How to potentially save $100s by booking travel through Kiwi.com

Nov 6, 2019

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When it comes to searching for flights, many of us default to using Google Flights. While Google Flights effortlessly compiles flight prices almost all airlines — with Southwest being a notable exception — it’s not going to give you the cheapest option for all trips.

There are times where it can make sense to book two different tickets instead of one in order to save hundreds on dollars on your transportation. Although Google Flights won’t show you these itineraries, it’s situations just like this where online booking service Kiwi.com excels.

Kiwi.com says it searches and combines tickets from more than 750 ground and air carriers in order to find you the cheapest way of getting from point A to point B. Some of the itineraries are a bit extreme — such as taking a Greyhound to an airport in another U.S. city, catching a flight to Europe and then taking a train to your final destination. For those not brave enough to take a Greyhound, Kiwi.com also lets you filter out bus options.

I put Kiwi.com to the test earlier this year on a one-way booking from Papeete, French Polynesia (PPT) to Atlanta (ATL). Katie and I had booked a one-way AAdvantage award on Air Tahiti Nui to Tahiti, but there was no good award availability coming back. So, I started where I normally do for flights: Google Flights. The cheapest option was $1,097 one-way:

Sometimes you can get cheaper fares through Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) like Expedia, but not in this case:

Other OTAs priced out even higher:

Some travelers might assume that’s going to be the price to pay for a one-way international flight. However, not all one-way flights are that expensive. For example, I found that I could pay just $262 one-way to fly from Tahiti to San Francisco:

And there’s a flight from San Francisco to Atlanta that departs a few hours after that PPT-SFO flight that costs just $154:

So, I could book those two flights separately for just $416 total. The catch is, if the over-water flight is delayed or cancelled, United isn’t going to re-book me for free on the domestic flight.

And that’s just the solution that Kiwi.com is perfect for. Instead of booking the two flights separately, Kiwi.com automatically finds these hacked-together itineraries and books you on these flights together. While the individual airlines won’t protect your connection between the separate tickets, Kiwi.com adds connection insurance — called the Kiwi.com Guarantee — in exchange for charging a slightly-higher price.

While I had to spend a while searching Google Flights Explorer to try to find a cheaper price, Kiwi.com found and recommended this itinerary in just seconds:

The price difference between booking the two flights separately and through Kiwi.com wasn’t small: $57. If I had a flexible schedule, I may have risked it and booked the flights separately myself. However, I needed to get into Atlanta and hoped that I could count on the Kiwi.com Guarantee if thing didn’t go as planned. Speaking of which, let’s take a closer look at Kiwi.com’s guarantee to see if it’s worth the extra money.

The Kiwi.com Guarantee

When booking a mixed-ticket itinerary through Kiwi.com, the Kiwi.com Guarantee says it will protect you from travel delays, flight cancellations and schedule changes:

If any of these happen, Kiwi.com offers the traveler either an alternative flight to your destination or Kiwi.com will refund the cost of your unused tickets:

If the change is more than 48 hours from the departure of your first flight, Kiwi.com will choose whether to rebook you or refund the cost of your trip. That could mean that a schedule change three days before your trip leads to the cancellation and refund of your flights. And last-minute replacement flights could be very expensive.

If the schedule change, delay or cancellations occurs within 48 hours of departure, you get to choose which option you’d prefer. Plus, Kiwi.com will cover transportation to another airport or train station (if that’s part of the new booking), overnight accommodations if the delay is overnight and more than eight hours and food and drink if the delay is more than four hours.

Restrictions on the Kiwi.com Guarantee

Of course, the devil is in the details. There’s a number of limitations and restrictions on the Kiwi.com Guarantee that are found when you dive into the terms and conditions.

Transportation to another airport or train station is limited to 100 euros ($111) per booking, and the food and beverage benefit is limited to just 10 euros ($11) per passenger. If the airline offers accommodation, transportation or food and beverage, Kiwi.com absolves itself “of all responsibility to further compensate and/or reimburse You.”

