On Married Segments And Expanded Award Availability

Married segments are one of the most complicated topics in air travel.

In short, every flight has an alphabet soup of available paid and award fare classes. I’ve written about them in this United.com Expert mode post. You’ll want to read that post before reading further.

When you join 2 segments together sometimes the married segments will have more availability in lower classes. And sometimes the opposite occurs.

For a paid flight that means that 2 individual flight segments may have availability in an inexpensive “G” class, but if you put those 2 segments together onto 1 itinerary it may only be available in a more expensive “S” fare class.  Other times 2 individual flight segments may only have availability in expensive fare classes, but when you put them together both segments are available in an inexpensive fare class.

The same applies on award tickets.

A few months ago I helped my parents book their first ever major trip without the kids for their 31st anniversary. They used their miles to fly first class in Singapore suites to Paris (57K AMEX points), first class on Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong and Beijing (70K AA miles), business class on El Al to Israel (30K AA miles), and first class on BA back home (90K AA miles).

One of the issues I encountered was with married segments. While some nonstop segments didn’t show first class award availability, they were available by booking that nonstop flight when adding a leg to somewhere else.  The married segments had award availability, but those same flights individually didn’t have award space.  In essence it’s a hidden-city ticket, except that you can hold an award and just chop off the extra leg afterwards.

On their award I also ran into the opposite problem, when 2 individual flights had award space, but when combined into one itinerary there was nothing that could be done to book it.

And now I’m encountering this domestically. I was looking for award tickets from Cleveland to Kansas City. In the past this was a gimme, I was always able to book a 10K United nonstop short-haul award.
Alas that flight no longer exists, which means we’ll have to connect in Chicago.

 

In order to search the most possibilities I did a one-way search using the United.com advanced search page and changing the displayed results to 50:

 

mci13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

United.com shows there is no saver award space on the 3:34pm-6:45pm flight from CLE to MCI:

 

mci7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So as I always advise, I broke the trip down further and searched for CLE-ORD and ORD-MCI separately.

Lo and behold both of those flight segments showed saver coach award space:

 

CLE-ORD:

mci9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ORD-MCI:

mci8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So I fired up the expert mode results and they confirmed that the award calendar wasn’t mistaken.  There were no X or XN saver award space when those flights are combined:

 

mci10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However the CLE-ORD flight had at least 9 saver award seats in X/XN class:

 

mci11

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ORD-MCI segment showed 3 XN saver award seats:

 

mci12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course you don’t want to book those segments separately as you would pay 20K instead of 10K miles.

So I figured I’d outsmart United.com and use the multiple destination award search and force those 2 segments onto 1 itinerary.

It did everything as I hoped it would until the final page. Then after clicking purchase I got this lovely screen:

 

mcierror

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OK, so that has to be isolated, right?

Let’s just try the next day.

Nada for CLE-MCI:

 

mci3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plenty of CLE-ORD space:

 

mci1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And a flight from ORD-MCI:

 

mci2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Same story. Verified the results in expert mode, when those segments are married the award space disappears.

Tried to book via multiple destinations and got the error after clicking purchase.

So I booked the CLE-ORD flight that I wanted and a ORD-MCI flight that had a very long stopover on United.com. Then I used the invaluable United.com callback line to see what they could do about getting me on a better flight.

At first the agent claimed that there was nothing available, but she had patience and saw that both flights individually has saver award space.  From there she tried putting it together but kept getting blocked.

She was ready to give up and I pushed once more and she put me on hold. When she came back she said she had gone into another system to string the flights together and it worked!

Find more examples of this happening? Hit the comments!

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34 Responses to “On Married Segments And Expanded Award Availability”

  1. HDS Says:
    1

    In general, married segment “bliss” where it works out better than expected – or “purgatory” where something that should obviously be available is frustratingly unable to be booked – look like the somewhat arbitrary or random by-products of complicated booking algorithms, right?

    Do you think that the experience of yours, where a particular route consistently had the same issue, was deliberately set up that way by United?

    ReplyReply
  2. Dan Says:
    2

    @HDS:
    I do think it’s deliberate.

    But I doubt there’s more than a small handful of revenue management employees who could explain the rationale on a route like CLE-MCI.

    I guess next time I see Brian Znotins I’ll have to ask…
    http://www.dansdeals.com/archives/25684

    ReplyReply
  3. @Yehuda Says:
    3

    Congrats! The question now is figuring out which city to add to EWR-HNL so that EWR-HNL Saver space shows up. 😉

    ReplyReply
  4. Samuel Says:
    4

    Absolutely cool! will Multi city always have a better chance of savor?

    ReplyReply
  5. Dan Says:
    5

    @@Yehuda:
    I had business saver awards booked on several different dates for EWR-HNL-EWR.
    Alas none worked out. But if you were quick you were able to grab them as I redeposited them 😉

    Just keep checking 2x daily, it’ll open.

    @Samuel:
    Just depends on the married segment logic. Always have to check all options.

    ReplyReply
  6. CL Says:
    6

    Why did you first book on United.com then call rather than just calling to book both segments in matrimonial bliss?

