Ask Airfare Watchdog: Combining Fares To Save

Q: I received an airfare alert recently of a great fare from Houston to Tokyo on Delta for $456 roundtrip including taxes. I live in Dallas, and the fare from here to Tokyo was almost $1000 roundtrip with tax on the very same dates. However, searching further I discovered that on those dates I could fly Dallas to Houston for anywhere between $100 and $200 roundtrip. So doing the math — well, you see where this is going. My question: Why didn't any of the fare search sites I looked at, and I queried about a dozen of them including Travelocity, Kayak, and Orbitz, tell me how I could combine the two fares and save almost $500?

A: That's a very good question, and I'm not sure I have an easy answer other than that the software these sites use isn't equipped to figure out combination fares such as the one you found. Keep in mind that were your flights to and from Dallas delayed or canceled, the airlines wouldn't have much sympathy for you, and you wouldn't be able to check any bags through to Tokyo in one transaction (of course, you might argue that even had you bought the single more expensive fare, the airlines wouldn't have been much help either). If you decide to use this perfectly legal fare strategy, please give yourself plenty (5-6 hours isn't too much) of time between connecting flights. Another comment I'll make which will gladden the hearts of any travel agents reading this: Good brick-and-mortar travel agents come up with fare savings like this all the time, and I'm sure they too would caution you about the pitfalls.

Q: I had a question / issue that perhaps you could answer concerning the varied range of price differences found on code share flights between two different airlines for the same flight. Let me preface this by saying that I completely understand that many airlines sell a bucket of tickets to their alliance partners as a code share on each of their respective sites, and are free to price these as they wish. I generally find that the price on the airlines flying the aircraft is usually cheaper than the on the airline selling the seats. So for example a flight from the U.S. to Germany sold by US Airways can be considerably more expensive than the same ticket sold by Lufthansa, which is the one actually operating the aircraft on the flight.

However, I recently found a situation where the opposite was the case, where a US Airways fare for an international trip (flying on a United aircraft) was a good 30 percent cheaper than buying a United ticket. It seemed strange that United would allow a fellow Star Alliance member undercut its own price by a few hundred dollars. Would this fall under the lowest price guarantee that they offer?

I prefer to book directly with United on their site (for mileage and point reasons) but not at the expense of overpaying for my ticket.

A: As far as we know, code share fare differences are not eligible for lowest price guarantees. We find that there's no rhyme or reason as to whether a code share fare will be cheaper on the airline selling the fare vs. the airline flying the flight. Although many people prefer searching for fares directly with airline Web sites, code share fares are a very good reason for using third-party search sites such as Orbitz or Expedia. United will not tell you, when searching, that one airline is selling the very same flight operated by a second airline for 30 percent less, but an online travel agency will do so.