Stupid Tip of the Day: Direct Flights Versus Non-Stop Flights

Note: Stupid Tip of the Day is a fairly new but no so new regular feature of The Gate which will not be featured regularly — if at all — after today.

“P eople still continue to be confused about the difference between a direct flight and a non-stop flight. I asked someone just last week if he knew what is a direct flight. “It is a non-stop flight” was his response.


A non-stop flight is just that: a flight operated by an airline between an originating airport and a destination airport without any stops in between.

A direct flight is a flight operated by an airline between an originating airport and a destination airport which has at least one stop. All segments of the flight have the same flight number operated by the same airline. However, the aircraft equipment could be different. Worse, the stopover may not count as a connection where you can earn as many frequent flier loyalty program miles as you could on a connecting flight.

Let us say you are traveling from Seattle to New York as a member of a frequent flier loyalty program where earning miles is based on distance flown:

  • On a non-stop flight, you would earn 2,413 frequent flier loyalty program miles
  • On two different connecting flights with two different flight numbers where you must change airplanes in Phoenix, you would earn 3,253 frequent flier loyalty program miles because the flight from Seattle to Phoenix is 1,106 miles and the flight from Phoenix to New York is 2,147 miles
  • On a direct flight where the stop is in Phoenix, you would most likely still earn the same 2,413 frequent flier loyalty program miles miles even though you have traveled 840 more miles and spent extra time traveling and at the intermediate stop


Of course, the above example will become obsolete if you are a member of a frequent flier loyalty program where earning miles is based on revenue spend — but you still will spend more time traveling on a direct flight than on a non-stop flight.

Watch out for those direct flights when booking an airline ticket, as they are not necessarily transparent or obvious: sometimes the only warning that a flight is a direct flight is if it says one stop or something similar hidden somewhere; and sometimes if you are on a route which has no non-stop flights, a direct flight may seem like an attractive option when compared to connecting flights. The direct flight, however, may be worth booking if the connecting flights are either significantly more expensive; the schedule is better for you; or if the itinerary is considerably longer in duration for the connecting flights than for the direct flight.

Hopefully I will not need to be direct with you in order to connect with you; and that I will be more non-stop with you next time…

  1. A truly bad aspect of direct flights is with frequent changes of equipment at the midway point, if the first leg of the flight is delayed, there is no assurance the second leg of the flight will be held. I’ve more than once missed the second part of a “direct” flight. While mis-connects happen all the time, now you’re in the pickle of a situation where you only had one “flight coupon” and there’s nothing to issue a new boarding pass off of for the replacement flight. While it always works out, I’ve never found an agent in a club who could successfully handle this issue in less than 30 minutes.

    Having had this happen more than once, I now simply explain to the lounge front desk staff what the problem that they’re going to face is…give them my original BP, then go take a seat and ask them to find me when the sort it out.

    1. I have to say that I have never had that happen to me on a “direct” flight, NYBanker.

      I suppose I have simply been lucky.

      Thank you for sharing that valuable information. I hope that you — or anyone else — does not encounter that situation again…

  2. Actually a non-stop flight is also a direct flight. A direct flight is a flight with one flight number and carrier. A direct flight does not need to have at least one intermediate stop. That is why non-stops and direct flight with stops are displayed together in an airlines schedule – they are all direct.
    And you are correct that a direct flight with a change of equipment is a pain!

    1. You are absolutely correct, Denise; but for this article, I purposely left that out so as to not cause confusion, as it is implied that a non-stop flight is indeed a direct flight…

      …whereas a direct flight is not always a non-stop flight, which was the purpose of this article.

      Thank you, Denise.

  3. I am a very unhappy (if to say the least) customer of United Airlines.
    I have been traveling for over 20 years and several times a year and never came across this phenomenon of “direct flight”. And I mean that I always thought that “Direct” was just another term for non-stop! This was the first time that when I booked a family vacation with “direct” flight from Boston. A week before we have to leave, I realized that both of our flights will have stops. My call to United was short: “Read fine print” – I was told. I was furious! To be so rude to customers!… I am filing with BBB and I am never flying United again if I can help it!

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