    ReplyReply
  7. HDS Says:
    7

    What could the rationale be?

    Generally, to make it harder to book cheap award travel?

    Further punishment of CLE for some reason?!

    I wonder what that “other system” is, and if it can be requested by name when calling in….?

    ReplyReply
  8. Dan Says:
    8

    @CL:
    6 of one, half dozen of the other.

    I find I get better help when they have something to work with in the first place and just need to fix it.

    @HDS:

    UA does hate CLE (twice dehubbed!), but that’s not what’s going on here. I read another blog about married segment purgatory for a paid UA COS-DEN-LGA flight.

    I’m sure there are many examples of this. I just happened to come across it from CLE because that’s where my searches originate.

    ReplyReply
  9. SL2 Says:
    9

    I have seen that happen and have called them to string it together for me.
    Why didn’t you call first and have them string it together for you instead of booking and then calling?

    ReplyReply
  10. Dan Says:
    10

    @SL2:
    What routes?

    Like I said, 6 of one, half dozen of the other.

    ReplyReply
  11. @Yehuda Says:
    11

    @Dan:
    Ah, so it was you who keeps releasing the seats that I have been finding. Must be nice not to have redeposit fees. 😛

    Where any of your dates between June 15 – August 15? I really think that’s blacked out at least until we get closer to the summer.

    ReplyReply
  12. Dan Says:
    12

    @@Yehuda:
    Nah, Hawaii is my wintertime getaway.
    Wouldn’t waste a summertime trip on it.

    ReplyReply
  13. question Says:
    13

    Dan,
    I don’t know if you will take the time to read this or answer it…
    I am trying to figure out which credit card would be best for me. I have about $1000 in expenses for tuition alone that I would like to put on a credit card. Which one would give me the best return? (Miles, points) I am looking for something that doesn’t have a yearly fee, or at least one that is not so high.

    My credit score is in the 800s. Any advice?

    ReplyReply
  14. David Says:
    14

    Dan off topic but emergency info needed ,you have recently have me the idea to open a united busniess version CC,in order to be able to downgrade my personal one ,an be able to stick with the benefits of the paid one .
    Now I don’t have a busniess as of now ,an I hear that chase is making problems when putting in SSN.any advice please ????
    I really appreciate if you answer me !

    ReplyReply
  15. @Yehuda Says:
    15

    @Dan:
    Ah, right. As we have discussed.

    ReplyReply
  16. david Says:
    16

    i had such an experience with US Airways.
    I have access to a travel agent GDS and I was once looking for availability on a flight that would stopover. When searching from origin to destination, it showed the two married segments together but no seats on either segment in the class I needed. When searching the 2 flights separately they both had plenty seats in this class. When I tried taking the first flight seat and then searching the second flight, lo and behold, the availability disappeared, just by having the first segment held, the second disappeared, as soon as i exited the booking, the availability reappeared. the only way around this shtick was to long sell them at the same time (there is an option in this GDS of submitting two commands at the same time) if I was to long sell them separately the second would come back unconfirmed! it was really weird! even after getting the seats held, I was informed by another travel agent that US airways could fine me for beating around the bush like that, because in the PNR the segments were not married when they should have been…

    ReplyReply
  17. Matovu Says:
    17

    Thanks so much for this.
    I have asked about this on the Forums already…

    Going to need to sit down to read this slowly 🙂

    ReplyReply
  18. Cgardy Says:
    18

    Dan,

    I’m just curious, how much time did it take you to do the full booking for your parent’s trip?

    Thanks

    ReplyReply
  19. isavesmiles Says:
    19

    I think United’s computer has been screwing up royally. I tried booking EWR-BKK and the program came up for $888 connecting through Hong Kong via Cathay Pacific. When I tried to purchase i got the same “Error” message. Tried numerous times and called numerous times. I even questioned why Cathay Pacific came up when they are not a Star Alliance member. It took me two weeks and numerous calls and yelling and supervisors till I got the fare. I said the computer should not have the fare come up if it wasn’t available which I was told multiple times. I was told IT was informed. Obviously they don’t know how to correct the computer program flaws.

    ReplyReply
  20. ilheman Says:
    20

    What is interesting is, that on the CLE MCI route where there is no XN space available there is G space available on the ORD-MCI leg. But when you search separate ORD-MCI and there is XN space available there is NO G class available only L class. Make up your mind UA… Unless G class only prices on CLE-MCI but on ORD-MCI it doesn’t….

    ReplyReply
  21. aradisc Says:
    21

    I once found a Cathay Pacific award routing that I wanted which only had availability as a married pair. When searched separately, neither segment had the availability.

    Annoyingly, AA couldn’t book it, as they could only search the segments one-by-one and it was coming back as not available. I emphasized to them that it was a married pair and they needed to search the whole route at once and they would see the availability, but they couldn’t do it. Quite annoying- I had to make other plans.

    ReplyReply
  22. Adam Says:
    22

    It’s the new way if star airlines charging by segment and not zonal. Lufthansa has the same all the time and it’s such a rip off as they don’t let you through check half the time as they aren’t in the same PNR

    ReplyReply
  23. ZZZZ Says:
    23

    Can I do this on Delta? If so how ?

