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Booking an award ticket is never a straightforward process. Usually it involves searching routes, checking dates, calling, checking more routes, calling again, and repeating this process again and again until the ticket is booked. It’s a lot of work.
If the itinerary requires more than one award ticket booked on multiple airlines, things get even more convoluted. Not that you ever want to book tickets this way, but occasionally, in fact probably more often than not, your preferred routing doesn’t work out and you have to improvise. Thus the requirement to stitch multiple award tickets together to create a frankenstein travel plan becomes a must.
My first experience traveling on a stitched award ticket was extremely nerve-wracking. The ticket(s) consisted of four flights to my destination and another four flights home on a total of four different airlines and two different alliances. Not only that, but I was also traveling through 4 different countries, none of which I wanted to get stuck in. It was a complicated, scary booking, but surprisingly it actually ended up being easier to fly than I originally thought.
Here’s what you should know:
Interline agreements are a great thing! Basically, these agreements between different airlines (even airlines not in the same alliance) allow you to check your luggage all the way through to your final destination. So, if you were to fly from Chicago to Tokyo on one airline (eg. United), then Tokyo to Shanghai on another airline (eg. JAL), you could interline your baggage all the way from Chicago to Shanghai without having to retrieve and recheck your luggage in Tokyo.
If the airlines you’re flying don’t have interline agreements (eg. Southwest and every other airline), only bring carry-on luggage. That way, you don’t need to worry about retrieving and rechecking your suitcases.
If you have itinerary where you have to check your baggage, but you can’t interline it, just make sure you leave yourself enough time to retrieve your baggage (~15-45 mins), recheck it (~15-45 mins), go through security (way too long), and find your gate (~15-45 mins).
To go along with the point I just made, make sure you leave yourself enough time to get from gate to gate, and/or terminal to terminal even if you don’t have to recheck your luggage. On occasion, some of your flights will be on the complete opposite side of an airport, which could take you almost an hour to get to depending on your transportation methods (eg. walking, subway, train, ect.). Not only that, but one or two of your flights may get delayed, which could cause you to miss one. Plan for the worst and you’ll always be covered! …hopefully.
If you’re worried about missing a flight, plan a really long layover. I’m not talking just a few hours, I’m talking 20-23. That way you are almost 100% guaranteed to avoid missing a flight and with that many hours in a location, you could go out and explore the town if you wanted to. Or just spend a long time relaxing in a lounge.
Life tends to throw a lot of curve balls, so regardless of how well you plan out your multiple ticket award flight, things can happen leaving you one segment further from your destination. It sucks, but it can happen, even when you leave more than enough time for yourself.
If you’re unfortunate enough to miss a flight, your only hope is the “flat tire rule.”
The flat tire rule is an unwritten plan of action many airlines have where they take care of their customers (you) if something outside of their control (eg. a flat tire) causes them to miss a flight. Usually, the plan of action is to get the customer on the next flight out whenever that may be.
If you find yourself in this situation, here’s what you should do:
Stitching together award tickets is anything but ideal, but in this game it’s almost a necessity to get the best redemption out of your miles. The most important thing to do when traveling this way, is to leave yourself ample amounts of time. Without enough time, you’re basically shooting yourself in the foot. If you plan extra time and you don’t actually need it, you could just spend it in a lounge, which is not a bad way to use it!
If you have any tips that I missed, please leave them in the comments.