American Airlines makes it harder to book with Avios via new controls on inventory

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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:

American Airlines controlling award inventory and how it effects Avios

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:

American Airlines controlling award inventory effect avios

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.

American Airlines control inventory effect avios

Whereas if I go over to aa.com it does show reward availability:

American Aiarlines awad inventory effet avios

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.

American Airlines award inventory effect avios

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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Comments

  1. While they seem to have increased the use of married segments recently, this is nothing new on AA’s part. The real problem is BA’s system of charging per segment whereas the number of ‘miles’ required on AA are the same for a direct A to B as they are for A-X-X-B irrespective of the number of segments.

    • Lady London says:

      And BA has been guilty too of similar in the past.

      Not sure if this still applies : When I used to want domestic segments within the UK a couple of years ago, they were often not available, or only undesirable flight timings were shown. then Voila! : searching for the final UK destination coming in from abroad, suddenly the domestic segment WAS available.

  2. Ah, my pet peeve again 🙂

    What is displayed and referred to as “married segments” is actually full Origin & Destination logic. Airline may decide to use O&D controls without ever marrying the segments – segments only become married after you book them and lock the segments together to prevent breaking of the marriage.

    I reckon BA’s engine is simply coded to look for Point to Point availability as it is easier and it historically worked. Should not be that difficult to fix as BA uses the same logic as AA for ages (although maybe not for rewards).

    • Lady London says:

      I think you’re right Haasha as I used to be able to rebook the date/time of the domestic segment only if needed.

  3. I guess the problem is that a typical user might be using a 2-4-1 from London to get to the US, and then looking to supplement that with some Avios hops around the states on AA; sounds like that will be less possible assuming the pricing logic above applies

  4. In the above example, would you be able to use Dallas as a stopover point ?

    • OT @Mikeact: thanks very much for your helpful advice yesterday 🙂

      • Hi James
        Very OT. Have you ever taken the train from kl to penang? We are thinking of doing this soon. I remember us discussing it at some point. Flying J to kul tomorrow on mas redemption.

        • No but we were discussing it just this morning. You would probably find the VIP bus could save you 1-2h and there will be more flexible timings. Or why not just get a hire car and explore along the way. The train is always the more romantic option in a sense but the schedules don’t always work. Have you been to Cameron Highlands? If not, I would recommend going there. I suspect CV3V has done the train and can offer advice if he sees this.Enjoy your trip.

        • MH have been using their new A350s on the KUL/PEN route. Worth checking out if you are a bit of a geek. (We did it early Jan but got bumped from the F seats to the J ones we paid for at check in as they closed that cabin!)

        • Google ‘est malaysia’
          The train is pretty frequent n comfortable. Takes about 4 hours from kl sentral to Butterworth. Then ferry across to Penang island.

        • @reds, thanks, I’ll have a look. I was led to believe train was around 6 hours but at only 4 I am interested too.

    • TPG has articles on maximising stopovers with AA. IIRC you could stopover at any of their hubs on reward flights but it was a long time ago when I travelled widely in the States so rules could have changed.

      • Possibly – I booked GCM-CLT-BOS today and the agent couldn’t put it through on one booking. So presumably we’ll have all the hassle of collecting and re-checking the luggage.

  5. I believe Qantas does something similar with their availability.

    I got completely confused trying to work out availability from OOL to KUL. Availability only showed in economy if searching for the whole journey. Searching for availability from Sydney only showed business availability by changing in Melbourne and searching from Melbourne only showed availability in business via Sydney, totally crazy. I gave up in the end.

  6. Its like split ticketing on trains which saves a fortune on long journeys – especially in first. However with trains you remain in your seat as the sectors pass! The booking system even gives you the exact same seat on each sector.
    It did bring a wry smile to my lips when i saw the source of Robs article…… I thought the overbearing priority of this country was to integrate all as one…..!!

    • blenz101 says:

      What a very odd comment. The LGBT community spends around $65 billion on travel and represents a significant market in its own right (c.10% of the entire travel market in the US for example).

      Whilst you may have no interest in gay ski week or perspectives on how welcoming or not a destination is to a particular demographic there is certainly a market for it.

      Visibility and acceptance has been hard fought – the LGBT and ginger community certainly do integrate but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a unique voice and perspective. You are welcome to your ‘wry smile’ but I didn’t want to see it go unchallenged.

    • Aeronaut says:

      “It did bring a wry smile to my lips when i saw the source of Robs article…… I thought the overbearing priority of this country was to integrate all as one…..!!”

      ???