    ReplyReply
  24. Ou Says:
    24

    Too hard for me
    Any way to use I l Herman as a booking agent?
    Happy to pay a fee

    ReplyReply
  25. reb yid Says:
    25

    @Dan:
    isn’t 6 the same as half a dozen?

    ReplyReply
  26. JoeCha Says:
    26

    Thanks, very interesting.

    Noticed the same with KE awards on delta.com

    ReplyReply
  27. Dumb Says:
    27

    “So I booked the CLE-ORD flight that I wanted and a ORD-MCI flight that had a very long stopover on United.com. Then I used the invaluable United.com callback line to see what they could do about getting me on a better flight.”

    Can you please explain this part? so you ended up booking two separate tickets for 10k each? as you said it sowed 0 availability.
    thanks

    ReplyReply
  28. srulky Says:
    28

    Do you pay luggage only once on a married ticket?

    ReplyReply
  29. Knowitall Says:
    29

    I encountered married segments when I was looking for hkg-ord (on UA) and there was no availability.
    But when I looked for hkg-ord-dtw it was available.
    Maybe competitors hubs are good places to look?
    Btw Travel agents are able to break apart married segments but often are unwilling due to reprocussions from the airlines.

    ReplyReply
  30. chilzech Says:
    30

    After stringing the two together did you get 10k refunded?

    ReplyReply
  31. Alex Says:
    31

    When you booked your parents on BA you paid the YQ? anyway around that?

    ReplyReply
  32. Delta guy Says:
    32

    This is anything but random when it comes to Delta, and I would assume the same is true for United and other airlines by now. Delta recently forced all outside websites to remove all fare bucket information from their sites. This is why the “flight availability” option disappeared from Flightstats. There are those that speculate the reason for Delta’s action was a class action lawsuit that was filed against Delta alleging violation of the Delta.com “lowest fare guarantee”. The lawsuit was based on Delta.com forcing married segments in a higher fare bucket on consumers when it was obvious from Flightstats (or Expertflyer etc.) that lower fare buckets were available on each separate segment. At this point, it is that it is not possible to book a multi-city ticket on Delta.com in a case where the complete route is in the computer as married segments without triggering an error message. The site will not issue the ticket in the lower fare buckets; it will only issue it in the higher married segments bucket. This is because Delta uses software to institute “dynamic pricing”, which basically means the computer figures out the most that people will pay to get from point A to point B and then will only issue tickets for that start/end combination as a married segments fare. In order to succeed in their “business model” of charging passengers significantly more for tickets on segments that really cost less when booked independently, Delta was forced to block all access to fare bucket information. This move has deeply upset many Delta Diamond flyers since it has, for all intents and purposes, completely destroyed any use of Delta’s “same day confirmed” benefit as a practical tool that has any benefit at all, since it is impossible to see what fare buckets are open (United at least will show the fare bucket information on their website and will also open up most buckets 3 hours before the flight, if there are empty seats – things Delta apparently deems as too risky because they open up the possibility that a customer might buy a ticket for something less than the most they would be willing to actually pay and then try and make a same day change to their advantage). I would assume that the same type of program is working when trying to book award tickets too. Seeing the way that Delta has raised the amount of miles needed for many award tickets to absolutely ridiculous levels, it makes sense that they would extend their “revenue enhancement” tools to also include a “use-up-more-Skymiles” tool. You can read an article about the lawsuit here (warning – it can take a long time to load):
    http://www.jsonline.com/watchdog/pi/deltas-best-fare-guarantee-doesnt-offer-cheapest-flights-wisconsin-lawsuit-alleges-b99328485z1-270819081.html
    and you can read the actual lawsuit here (this is a very well presented explanation of both married segments and the way airlines price tickets):
    http://mbw.name/Files/FlyerTalk/Delta_Class_Action/1-Complaint.pdf

    ReplyReply
  33. Which airline Says:
    33

    Who would offer on ur
    Nyc-tlv-Lih
    Miles needed in coach?

    ReplyReply
  34. Boras Says:
    34

    I can confirm that the married segments are applying to the award ticketing booking, at least in Delta.

    Recently try to book a trip from TN to alaska. Here are the results I found. All ticket are on the same day, and same flight for ATL-ANC:

    ATL-ANC :12,5000 miles, available in the lowest class N
    BNA-ATL-ANC: 17,500 miles, although BNA-ATL route is available in the lowest class N
    TYS-ATL-ANC: 20,000 miles, although TYS-ATL route is available in the lowest class N
    TRI-ATL-ANC: 17,500 miles, although TRI-ATL route is available in the lowest class N
    CHA-ATL-ANC: 12,5000 miles, available in the lowest class N

    Apparently, we need to pay attention to these married segments rules if we don’t see the lowest fare class on an individual search. They may exist but if you don’t know the rules, you pay more. There is some tricks to work around the married segments, as mentioned by Dan. I will share my tricks if Dan leave me a message.

    ReplyReply

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