How Long For Connection On Award Ticket?

Filed Under: Advice, Travel

Reader C Diddy asked the following question on the “Ask Lucky” page of the blog:

Hi Lucky,

How much time do you leave yourself on a layover between a positioning flight and an international flight booked separately? I’m flying LAX-AUH shortly, and need to book my positioning flight from DEN. I get nervous that if something goes awry on the positioning flight, I might miss the long-haul. Just looking for some guidance on what you typically are comfortable with. Thanks!

It’s a question I get asked in one form or another on a daily basis, and there’s not a single right answer, since there are tons of variables:

  • Are you connecting at an airport notorious for delays (JFK, SFO, etc.)?
  • Are you connecting during a time of year that’s prone to inclement weather (potential for snowstorm, thunderstorm, etc.)?
  • Are you connecting on a reliable airline/plane (for example, I’d feel safer booking a short connection with a Singapore A380 in SIN than with an American ERJ out of JFK)?
  • How important is it that you get to your destination when you’re scheduled to (if you need to make a cruise the same day, for example, it’s much more important than if you’re spending two weeks at a resort close to your arrival airport)?
  • How complex is the award ticket (if it’s one segment New York > London, I wouldn’t be as concerned as if it were New York > Los Angeles > San Francisco > Hong Kong > Singapore > Colombo, all with short connections, because the rebooking process process would be much more challenging)?

When it snows at JFK Airport, all bets are off!

My general rule of thumb — assuming I’m not checking bags — is to leave at least two hours or double the minimum connection time (whichever is higher) for the airport if connecting on a separate ticket. I mention both because minimum connection times vary wildly. For example, in Helsinki the minimum connection time is as little as 20 minutes. Conversely, at New York JFK if going from Terminal 7 to Terminal 8, the minimum connection time is two hours, so I’d leave double as long to be on the safe side.

It’s also worth noting the difference in policies that many airlines/alliances have if you’re connecting from a separate ticket. For example, oneworld is the only alliance that will “protect” you in the event that you misconnect from a separate ticket, assuming both tickets are for travel on oneworld:

Changes to itineraries for passengers holding separate tickets:

AA to/from Non- oneworld® Carrier
Schedule Irregularity procedures and AA Conditions of Carriage do not apply to separate tickets purchased by the customer as part of their journey.  Example: customer holds a ticket from ABQ-ORD-ABQ on AA (001 ticket stock) and a separate ticket on another carrier for continuing travel from ORD.  If the AA flight is late or cancelled, AA has no responsibility for onward travel on a separate ticket for travel on a non- oneworld carrier. Advise customers who may be affected that they will need to work separately with the other airline for assistance.

AA to/from AA or a oneworld® Carrier
If a customer is holding separate tickets on AA or another oneworld carrier, customers holding separate tickets where travel is on oneworld airlines should be treated as through ticketed passengers. In the event of a disruption on the originating ticket, the carrier responsible for the disruption will be required to reroute the customer to their final destination. The ticket stock of the second ticket must be of a oneworld carrier, eligible under the Endorsement Waiver Agreement. You may contact AA Reservations 1-800-433-7300 (U.S. and Canada) or outside the U.S. and Canada, reference Worldwide Reservations Numbers for additional information if the separate ticket is for travel on a oneworld carrier.

Now this isn’t relevant in C Diddy‘s case specifically, since Etihad is an American partner but not a oneworld member. But it is generally good to know, since I’ve had situations in the past where I’ve booked revenue tickets to London on American, and then Avios connections on British Airways with relatively short layover times, knowing that I’d be “protected.”

But even if there isn’t an official policy to protect passengers in the event of a misconnect, I find that most airlines are still fairly good about helping you out if you missed your flight due to a late inbound, even if it wasn’t on them. Keep in mind that in some cases there’s only so much the airlines can do. For example, if you redeemed US Airways miles for a Star Alliance award before they joined oneworld and have four Star Alliance carriers on your award, the rebooking process wouldn’t be pleasant, to put it mildly.

