Can Combining Airlines Save You Money? - Cruise Trail

Can Combining Airlines Save You Money?

In this article we look at how combining airlines in one trip can save you money, what you should look out for, and if you should do it at all.

Virtual interlining – what is it and how can we use it?

Virtual interlining is the concept of creating a trip by combining airlines and transport companies that do not necessarily work together.

Examples could be a trip using:

  •   local point-to-point low cost carriers as feeder flights for international network carriers
  •   trains, buses and transfer companies in combination with airlines

Managed properly virtual interlining offers more opportunities to sell trips for airlines and transport companies in general.

And as we all know the airline industry needs all the help it can get after years of problems with profitability and now the challenges with the onset of Covid-19.

In addition, it promises the traveller savings as in cheaper ticket and more choice.

Is combining airlines via virtual interlining a good thing?

Yes, it can be. But combining airlines is not necessarily a good thing for us, the customer. We need to pay attention to exactly what we are buying. And if we don’t, it could cost us more money in the long run.

In a scenario where combining airlines via virtual interlining is left un-managed we could find ourselves with a situation where the individual traveler is left to assume and manage risks previously carried by the airline.

Many airlines – but only one Validating Carrier

The truth of the matter is that all airlines do not play nicely together. 

Let’s simplify to illustrate a point

  • point-to-point low cost carriers do not play with anyone else
  • network carriers only play well with their Alliance or Group partners
  • sometimes deals are struck with train and bus companies

You could argue that apart from the exceptions above, airlines and transports companies compete rather than combine efforts.

Let’s look at an example, Delta Airlines likes to build itineraries where they combine efforts with, for example, Air France and KLM.

Why?

Because they are all members of the SkyTeam Alliance.

So if you are planning a trip from New York to Rome, Italy, you may find yourself on a Delta prefix (“DL”) flight to Amsterdam, and then a KLM prefix (“KL”) flight from Amsterdam to Rome.

And now comes the important part.

Your whole trip including all parts of the trip would be the responsibility of the Validating Carrier.

And the main principle states that the validating carrier is the main carrier of the itinerary. Most often the airline that flies the longest route. 

Validating carrier takes responsibility when booking one reservation

In our example Delta Airlines would be the Validating Carrier as they are flying the transatlantic part of the trip, New York to Amsterdam.

Now, if there was a problem with the trip you would contact Delta Airlines. And Delta Airlines would assist you regardless whether the problem had to do with the long haul across the Atlantic or the connecting KLM flight within Europe.

The simple rule is that the airline that filed the itinerary and flight price would also be responsible for the successful completion of the trip. That is the validating carrier. The airline assumes the risk and you the traveler enjoys a level of protection.

Needless to say if you, the traveler, is at fault you would be held responsible. If you, for example, arrive late to check-in this is your responsibility.

So far so good.

Enter Virtual Interlining: Many airlines – many validating carriers

You, the traveler, stand to assume more risk when virtual interlining allows you to create trips combining transport companies that do not work together.

These type trips can be created on a manual ad hoc basis by you online,  or via a travel company using virtual interlining technology. 

Booking via a Travel Agent offering Virtual interlining technology

If you book via a travel company like Kiwi.com you need to make sure that you are comfortable with the level of guarantees they offer for trips with virtual interlining components .

The idea of this Interlining type guarantee is to assure you as a customer that the travel company assumes the risk of the airline. You as a traveler should be no worse off.

Whether this is true and enough to make you feel comfortable is for you to decide.

But I strongly suggest that you make sure that you are covered if there is not enough time to 

  • recheck baggage between flights
  • check in for your next flight
  • pass through immigration again
  • transfer between different airport terminals 
  • transfer between different airports or to train / bus stations for your next leg

Because after all, these are the guarantees the airlines offer you when you book a traditional type ticket.

When the traveler assumes the role and the risk of the airline

If you on the other hand decide to go for it and  book the trip yourself there are several pitfalls you need to be aware of.

First of all, the level of risk you assume is of course dependent on the type of trip you are booking.

Here I will give you two examples.

Example A
Virtual Interlining at its best

Example B
High risk booking

Example A: Virtual Interlining showing all its potential

This is a perfect example where the promise of combining airlines via virtual interlining delivers without assuming excessive risk. Trip will be constructed using independent airlines and 3 separate tickets.

