Self-connecting or self-transferring flights could save you money, but it could also lose you more money and leave you without a safety net.
Nicole Schaub, Arizona Republic
Self-connecting is a clever way to save on airfare. Instead of booking one ticket, including connections, through one airline, you book each segment of travel yourself, perhaps on multiple airlines.
The idea is that with careful shopping you could spend less by buying separate tickets. Savvy travelers have known about it for a while.
Now that websites such as Skyscanner, Kayak and Google Flights have added options that show how you can self-connect, the strategy is going mainstream, reports The Arizona Republic, which is part of the USA TODAY Network.
How does self-connecting save money?
Here’s an example: I priced a ticket from Phoenix to Tokyo using Google Flights. I could have booked round trip on one airline for $900-$1,000.
Or I could have booked two separate tickets, one a round trip from Phoenix to Los Angeles for $117 and another round trip on a different airline from Los Angeles to Tokyo for $465. Choosing this option would have saved at least $300.
Self-connecting could save you a lot of money, especially on international flights. But it could cost you significantly if anything goes wrong.
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Self-connecting: What could go wrong?
Your flight is delayed. If you fly one airline all the way through, that airline is responsible for getting you to your destination if a delay occurs. It may hold your flight so you can make the connection, rebook you on another flight or offer you a hotel voucher if you have to stay overnight.
If you book yourself on separate flights and one is delayed or canceled, the next airline owes you nothing. It doesn’t have to rebook your ticket or defray any of your costs. You’re stuck paying for a new ticket.
You might need to change terminals. If you take multiple airlines you might have to change terminals. That means you’d have to leave the secure area of one terminal and go through screening again in the next one.
You have to pick up your checked bag. If you’re traveling on separate airlines, you’ll have to leave the secure area to retrieve your checked luggage, check it with your next airline and go through security again. And that assumes everything goes right. Imagine if the luggage is delayed or your bag is lost.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t self-connect. I do it quite often to save money and to build in extra stops, especially when I travel internationally.
For instance, I wanted to visit a friend in Beijing a few years ago. I took a morning flight (paid for with miles) to Chicago, where I had booked an afternoon flight to Beijing for $600 round trip. That was half the price of booking straight through. On a flight between Morocco and Berlin, I stopped overnight in Madrid — saving myself money and adding a stop in a city I had always wanted to see.
How to minimize the risks
You can’t eliminate all the risks of self-connecting, but you can minimize them. Here’s how.
Spend the night in the connecting city. Let’s bring back the Tokyo example. Say you can get a really inexpensive flight out of Seattle and you’d love to see that city. Book your initial flight the day before and add Seattle to your vacation. Of course, you’ll spend money there, but you probably would have spent money if you had gone directly to your destination. To me, this approach is win-win.
Build in ample time for connections. Maybe your first flight leaves in the morning and your second leaves in the late afternoon or evening. You’ll spend a bit of time in the airport, but you might have if you booked all the way through anyway.
Book airlines that use the same terminal. Study the airport map to make sure your route between airlines is not lengthy and doesn’t require extra trips through security.
Make sure you have TSA PreCheck. Since you don’t have to take off your shoes or pull out your liquids and laptop, you’ll likely get through faster if you do have to go through security again.
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Don’t check a bag. Keep all your belongings with you so you can go from one flight to another quickly.
Use an airline with a generous change policy for your connecting flight. Southwest Airlines has a very flexible policy (no change fee) and I’ve seen a lot of people use the Southwest app to adjust their flights on the fly. You might have to pay a fare difference, but that likely is cheaper than booking a whole new flight if a problem comes up.
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Book on a credit card with a great travel insurance policy. This applies to all travel. If things go wrong, you might be able to recover some of your costs. Check your card’s coverage for trip cancellation, delay or interruption; lost or delayed baggage; medical expenses and evacuation; and car rental insurance. I use the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. American Express Platinum is another favorite of frequent fliers.
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