The “joys” of married segments and airfare pricing


When I wrote earlier today about the irrational manner in which airlines price tickets I didn’t really expect to find such a pointed example so quickly. It turns out that United Airlines apparently wanted to help me make my point and so here I am again. I understand airfare and pricing rules pretty well and I’m generally able to figure out what’s going on in any particular scenario. My latest efforts to fly to Colorado, however, reminded me of the part of airfare pricing which isn’t published anywhere: Married Segments.

Airlines decided somewhere along the way that all the rules and inventory buckets they have aren’t sufficient for them to control prices. To address this apparent shortcoming the idea of married segments was introduced. In short, it means that on itineraries with a connection there are times that the fare will change by virtue of the specific flights chosen, even if there are other, valid fares available on the routing and the inventory for those other fares exists.

Here’s an example: I want to fly from New York City to Colorado Springs on 10 May 2013. There is a K fare published by United (one of their cheapest) and there is K inventory on a number of flights from LaGuardia to Denver and from Denver to Colorado Springs. Should be a piece of cake to piece it together, right? Wrong.

Here are the options I have at the K fare price:

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As you can see in the details, UA6168 has K inventory for the DEN-COS segment and UA733 has K inventory for the LGA-DEN segment. Other GDS interfaces show similar results:

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And yet I can not purchase UA733 + UA6168. It prices as an S fare, roughly $100 more.

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No big deal, I tell myself; I know how to get around this. I’ll just book it as a multi-city and have the pricing engine force it into a single fare and get the lower rate. Except that didn’t work this time either. Actually, it made things worse (worth noting that it is a single V fare, not multiple fare components here).

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And so I’m stuck. I basically have to decide how much my time is worth. Basically, sitting at Denver’s airport saves me about $50/hour:

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I’ll most likely end up booking the later flight and trying to SDC or standby on the earlier flights. I even considered the Chicago routing at a cheaper price that then short layover but a flight blocked at 2:40 on a CRJ-200 is no one’s idea of a good time.

Paying a premium for the convenience of non-stop flights isn’t a new concept with the airlines. Paying for a shorter connection time is less common but, thanks to married segments, it definitely happens.

Lucky me, huh?

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

9 Comments

  1. Or just be cheap like me and fly into Denver and drive to COS. 😉 That said, I do wish I booked into COS.

  2. So it makes sense that they could enforce the married segment constraint directly on the UA site, but to have it price that way from a third party, they must be publishing the data in _some_ format, right? Just no way you’ve ever been able to access? What about some of the more, ahem, obscure OTA’s that price things just a bit differently?
    I consider myself pretty well-versed in this stuff, but I can’t recall ever really encountering married segment problems on a revenue ticket (although it’s possible I’ve never dug deep enough to confirm it) – certainly on an award ticket or upgrade because the airline can manage that availability and related rules however they want.

  3. Happens all the time on Delta!If you havent come across this, you don’t fly enough!

  4. Based on my recent searches on united.com, it is giving me long connections for the cheapest fares, and trying to charge higher fare classes for shorter connections, even when there is inventory for the inventory in the necessary fare buckets. However, multi-city search has worked for me to build fares.

    There are two potential rationales. One is to charge a higher fare for people who value time. The other possible rationale is to ensure that there is no chance of misconnect. Neither is particularly compelling, and I kind of wonder if it is a bug in the software

  5. @Stephan is right, it happens so often in Delta, I almost expect it. Multi-city ups the price always. What I’ve done sometimes is done separate bookings, you may pay a bit more in taxes, but it still is lower than coupling the flights.

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