How to Mix and Match Your Flights to Save Hundreds — Without the Hassle

It's called "virtual interlining" and it's so easy.

If you’ve ever tried to book really cheap flight reservations on your own, chances are you ended up with tickets on different airlines for each leg of your journey. Remember hustling to pick up and recheck your luggage between flight legs and stressing over whether or not you’ll make your connecting flights? Not only is this a stressful way to try and save money, if something goes wrong, but all the liability also falls in your lap, with no protection from the airline, easily morphing into an unexpected– and expensive — travel nightmare.

But tracking down cheap flights doesn’t have to be so complicated, thanks to something called “virtual interlining.” The term sounds complicated, but it’s actually quite simple, combining — or mixing-and-matching — flights from carriers that don’t typically cooperate with one another under a single itinerary and fare. With virtual interlining services being offered by online travel search engines such as Kiwi, DoHop and Skyscanner, you can remove stress from the equation when you want to fly for cheap.

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How Does Virtual Interlining Protect You?

Airport Departure Board over the check-in counters.
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One of the best parts of participating in virtual interlining via online travel search engines — other than the cheap prices — is that you might not have to assume responsibility if something goes wrong, which often happens when you personally hand-pick and purchase your own flights on different airlines.

For example, Kiwi offers a Kiwi Guarantee, which comes with connection protection when you travel with multiple carriers. That means Kiwi will offer you an alternative flight or refund your unused tickets, depending on the circumstances. The guarantee applies if you miss your flight due to an airline rescheduling, canceling or delaying the flight for any reason other than “force majeure” (events that can’t be controlled like natural disasters). The protection also applies if your baggage was delayed, or immigration and customs procedures took too long.

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If your flight is changed at the last minute, Kiwi might even cover your food and lodging expenses while you wait for the next flight. Some airports, like London Stansted, assist virtual interliners with baggage transfers.

How Much Can You Save With Virtual Interlining?

passenger waiting check-in line S terminal of the Bangkok airport at Suvarnabhumi airport is world's 4th largest single-building airport terminal.
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Using Kiwi’s site, a round-trip flight with one stop departing on April 3 from Washington, D.C., to Rome, Italy, and returning on April 10 costs $542. Using the same dates, departures and destinations, a round-trip ticket reservation with one stop arranged through Google Flights costs $735 — or almost $200 more.

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How Virtual Interlining Itineraries Can Differ From Others

Beyond the price, other differences include that the Kiwi itinerary does involve some inconveniences. First, it requires you to change airlines on your way over and back — once each time, but you’re protected by the Kiwi Guarantee. Also, you won’t be able to check a bag — though this isn’t the case with every Kiwi itinerary, as you can search for flights that meet your personal baggage needs. Finally, you won’t be able to select from multiple departure times that work best for you; Kiwi does that for you.

Even though the Google Flights reservation is more expensive, it has connecting flights on Turkish Airlines both ways and you can check bags. The flight time on the way over is almost the same as Kiwi’s itinerary, but the flight back is at least two hours longer. But you are able to choose between flights for departure times and flight lengths that work best for you.

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If your goal is to save a few hundred dollars or more on a flight and you tend to travel light, virtual interlining might be a good method for you. Just make sure you understand what your flight arrangements do and don’t include before you head to the airport. Exercising foresight can help you avoid unpleasant surprises.

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Prices are accurate as of Feb. 27, 2019.