American’s Married Segment Restriction On Award Tickets

Filed Under: American, American AAdvantage

For the past few months, American AAdvantage has increasingly been applying married segment logic to award tickets. This is either good or bad, depending on how you look at it. On the plus side, American does seem to be making more saver level award seats available than before. However, this award spaces comes with a lot of restrictions.

@experienceTed asked the following question on Twitter, so let me try to answer this best I can:

What is married segment availability?

Airlines take a complex approach to inventory and revenue management. They do everything they can to price discriminate against passengers so that they’re getting as much money out of each passenger as possible. There are all kinds of factors that go into this.

Airline pricing is typically based on two factors — there are the actual fares available in the market, and then the specific fare classes that are available. The fares available in the market set the range of what fares can be, while the exact fares on a particular flight are based on what fare class are available (and this is based on what kind of demand the airline forecasts there will be for the flight).

One strategy that many airlines employ is married segment availability. This means that they’re willing to make different seats available on a flight based on whether you’re connecting or not. This can be for a few different reasons, so let me give a couple of examples of that:

  • An airline might only be willing to sell a certain fare bucket on a flight from San Diego to Los Angeles if it’s being booked as part of a larger itinerary; after all, the primary intent of a flight like that is to provide feed for longer flights, and they’d hate to lose out on a full fare first class booking to Hong Kong because someone booked that last seat just between San Diego and Los Angeles
  • Airlines know that passengers are willing to pay a premium for a nonstop flight, so they may only be willing to make the cheaper fare classes available if you’re connecting; in other words, they know they can get more money out of you if you’re flying nonstop from Chicago to Los Angeles, while if you’re using the flight from Chicago to Los Angeles and then connecting to San Francisco on the same ticket, they may have to discount it more, since you don’t have the convenience of a nonstop

There’s a lot more that goes into this, though that’s a very brief rundown.

American’s new award ticket married segment restrictions

In the past American would typically make the same saver level award seats available no matter what kind of an itinerary you were booking. For example, if there was award availability from New York to San Francisco you could book that for the nonstop flight only, or as part of a larger itinerary.

Increasingly American is using married segment logic for saver level award seats, meaning that they’re only making award seats available as part of a connecting itinerary, and not as a nonstop.

Take the below flight from New York to San Francisco, which has no saver level economy award availability:

However, if you search availability from New York to Los Angeles, it returns that same routing through San Francisco, and suddenly the flight has one award seat.

So you could pay 12,500 milles for that itinerary from New York to San Francisco to Los Angeles…

But if you wanted to redeem miles just for that same flight from New York to San Francisco nonstop, it would cost you 50,000 miles.

This is becoming increasingly common. American’s logic is that just as people are willing to pay extra cash for a nonstop flight, they assume people are also willing to pay extra miles for nonstop flights. This is an indirect way for American to move redemptions closer to being revenue based.

Is there any way around the married segment restriction on awards?

There are two potential ways to get around American’s married segment restriction on awards.

One is to just use hidden city ticketing (which I don’t recommend, but I’ll share in the interest of being thorough). If you want to fly from New York to San Francisco nonstop on the above flight, you could just book the routing from Los Angeles but get off the plane in San Francisco. However, be aware that:

  • Hidden city ticketing violates the contract of carriage, though typically airlines won’t do anything about it unless you make a habit of it
  • This doesn’t work if you’re checking bags, since they have to be checked to your final destination (this also gets tricky if you’re forced to gate check bags, as those would be gate checked to your final destination)
  • You can only throw away the last segment of an itinerary, as subsequent segments will be canceled

Now let’s talk about the more straightforward and “legitimate” approach. American allows five day holds on award tickets (within a couple of weeks they often only allow one day holds), so place the cheaper itinerary on hold (in the above case, New York to San Francisco to Los Angeles). Once you’ve done so, call American and tell them you just want to end in San Francisco, and ask them to take off the second segment.

Based on my experience this should be possible, though not all agents can figure out how to do it. So this might be a case of “hang up and call again” if you don’t get the answer you want. The computer definitely seems to allow this, though not all phone agents can make it work.

Bottom line

I’m not a fan of the trend of American AAdvantage saver level award availability largely being tied to married segments. As of now this seems to mostly apply to economy awards, though I imagine we’ll continue to see this spread. On the plus side, American saver level award availability does seem to be a bit better lately. It’s by no means good, but better. So I guess we can’t be too mad, when it seems like most of the married segment availability is in excess of what was available before.

If you do run into a situation like this, I recommend trying to hold the cheaper itinerary, and then calling American and asking them to remove the segment you don’t want.

Have you dealt with American’s married segment availability on award tickets, and if so, what was your experience like?

  1. Yes. I’ve been stung with it on international bookings. I picked up MEL-SFO from Qantas, then after a week or two, wanted to add CBR-MEL, but the AA agent said it wouldn’t let her, because of the married segment logic.
    She managed to work something which let it get ticketed in the end.

