When Do Airlines Open Award Seats?

When Do Airlines Open Award Seats?

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There are many aspects to redeeming miles efficiently. In addition to knowing which programs have the best redemption rates, it also makes sense to understand how you can actually snag the award seats that are available.

Part of that is understanding when airlines open up award seats. In this post I wanted to compile a master list of some of the most popular frequent flyer programs, and how early you can book mileage tickets.

So let’s get right into it, and then below I’ll also share some context for the significance of these timelines.

When do airlines open their award calendars?

Here are the approximate dates on which airlines open their schedules for awards (give or take a day, since with timezones it really isn’t a science):

Airline Loyalty Program
How far in advance you can book
Air Canada Aeroplan
355 days
Air France-KLM Flying Blue
359 days
Alaska Mileage Plan
330 days
All Nippon Airways Mileage Club
355 days
American AAdvantage
331 days
Asiana Club
361 days
Avianca LifeMiles
360 days
British Airways Executive Club
355 days
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
360 days
Delta SkyMiles
331 days
Emirates Skywards
328 days
Etihad Guest
330 days
Finnair Plus
331 days
Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles
330 days
Iberia Plus
330 days
Japan Airlines Mileage Bank
330 days
Korean Air SkyPass
361 days
Lufthansa Miles & More
360 days
Qantas Frequent Flyer
353 days
Qatar Airways Privilege Club
361 days
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
355 days
United MileagePlus
337 days
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
331 days
When Airlines Open Their Award Calendars

For what it’s worth, if you’re trying to determine how many days out a particular trip is, you can either just Google “how many days from today is [insert date]” or you can use this website.

If I’m planning an important trip way in advance I’ll typically set a calendar reminder, and then I’ll get ready to start searching for availability a day or two in advance.

Making sense of airline award schedules

With the above out of the way, below I wanted to share some tips for actually making sense of the importance of these timelines, given how complicated snagging award seats can be. Below are some thoughts, in no particular order.

Not all airlines release award seats when the schedule opens

There’s a myth that if you call an airline at 12:01AM on the day the schedule opens, every flight will have award space. This simply isn’t true. There may be award space on some flights. There most definitely won’t be award seats on all flights. So if you call at 12:01AM and there’s not a seat on the flight you want, that doesn’t necessarily mean someone else beat you to it.

British Airways consistently makes awards available in advance

Award seats don’t necessarily become available at 12:01AM

Even for airlines that do typically release award seats when the schedule opens, it doesn’t necessarily happen at 12:01AM in the timezone where the airline is based.

For example, American AAdvantage seems to open up award space shortly after midnight central, though partner award space often isn’t bookable for several hours, even if it appears online (instead you’ll get an error message).

There are two award timelines to consider

This is probably easiest explained in the form of an example.

If you want to redeem American AAdvantage miles for travel on Cathay Pacific, you can only book those seats when American’s award calendar opens up, as opposed to when Cathay Pacific’s award calendar opens up.

So for partner awards you have to take into consideration the timelines of both the airline you’re booking with and the airline you’re flying with. Whichever timeframe is shorter is the one with which you could book.

There are two timelines to consider for award seats

Implications of when airlines open their award calendars

The point at which airlines open up award calendars can vary by over a month, and there are lots of implications to that.

First of all, having access to award seats earlier can be the difference between snagging an award seat and it being gone when it’s time to book. To give one example, Qantas is notorious stingy when it comes to making first class award seats available.

British Airways and Qantas loyalty program members have access to these seats 350+ days in advance, while American and Alaska loyalty program members only get access to these seats ~330 days in advance. In many cases you’ll find that those seats get snagged in the first ~20 days they’re made available, leaving very little availability for members of programs who only get this space “late.”

Qantas first class award seats are notoriously difficult to book

Collect miles with different airlines than what you want to fly

When you’re redeeming miles, often the airline with which you want to redeem miles is very different than the airline you want to fly. For example, I love earning American AAdvantage miles even though I don’t actually like flying American. Instead I want to redeem those miles on Etihad and Qatar, since American typically has lower redemption rates for those airlines than the programs themselves do.

To give an example, a one-way business class ticket from the United States to South Africa on Qatar Airways would cost 75,000 American AAdvantage miles or to the Middle East on Qatar Airways would cost 70,000 American AAdvantage miles without big fees, or 95,000 Qatar Privilege Club miles.

Redeeming American miles on Qatar Airways is a great value

So when comparing the best airline credit cards, don’t discount a card just because it isn’t issued with your preferred carrier. You can often leverage alliances and partnerships, or move points from a flexible points currency to whichever program is best for booking your flight award.

Not all airlines make space available to all partners

Nowadays many major airlines belong to alliances, and a majority of airlines make all saver level award seats available to partner airlines. However, this isn’t true across the board, and it’s another consideration to keep in mind. For example:

  • Air France-KLM make a lot of award space available exclusively to members of the Flying Blue program
  • Emirates blocks most first class award space through partner programs, and saves it for Skywards members
  • Lufthansa only makes first class award seats available to partner programs at most 15 days out, while Miles & More members get access to the space before that
  • Singapore Airlines makes a vast majority of its premium cabin award space available to members of the KrisFlyer program

Those are just a few examples.

