What Are Flight Segments in Air Travel?

Flight segments in air travel can help you to better understand your travel plans.
Flight segments in air travel can help you to better understand your travel plans. (Image: Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

At times, air travel can feel like a chore. Although scouring the Internet for the best airline ticket is often a discouraging task, flight plans can be made easier with knowledge of jargon hidden in your itinerary. While a “flight segment” is commonly misunderstood, it is an important part of your ticket, and can help you to make the most appropriate travel plans.

Segments Defined

Although a flight segment is a prevalent feature of air travel, its definition is often misinterpreted. Segments in air travel are defined by airlines as all travel, including all legs and stopovers, which are listed under the same flight number on an itinerary. In essence, no matter how many times a passenger boards or gets off the same aircraft, a flight segment is defined as travel from the time the passenger initially boards the plane until he disembarks at his destination, as long as it is on the same aircraft and the flight number does not change. The number of segments in your travel plans is equal to the number of flight numbers on your itinerary.

The Functional Definition

The functional definition of a flight segment becomes important when comparing travel routes. Although the terms “direct flight” and “nonstop flight” are often used synonymously, their distinction requires an understanding of flight segments. A nonstop flight is just that -- without stops; however, a direct flight implies a flight consisting of a single segment -- not necessarily nonstop.

Using Segments

Most frequent flier programs reward flight segments as well as mileage. For frequent fliers, segments are useful to accumulate toward raising frequent flier status. Most programs have a tiered status hierarchy -- standard, gold, platinum, for example -- which award varying levels of mileage bonuses and travel perks to qualifying members. It is therefore useful to consider the number of segments attributed to your flight itinerary to optimize the benefits of your flight.

Save With Segments

While it may sound enticing to book multiple-segment flights for all of your travel plans, be aware that doing so is often more costly. Although you may have several stops along the way, a single-segment flight is the airline's way of keeping routes as direct and organized as possible -- especially when flying between hubs. For this reason, a segment that includes three legs, for example, will normally be cheaper than a multicity ticket including the same legs.

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