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:
United.com shows there is no saver award space on the 3:34pm-6:45pm flight from CLE to MCI:
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:
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:
However the CLE-ORD flight had at least 9 saver award seats in X/XN class:
The ORD-MCI segment showed 3 XN saver award seats:
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:
OK, so that has to be isolated, right?
Let’s just try the next day.
Nada for CLE-MCI:
Plenty of CLE-ORD space:
And a flight from ORD-MCI:
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!