What Are Airline Married Segment Itineraries?

What Are Airline Married Segment Itineraries?

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Airlines take a complex approach to inventory and revenue management, regardless of whether you’re paying cash for a ticket or redeeming points. Nowadays we’re increasingly seeing airlines use married segment logic for award tickets, so in this post I wanted to discuss that in a bit more detail. I’ve mentioned married segment logic many times in the past, but haven’t written a dedicated post about it, so I think it’s time.

What are married segments when redeeming miles?

Many airlines use married segment logic for award tickets. This means that airlines are often willing to make a different number of award seats available depending on whether you’re connecting or not. This is probably easiest explained in the form of an example.

Take the below example from Air Canada Aeroplan’s website. You can book a business class award on TAP Air Portugal from Miami to Berlin via Lisbon.

Want to book an award just on that Miami to Lisbon flight, without a connection to Berlin? Well, it’s not available.

As you can see, the airline is only making award seats available on that Miami to Lisbon flight if it’s “married” with another segment. This happens all the time nowadays, where you might not see award availability when searching a route nonstop, but do see it when searching a connecting itinerary.

TAP Air Portugal uses married segment logic for awards

Why do airlines use married segment logic?

Why would an airline make award seats available if you’re on a connecting itinerary, but not if you’re trying to book just one segment? Airlines use a variety of techniques to maximize revenue and minimize the opportunity cost of allowing people to redeem points.

Many consumers think airline pricing isn’t rational, in the sense that the cost of a ticket doesn’t reflect the cost of operating a flight. That comes down to airlines trying to maximize how much they can get consumers to pay based on their travel patterns.

In the case of married segment logic, the idea is that airlines know that consumers are willing to pay a premium for a nonstop flight. You’ll generally pay more for a nonstop flight than one with a connection, and that’s because airlines know that people value the convenience.

The same logic applies with awards. Just as an airline might decide it wants to charge more for a nonstop flight if paying cash, an airline might also decide it only wants to make award seats available if you’re connecting and not flying nonstop.

Note that if you’re redeeming points for travel on a partner airline, the restrictions are imposed by the airline operating the flight, rather than by the frequent flyer program through which you’re booking. I find married segment logic to be common on airlines like Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways, and many more.

Lufthansa uses married segment logic for awards

Can you “divorce” flight segments?

If you find yourself in a situation where there’s award availability with married segments but not on only one of the flights, is there a way to “divorce” those flights? Can you ticket an award that has both segments, and then call the airline and remove the segment you don’t want?

The answer is almost always no. Airline systems are pretty savvy, and if an agent tries to manually break up married segments, that flight will likely no longer show as available, and there will be an error message if they try to delete just one segment.

Don’t expect that airlines can “divorce” married segments

Why should you care about married segment logic?

While it’s worth being aware of married segments (since it might explain some quirks with award availability), why should you actually care in practice? After all, you can’t separate out the segments, so there’s not really a trick here to using this in order to create your own award availability.

There are a few considerations with married segments, as I see it:

  • Many people search award space by first trying to find availability on the long haul segment individually, and then adding on other segments; this can work against you when there’s married segment award availability
  • While I wouldn’t recommend this, I know some will book a married segment itinerary and then skip the last segment; note that this generally violates the airline contract of carriage, and this also won’t work if you have to check a bag, since that will be going to your final destination
  • Many might assume it requires more miles to travel further, so you might be pleasantly surprised to see that adding a connection makes a flight cheaper (take the below Air France business class example, where Toronto to Paris costs 70,000 miles, while Toronto to Paris to Prague costs 56,500 miles — this is more dynamic pricing than married segment availability, though)
Flying Blue charges 70,000 miles from Toronto to Paris
Flying Blue charges 56,500 miles from Toronto to Paris to Prague

Bottom line

Airlines frequently use married segment logic with itineraries. In the case of award flights, this means that there might sometimes be award availability if you book a connecting itinerary, while there’s not availability if booking a nonstop flight.

This has become an increasingly common practice in recent years, and it’s worth being aware of. Not only does this explain some oddities you may notice when searching award availability, but it should also change how you go about searching availability.

What has your experience been with airline married segment itineraries?

Conversations (13)
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  1. Tom R Guest

    Are zone based carriers doing this? For example JFK-LHR Vs JFK-LHR-EDI on BA which would cost more miles as each segment is calculated separately. In which case they are forcing you to give up more miles by not showing availability on the direct flight

  2. Jonas Guest

    The issue with married segments is when an airline cancels a segment of a married segments itinerary. Turkish Airlines is notorious with this as they have a tendency to make schedule changes without re-booking the connecting flight.

    It's totally and completely impossible to add a new connecting flight to an existing married segments itinerary, despite there being a schedule change. The only way to change is to cancel the entire itinerary and hope for the...

    The issue with married segments is when an airline cancels a segment of a married segments itinerary. Turkish Airlines is notorious with this as they have a tendency to make schedule changes without re-booking the connecting flight.

    It's totally and completely impossible to add a new connecting flight to an existing married segments itinerary, despite there being a schedule change. The only way to change is to cancel the entire itinerary and hope for the award space to go back (which it won't).

  3. iamhere Guest

    If you're not continuing to the final destination most would probably skip the second flight.

  4. Moshe Rosenberg Guest

    That's interesting. I had booked an award flight with lh from JFK to TLV via FRA using 70k Air Canada miles (business class) and then cancelled the FRA-TLV segment and got a 10k Aeroplan points refund have you had a different experience trying to cancel one segment?

