A few weeks ago, American Airlines made some changes to how it offers its seats for award travel. This has an impact on you if you were planning to use your Avios to book an American Airlines ticket.
My mate Dave, who runs LGBT travel blog The Ginger Travel Guru, wrote an excellent article about how this works. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I asked Dave if we could publish an edited version of his article and he was happy to agree.
This is a slightly more technical article than we usually run on Head for Points but I hope it is easy to follow. The original version was published in January which is why the screenshots show flights from dates which have now passed! Over to you Dave …..
“Just before Christmas, it was reported 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”.
What are ‘married segments’?
When an airline is using married segments, the availability of seats on a flight involving a connection – for cash or miles – may be different to the availability of the individual segments themselves. I may be offered a reward ticket from A to B to C but I may not be able to book A to B or B to C on its own.
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 , 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 to be on that flight, I 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 a more expensive ‘E’ class premium economy seat.
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 the passenger not having to connect.
Due to the inconvenience of me having to connect in Frankfurt to get to New York, Lufthansa is 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 when 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 if I go over to aa.com it does show reward availability:
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 an AA 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 to find available seats is incompatible with the new married segment availability that American Airlines has introduced.
It’s 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 you need to do if you are struggling to book American Airlines flights on ba.com.
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. You are looking for flights with MileSAAver availability.
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 Gold Guest List agent and they were able to see availability for the entire journey that aa.com showed whilst ba.com did not. However looking segment by segment the agent was not able to see the flights.
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 the standard Avios price. Don’t forget that domestic US flights under 650 miles are priced at 7,500 Avios one-way in economy instead of the 4,500 Avios price which applies everywhere else in the world.”
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