Just before Christmas, it was fairly widely reported in the blog-o-sphere (is that a word?) that American Airlines had made a change to the way that they make award inventory available.
They’re now using a revenue management technique which airlines called “married segments”. This was reported on blogs such as Cranky Flyer.
What are Married Segments?
The concept of married segments is when I put two flights together to form an A to B to C journey, the availability of the A to B, and the B to C change when I look at the each segment by themselves.
Let me illustrate this effect with a flight from London to New York, but flying Lufthansa, and thus leading to a connection in Frankfurt. If I search from London to New York and look at flight LH404 for this Friday, I can see the business class is showing the following availability:
Note that it shows D5 i.e. Lufthansa will sell up to five ‘D’ class tickets. In addition, it’s showing as N9, their cheapest premium economy fare bucket, meaning they will sell up to 9 of those.
Where as if I search from Frankfurt to New York, on the exact same day, on the exact same flight, I get the following:
It shows as D0. That means if I want on that flight, I’d need to buy a more expensive ‘C’ class ticket to travel in business. Also note that the cheapest premium economy fare bucket shows as N0 meaning I’d need to buy up to ‘E’ class.
This is married segments in action.
Why do airlines do this?
Typically, non-stop flights tend to command a revenue premium; airlines can charge a higher price for the convenience of not having to connect.
Due to the inconvenience of me having to connect in Frankfurt to get to New York, Lufthansa are making it cheaper for me to fly on an indirect itinerary so as they can better compete with airlines that do fly non-stop. However at the same time, they don’t want to risk lowering prices for where they can charge a premium on their own non-stop flights, in this case Frankfurt to New York.
So how does this impact Avios tickets?
In short, the changes that American Airlines have made by introducing married segments have broken the BA.com search engine. For example, let’s use the example of London to Lafayette, LA as an example. BA.com shows no availability on a particular day that I searched.
Whereas going over to AA.com does show availability on that exact same day in the cheapest economy class bucket.
Diving into the detail, it’s the second segment, from Dallas, TX to Lafayette, LA that appears problematic. Looking at Dallas to Lafayette by itself, also on the 12th February, shows no availability as a mile-saver award by itself. Where as in the screenshot above, flights AA3654 and AA3598 were available if I was coming from London.
Clearly the logic that BA.com is using is incompatible with the new married segment availability that American Airlines have introduced.
It’s quite ironic that the 5,000 mile journey from London to Lafayette costs fewer miles than the 350 mile flight does from Dallas.
Where does this leave me?
There are a couple of things to do.
Firstly, if you’re looking for availability and you might want to travel with American Airlines, do not use BA.com to search for availability. Head over to AA.com and use that instead.
Secondly, search for your entire journey and don’t look segment by segment.
Once you have found what you want, call British Airways. Tell them to search for the entire journey and not segment by segment. I spoke to a Guest List agent and they were able to see availability for the entire journey that AA.com showed, and BA.com did not. However looking segment by segment the were not.
Once they have found what you want, they should be able to book it for you. Avios pricing is still segment based, so you’ll still be charged in Avios as per normal.