Hopefully that answers the question in a really roundabout way, because I don’t really think there’s a “one size fits all” answer.

How about you? How much time do you leave when connecting from separate tickets?

  1. Might be wrong here, but I believe it’s only AA that protects you and it’s not actually an alliance-wide policy. Although, as you said other airlines usually try their best to protect you.

  2. @ Pietro — I’m fairly certain it’s an alliance wide policy, but if anyone has info that suggests otherwise, I’d certainly love to be corrected.

  3. Keep in mind, if checking bags, on 2 separate tix (award or otherwise) to make sure name on ticket matches 100% the same on both tickets. Even a “Jr.” on one ticket but not on the other will keep computers from allowing them to check-thru luggage to destination.

  4. Hi Lucky,

    Great timing by C Diddy as I had a similar question! Your post states that oneworld will re-accommodate in the event of a missed connection, but the link points to language focused on connecting between AA and other oneworld alliance members. Are you protected on all oneworld carriers?

    I’m positioning from WAS > JFK (unless award availability opens up) on US revenue ticket, before hopping an award flight from EWR > HKG on Cathay. Would I be protected?

    Further, I’m nesting a roundtrip BA Avios award between HKG and DPS (on Cathay) and am wondering if my flight from DPS > HKG is delayed, and I miss my flight to SYD (part of the first award ticket), will we be re-accommodated?

    Scenario looks like this.
    WAS > JFK (revenue)

    EWR > HKG (award ticket #1 – booked with dividend miles)
    HKG > DPS (award ticket #2 – booked with Avios)
    6 nights in Bali
    DPS > HKG (award ticket #2) [3 hour layover]
    HKG > SYD (continuation of award ticket #1)
    SYD > NRT (award ticket #1)
    NRT > JFK (award ticket #1)

    JFK > DCA (revenue)

    Is returning to EWR instead of JFK continued an open jaw?


  5. @ Pietro — Doesn’t seem to point to any specific facts, but just more speculation. Seems based on the American link that it’s oneworld policy. For what it’s worth, once misconnected from AA to BA on separate tickets, and BA had no problem rebooking me, and even mentioned since I was connecting from another oneworld carrier they’d protect me.

  6. @ Jim — From the sounds of it, all depends on the agent you get. If you’re switching airports not sure that would really be considered a connection, but otherwise per my interpretation you should be covered. I could be wrong, though.

  7. @Lucky You always travel with cabin bag or U usually check bags?
    I’m planning a trip 30days in hot(30º) and mid/low(10º-20º), but I dont know if I want to check my bag… I’ll be many cities/countries and I have fear about lost my luggage.
    And for me seems strange travelling in F and J with a backpackers bag…
    What U think?
    Tks bro

  8. @ FM — I usually just have a carry-on. If you’re moving around a lot I’d try to stick to one bag if possible. Backpack isn’t a bad idea at all.

  9. @ Pietro — And not disagreeing, but these are all random posters chiming in, not any official source. Conversely, popular opinion seems to differ in these threads:

    Think of it like this. American says this protection applies if you’re connecting from American to oneworld. If the other airlines didn’t have the same policies, how could American unilaterally apply that policy to other airlines and force them to protect you when the American flight on a separate ticket is late? I think the American link is just specific to American flights since it’s on their website and referring to their flights.

  10. @ Lucky – Seems that perhaps (as also suggested on multiple threads), this is an official alliance-wide policy but isn’t published by all OW airlines (strangely), but only AA.

  11. I’m slightly worried about DCA-AA-JFK-EK-DXB I have coming up in November booked separately. AA is scheduled to depart at 550am and arrive at 7:10am and EK departs 10:40am. MCT is 1hr15, and it appears AA can interline bags to EK, so if all goes relatively smoothly, even a 1 hour delay should be OK.

    But in the event of a cancellation, we’d need them to re-book us on the 610am DL flight with no other AA flight arriving before 10:25am, and I just don’t see that happening for a non status pax. If we know about the cancellation no later than 530 or so, we could still catch a cab to JFK, probably, but an extended “we’ll know more soon” situation could be bad.

