and Wow. But in some cases, you can use travel reward points to book those flights. And they count as travel expenses, if you have a card that allows points to be used toward any travel purchase. You could also use points or miles to book that first leg of the trip, the one to New York.

Bottom line: There are ways to get in on cheap fares from big cities, and even to use points to help. But be sure to build in enough time between flights if you are booking legs of the trip separately.

See related: Using rewards on discount airlines

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Updated: 11-14-2018