Outbound:
Leaving: 1 aug 20.20 from New York
Arriving: 2 aug 08.30 London

Flight from New York arrives in London, England at 08:30 am (United Airlines)

Leaving: 10 August 09:00 from London
Arriving: 10 August 13.30 Madrid

Flight from London arrives in Madrid, Spain at 13.30 (Air Europa)

Inbound:
Leaving: 16 August 08.30 from Madrid
Arriving: 16 August 11:00 Frankfurt

Flight from Madrid arrives in Frankfurt, Germany at 11:00 (Lufhansa)

Leaving: 20 August 11.05 from Frankfurt
Arriving: 20 August 13.15 New York

Flight from Frankfurt, Germany arrives in New York at 13:15 (United Airlines)

Looking at the itinerary above I see four direct flights but only 3 separate tickets. Virtual Interlining allows me to use Air Europa to save money.

Let’s have a look at how the actual tickets match up.

Ticket 1: A classic open-jaw roundtrip ticket with United Airlines (open-jaw means that you fly to one destination but home from another destination).
New York – London
Frankfurt – New York

Ticket 2: Oneway ticket with Air Europa
London – Madrid

Ticket 3: Oneway ticket with Lufthansa
Madrid – Frankfurt

With this itinerary we have combined United Airlines and Lufthansa of Star Alliance with Air Europa of SkyTeam. But the risk we assume is not that great as there is 

  • ample time between departures. 
  • only direct flights 

This means that we can handle a schedule change or a delay without impact on other legs of the trip. Furthermore as we are flying direct we do not have to worry about connecting flights, changing terminals, collecting baggage  and the like.

This is a good example of a trip where Virtual Interlining can lead to added flexibility and lower prices.


Example B: Virtual Interlining and constructing high-risk booking

In example B we are booking the same itinerary but there is one major difference.

Even though we are booking the same airlines and the same number of tickets we are not allowing for enough time between flights.

Outbound:
Leaving: 1 aug 20.20 from New York
Arriving: 2 aug 08.30 London

Flight from New York arrives in London, England at 08:30 am (United Airlines).

Leaving: 2 August 09:00 from London
Arriving: 2 August 13.30 Madrid

Flight from London arrives in Madrid, Spain at 13.30 (Air Europa)

Inbound:
Leaving: 16 August 08.30 from Madrid
Arriving: 16 August 11:00 Frankfurt

Flight from Madrid arrives in Frankfurt, Germany at 11:00 (Lufhansa).

Leaving: 16 August 11.05 from Frankfurt
Arriving: 16 August 13.15 New York

Flight from Frankfurt, Germany arrives in New York at 13:15 (United Airlines)

Looking at the itinerary above there are still 3 separate tickets offering the possibility to save money but in this scenario we are assuming too much risk.

If we take it step by step we see that the tickets still match up the same way.

Ticket 1: A classic open-jaw roundtrip ticket with United Airlines
New York – London
Frankfurt – New York

Ticket 2: Oneway ticket with Air Europa
London – Madrid

Ticket 3: Oneway ticket with Lufthansa
Madrid – Frankfurt

With this itinerary we have combined United Airlines and Lufthansa of Star Alliance with Air Europa of SkyTeam. But the risk we assume is too great despite the fact that we are only booking direct flights.

The main reasons this trip would fail is that there is not enough time to

  1. recheck baggage between flights
  2. check in for next flight
  3. pass through Security and Immigration 
  4. transfer between different airport terminals 

Time allowed between flights in London on outbound and in Frankfurt on inbound is simply not enough to 

  1. Arrive at airport
  2. Collect your baggage at the Baggage claim area
  3. Leave the transit zone and make your way to the correct International departure terminal
  4. Take your baggage to the check-in counter (or baggage drop) for your next flight 
  5. Go through Immigration and security to get to the departure terminal 
  6. Get to your gate on time for boarding

So do feel free to take part in the miracle of combining airlines via virtual interlining but be aware of the risks as well as the benefits.

Meet the Author

Mattias has nearly 2 decades of travel industry expertise, working with cruise lines, tour operators, airlines, IT providers, hospitality suppliers and everything else in between that makes the travel industry tick. more..