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 have been 100%.
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 of getting a helpful check-in agent.
For instance, our first flight on the way home from Southeast Asia was in Singapore Business Class to San Francisco. From there, I booked separate positioning flights for us to get back to Orlando with United Airlines.
We were staying overnight at Changi Airport so we checked in very early for our flight. The business class line was empty and we were met by a cheerful airline agent. I asked if she would be able to check our bags to our final destination since we had a flight from San Francisco to Orlando on Star Alliance partner United.
She asked for the flight information and started typing away. After confirming that our flight on United was in economy she typed some more. Eventually, she apologized that she had to go talk to another agent and that she’d be back shortly. It took about 10 minutes but she returned and printed out our boarding passes for both our Singapore Airlines and United Airlines flights. I was reminded that we’d have to pick up our bags in San Francisco to go through US Customs and could re-check them without having to stand in line.
We’ve had similar experiences when checking bags with Singapore Airlines connecting to a Lufthansa flight and when flying on separate tickets with Delta and Virgin Atlantic.
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 with 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 if it means paying a little more for the ticket. The peace of mind will be worth it.
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AA wouldn’t send my bags onward with Cathay despite being the same alliance.
Unfortunately many airlines – particularly U.S. airlines – view checked baggage charges as a cash cow and if the airline can charge you a separate baggage fee, they will. I’ve had mixed luck on this but the odds improve if you’re eligible for free checked bags for the whole trip.
Can you please post the link to United’s policy that they will check to final destination if an alliance airline? I’d like to have it handy, we’ll be switching from United to Singapore on different reservations.
Hope this helps.
Checked baggage service charges apply at any point where bags are checked. For a trip that includes one or more connections, bags will be checked to the final destination stated on the ticket, and the charge for checking a bag from your origin to your destination will apply. If you have a separate ticket on another carrier, you must claim bags at the destination of the first ticketed itinerary and check bags with the other carrier to the final destination. Baggage can be checked through to the final destination if the separate ticketed itinerary includes Star Alliance member airline-operated flights. For a trip that includes a voluntary stopover, your bags will be checked to your stopover point, where you will collect your bags. When you resume travel, subject to applicable charges, you may check your bags again from the new point of check-in to the destination.
I am always worried what would happen if there was an issue with a delayed flight on the first part of the trip. I recently had a flight delay of almost 24 hours. I would think the 2nd airline might just say too bad and not allow changes.
Speaking from many data points…it varies some but most of the time airlines will not check bags with different PNR’s. American and/or Oneworld may be the worst. This wouldn’t actually be that big of a deal except that if you have to recheck the bags, many times you have to go through security to do so which can be a pain in the butt. I’ve had to needlessly go through security checkpoints (Adding to the delays for others) at many airports. DFW seems to be one of the easier ones. Dublin, Milan, Heathrow, Antya Turkey not so much. It helps a lot that I have GE and CLEAR here in the US but it’s not unusual for us to use positioning flights for long haul awards and usually we have to recheck bags.
Copa wouldn’t send my bags onward with a same airline separate Copa mileage award ticket
I’ve had mixed success on Star alliance. SAS in Oslo were willing to check my bags onward on a separate ticket with Thai Airways, while Singapore Air in Singapore refused to check my bags through to my connecting United flight.
Agreed that OneWorld is the worst and you can basically bet that the answer will be no
Yeah BA refuses to check bags onto another PNR even when it’s BA (I had a first flight once to london and a biz to amsterdam but had to recheck at Heathrow at 7am painful). On AA it’s a crap shoot as sometimes they will do it on one pnr (both segments) I had them do it before with two seperate but when I tried a few weeks ago they could not do it to a BA ticketed by AA iron flight even (as I was comming off a commuter). My one experience with SIA was they were pretty accommodating also but I’d say your probably going to have to get on a recheck luggage most of the times these days…