Self-connect? Not if you can avoid it

By Ed Perkins, Tribune Content Agency

“Some 40 percent (of travelers) are bypassing typical booking practices and beginning to self-connect.” So says a recent report from the folks at OAG, and those folks have a lot of data on how people travel. The report also notes that the trend is most pronounced in Europe, but it claims that many U.S. travelers are self-connecting as well. Nevertheless, the report acknowledges that self-connecting involves a number of serious risks.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, self-connecting an air trip involves buying two separate tickets, usually on two separate airlines, to make a single trip that requires two flights with a connection somewhere. Presumably, you do this because buying separate tickets on two different low-cost airlines is sometimes cheaper than buying a through ticket on a giant line.

I know only one traveler who regularly self-connects, which he does on a single airline. When he has to fly from Medford, Oregon, to Minot, North Dakota — both cities with minimal service from the giant lines — he books separate cheap Medford-to-Las Vegas and Las Vegas-to-Minot tickets on Allegiant. Because Allegiant does not book connections or handle through checked baggage, the net effect is the same as if he had booked on two different airlines.

And he faces the same problems that you face any time you self-connect:

  • If your first flight is delayed or canceled and you miss your self-booked connection, the airline operating the second flight considers you a no-show. It invalidates your ticket and you lose the total value of that ticket. If you want to continue on another of its flights, you have to book another reservation and buy another ticket, probably at a much higher fare than you originally paid.
  • Generally, if you check baggage, at the connecting airport you have to exit security, reclaim your baggage, re-check it, and go through security screening again. Even if you have carry-on only, you may have to exit and re-enter security.
  • On some airline combinations, including Allegiant, if you miss your original connection, the airline’s next flight may not be for two or three days. And even on busier routes, the next flight might not be until the following day.

You should figure that self-connecting is currently most prevalent in Europe, with its many different low-fare lines with hubs and destinations scattered around the continent. And on a transatlantic flight, you might find some routes where flying Norwegian to London/Gatwick and connecting there to EasyJet, for example, might cost less than a through ticket. The OAG report, however, does not contain any specific examples, and over several hours of searching I couldn’t readily fine any cost reductions for important enough to overcome the inherent risks and disadvantages.

But as long as some very-low-fare lines continue to undercut prevailing fares, you may find a deal that looks better than a through ticket to take a risk. Obviously, you come out best if (1) you allow several hours of connecting time and (2) you travel with carry-on baggage only.

Although the OAG press release targeted the consumer press, the main purpose of the report is to sell OAG’s ability to mine its huge schedule data base. The primary commercial objective seems to be convincing airports and online travel agencies to develop services to sell to those self-connecting travelers:

  • Insurance that would cover the costs of alternate delivery of baggage that missed a self-connected flight.
  • Insurance that would cover the costs of re-ticketing a missed connection, even including re-ticketing on a different airline.
  • Airfare search engines that would seek out self-connecting itineraries that beat the cost of typical through ticketing.

I didn’t find any outfits in the U.S. that are doing anything like this, but if self-connecting grows as much as OAG seems to think, you’ll probably see some before long.

For now, my take is that you should keep self-connecting in your travel-buying toolkit, but use it sparingly — specifically, only when you can’t find a much better alternative.

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at Also, check out Ed’s new rail travel website at

Tribune Content Agency — May 10, 2016


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