WARNING: Why You Should Be Careful When Booking Positioning Flights

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A week or so ago I saw a headline on a “consumer advocate” site that read “why you should never, ever book your flights this way” and it’s that headline that’s prompted me to write this post.

The story the consumer advocate was writing about involved a traveler who booked a trip with more than one itinerary (i.e she booked flights from A to B with one airline and then booked flights from B to C separately with another airline) and who then faced a lot of issues when one of her flights encountered delays resulting in a missed connection.

The reason the traveler had the issue was because, when you book separate itineraries like that, the itineraries are in no way connected so the airlines in question have no responsibility to ensure a smooth connection should something go wrong.

In this case the traveler’s flight from A to B was delayed to the extent that she missed her flight from B to C…and so had to purchase a whole new ticket to get to where she was going. That must have been expensive.

So why am I writing this post?

Well, I have two reasons:

Firstly, I think the headline written by the consumer advocate was ill-conceived and one that gives extremely bad advice…..and I’d like to correct that.

Secondly, I think it important to highlight the risks and rewards involved with booking such trips so that travelers can make informed decisions rather than taking advice from someone (the consumer advocate) who appears to have little understanding of the realities of air travel.

Why Would You Book A Trip With More Than One Itinerary?

The quick answer is “to save money”…often a lot of money.

I have no insight into why the traveler the consumer advocate was highlighting booked the flights that she did but, if I was to hazard an educated guess, I’d say it was to save money….and good on her for getting creative (it’s just a shame it didn’t work out).

If you’ve read some of my trip reports or seen my postings about great Business Class fares (like the one highlighting Qatar Airways earlier this week) you may have noticed that I mention something  called “a positioning flight”……and it’s positioning flights that are at the very heart of this matter.


A positioning flight is a flight that a traveler takes in order to take advantage of a great airfare that originates in a city (often in another county) other than the one the traveler lives in.

Here’s an example:

In my latest trip report I discuss how I booked a great Qatar Airways Business Class fare from Rome to Kuala Lumpur but, as I don’t live in Rome, I had to take a “positioning flight” from where I was based at the time (London) to Rome to catch that flight.

Qatar Airway’s 787 Business Class….well worth a positioning flight

Why did I bother?

Quite simple: A business Class flight from London to Kuala Lumpur usually costs in excess of $2,200 (and that’s not necessarily with a great airline) while the Business Class flight I purchased though Qatar Airways cost me just $1,584 (and that was for travel on a world-class airline).

Even when I add in the costs of flying to/from Rome (approximately $90 and 6,500 Avios) I still made a big saving by “positioning” myself to Rome.

The Risks Of Positioning Flights

To get the great Qatar Airways Business Class fare to Kuala Lumpur I had to book my flights to/from Rome separately from my flights between Rome and Kuala Lumpur (there’s never a way to connect the itineraries)…and that brought with it some risks.

My flight from Rome to Kuala Lumpur wasn’t scheduled to depart until 4:30pm so I booked myself on a British Airways flight from London that was due to arrive into Rome at 1:10pm. That schedule gave me over three hours to get from flight one to flight two and, as I was traveling on my own and just with hand baggage, I felt that was more than long enough.

Even if my flight from London was delayed for an hour I was confident I’d easily make my connection…..but I also knew the risks:

  • If my flight from London to Rome was so badly delayed that I missed my flight to Kuala Lumpur British Airways would not have been liable for that problem and would not have to book me on the next available flight or pay me any compensation for having missed that flight.
  • Likewise, Qatar Airways would just have recognised me as a “no-show” and my ticket would have been canceled with no refund given – they too would have no liability to me.
  • If my flight from London had been delayed by over 3 hours I would have been entitled to compensation under EU Regulation 261/2004…but that would have only come to around $275 so I would still be massively out of pocket.

The gate area looks pretty lonely when you miss your flight!

The risks also extend to the return journey:

Knowing that my Qatar Airways flight was due in to Rome at around 7pm I booked the last flight between Rome and London scheduled to depart at 21:20…and once again I was comfortable with that.

However, had my inbound flight been delayed to the extent that I missed my flight to London the following would have happened:

  • Alitalia would have marked me down as a “no-show”, cancelled my one way ticket and would not have any liability to me. If I wanted to get home I would simply have to purchase another fare – because the itineraries were not linked Qatar Airways would have had no duty to make sure I got back to London ok.
  • I would also have to find myself a hotel for the night and pay for it out of my own pocket – once again, because the itineraries were not linked Qatar Airways was under no obligation to make sure I caught the last flight so, if I missed it, it also had no obligation to pay for my overnight hotel.
  • Even if my flight to Rome had been delayed by over 3 hours I wouldn’t have been entitled to compensation under EU Regulation 261/2004 as the flight did not originate in the EU.

So, as you can see, when things go wrong they can get pretty expensive (last minute bookings for hotels and flights are rarely cheap).

Missing my flight to Kuala Lumpur would have been an expensive mistake!

Mitigating The Risks

The connection times I allowed myself for the trip outlined above  are definitely not for everyone….and they’re not even for me if I’m traveling with checked baggage (that always adds a lot of time). But there isn’t always a need to take a lot of risk.

Going back to the example of my Kuala Lumpur Trip there were a number of things other travelers could have done to mitigate the risks:

  • Take an earlier flight from London – that would have given even more time to connect in Rome
  • If earlier flights are excessively expensive there is always the option of flying in to Rome the night before and overnighting at a cheap airport hotel (using points for this kind of hotel stay can save quite a bit of money too if the rack rates are high). There’s very little risk of missing your connecting flight if you arrive the night before.
  • Book an overnight hotel in Rome on the return journey. Rather than attempting to catch the last flight home as I did, booking an airport hotel would mean that the inbound flight could be hugely delayed and there still be little risk of a missed connection.

Booking a cheap hotel airport is a good way to avoid leaving yourself with an overly tight connection should flights get delayed

Most of these techniques for mitigating the risks will cost extra and travelers need to work out if the extra cost is worth it….but that’s a decision each traveler needs to make on their own.

Bottom Line

Booking flights across two separate and unconnected itineraries does come with risks (as outlined above) but the idea that you should “you should never, ever book your flights this way” is just wrong.

There can be huge savings to be made by booking flights across multiple itineraries and, as long as you’re aware of the risks and as long as you do your best to mitigate them to a level where the risks are at levels within your comfort zone, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t book trips like this all the time….I do!

Don’t be scared of booking a long lay over between your flights. There’s nothing clever about cutting it fine and, when all is said and done, you’re flying Business Class so you’ll have lounge access anyway….and how bad can that really be? 🙂