      Also re split ticketing, trainsplit.com and other split ticketing sites try to get a seat reservation for the same seat when splitting tickets but it’s not always possible. That said, seat reservations on trains are a rather looser concept – technically on Advance tickets (i.e. for a specified train) you’re supposed to be in the allocated seat, but this is hardly ever enforced, whilst on flexible tickets (Anytime or Off-Peak) there’s no such rule.

    • I agree. It’s wrong to segregate society according to their sexual orientation – it only leads to stereotypes. Similarly, have you ever read that HfP is a straight oriented travel blog? We are just humans, travellers, etc etc,… and we should not be segregated based on our sexual orientation. My aim for this society is to achieve that people don’t react when I say “I’m attracted to men”: are you gay??? You really don’t look like being gay. However, my reply is always: no, I’m not gay, I’m a human being attracted to men. Utilising the terms LGBTQ we just promote this behaviour.

      • HI Marc,

        I write the Ginger Travel Guru, and wanted to just take a moment to respond. My site isn’t about segregation; it’s about writing for people with a common interest. A case in point is the article I wrote around Gay Ski Week in Whistler a couple of weeks ago. Without question, is was one of the funnest events I’ve been to because I was with both a bunch of friends and people who I could share the experience with. I of course go skiing with my family and friends at other times in the winter, but this was just awesome in a different way.

        Rob has his focus on London-based professional people. My focus is on the LGBT+ community. Rob’s audience is less-likely to be interested in Whistler Pride or Sydney Mardi Gras, however mine is probably going to be more engaged.

        I of course welcome anyone reading my blog, regardless of how they identify in terms of the sexual orientation or gender identity and any feedback as to the content is really welcome.

        • Hi Dave,
          My comment was not intended to criticise your blog – I follow your blog and really enjoy reading all your extremely high quality posts, even your fun week at Whistler Gay Ski Week. Never realised this existed and it’s pencilled in my agenda: doesn’t mean I’m going next year, but eventually will go one year.
          The comment was more OT and associated with LGBT+Q+++ related labels/branding. I don’t want to branded as being that gay guy (or the gay guy in the third floor, in that office, bla bla bla…), just that crazy/fun guy (independently who I f*ck). That’s my opinion, and I respect other peoples opinions, however I believe that in today’s society “equality and acceptance” should be the way forward (without associated labels/brands).
          In summary, I respect that people use LGTBQ+ terminology, however my point was that I disagree (like James, I guess).

        • I agree. What’s the point of the labelling. If we’re all to be treated equally, why not drop the label and just say “My mate Dave, who runs travel blog…”

          If you said “My mate Davina, who runs female travel blog…” that could be considered sexist.

          It’s a valid and interesting article so why detract from it by drawing attention to an unnecessary label.

        • Because the label draws the attention of those in the LGBT community who would find what Dave writes about to be of interest. Do you not think it would be even weirder not to mention this?

  7. What website / tool is being used to show availability?

  8. Thanks to Dave for the guest post and to Rob for sharing it and Dave’s blog. Had a quick look and it looks good so I’ll start following it.

  9. Henry Larsen says:

    From the article:

    ‘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.’

    Isn’t 9 the maximum number that availability checkers return? So N9 means that there are _at least_ nine seats at that fare — and possibly even more. Correct?

    If so, then the blogger’s phrasing — ‘they will sell _up to_ 9 of those [emphasis added]’ is unfortunate, since it suggests that nine is the maximum, which may not be the case at all.

  10. I booked Avios seats with AA from CLT to BOS today – taxes were £4 each! I had to do it over the phone though as ba.com had been having a glitch since last night and wouldn’t price them up. Took about 40 minutes, the CS agent obviously wasn’t familiar with booking reward seats on AA.

  11. OT
    Has anyone seen what QR suddenly did. No access to biz lounge or baggage when you upgrade to J with miles and qbiz. Shocking.

    • Yes, saw this but – as Qmiles is not a core thing for HFP readers – decided against covering it. Weird thing to do though.

      • Agree Rob..but was afraid other airlines night jump on it too for those using uua for example!

  12. i’m pretty sure Iberia do the same thing with their Avios availability.

    i was recently looking for flights to LPA, and certain MAD-LPA flights were not showing as available direct, but were showing as available when starting from BCN.

    i think !

  13. “Don’t forget that domestic US flights under 450 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.”

    The zone is 0 to 650 miles not 450 miles.

    • Yes, sorry, I realised that today when I wrote the same thing into an article for Sunday. I added that, it wasn’t Dave’s mistake.

  14. Hi,
    I’m trying to book reward seats with AA from RIC to AUC via LAX and whilst there are AA reward seats available, when I call BA they cannot see any avios availability either segmented or for the whole journey. Is there a glitch in the system? I thought you could book any available AA saver using avios through BA?

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