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I've come across this situation in the past and I'm not sure if I've misunderstood or if it is a real limitation of online booking sites run by airlines.

I'm going to use an example of travelling from London (in the UK) to Wellington (in New Zealand) but it is (I think) a more general situation than that.

So in order to get from London to Wellington ...

One possibility is to book a primary ticket with, say, Malaysia Airlines . Malaysia Airlines don't fly to London to Wellington but they do fly London to Auckland, New Zealand. As a result you can't go on the Malaysia Airlines website and say "I'd like a London - Wellington ticket" - instead you buy two tickets - one from Malaysia Airlines (LHR-AKL) and one, using the Air New Zealand website, from Air New Zealand (AKL-WLG).

Another possibility is to book a ticket with Air New Zealand who will fly London to Auckland and then you change planes to get to get to WLG on another ANZ flight but all on one ticket .

As far as I can see the benefit of the second option is that if the incoming flight to AKL is delayed then ANZ are going to sort the situation out for me. By contrast in the first situation if the incoming flight to AKL is delayed then as far as ANZ is concerned I'm just some person who failed to catch their flight.

In the days before internet booking you'd go to a travel agent. They would produce one ticket booklet which included legs from London to Wellington and which all the carriers involved considered a single ticket. As a result if there was some disruption in earlier legs the carriers doing the later legs would just take it on the chin and sort it out for you .

So is this an intrinsic restriction on using airlines internet booking ? If so is the answer to simply 'use a travel agent' ?

EDIT: In the first version of this question I had used an example which, it turned out, didn't illustrate the problem I was trying to describe so I have now changed that. Sorry for the confusion.

EDIT2: Just to make clear what I want to do as some commenters have asked. I'm looking to :

  • buy a single ticket so that I don't have to worry about leg 1 being delayed and so missing the flight on leg 2 and
  • have as wide a choice of airlines as possible.

As some have pointed out I can buy a single ticket with ANZ and achieve this aim but I want a greater choice of airlines. Some have also pointed out that this is possible with some airlines (such as Emirates) and I had overlooked that so that is useful information - thank you.

Although I mentioned paper tickets that is not my interest, I was just contrasting the situation pre-airline-websites and today.

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    That's actually a lot more complicated than that. See travel.stackexchange.com/questions/58759/… for some context. Airlines can sell tickets from other airlines if they want to (certainly with code shares, but not only that). And yes, travel agents can sometimes build more complex combinations, for both commercial and technical reasons. Finally, some combinations simply cannot be booked together as one ticket, even through a travel agent. – Relaxed Oct 24 '16 at 23:36
  • All my airline work is post paper tickets. But thinking about how e-tickets work I don't think it was that different. For what you describe, the airlines likely still had an interline and using a TA didn't make much real difference except they could manually built the itinerary using different carriers. That's still possible, it's just the airlines don't offer them as standard routings. – Johns-305 Oct 24 '16 at 23:37
  • @pnuts : thanks for your comment. You're quite right right Emirates do allow you to do this and I didn't know that but there are carriers which don't (I'm about to edit the question to reflect that). – glaucon Oct 24 '16 at 23:41
  • @pnuts His final destination is WLG, not AKL. – Michael Hampton Oct 25 '16 at 1:01
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    The other thing is that the fare rules for each segment have to be compatible. You may find flights going from A to B, and an airline that tickets on both carriers, but fare restrictions might prevent a single booking. In practice, while you can occasionally get some good deals by putting together an unusual itinerary like this, you're not likely to beat the £631 quote. – Michael Hampton Oct 25 '16 at 19:58
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There is no intrinsic reason airlines couldn't issue tickets with interlined segments through their own online sales channels. They (most or all of them) just make a business decision not to do it, except sometimes for selected intra-alliance connections.

Their reasons are probably a combination of the added cost of implementing a more complex itinerary-creation user interface without sacrificing usability for the majority of their online customers, and marketing considerations (now we have this customer's attention we're not going to confuse him by showing flights from our competitors).

The aditional income they could get from doing so would probably be limited anyway -- most travelers who need complex itineraries will be business travelers who already use travel agents for other reasons.

So yes, the answer is still to go to a travel agent (possibly an online one -- they exist), or a manned ticket counter (which may technically just be an airline-branded travel agency anyway), or perhaps even phone the airline. In either of these cases you can expect to be charged a fee to have a human handle your ticketing; it's just not cost-effective to develop an automated system that can deal with all of the corner cases of complex itineraries correctly and still be easy enough to be useful as self-service.

  • I think the OP was asking about any differences between the time of Paper Tickets/TA's and now E-Tickets/Electronic Distribution. Not why they will or won't sell other carriers flights. – Johns-305 Oct 25 '16 at 0:14
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    @Johns-305: Hmm, I don't see that. The choice between paper or e-tickets is more or less independent of all this. Note that e-tickets can span several different airlines too, and can be issued through travel agencies. – Henning Makholm Oct 25 '16 at 0:28
  • "In the days before internet booking...travel agent...one ticket booklet" OP seems to be contrasting this with the current system and asking if this makes a difference. – Johns-305 Oct 25 '16 at 0:33
  • @Johns-305 : i'm sorry I wasn't clear enough. I have added 'EDIT2' to the question. My interest was not related to paper vs non-paper but more to do with being able to purchase multi-carrier tickets online . I'm sorry it's not very clear, part of the problem is I just don't do this very often so I'm not familiar with the terminology. – glaucon Oct 25 '16 at 19:53
  • @HenningMakholm : thanks for your excellent answer. – glaucon Oct 25 '16 at 19:57
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The point I was trying to make with the Kayak link (which seems to have changed since I posted it) is that it does seem possible to buy a single ticket so that I don't have to worry about leg 1 being delayed and so missing the flight on leg 2 even when the "primary" ticket is with Malaysia Airlines and the origin is London and destination Wellington:

London to Wellington

Kayak will find the above when only "Multiple Airlines" is the filter.

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    It is possible to do this. Some would say it's a normal, every day activity. – Calchas Oct 30 '16 at 0:54
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If you are interested in being a bit more advanced, consider using the Matrix to price your itineraries: http://matrix.itasoftware.com

It shows you the full power of what can be accomplished with air tickets, and validates all fare compatability concerns, interline restrictions and so on. You can also instruct it to only permit certain routes through a simple command syntax it accepts via the “Advanced routing codes” option.

The itineraries it produces are what can be booked as “one ticket” (by a competent travel agent or airline).

However you are often stuck talking to a real, offline person (at the airline or a travel agent) to book the ticket, especially once you get more than three or four carriers involved. However, there are browser plug ins and there's http://www.bookwithmatrix.com that can reproduce some itineraries on online travel agents such as Expedia. (I have not used these.)

Out of interest I wondered if I could price your desired routing to WLG. Indeed Malaysian Airlines does publish a through-fare on London to Wellington, they just don't sell it through their own website. As pnuts says in his answer, Kayak can arrange it.

London to Wellington quote

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