Airlines are increasingly using “married segment logic” in the allocation of revenue and award seats, which can create more difficulty in booking, but at the same time opportunity.
Explaining Married Segments
When two segments are married it means you can book the two flights together, but not separately. So for example, let’s say you are searching Air France award space from Los Angeles to Casablanca. You might very well find saver space connecting in Paris. But try to book Los Angeles to Paris then Paris to Casablanca separately and you might find zero saver availability on either flight.
The Purpose of Married Segments
Married segments exist to control fares and award seat allocations between an origin and destination. Here’s an example.
I recently found award saver award space on American Airlines from Salt Lake City to London via Los Angeles and placed it on hold. I only needed Los Angeles to London, but when I searched only from Los Angeles to London the AA non-stop did not show as available at the “sAAver” rate.
The purpose is clear: American Airlines has a naturally robust market in Los Angeles and many will pay a premium to fly on AA non-stop over connecting somewhere. But not so out of Salt Lake City. While Delta does offer non-stop service, American wants to incentivize traffic, here by offer an attractive fare via Los Angeles that may be worth even more than flying non-stop.
By throwing a bone to Salt Lake City customers, American is trying to woo customers in a market in which it is dominated by Delta. It is a business decision to more evenly allocate seats, since the local LA market would likely snap them up within moments if the LA to London was made equally available to every market.
Can Married Segments Be Broken?
Unlike no-fault divorce, it is extremely rare to successfully break a married segment. I’ve done it with United, but only after hours on the phone and only due to a schedule change.
I once booked a Frankfurt to Munich to Toronto first class award ticket on Lufthansa, with an overnight in Munich. I wanted to reduce the layover by flying in from Frankfurt to Munich same-day. This would give me access to the First Class Terminal in Frankfurt. Certainly, this is permitted by award routing rules but when the agent tried to change the FRA-MUC segment she found the system blocked her.
Because Munich to Toronto was not available on its own and because Frankfurt to Munich to Toronto was not available at the time I wanted, the change could not be made.
While I cannot explain the logic behind forcing an overnight in Munich, that is the way it had to be.
Airlines that Use Married Segment Logic for Award Tickets
I have personally observed the use of married segment logic with the following carriers in all cases in terms of award space and often with revenue space:
- Air France
- Air Tahiti Nui
- British Airways
How We Practically See Married Segments
United Airlines is a great case study of using married segment fare logic to encourage international travel. United is tight-fisted on domestic saver award space, but quite generous for its international flights.
To encourage traffic on its longhaul flights, it will often make additional award seats available on the domestic feeder flight that would not otherwise be available alone.
For example, say you want to fly from Des Moines to London using your United miles. You may well find space from Des Moines to Chicago to London for 30K miles one-way in economy. But let’s say you just want to fly form Des Moines to Chicago. Often you will not be able to find saver space, even if it is the same flight you see when searching from Des Moines to London.
In order to encourage longhaul traffic from its spokes via its hubs, United will often make additional seats available when booked in conjunction with the international United-operated segment. Thus, these segments are married.
Using Married Segments to Your Advantage
Let’s return to my Salt Lake City to London via Los Angeles AA example. If you lived in Los Angeles this will not help because you cannot skip the SLC-LAX flight. But let’s say you found the same thing in the reverse direction.
Say you needed to get back to Los Angeles and saw no space from LHR-LAX but did see space from LHR-LAX-SLC. Book it. Here’s why: you can just step off the plane in LAX. LAX is your first port of entry anyway, so you would have to reclaim your bag whether terminating travel or continuing on.
Would AA come after you for not taking that last segment? Highly unlikely. Is it illegal to do this? No, though it does violate the AA Contract of Carriage. Still, it is safe to assume AA has more important things on their mind, though leave out your AAdvantage number if it makes your feel better. You cannot earn miles on award tickets anyway!
Look back up to the Air France example as well. Say you are just going to Paris. Book the connection to Casablanca, pay 1/3 the price, and just exit the airport in Paris. But with this example you cannot check bags since they would be automatically transferred to Morocco.
I dwelled exclusively on married segments in the world of award travel, but airlines do the same thing for the same reasons with revenue tickets as well.
While you would be wasting your time to try break up a married segment, do keep an eye out for them. Once in awhile, you can use them to your advantage.