  12. @Lucky
    Yes its not a bad idea, but I didnt feel comfortable. The last time that I traveled with a backpacker in my back in Fclass. When I take my seat, the passengers turned up their noses about me, as if I had received an upgrade or something. I thought the FA service I received was different from the other passengers… LHR-JFK (BA) and JFK-ATL (DL) JFK-IST (TK in J).
    You should write about it… How to pack everything in a carry-on 😉

  13. I rarely have the combination of a revenue positioning flight and an award flight. But in the case of two separate tickets, on different airlines, I usually try to get at least two hours in between. If it’s more risky, I choose three hours, as that’s what my travel insurance has as a policy, if they are to cover the costs for a new flight.

  14. The only time I travel on an award ticket is for recreational purpose, so when connecting mim 4 hours. I’m always in FC, so having lounge access is not a problem. Next flights are, PHX-ORD-FRA-BCN, in ORD and FRA each have a 4 hour connect time, so not worried about missing flights… I don’t want to stress over making connections while on holiday…

  15. Lucky,
    I remember asking you this question privately a while back and you mentioned flying in/out a day early especially for international travel? I may have mis read or mis understood what you meant.

  16. @ Sean — If I have time I certainly do like to, especially if it’s a nice city. But I also realize that not everyone has the schedule flexibility that I do, which is why I wouldn’t totally recommend that as the “must do” thing.

  17. Lucky,

    What is your experience with a KE connection at ICN? I am flying KE on both segments, with a 1hr 20 min connection in ICN. They said all you need is 45 min. Do you agree? Thanks!

  18. @ Charlotte — It’s an efficient airport for connections, so assuming everything is on-time that should be fine.

  19. I flew United IAH-BOG and was then connecting on Avianca BOG-CLO on a separate ticket. The united flight arrived late and I missed the last flight of the night. I understood that I was on my own but I still asked United if they could help me out. A United employee took me to their office and wrote a letter to Avianca informing about my situation and if they could “help me out”. Avianca got me on the next flight the following day and I didn’t charge me any change fee.

  20. It also depends on what airline you’re flying in on too. In the example case above, if it’s AA, they only have 3 direct flights a day between DEN-LAX. If one is canceled you’re kinda screwed as the nearest AA hub for a connecting flight is DFW. If you’re flying in on United, they have 8 direct flights a day, so if one is canceled, your options are a little better. They also have a hub in SFO which is a lot closer to LAX than DFW if you got rerouted and needed to connect.

  21. You mentioned T7 to T8 JFK MCT is 2 hours. Are the MCT for all combo of terminals at JFK listed somewhere?

  22. Along the same topic, what’s your thoughts on an hour and 10 at HKG?

    Flying BKK-HKG(TG)-ICN(OZ), there was a direct but I need that massage 🙂

  23. Hi Lucky,

    I am arriving into ORD via us airways for an Asiana flight leaving to Incheon. My domestic arrives at ORD at 11:00am and the asiana flight departs at 12:00pm. Do I have enough time to transit through those terminals?

  24. @ chuck — That’s really tight as you’ll have to change terminals, but if everything is on-time you should be fine.

  25. @ Christian — If everything is on-time you’ll be fine, if not you’ll be in trouble. Good luck!

  26. @ anon — Not publicly that I know of. There are general guidelines, and then specific exceptions for transfers between a few terminals, since they tend to take a bit longer.

  27. In a few months, I am looking to book JFK-FRA on SQ or LH. Any suggestions for MCT if I’m connecting via LGA or EWR? Or JFK but on DL from DTW?

  28. @ anon — I’d probably allow at least a four hour transfer for JFK, five hour transfer if flying into LGA, or six hour transfer if flying into EWR on a separate ticket.

  29. Lucky,
    I’m traveling from Singapore F (award) connecting to domestic New Zealand (C revenue-different ticket). If I’m connecting in akl, would I be ok with a 1:15 connection time? We will be checking a bag.

