Award Ticket Guide: Who You Gonna Call? (Or Which Airline’s Website Should You Use)

Using your miles to book airline tickets seems like a straightforward process. You earn miles and then redeem miles, a process points and miles people call “earn and burn.” Hopefully you’ve learned that by taking advantage of airline alliances and partnerships, it’s possible to redeem miles for flights on airlines other than the one you earned them from. In other words, you can book flights on Lufthansa with United MileagePlus or you can fly on Cathay Pacific by redeeming American Advantage miles. This knowledge opens up an entire world of possibilities.

There’s one part of this process that confuses people new to miles and points the most. Which airline should be contacted for each step of the booking process, up to and including getting on the plane?

Here’s a simplified list of who to contact for each step of traveling on an award ticket booking for an airline partner (alliance or non-alliance):

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What Are Interline Baggage Agreements And Why Do They Matter?

Once you earn enough points and miles to book an award trip, you may quickly find out that booking a ticket from your home town to the decided destination on your preferred dates with the miles you have is near impossible. However, if you do find that trip, book it immediately and then run to the store to get a lottery ticket because it’s obviously a lucky day for you.

Rest assured, there’s going to be a time where you’ll need to fly from your home airport to the departure city for your award ticket. In award travel lingo, that’s called a positioning flight.

Choosing which airline to take for your positioning flight may make the difference between an almost seamless connection or a sense of déjà vu where you’ll need to do the entire airport check-in process all over again. That means you’d need to land, go to baggage claim to collect luggage, head back up to the departures lane, recheck your bags and go back through security. If your international flight is leaving from a large airport like JFK, LAX or O’Hare, you’ll also need to take a train between terminals with all of your luggage (except you can’t do that from O’Hare right now).

That is, unless the two airlines you’re flying have an interline baggage agreement. These agreements go into airlines’ booking tickets on the other airlines and accommodating delayed passengers as well, but what we’re interested in is the baggage rules.

Here’s a simplified list of the interline baggage rules for the major U.S. carriers:
NOTE: You’ll see the term PNR thrown around in these descriptions, 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. The issue we are discussing involves having two flights on different airlines with different PNR’s
Bold type is for emphasis on rules for two separate tickets.

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