  2. Lucky, I’ve got a question that may be related.

    AA advertises as an EP benefit that we get “enhanced saver award availability.” When, if ever, does this benefit apply? Might EPs get around these restrictions and see true availability independent of itinerary?

  3. I totally understand the logic of married segment restrictions on revenue tickets. But on award tickets it just doesn’t make as much sense to me. I was looking at a o/w Paris-Chicago for this summer. CDG-DFW-ORD was available but CDG-ORD was not. Just for fun, I checked Paris-Dallas. CDG-DFW wasn’t available but CDG-ORD-DFW was. Both showed T0 on the respective N/S option and T7 for the 1-stop. People using award seats want to use miles at the saver level. Most would still choose the CDG-DFW-ORD route with miles vs paying cash for the CDG-ORD nonstop.

    Maybe domestically they get more people to pay cash for the n/s vs using the miles. But the ones that don’t, AA is using seats on two flights to get the passenger to the destination. Seems like in the long run that’s a losing proposition.

  4. My understanding is that American was doing this to help people get to gateways. I, for one, found it insanely frustrating to find the perfect award seat from DFW-(Asia) only to face the difficult decision of whether to pay for a positioning flight or give up. By enabling more saver space on connecting itineraries, AA is helping out the non-hub travelers that — let’s face it — they need to work harder to keep.

    In an ideal world, there would be reasonable award options. Absent a dramatic decline in air travel, the next best case is that they open up award space on connecting flights.

  5. In addition to the reasons you mention, Ben, I am guessing that this also is designed to encourage people to use AAdvantage miles / discourage people from booking award flights with BA/IB avios since flights booked with avios are charged segment-by-segment. Given all the transferrable currencies that go to BA/IB and the ability to book sAAver space with Avios, I wouldn’t be shocked if AA is getting a lot of their sAAver space eaten up by members of other OneWorld loyalty programs.

    A direct flight for me from Philadelphia to Los Angeles is 12,500 Avios OW or 25,000 Avios RT. But if they force me to connect in Dallas, for instance, I end up getting charged 10,000 for PHL-DFW and 10,000 for DFW-LAX, thus 20,000 Avios OW or 40,000 RT….60% increase in the Avios required for a less desirable routing on the same trip.

  6. @Shaun another motivation is to get people to “award fare up”–use more miles for the same route when trying to fly nonstop.

  7. I suspect, that given the horrendous availability of AA saver award space which clearly shows AA trying to milk every possible award point out of you, that these married segments on award tickets is also just another way AA is sticking to us suckers who signed up for the AA award earning credit cards.

    This site may also be able to help:

  8. Ughh, I ran into this trying to book LAX to SYD in business class. I found availability from DFW-LAX-SYD but not LAX-DFW. Maybe I’ll try to book and have the first segment taken off. If it fails I can decide whether to fly to DFW or to have the ticket refunded. Does it make a difference if the trans-pacific segment is on Qantas?

  9. Yep, this sucked. Was trying to book FNT-ORD-DFW-MEX. If I searched ORD-DFW-MEX, got the flights I wanted in saver biz. If I searched x-FNT, it gave me fnt-ord and the same ord-dfw-mex flights, but only with ORD-DFW in economy instead of business (keeping dfw-mex in biz). What a joke!

    Was able to book it in economy, call up AA, and they (after 20 minutes) were able to get it into business, and the phone agent mentioned something about married segments.

  10. This makes things difficult when trying to book with Alaska miles… you can find saver space for a connecting itinerary on AA website, but not on Alaska website. Major PITA.

  11. I had an issue a few weeks back where I was trying to get from Europe to PHL to LAX in J. I could book the flight from Europe to PHL in J, but not PHL to LAX. I could fly all the way from Europe to PHL to LAX in Y, but they wouldn’t let me voluntarily downgrade to Y on the domestic leg because it wasn’t available as a stand alone SAAver award. So I paid for a ticket on United.

  12. I have a very relatable anecdote just this week. This issue seems particularly severe with smaller airports.
    For example, ITH-PHL has always had award in the past within a few days of departure as long as the flight isn’t sold out. But over the past few days, they’ve blocked virtually EVERY space within the next two months. This is RIDICULOUS. Imo, this move greatly hinders the point of loyalty. Making it harder to use miles and requiring an absurdly high amount of miles for the same trip as before isn’t the way to do loyalty

  13. Many airlines have inventory control in that doesn’t permit to “break” married segments.
    The issue with removing the “extra flight” might be that the agent has to overrule a maried segment break, and not all agents are willing to do this of course.

    Wouldn’t post this kind of things on your blog in the future. Airlines don’t like inventory abuse so if it get misused a lot agents will quickly get a note not to break any (married) segments anymore, but only to cancel and rebook from origin to destination (OD logic) if a customer wants to change.

  14. I suppose this is to my benefit more often than not since I live at a non-hub city. Still I can see this causing me plenty of problems too in terms of more complex itineraries and limits on numbers of connections. That AA mileage earning card is canceled next month when the AF comes due. The AA program has been stripped of most if its value.

