Tip: Ask to Check Your Luggage All the Way to Your Final Destination
On a recent trip to Australia I found myself booked on an insane routing home that took a total of more than 58 hours. I was booked on two separate tickets on two airlines that I had thought had no relationship at all. My routing took me from Melbourne (MEL) — Bangkok (BKK) — Ho Chi Minh (SGN) on Thai Airways with a 10-hour layover, connecting to Qatar Airways for flights from Ho Chi Minh (SGN) — Doha (DOH) — New York (JFK). It wasn't an ideal way home, but with business class and mostly lie-flat seats it didn't feel as long as it was. What made it even better was that I didn't have to worry about my bag for all of those 58 hours.
When I arrived at MEL, my first stop was the Qatar check-in desk. I asked the agent for my connecting boarding passes from Ho Chi Minh. Unfortunately, Qatar was unable to issue the boarding passes but the agent did suggest I ask Thai to check my baggage all the way through to JFK, as the two airlines have a baggage service agreement. An agent at the Thai Airways check-in counter made a few phone calls and verified the baggage services agreement. The agent then checked my onward connections and issued luggage tags that read BKK-SGN-DOH-JFK. Finally, the Thai agent issued me my boarding cards for my Thai flights. Again to her surprise and mine a boarding card for my flight from SGN-DOH, a Qatar Airways flight, printed from her machine as well on the Thai card stock. When I arrived at JFK 58 hours later, my bag was waiting for me.
How can you tell if the airlines you're flying have a baggage service agreement or any additional agreements? It takes a bit of research. If you're flying with airlines within the same alliance, they'll likely have service agreements. But if you're traveling between two alliances like I was, your best bet is just to ask at check in or call ahead — the worst that can happen is that there's no such agreement. As TPG always says, it never hurts to ask.