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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American Airlines Only Cares If Elite Flyers Get To Their Destination

I came across posts from View From The Wing and Pizza in Motion, describing changes to American Airlines’ policies when rebooking passengers on delayed flights.

One advantage of taking a major airline (American, Delta or United) instead of a lower cost carrier was the ability to get rebooked on another airline in the case of a flight delay. Airlines enter into interline agreements, a system that allows one airline to book a passenger onto a competitor’s airline at a pre-negotiated cost. Say you’re flying on United and they cancel your flight due to a mechanical issue and they can’t fly you until tomorrow. United can arrange for you to fly on a Delta flight. You’ll get to your destination and you’re not mad at United for cancelling the flight.

These agreements are costly to the airlines, as they need to buy a ticket for you to fly on one of their competitors. However, they are seen as a necessary cost because the only other choice is to strand you with the options of waiting until you can get on another flight on their airline or give you a full refund and tell you to find another way to get to your destination, resulting in an angry customer. Interline agreements were one of the big things that still separated the major airlines from the low cost carriers. That is, until now.

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