  30. Hi, have a question about Jim’s comment. Can you have a break in hkg for 6 days and fly onward to syd on the same award ticket? Or will need to pay as 2 separate segments?

  31. I don’t have this in writing, but I have actually had United tell me that AC would look after me, including rebooking, if my United flight was delayed, causing me to miss my AC flight to Asia, and these flights were on separate tickets. This is assuming that I had checked in online in advance, and therefore, AC would be able to see where I was coming from and what was up with my incoming flight.

  32. @ De — In Auckland it’s a separate terminal for domestic flights, so that’s really tight.

  33. @ Veeyes — Depends who you’re booking through. Typically a stopover is allowed on a roundtrip but not one-way.

  34. Hi Lucky,

    Just wanted to say thanks for crafting up such a detailed answer to my question! I’m off to try and figure out what the MCT is in Los Angeles for a domestic to International transfer.

    I appreciate the help!

  35. @ C Diddy — Best I can tell, the minimum connection time is 90 minutes for American to Etihad at LAX.

  36. I just got through a short 1 hour delay from EWR to LHR on United J (solid product by the way) to find out that I missed the two hour connection to LIS on TAP which would have arrived at 10:30 but was rebooked through Munich on BA and LH (curse intra-europe business class for 6 hours and arrived at 23:15. In hindsight a slightly longer connection would have saved me a 13 hour delay into Portugal. Praying for an on time return with a 1.5 hour layover.

  37. Does anybody have more stories about misconnecting and what actually happened? Has anyone ever had their whole award trip cancelled due to a misconnect?

    I’m worried about a trip in late December where I am flying DL economy JFK-LAX on a revenue ticket to start an business class award trip on VA to Australia and NZ. I haven’t booked the first leg yet, so I think I’m going to give the connection 10-12 hours and just hope that I don’t get one of those few days every winter where every flight out of JFK gets cancelled. Are there any insurance products that would cover such a situation and rebook me on a $10,000 business class ticket around the holidays if DL/VA wouldn’t fix the situation? I’d be willing to pay a few hundred dollars for the protection for this trip.

  38. @De

    1.15 connection time in AKL to a domestic flight is absolutely not enough, you are practically guaranteed to miss your connection… when arriving NZ you not only have to clear border and customs but also quarantine… even if it is quick, 1.15 is simply not enough.
    personally, i would leave at least 2.5 hours… and make sure you don’t have any soil anywhere, wash your shoes and all outdoor gear in a washing machine before your flight so they are super clean. and don’t carry any food at all. if they find it you will be slowed down significantly and fined.

  39. How about Star Alliance?

    I need to take a positioning flight SFO–>LAX before catching an int’l flight to IST on Turkish. Am I better off booking UA from SFO/SJC to LAX? Will *A provide similar coverage as OneWorld?

    Any data points?


  40. @ Lucky – thanks for a very valuable post!

    Re: ORD – as a point of reference, if you are arriving from an international flight and transferring to a domestic flight in another terminal, I’d not do anything less than 2 hours. Did ZRH-ORD (LX) & ORD-IAH (UA) and in near perfect situation (immigration+customs = 2 minutes; priority security line; bags picked up by UA personnel after customs), it took me nearly an hour from the time I got off the plane to getting to the departure gate.

  41. Ben, any luck finding out if this really is an Alliance-wide policy? From everything I’d read previously it was AA-only, albeit other airlines still help out none of them seem to have a similarly published policy.

  42. Hi Ben – any luck finding this in writing somewhere though? I’ve previously had problems even BA -> BA when it was on a separate ticket (they eventually relented but it took some talking), so without something written like AA’s one I don’t like to risk shorter connections.

  43. OK, thanks Ben – I’ll remain a bit cautious in that case – outside the US I find airlines can be a bit more sticky about moving pax between flights. Would be nice if they have agreed it that they properly published it though, would be a big upside vs Star Alliance!!

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