The rules for checking a bag with airlines can be confusing. It gets even more complicated when you’re connecting between two different airlines. So imagine if you’re not only flying with two airlines, but on separate reservations.
You’ll see the term PNR, which stands for Passenger Name Record. That’s the six-character number assigned to your airline reservation. You can save several flights under the same PNR, even from different airlines. If that’s the case, you should have no problems as long as the airlines are in the same alliance.
I’m talking about when you have made one reservation with one airline and a separate reservation for your connecting flight.
The answer to the question of whether or not you can check the bags from your departure airport to your final destination is, well, complicated. This is because there’s a difference between what’s possible, what’s reasonable, and what’s required.
Each U.S. airline has its own rule about interlined baggage. If you need to know what the airlines are expected to do, that’s where to start.
What’s our experience when interlining bags on separate reservations?
We rarely need to book separate reservations so I have a limited data set to go on, but when I’ve needed to do so, my success rate when checking bags from different PNRs has been 100%.
I’m not asking for anything out of the ordinary. On the contrary, I try to make sure I’m booking flights where it should be easy to interline bags, such as sticking to the same airline alliance for all of the flights. I am also usually trying to do this when I’m checking in for a business class flight, which has helped my odds in getting a helpful check-in agent.
On our trip to see Christmas markets a while back, we started our journey in Salzburg, Austria. I already had reserved our award flight on Singapore Airlines from New York JFK to Frankfurt. When searching for flights from Frankfurt to Salzburg, the only non-stop was on Austrian Airlines (which was later changed to a Lufthansa flight). I booked award tickets for the connecting flight using 8,000 United miles.
Singapore and Lufthansa are Star Alliance members but that doesn’t mean they have to check bags between the airlines. When I looked into it, I found a link to Singapore Airlines’ checked baggage policy. That didn’t help me figure out anything at all.
I let the agent know when checking in for our Singapore flight that we had a connecting flight from Frankfurt on Lufthansa and asked if he could check our bags to our final destination. I provided the PNR for our Lufthansa flight and with a few taps on his keyboard, our luggage tags came with our bags checked all the way to Salzburg.
Will this work for you?
I wish there were a set answer I could give, but there are so many variables, including the employee’s willingness to check your bags at your departure airport, that there’s no sure thing. Delta and United have published policies to check bags through if you’re flying on an alliance partner. American’s policy says they will not check the bag through on separate PNRs with partner airlines or even with their own planes.
If you’re going to make two separate reservations, make sure to leave enough time during your connection to plan for the worst-case scenario. That would be if you were required to pick up your bags from the baggage claim and go back to the check-in desk for your connecting flight. If you’re connecting in a country that requires a visa for you to enter, this may be a problem and in that case, it would make sense to book flights on the same PNR, even it means paying a little more for the ticket. The peace of mind will be worth it.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary