Beware Extra Complications From Multi-Airline Bookings

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Be aware that when you book  on a 3rd party website like Orbitz or Expedia that involve multiple airlines, the chances for additional complications go way up.

LAN Miami Airport Check In

Did you know?

  • Sometimes you can check in for all your segments even when they’re on non-partner airlines, sometimes you can’t.
  • If one of the airline changes your reservation for a later segment (such as an upgrade), it might affect your ability to check in for your first flight.
  • The first airline you fly “owns” the entire reservation (and any changes).
  • If your reservation shows both your new and old flights, you risk having a portion you want cancelled if you can’t be two places at once to check in.

How did I discover this?

I’ll start with the mild example first. A recent trip started on Silver Airways connecting to US Airways. Silver Airways has only partnered with United, so they could only check me in for their flight. Because my first segment wasn’t with them, US Airways wouldn’t let me check in for the second segment online or on the phone. Which meant in my connecting city I had to go down to the US Airways ticket counter to check in and print out a boarding pass. Not a big deal…unless I had a tight or missed connection!

But last weekend was way more complicated!

The Alaska trip I booked on Orbitz was United and Alaska Airlines on the outbound and Alaska and American Airlines on the return. Not a big deal.

Except when trying to check into my flight to Barrow, I was told someone had cancelled part of my trip.

Thursday afternoon I tried to check in for my Friday flight to make sure I was top of the list for standby upgrades on United. I saw an error message on the reservation page. “Part of your itinerary has changed, please call XXX-XXX-XXXX for assistance.”

I call and the agent checks to make sure it wasn’t the Global Premier Upgrade I’d applied that had thrown the system off. She can’t figure out what’s wrong so she brings her supervisor in. That’s when they come back on and tell me that whatever agency I booked it on has cancelled part of the reservation. ACK!

In a panic I call Orbitz. The representative assures me the ticket is fine on their end. At this point I expect I’m going to get caught in the middle with each company telling me it’s the others fault. But I was wrong. My awesome Orbitz representative puts me on hold and calls United directly. That’s when they discover it looks like my return flight has been changed by on American Airlines. My rep then calls American.

American Airlines says the flight is all clear on their end (which it should be since they’d upgraded me only two days prior). So Orbitz calls United back and conferences me in on a call with someone who can manually check me in over the phone and email my boarding passes.

Then I print out my United boarding passes. The IAH-ANC segment does not reflect the upgrade that had been confirmed 5 days prior. I call United back, getting a very helpful agent. She puts me on hold and then comes back 5 minutes later. Apparently Alaska Airlines had changed my ticket which had impacted everyone else!? But it all got straightened out and I was bound for Barrow, Alaska.

But not for long.

After my hotel burned and I had no place to stay, I needed to change my ticket to fly back to Anchorage that night. I wasn’t sure who to call to make that change since my United outbound was done, so I called Orbitz who gave me the number for Alaska Airlines. Alaska Airlines was helpful, but told me United “owned” the ticket and they’d have to change it. Nooooo!

That went way better than hoped though. (Thank you Steve from Salt Lake City!) My agent called Alaska Airlines, called American, got everything figured out to fly me back to Anchorage that night AND didn’t charge me any change fees.

So after the day tour of Barrow I check in with Alaska Airlines for my new flight. Everything was fine, except I appeared to have two flights from Barrow. The evening flight and the original flight the next morning. I was assured they system just hadn’t refreshed and the old flight would disappear the next morning. No need to worry about a “no-show” in Barrow in the morning cancelling the later portions of my flight.

Barrow Itinerary

The next morning, I can’t check in for my American Airlines flight in Anchorage. I look up my reservation and still see the Barrow flight for that morning. Now I AM worried that by not showing up for that Barrow flight everything else will get cancelled.

I looked up my itinerary on Alaska and they were also showing the duplicate flights. Yikes!! So I called and it only took a few minutes to fix (and incidentally, I discovered that all the Alaska call centers were notified of the hotel fire since it impacted numerous itineraries) but had I not called, my American ticket would have been cancelled. I probably would have been able get it reinstated at the airport, but my carefully selected seats would be gone, not to mention the stress of not knowing when/if you’re getting home.

For anyone who finds themselves in a similar spot, here are my hard learned tips:

  • Try to check in for a multi-airline flight at the 24 hour mark so you have as much time as possible to fix any issues.
  • Pay attention to your reservation before it’s time to check in!
  • Call the airline you’re experiencing problems with first, but don’t assume they can fix it.
  • If Orbitz, Expedia, etc claim the problem is not on their end ask them to call the airline on your behalf.
  • If your upgrade/priority seat assignment disappears after the problem is resolved, call the airline to get it back.
  • Make sure re-booked flights replace your the original itinerary, if old segments are showing up on your reservation, don’t assume they’ll go away on their own.

Obviously these problems can happen even when you’re just flying one airline, but its a lot easier to fix when there’s only one “owner” of the reservation. So make sure whatever deal you get on a multi-airline ticket is really worth the potential for additional hassle should anything go wrong.


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Heels First’s Travel Advice–Sophisticated Travel, Uncomplicated Advice. The travels and tribulations of two frequent flyers jumping into the world of travel, sharing their travel advice. Join Keri and Jeanne as they tackle mileage runs, elite status, and of course–the perfect travel accessories.

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