  15. This is actually exciting for me. Being based in Austin it’s really hard to use my miles on an international itinerary because getting a positioning flight to the international hub is close to impossible.

    I redeemed a business award to japan last year and had to have an overnight connection in San Diego on the way out and downgrade to economy with a 6 hour layover on the way back. And it was the ONLY award available all year that I could find.

  16. 6hrs 55 from New York to San Francisco?! That seems quite slow. I understands it’s the wrong direction for winds, but even so…

  17. Here is a trick if you’re using AS Miles to redeem for AA.

    I’m flying MXP-JFK-LAX (Transcon 32B) in October with a stopover in NYC.

    When I was searching individual segments, I could see business space on each segment but when I tried to combine them, it would not show me the available AA space on the transcon 32B (it would only show me other 1-2 stop routings).

    I called Alaska and the agent saw the same thing and also was not able to book it, she talked to 2 supervisors and they told me only one seat was open (which wasn’t true).

    What I did was I booked MXP-JFK (on AA) then JFK-PDX-LAX (on AS F). I then went into the AS website to change my reservation. I selected the option to ‘make changes’ to existing reservation. I opted to keep my MXP-JFK flight and change the other 2 flights. When the results came up, it showed me both 32B flights JFK-SFO and JFK-LAX and I was able to change it to fly AA 32B in Business instead of AS First Class.

  18. Does married segment availability show up on partner awards as well? For example, let’s say I want to fly HKG-LAX-IAH, where HKG-LAX is on CX. Would the LAX-IAH segment have better availability due to being a married segment?

  19. Doing this means all those Avios I have purposely for using in the USA, will be essentially worthless. I will even bet Chase and BA will see a ton of cancellations of that credit card. As soon as my Avios are gone, those two cards will go bye bye.

  20. It’s worse than you think. I have an AUS-PRG trip that’s gone through various schedule changes. The outbound goes through PHL for the direct Prague flight. SAAver availability showed up for AUS-PHL-LHR-PRG. I was not allowed to get the AUS-PHL nonstop even though I held the PHL-PRG leg because PHL-PRG was not available when I tried to switch.

  21. What I also notice, which I don’t understand with AA, is if you wish to use miles internationally out of DFW to travel to Europe AA pushes you to BA – nothing available on AA even though there are scads of seats on the plane.

    I’m will NOT cash in more miles + pay the fuel surcharges ($400-$500+) to fly BA and be put in the back of the plane. It’s very frustrating considering I’m lifetime Gold. I can’t even get a seat assignment until days before my flight and it definitely makes me even more aggravated.

    I feel like this is a total scam between AA and BA so AAdvantage members with award tickets still get the “opportunity” for fork over more cash.

    I notice this happens on flights out of CLT and ORD.

  22. This issue affects those in hub cities as well. Tried to find MIA-CDG. Only touting was MIa-CLT-CDG. But, if I wanted to go CLT-CDG, I have to fly CLT-MIA-CDG. Simply absurd and shows it’s clearly a scam designed to make you spend more miles to go nonstop. Why else would they waste two seats on unnecessary flights between the hubs?

  23. yup. I thought getting international flights direct from the PHL hub would be easier. But for me there’s more availability connecting from WAS than driving up. Strange.

  24. I had to do battle today with a reservations AAgent who, because she didn’t see saver seats on my PIT-JFK flight (she hadn’t yet attached the married segments), wouldn’t go any further with the award booking. She just insisted there was nothing available on the first flight.

    Ben, do you find that the agents are typically aware of this? Is this just a HUCA situation, or is there something I can say to an agent who isn’t getting it to help them figure it out?

  25. Does this award impact from married segments also cause the horrendous increase in “mixed cabin seating” that I’ve learned to really hate? Does anyone else totally despise the fact you cannot filter out mixed cabin awards on AA, AS, UA, etc., or am I missing some other trick here?

    Back to married segments but on United… just for grins, search PPT-HNL on Nov. 15. Award seats are 65k and 110k in Y and J/F with all options going through SFO on UA 114. Now search just for PPT-SFO on Nov. 15 because that’ll obviously be cheaper, right? Ha! Try 80k and 175k! But you’ll save $5.60 in taxes & fees by not booking the SFO-HNL leg! So AA doesn’t have the monopoly on stupidity after all! (And, yes, I found that HA does nonstop flight PPT-HNL on some days.)

  26. I’m actually seeing the reverse right now. SGF-DFW is available at the saver level. DFW-GDL is available at the saver level. Put the two together? Saver disappears and it prices out at the 25K one-way level. Grr.

  27. I am looking for 2 seats DFW-NRT with business saver. None available. When I look from LAX, I see routing LAX-DFW-NRT widely available. Is it possible to clip the LAX-DFW segment and keep the DFW-NRT with saver?

  28. I am now finding cases of the opposite being true: segments available individually but not part of a larger itinerary. Found a few BOS-MIA-DFW-GDL and BOS-ORD-DFW-GDL where the middle segment showed J as Not Available, but could be booked on its own for the same amount of miles. Is this a married segment issue, or do you think it’s something else going on?

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