A Plane Ticket Urban Myth That Really Should Be Banished Forever…

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The vocabulary might change, but the question is often the same.  Somebody – lets just call him Jim – has bought two or more separate tickets and then suddenly has the bright idea of calling the airline to “link”, “merge”, “combine” these two separate tickets into one.

I’m not mocking “Jim” for wanting to do this. There are a number of extremely good reasons to book airplane tickets separately. You might live in England but have found a really cheap Business Class fare departing from Copenhagen – you will need to fly to Copenhagen on a separate ticket. You might have found premium cabin award space for your long-haul flight to Asia and booked it straight away, but want to choose your ultimate resort paradise later. Or you might be planning a trip with friends, where each person books their own flight using miles or money as they deem appropriate.

And there would then be several good reasons for Jim to want those separate tickets to behave as one, such as:

  • Sharing elite benefits with a travel companion, such as priority boarding or additional baggage allowance
  • Avoiding any issues with flight delays causing Jim to miss his next flight
  • Checking luggage through to your final destination

But alas, none of this is possible.  “Merging”, “linking”, “combining” separate Passenger Name Records (PNRs or booking reference for short) is simply not possible… it’s an urban myth!

But The Airline Agent Just Told Me That They “Linked” My Tickets…

No they didn’t… not really…  At best, the agent might have made a note in the comments section of one or more of your separate PNRs. It might look as simple as this:

Pax arriving on XX123 on separate ticket

Computers DO NOT read the comments section.  Human beings might, but only if YOU ask them to. And these humans may or may not be willing or able to help you.

A Silly Analogy…

Imagine you went to a bakery and bought a baguette. Then you walked down the road to a deli and bought some ham and cheese. And because you like mayonnaise on your sandwich, you nicked a mayo pack from a fast food restaurant. You now have all of the required ingredients for a ham sandwich, but if you ask the baker or the deli worker to make you a ham sandwich, they will probably refuse your request. You might occasionally come across a helpful employee who will make your sandwich for you, but most of the time you will be told that you perhaps should have just bought a ham sandwich from either vendor in the first place!  But more importantly, neither the baker nor the deli will guarantee you a tasty sandwich, because neither is responsible for all of the components being fresh.

With separate airplane tickets, you might think that an Easyjet ticket from Manchester to Copenhagen and a Qatar Airways ticket from Copenhagen to Bangkok (via Doha) are all of the required ingredients for a journey from Manchester to Bangkok. Except Easyjet is NOT responsible for what you choose to do after arrival in Copenhagen. And Qatar Airways doesn’t care whether you were taking a taxi from a city centre business meeting or flying in from Manchester – you either showed up for your flight, or you didn’t!

Why is Merging PNRs Not Possible?

Good question. I have no idea whether merging PNRs could technically be done. But every time we hear of an IT meltdown at British Airways, we are reminded of how precarious airline IT systems have become.  But as each individual PNR must contain a substantial amount of relevant data regarding the fare, taxes, payment method, etc. AT BEST… merging PNRs would be a highly time-consuming and difficult process.

But commercially…  If Qatar Airways wants to sell a cheap Business Class fare departing Copenhagen, that’s their business. That cheap fare often comes with conditions attached, such as being non-refundable or limited to specific flights. Once purchased, Qatar Airways will be contractually obliged to fly you in your booked cabin from Copenhagen to your final destination. If they cannot do this, airline policies and EU regulations set out the airline’s obligations and any compensation due to you. But Qatar Airways is most certainly not responsible for how you choose to travel to Copenhagen Airport.

If Qatar Airways wanted to sell a cheap Manchester to Copenhagen to Doha to Bangkok ticket they would… but they don’t! Instead they sell a Manchester to Doha to Bangkok ticket.

But Sometimes Humans are Nice to Other Humans…

Even though merging PNRs never happens, being polite and asking nicely can often allow airline agents to be flexible with things such as:

  • Letting a larger party of non-elites join you in the lounge or in the priority boarding queue
  • Through-check your luggage, despite being on separate PNRs
  • Letting you fly standby on the next flight, even though your “flat tyre” situation involved a flight on a different airline

Sometimes strict airline policies will mean that customer service agents have little leeway. Even an agent with the best of intentions and skills might subsequently be reprimanded (or worse) for bending the rules.

What Else Can I Do?

When trying to “connect” on separate tickets, make sure to leave plenty of time in between flights to allow for potential delays or to pick up your luggage from the carrousel and immediately re-check it for your next flight. A couple of years ago I wrote a post about “positioning flights”, that you can re-read by clicking here.

And make sure to have a good travel insurance policy. It is worth reading the very fine print to see whether your travel insurance will cover any costs involved in missing a flight due to a late inbound airplane.

The Bottom Line

Many of the best “travel hacks” require you to combine a few separate elements into one itinerary. But instead of relying on the urban myth of “linking” separate tickets, simply make sure to be friendly to airline agents and cautious with your travel planning.  And with luck, this little urban myth will be banished forever…




  1. Tom says

    Worth saying something about “linking” with the same airline: most people would understand why Qatar have no connection to Easyjet. More complicated is buying separate tickets on the same airline.

    Eg BA charging £700 London to Washington in Economy, but only £300 for Oslo to Washington via London, on the exact same LHR-IAD flight. Even then, BA would presumably not “link” your separate LON-OSL tickets?

    • Craig Sowerby says

      Excellent point.

      I did think about same airline “linking”, as there are a few airlines that will protect you on separate tickets, but not necessarily as a published policy. And in those situations, it is still completely irrelevant as to whether you called in advance to “link” your PNRs. What matters is the person who deals with you when something has gone wrong.

      You also can never guarantee that an airline will through-check your luggage on separate tickets.

      So I suppose I chose an example that appears self-evident, to avoid confusing things with more subtle examples…

  2. Brian T says

    If BA didn’t link tickets and the passenger missed the connection then they would ultimately be at fault, on a normal operating day. The passenger could, technically, book into LHR online for the OSL-IAD flight. Drop their large baggage earlier, or even a day before. Catch the OSL flight, with only hand-luggage, not get off the aircraft and return to LHR ready for the IAD connection. The passenger would, probably, need to inform BA, at some point after booking the OSL to IAD to link the LHR-OSL flight on the same ticket.
    There is no rules that say you have to get off the aircraft and if you have paid the return leg of the flight then they are contractually bound to take you back. Security wouldn’t be an issue as that was done at LHR.
    Linking your tickets would save the airline money on issuing another paper ticket. You can always site being as green as possible to achieve this. (Less weight on aircraft, Less turnaround time. etc, etc)
    It is also worth adding that the further up the rewards system you are then the airline will bend over backwards to “make your experience effortless. ”
    For any legacy carrier bad publicity is not good.

    If you fly a different airline but alliance partners then connections are on one ticket. You would have to change airlines through transfer gates.

    No traveller could possibly expect an independent airline to link tickets with another independent airline halfway across the planet. Different airlines have different booking systems

    • Craig Sowerby says

      Unfortunately you aren’t going to be able to check in your luggage at LHR for a LHR-OSL-LHR-IAD itinerary. Luggage can’t be checked to travel though the same airport more than once, and you cannot rely on being allowed to drop off your bags for the LHR-IAD flight only.

      You also cannot stay on board a plane just because you have a return ticket. You absolutely must be checked in of course, but you have to deplane and board again. That is why a long thread on Flyertalk is dedicated to those European airports where you can most easily “back to back” to get back to London on the same plane.

      And unfortunately I can attest to BA not caring in the slightest about my elite status when I’ve failed to show up on time for a flight, so “bend over backwards” is simply not the experience of many.

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