A topic that’s been coming up more and more frequently in the Miles & Points world as of late is married segments.
Broadly speaking, married segments are two or more flights between city pairs that airlines sell together as a single bundled unit, rather than as two or more individual segments. Married segments apply to both cash and award bookings.
Let’s take a deeper look into married segments and how you might encounter them when planning your trips.
What Are Married Segments?
Many of us have spent countless hours searching for the perfect itinerary. A baffled look appears on your face when you see your ideal flight available as part of a multi-flight itinerary – but when you search for the individual segment itself, it magically disappears.
This likely isn’t an instance of phantom award space. Instead, what you’re encountering is a married segment.
There can be any number of stipulations placed on how the flights may be sold, often buried deep in the fare rules.
For married segments, the airline may state that a particular flight pairing must be booked together at a specific price, and the flights may not be booked individually for the same fare.
For award bookings, an airline might release “Saver” or lower-cost award seats on married segments, but not on the same individual segments.
Married segment logic has been applied with greater frequency to award bookings in recent years. Note that the loyalty program has no control over married segment logic; rather, the airline whose tickets are being sold decides which segments are married.
Why Do Airlines Use Married Segments?
Airlines use married segments strategically to maximize profit.
By controlling both the issuance of frequent flyer points and the flights for which points may be used, including married segments, airlines ensure that they’re raking in as much income as possible.
Most major airlines have origin and destination controls to decide how much revenue contribution they’ll get for each flight. To accomplish this, the airline may decide to marry segments together to prevent passengers or travel agents from making bookings in a way that goes against the revenue contribution the airline is aiming for.
For example, direct flights are almost always more expensive than connecting flights. A direct flight from Vancouver to Toronto might be more expensive than a flight from Vancouver to Montreal with a connection in Toronto, whether in terms of cash or dynamic award pricing.
Direct long-haul flights are relatively easy for airlines to sell. In major cities, such as Toronto, New York, Los Angeles, or Vancouver, there’s a reasonable expectation that premium cabins will sell, even up to the last minute, for business travel.
With the likelihood that someone will pay cash for those seats, the airline may not release as many award seats on the direct route, especially at the “Saver” or lowest level. By letting someone else book that same seat “for free” on an award booking, the airline could lose out on revenue.
However, that same seat may be offered on a married segment with a connecting flight at a lower cost.
Let’s take a look at an example. Suppose you live in Toronto and you’d like to fly to Paris. One of the options is to fly with Air France using Air France/KLM Flying Blue.
A search for your preferred date brings a direct flight between Toronto and Paris at a cost of 70,000 miles.
Another destination you’ve been pining to visit is Sofia, Bulgaria, so you decide to check the availability to there. Interestingly, the price actually drops to 55,000 miles, even though you’d be on the exact same flight between Toronto and Paris.
There are a host of examples of married segments, and the only way to find them is to cast a wide search net to various destinations. Note that there may be other factors, such as dynamic pricing, at play too.
While many airlines use married segments, the following list includes some carriers commonly known to use the logic with award bookings:
- Air Canada
- Air France/KLM
- Austrian Airlines
- British Airways
- Brussels Airlines
- Etihad Airways
- Qatar Airways
- Singapore Airlines
- TAP Air Portugal
- United Airlines
Can You Split Up a Married Segment?
In short, the answer is usually no. While there are certainly exceptions to the rule, in the vast majority of cases, a married segment itinerary must remain as originally booked.
You may think that booking a married segment and then hacking it up into two pieces would be a savvy way to get what you want. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work that way.
One reason that married segments can’t be split up is that airlines can issue penalties to ticketing agents who don’t follow their fare rules. These penalties are called “Agency Debit Memos” or “ADMs”.
If an agent split up a married segment to gain access to booking classes that are otherwise unavailable on the individual routes, the airline could strike back with an ADM.
The actual cost of the ADM can vary, but an example might be the difference in fare between the original married segments and the two individuals segments, plus a penalty of $300 per segment per passenger.
This comes out of the agency’s revenue, so it’s definitely not in their best interest to be breaking any rules. Remember this the next time you’re on the phone with an Aeroplan agent who can’t split up your married segment despite their best efforts. 😉
Can Married Segments Be Beneficial?
Generally speaking, married segments don’t really work in the consumer’s interest. After all, having the same seat available for different prices doesn’t seem fair.
However, married segments can work in your favour if you’re originating or arriving in a place that’s not an airline’s main hub. You may be more likely to benefit from married segments if you must take a connecting flight to get to where you want to go.
One practice you may have heard of is hidden-city ticketing. This is the practice of booking flights without the intention of taking every segment, in an effort to score a deal.
The same practice could be applied to married segments. If you’re able to get an award seat on a connecting flight, you could decide to miss the last flight and remain in the city to which you wanted to fly in the first place.
In the Air France example above, you could book the Toronto–Paris–Sofia itinerary for 55,000 Flying Blue miles and then mysteriously fall ill and miss your flight in Paris, with the silver lining of saving yourself 15,000 miles compared to simply booking the Toronto–Paris direct flight.
This doesn’t come without risks, though, and I wouldn’t recommend making a habit of it.
One risk is that the airline could revoke your frequent flyer miles and/or elite status, if you consistently skirt fare and ticketing rules by strategically missing flights.
The airline controls who may use loyalty programs, and since practices like breaking up married segments or skipping segments on purpose violates their contract of carriage, it could result in you losing your points and/or status privileges.
Another risk is that in the event of irregular operations, the airline is only obligated to get you to your final destination. In this regard, you run the risk of not getting to your intended destination, which could be quite far away.
If you skip a segment on a round-trip flight, the rest of your booking is typically forfeited. Thus, this type of practice is best reserved for one-way bookings.
Lastly, if you check a bag that is through-checked to your final destination, you’ll be without your bag if you plan on exiting your journey partway through. While you could request for your bag to be short-checked to the intermediate point, there’s no guarantee that your wish will be granted.
Married segments are one of many finer intricacies of the airline world. While there are some instances where they may work in your favour, that’s often not going to be the case.
This is true with both cash and award bookings. Specific to award bookings, it may be more difficult to find award space on direct flights, whereas the same flight might be available as part of a married segment.
If you can’t find your ideal award flight, try looking at destinations that would require a connecting flight. You may be surprised both with the award availability in a married segment, as well as discovering a destination you may not have considered visiting before.