Travel Tip of the Week: Avoid “direct” flights

Now many frequent flyers who qualify on segments will tell you to add a connection and increase your segments, especially short flights which can add 500 mile minimums on certain airlines. That works for many, but this post is actually advising something different…avoiding “direct” flights.

To be competitive in certain markets airlines will use a direct flight (1 flight number) to advertise a route that a competitor doesn’t fly non-stop. Charlotte is a big US Airways hub so airports without non-stop flights from US Airways will often get a “direct” flight on another carrier. Charlotte doesn’t have a non-stop flight to Omaha or Chicago-Midway so Delta will sell a flight with one flight number which looks like it goes from CLT-OMA.

What’s wrong with this? Well the reason I keep putting direct in quotes are because they aren’t direct. There isn’t a plane that goes from CLT-OMA without stopping. This week, against my own advice, I booked a flight from CLT-MDW on Delta. I knew Delta/Northwest doesn’t have a plane going from CLT-MDW, but it was a better price than some alternates so I booked it anyway. It turns out the flight really connected in MSP. CLT-MSP is 929 miles, MSP-MDW is a 500-mile minimum on Delta so 929+500 and 2 segments is what I’d get on a connecting flight. “Direct” flights accrue mileage like non-stop flights so CLT-MDW really got me 584 miles and 1 segment. over 900 fewer miles.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that a “direct” flight means nothing as to whether you’ll have to change planes or not. This week I actually had the same plane and the same flight crew, but sometimes you’ll have to change planes. My upcoming MEL-ORD trip is all 1 flight number, but is a 747 from MEL-SYD-LAX and then a different plane from LAX-ORD.

How to detect a mysterious direct flight: if it takes more than 1:30 per 500 miles, if you see a flight from a non-hub to another non-hub (but not always), if you see a flight to a city you didn’t think your city serviced, if you look at your seat map and it seems like certain seats are unavailable when they should be.

So, if you really want convenience you need a non-stop flight. If you have a “direct” flight, print 2 copies of your boarding pass just in case you lose it on the first leg since often it is just 1 boarding pass for the whole direction.