A key metric left out of this Kiwi.com Guarantee overview is how long of a delay is necessary to cause a re-booking. In the terms and conditions, you find that the Kiwi.com Guarantee only applies when a delay or cancellation “may negatively impact Your ability to reach Your Destination or Your arrival at the Destination shall change by more than 24 hours from the original scheduled arrival.”

That’s significantly more than what you’ll find through other flight insurance services such as Freebird — which rebooks you if you miss a connection or your flight is delayed more than four hours.

And there’s another big caveat. The Kiwi.com Guarantee doesn’t apply “to cases of Flight delays, change or cancellation caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.” These force majeure circumstances include:

political instability, meteorological conditions incompatible with the operation of the flight concerned, security risks, unexpected transport safety shortcomings and strikes that affect the operation of an operating air carrier, significant limitation of airport(s), bus and train station(s) and/or other transition places operation, as well as bankruptcy, and/or insolvency or termination of 50% or more of all flights of the Selected Carrier or any other effect which significantly limits or disables the Selected or operating Carrier to provide its services

In a time where there are a significant number of political protests — from Hong Kong to Barcelona — and a number of airlines have been going bankrupt, those are some pretty significant omissions.

Kiwi.com does go on to say that “in these cases We will make Our best effort to offer You (an) alternate Flight(s) and/or other alternate transportation for You in order to eliminate inconveniences that You may incur in relation to this matter.”

Beware of add-on fees

While Kiwi.com may provide the a good value proposition for booking combined flight itineraries, you’re going to want to go direct to the airline to pay for add-on fees like checked baggage and seat selection. For my booking, I was given the option at check in to pay 74.27 euros ($82) for checked baggage:

The problem with that: My French Bee booking included a checked baggage allowance and United’s first checked bag fee for domestic flights is just $30. From what I’m seeing from others experiences using Kiwi.com, this isn’t a fluke. When using Kiwi.com, expect that you’re going to be charged more for buying add-ons through Kiwi.com. I’d recommend checking what the cost is directly with the airline before purchasing an add-on through Kiwi.com.

When Kiwi.com isn’t worth it

While I booked my two-ticket itinerary through Kiwi.com, Katie chose not to. Instead, she booked a one-way flight from Tahiti to San Francisco on United and then booked a separate Southwest flight from San Francisco to Atlanta.

Her connection wasn’t protected, but since Southwest has such a flyer-friendly cancellation policy, she figured that she could cancel the Southwest flight and find another way home if the United flight from Tahiti is delayed or cancelled. For her, she’d rather save the additional cost that Kiwi.com was going to charge for her itinerary and “self-insure” the connection in San Francisco.

Both of our flights operated without any issues, so I wasn’t able to put the Kiwi.com Guarantee to the test, and Katie didn’t have a horror story against booking two one-way flights separately.

My takeaway on Kiwi.com 

So, do I recommend Kiwi.com? It depends. For piecing together multi-ticket itineraries with live pricing, it’s the best option I’ve found. And for that reason, I’ve told numerous travelers about the service as an option to uncover these gems.

However, you’re going to want to compare the price difference between booking through Kiwi.com and booking separately to see if the Kiwi.com Guarantee is worth paying for. It might be worth booking the itinerary on your own and self-insuring any potential issues if you have a flexible schedule or your itinerary includes Southwest flights — which can be cancelled and refunded until just before departure — and/or cheap ground transportation.

Also, the Kiwi.com Guarantee isn’t as valuable for cardholders of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card or other credit cards that offer trip delay reimbursement. While these cards won’t cover situations when you misconnect between tickets, you’ll get reimbursed for hotels, ground transportation and food in certain circumstances  and the reimbursement limits are much higher than what’s provided through the Kiwi.com Guarantee.

Featured photo by Orbon Alija/Getty Images.

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