One of the ways I have found to save money on flights, especially long haul international flights is by booking separate ticket segments. This has saved me and my family thousands of dollars over the years however the decision to book tickets this way should not be taken lightly as it can have serious pitfalls and ramifications.
Who should consider booking multi-airline tickets?
Before reading any further I want to give some advice on who should consider this type of ticket.
- If you are someone that travels often and is very comfortable flying than booking this type of ticket is worth considering
- If you travel light, usually with a carry-on only you’re a good candidate for a multi-airline tickets.
- If you would have a long layover on a single segment ticket anyway you can consider this type of ticket as an option.
- If you are able to adjust and potentially purchase a new flight if a problem comes up consider this ticket.
If you’re a nervous flyer, you don’t have a lot of airport/airline experience or are generally someone that packs a lot of luggage, this probably isn’t good for you. Also if you are planning to connect to flights that are within a few hours of each other it may be more risk than you want to take.
What is a multi-airline ticket?
In this example what I am referring to is a purchasing each segment of your flight independently. I will provide an example to give you context. This is a flight route example for Marrakech to Minneapolis, MN. This is an actual segment we have booked and flown.
Round trip ticket purchased on Transavia from Marrakech to Amsterdam. Departing July 2nd and returning September 13th.
Round trip ticket purchased on Icelandair from Amsterdam to Chicago via Reykjavik. Departing July 3rd and returning on September 11th.
- Amsterdam hotel July 2nd
- Reykjavik hotel July 4th
- Amsterdam hotel September 12th
As you can see we used two different airlines (and I really don’t recommend more than that (too many moving pieces!) Each one had it’s round trip ticket because it’s almost always cheaper to buy a round trip than two one-way tickets.
But does it really save money?
That depends. Sometimes yes and sometimes no. In this instance there are almost always inexpensive flights from Europe to Morocco. There are more often inexpensive flights from the US to Europe and not to Morocco. I’ll break down the cost savings on these flights for you.
- Original Flight from Marrakech to Minneapolis – $1800 per person with a 15 hour layover in Paris. Paris hotel one way approximately $200.
Total Cost: $7,400 for 4 tickets
- Marrakech to Amsterdam flight + 2 bags going and 4 on return = $147 per person (averaged out bags split among tickets) = $588
- Amsterdam to Minneapolis flight – $499 per person = $1996
- Hotels (3 nights) – $200 on average per night = $600 night
Total Cost: $3,184
As you can see in this instance it saved us over 50% of the original flight cost that still had an overnight stay. I’m a huge fan of flying as direct as possible whenever possible but in this instance the money saved was enough to pay for the rest of our trip and then some.
How to find and decide if it’s worth it to book a multi-airline ticket
The trickiest part of booking this type of ticket is being able to find what options exist for booking. Most people only know to put in their start and end locations and then rely on a flight aggregator or travel agent to do the rest of the work. I’ll walk you through my process for finding these flights and deciding if it’s worth it.
I start by looking up my dates (and surrounding dates if applicable) for my start and ending cities; if I have more than one option. For example if I’m going to see my family I will look up Marrakech to Chicago, Marrakech to Minneapolis, Casablanca to Chicago and Casablanca to Minneapolis. I start a document (even on paper is fine) that lists out what I find. I include the best priced dates, start and end city and any extra costs I may have like hotel or rental car.
I start by looking at some of the discount fare sites I frequent. Airfarewatchdog and Secret Flying are two of my favorites. I look to see if there are any Europe – US deals. If so I look at the cities to see if they are cities that have direct Marrakech connections. If they do I list it as an option. If they don’t I stop looking at it as an option.
I take my list of European connection cities and look at the tickets from Marrakech to the cities to see if it’s possible to make the connection, the arrival times and the prices. Some flights are only certain days of the week and others have flight times that won’t work. This helps me further narrow the list.
Now I start putting in actual dates and cities. I do this on an aggregator like Kayak or Skyscanner. In some cases the airline website may have the best offer so once I see which flights might be possible I also go directly to the airline website to check prices. While it seems like a lot, at this point I usually only have a few cities as an option.
I take stock of everything I have and look at my options. I then price hotels and baggage (if needed) to see what additional costs there are. If the savings in marginal then I usually will go with the single ticket. However, if it’s a large savings I will further explore the multi-airline tickets.
Before I purchase anything, I lay out all of the flight options and times on a calendar to make sure that everything matches up. If you make an error you’ll be out of luck and need to book a new ticket.
In some cases you may not need to do all of this. One reason you wouldn’t is that you’ve found a great deal from Europe to the US already. Example I bought my mom a ticket from Chicago to Barcelona for $299. I didn’t have to look for this inexpensive fare because it came up and I purchased it.
These steps are really only if you’re starting at square one with no flights in mind.
A few extra things to consider before booking
Before booking your first flight this way there are some additional things you should keep in mind.
- if either of your flights is cancelled or delayed you’re out of luck with the other flight. You are responsible for fixing/rebooking your connecting flight not the airline. Some airports do offer services that assist with this type of situation. GatwickConnects at London Gatwick is one example.
- I always leave PLENTY of room in between my flights – usually that means overnight. We always have at least one overnight anyway when flying to the US. This gives me a safe buffer in case of issues.
- Luggage. You will need to transfer your own luggage between the flights. You may also need to pay for luggage and it could mean paying once with each flight.
- Check-in. You will also need to check-in separately for each flight. After the first flight lands, you’ll need to exit with your bags and check back in as you would for a new flight.
Sometimes this process is known as fare hacking or flight hacking and some aggregators even show it as an option (Kayak is one). They will list that it’s a hack and you will need to purchase each flight separate of each other.
I hope this helps you consider an additional flight option!