How to Handle American’s New Connecting Flight Award Availability to Get the Ticket You Want

I’ve written a few times recently that American has seemed to offer better award availability lately. It’s not great, but better than the almost no availability that has reigned for some time. We were promised that in September and goodness knows I hope what we’re seeing now isn’t all there is.

However there’s something important to understand about much of what American has done. Cranky Flier got American to confirm last week that much of the space they’ve opened up is on connecting flights. They’re offering married segment availability — award space that’s highly restrictive, but that you can handle to your advantage if you know what you’re doing.

American Airlines Boeing 787-9 in Los Angeles

Let’s take an example of Washington National to Sydney via Los Angeles on February 5.

There’s no coach award space Washington National to Los Angeles.

And there’s no coach award space Los Angeles to Sydney.

There’s plenty of award space on these flights if booked through from Washington DC to Sydney.

The great thing is that American allows 5 day award holds. I put Washington National to Los Angeles to Sydney on hold.

Then I called up and had them drop the Washington National to Los Angeles flight. That left me with an award flying Los Angeles to Sydney that American had said was unavailable.

A couple of caveats:

  1. the agent can’t just cancel your flights and book a new award, that will be priced more expensively, they have to remove the segment you don’t want from the itinerary not start fresh.
  2. when I called the agent said “the system is giving me fits” and put me on hold, but when they came back they had done what I asked — I don’t know yet if American’s married segment logic somehow continues to link the flights and that has to be overridden, but I got no pushback at all.

It’s been possible to handle married segment availability on American for some time, in the past I wrote about doing this for confirmed international upgrades. With the increase in connecting award inventory this just became a whole lot more useful.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Thanks Gary. Great tip, especially for those of us that live in LA and see very little availability directly from LA to anywhere useful.

  2. @Gary – this is interesting. So the price (40,000 miles) stays the same, except you can drop the segment you don’t really want?

  3. For years, the advice from blogs and on Flyertalk was, when looking for harder-to-find international awards, you should first focus on finding availability from the domestic gateway city.

    This case seems to turn that advice on its head.

    Any advice on how to go about finding to-be-dropped starting segments? If I want to fly LAX-SYD, should I just search random other cities for XXX-LAX-SYD? Are their certain other cities moere or less likely to have availability?

    And why do airlines do this? I sort of understand it for revenue tickets, to charge a premium for the more desirable non-stops, but I’m not sure I understand it for awards, where the customer has a currency that is tied to one award program.

  4. What wonderful news . Now we have to search from every frickin’ city in the US to our destination to see if there’s availability instead of just the gateway city.

  5. Gary flies coach LAX-SYD? Let’s see the write up on that 🙂

    Indescribably pathetic no AA coach award space is available w/o this sort of bs.

  6. +1 on Swag’s question:

    “Any advice on how to go about finding to-be-dropped starting segments? If I want to fly LAX-SYD, should I just search random other cities for XXX-LAX-SYD? Are their certain other cities more or less likely to have availability?”

  7. Gary – a little off topic here but I just realized I have 10 free upgrades through AwardWallet that I would like to share back with you (for your readers) as I once redeemed a code from your blog.

    Thanks for all you do, Happy New Year.


    Free upgrade coupon for the first time users:

  8. Daniel,

    Happy New Year to you too.

    Apologize, but not sure what you are referring to with the free upgrade coupons? Could you please share the details?

    Back on topic though. My pet peeve recently has been not finding mileSAAver award availability from AUS to an Int’l gateway, such as LAX, so I’ve ended up having to buy tix to and/or from LAX to make the award flight to Asia possible. And I’m an AA EXP, so there should be some “expanded availability” for these, but alas, no. Annoying as all get out..


  9. This worked for me. I wanted MIA-LAX AA T space but only got it searching MIA-LAX-AKL and calling AA. Makes no sense.

  10. Gary I have seen this on many awards. Ill search an award and American has some waste of time leg in there. Lets say Chicago to Tokyo from FLL. They may have FLL-TPA-ORD-NRT. If you just use ORD there is zero availability. I wonder why for this nonsense? I figure you are upgrading that coach seat to AU.

  11. @ robertw – “Ill search an award and American has some waste of time leg in there…I wonder why for this nonsense?”

    The answer is simple: AA works very, very hard to make their redemptions suck. If you happen to find a decent award redemption, they quickly try to find some way, any way, to make you more miserable. Adding two stops with long layovers in Tampa and Salt Lake City – even when there’s a nonstop that’s actually available – is their way of fucking you. No way they’re going to give you a chance for a good experience on an award flight.

    Not making this up, this is how their award system is structured. Seriously.

  12. AFAIK, American’s official award policy has always allowed you to drop unwanted segments from an award ticket, even long after booking, without paying a fee. I guess they’d rather not keep you booked on a segment you don’t intend to fly.

  13. Gary, good for American. You can’t do this trick with Delta. For Delta all connecting flights are “married segments” and if you drop one segment, they reprice what you have left standing. Sucks.

  14. This is not a good thing. It’s a bad thing that can be helpful to know and work possibly to your advantage as a Plan C when Plans A and B don’t work out due to the miserable Advantage program American has created recently in place of their formerly decent one.

  15. As Steve notes, this is good news but finding the married segments seems a near waste of time unless you can somehow run a computer program to find them or you luck into some inside information. I’ve always been amazed by married segment awards; I have no idea how many airlines use them, but over the years I’ve found them in use on many airlines. In the AA program, for example, I’ve found married segments on USA to Chile Latam flights. Want to fly to Santiago? No award seats available. But the same flights can have seats if you’re connecting to other Chilean destinations. But I recently tried it again and couldn’t find married segment seats. This happens all the time, so don’t really know how limited married segment knowledge helps much.

  16. I have to wonder how long the (relatively-new) rule allowing you to drop a segment is for the world. It made perfect sense when award availability was segment-by-segment because there was no gaming to be done: if DCA-LAX-SYD was available, LAX-SYD was available, so there was no lost revenue to AA by allowing you to drop a segment. Now that that has fundamentally changed, I can’t imagine AA will continue to allow dropping segments for no charge.

  17. Gary – I was nicked for the $30 per ticket fee by the supervisor for dropping a leg. I said “Even for a lifetime Gold who couldn’t book this online?” “yes” was the reply. Called back and confirmed fees wouldn’t apply for Exec. Platinum, but you have to be waaay nicer than me to talk your way out of it if you are a lowly Plat or Gold.

  18. Tried this today and When I spoke to a rez agent she wouldn’t do it . I had booked a business award MEX-PHX-TUS to get the nonstop segment to PHX which otherwise was not available. The agent said it was impossible to drop the last segment since it was a married segment. She would not even do it for a fee which I would gladly pay.. What should I do? Should I just go ahead and ticket it and then simply no show the PHX-TUS leg which is not scheduled out until the next day or would that jeopardize my Aadvantage account or risk a charge back fee?

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