  5. Jd19 Guest

    I thought this would be a one-word post...annoying. Maybe two...F*×+ing annoying. Another example of this nonsense impacted me just last week. Say you book a mixed cabin itinerary with 2 segments, 1 in business and the other economy. If business space opens on the economy segment, they can't just swap out that one segment. You need to have the entire itinerary available. You either have to deal with it as-is, or cancel hoping that existing...

    I thought this would be a one-word post...annoying. Maybe two...F*×+ing annoying. Another example of this nonsense impacted me just last week. Say you book a mixed cabin itinerary with 2 segments, 1 in business and the other economy. If business space opens on the economy segment, they can't just swap out that one segment. You need to have the entire itinerary available. You either have to deal with it as-is, or cancel hoping that existing space goes back into inventory AND also that it'll work with the mysterious married segment rules (hint, it didn't for me).

  6. Edw3rd Guest

    There's an additional problem becoming more common... that's where a marketing airline has each segment of your intended married segments available on points, but not using the same ticket. In my experience that's most often when partners are involved and they don't classify the premium fares in the same buckets or marketed as a single flight. For example: ATL-AMS-FLR can sell point redemption ticket in Premium Select and/or DL One on the ATL-AMS segment as...

    There's an additional problem becoming more common... that's where a marketing airline has each segment of your intended married segments available on points, but not using the same ticket. In my experience that's most often when partners are involved and they don't classify the premium fares in the same buckets or marketed as a single flight. For example: ATL-AMS-FLR can sell point redemption ticket in Premium Select and/or DL One on the ATL-AMS segment as well as AMS-FLR segment in Europe Business Class BUT you can not book a ticket all the way using points on the married segments; flights show as 0 availability. Now, you have to book each ticket separately and work on gate agent to ensure your bags get interoperability check-in to final destination. It's ridiculous and costs more points.

  7. ralf Guest

    Ben, how does this relate when searching for specific award class seats using ExpertFlyer? Are married segments slotted in a different award fare class, or is the availability dynamic based on the search input? For example, U class is not avail on FJ SFO-NAN, but would U class magically appear on that flight if FJ released SFO-NAN-SYD award space?

  8. Jimmy’s Travel Report Gold

    Ben, would you consider writing a post that lists airline FFPs that commonly use married segments logic. Or at least ones you know of. It’s getting harder to find award availability, and it would be a good reference to check when searching for an award. Nice post. - Jimmy

  9. Daniel B. Guest

    As for the married segments, many times it meant that I had an 8 hour layover. When I called AA and tried to change it, the agent says that an error message popped up, so you are right, you cannot change it.

    Something related to this issue: I used to have no problems in putting an overseas segment on 5 day courtesy hold (AA), and calling back 3 days later when the intra US segment/s...

    As for the married segments, many times it meant that I had an 8 hour layover. When I called AA and tried to change it, the agent says that an error message popped up, so you are right, you cannot change it.

    Something related to this issue: I used to have no problems in putting an overseas segment on 5 day courtesy hold (AA), and calling back 3 days later when the intra US segment/s opened up. Done it like 20 times in the past decade. Then 5 months ago AA started to not make any saver award available for intra-US flight, not for months. No married segment availability at all.
    So now I have to book a positioning web special award (which fortunately often is quite cheap at 8k for Y).
    Does anyone know whether after ticketing a let's say DOH-JFK business class award ticket, can the AA agent "add" a JFK-BNA segment if saver award is available, without repricing the ticket? I called AA but got conflicting info. Some said that the whole ticket needs to be cancelled and reissued which can only be done IF all the segments are still available.

  10. Bob Guest

    "Can you “divorce” flight segments?"

    Except in Italy, maybe?

  11. Felix Guest

    Hi Ben, you might add a section about what I call „Inversed Merried Segment Logic“.

    For example, Qatar often makes oneways to Doha available as awards. If you want to combine two available segments (<24 hours layover), then there often is no availability. You might book both segments individually but then Qatar resists to put both on one PNR. Also called customer service and asked if this is a system error, but no, they are...

    Hi Ben, you might add a section about what I call „Inversed Merried Segment Logic“.

    For example, Qatar often makes oneways to Doha available as awards. If you want to combine two available segments (<24 hours layover), then there often is no availability. You might book both segments individually but then Qatar resists to put both on one PNR. Also called customer service and asked if this is a system error, but no, they are totally serious and they absolutely do not recommend to book two segments separately. If the first is delayed and you miss the second, then you are exposed to this risk.

  12. Eli Guest

    Great post. Maybe you write how airlines make money when redeeming miles for a ticket

    1. Sebastien Guest

      Very informative thanks! However, instead of not showing availability for a direct flight, why don t airlines charge more in terms of miles for this? Are they making less money on miles redeemed than when paid in cash? Thanks.

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The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Jimmy’s Travel Report Gold

Ben, would you consider writing a post that lists airline FFPs that commonly use married segments logic. Or at least ones you know of. It’s getting harder to find award availability, and it would be a good reference to check when searching for an award. Nice post. - Jimmy

1
Sebastien Guest

Very informative thanks! However, instead of not showing availability for a direct flight, why don t airlines charge more in terms of miles for this? Are they making less money on miles redeemed than when paid in cash? Thanks.

1
Tom R Guest

Are zone based carriers doing this? For example JFK-LHR Vs JFK-LHR-EDI on BA which would cost more miles as each segment is calculated separately. In which case they are forcing you to give up more miles by not showing availability on the direct flight

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