Singapore Airlines makes most premium space available only to KrisFlyer members

Booking last minute is often best

While I realize many people want to plan travel in advance (understandably, because they have to plan, take time off work, etc.), it’s important to keep in mind that often the best time to book mileage award tickets is last minute, just a few days before departure.

I wouldn’t count on this for a big family trip, of course, but if you can’t find the seats you want, it can make sense to book the best available option when the schedule opens, and then upgrade later on.

Bottom line

As much as you’d think it would be, given that everything is computerized, booking award flights right when the schedules open really isn’t a science.

There’s no doubt it helps to know the general date ranges when space opens up and how you can leverage partners to get “early” access to award space. But ultimately your best bet is to just start researching options a day or two before the award window opens up for the airline with which you have miles and go from there.

If you’re planning 10-11 months out you generally shouldn’t have too much trouble finding award space, assuming you’re not trying to go to Australia over Christmas, for example.

What has your experience been with booking award seats when the schedule opens?

Conversations (29)
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  1. Derek Guest

    Again, AA has released 0 saver biz seats on any international route since at least September. Not even odd times or routings, through end of schedule..... truly horrendous. Cheapest I've seen for their "web savers" is 78K OW to Europe.

  2. Azamaraal Guest

    JAL shows award space NRT-MEL available October 22 booking through BA but AS does not show the flights because JAL is not currently flying them. So I can book as far as NRT on AS/JAL but cannot book the next segment yet. JAL has announced they will soon fly into Australia but I guess I have to watch carefully.

  3. Bill n DC Guest

    Timely. Just booked RTW19 3.0 Coast to Coast in A380 First
    Found a choice of dates in November LAX SYD on Qantas ‘elusive’ First 167k Qantas miles transferred from AmEx and Cap1. Then 3 in a row on Singapore - loved how agent said on seat selection, “there’s only 3 rows” :-)
    SYD SIN FRA JFK. 295k Krisflyer miles transferred from AmEx & Chase Called agent to put flights on hold till Chase...

    Timely. Just booked RTW19 3.0 Coast to Coast in A380 First
    Found a choice of dates in November LAX SYD on Qantas ‘elusive’ First 167k Qantas miles transferred from AmEx and Cap1. Then 3 in a row on Singapore - loved how agent said on seat selection, “there’s only 3 rows” :-)
    SYD SIN FRA JFK. 295k Krisflyer miles transferred from AmEx & Chase Called agent to put flights on hold till Chase miles show up

    Started the year thinking it would be a Cathay Pacific year before things get worse but trending Singapore now with first for me Qatar. With favorites LH and EY bring me home on first two RTW trips.

  4. AaronP Guest

    Can you do a post for hotels as well???

  5. wordguy123 New Member

    Ben: Is something going on with Lufthansa award releases--again? I'm looking at days in the coming weeks and months and see nothing. Absolutely no availability for any award seats? Do you have any insight?

  6. Sam Guest

    I'm not even seeing any business class availability on UA using ANA miles anymore. Anyone else have that issue? Seems like all this dynamic pricing and what not has taken away our inventory. I've tried multiple cities from USA to LON and nothing!

  7. Jesper Guest

    @Ben

    Your information on JAL is wrong, they open earlier than 330 days.

  8. Christian Guest

    @Ben - This is pretty helpful. One complementary table that would also be immensely helpful would be best times to book first class tickets for two people who don't hold elite status to access special availability. You write about aspirational travel and that would be extremely applicable for how, how far ahead, and using what currencies would be the way to go for us regular people. For instance, how can we get two Singapore suites...

    @Ben - This is pretty helpful. One complementary table that would also be immensely helpful would be best times to book first class tickets for two people who don't hold elite status to access special availability. You write about aspirational travel and that would be extremely applicable for how, how far ahead, and using what currencies would be the way to go for us regular people. For instance, how can we get two Singapore suites saver tickets to or from Asia? Or is it impossible and we honestly shouldn't even bother?

  9. Lynn Pearlstein Guest

    Why don’t airlines open ANY business class seats except last week or so?

  10. John Guest

    I had a question. In December, I flew roundtrip from the US to Bangkok in business class. My plane both to Tokyo and then to Bangkok were virtual ghost planes. Tons of empty seats in all classes.

    My question is that since the airlines know they are going to being flying mostly empty, why wouldn't they open up the rest of the seats for redemption thru miles. Isn't a plane mostly full of free...

    I had a question. In December, I flew roundtrip from the US to Bangkok in business class. My plane both to Tokyo and then to Bangkok were virtual ghost planes. Tons of empty seats in all classes.

    My question is that since the airlines know they are going to being flying mostly empty, why wouldn't they open up the rest of the seats for redemption thru miles. Isn't a plane mostly full of free fliers better than a mostly empty plane? I checked the awards and there was nothing else available for flight. You would think they would want to find a cheap way to get those excess miles spent. Covid times would be a good time to coax the brave back out into the flying world by offering a ton of miles seats, thus decreasing the huge number of available miles out there waiting to be spent during more normal times. Just my two cents, but if anyone knows why they don't do this, I would be curious. This was for American Airlines, thru Japan Airlines.

  11. Ben Guest

    Lol. I just booked three tickets to Australia over Christmas. The Aeroplan Etihad partnership made that possible as availability is pretty poor everywhere else.

  12. Elliott Goldenberg Guest

    I usually have had no problem booking from MIA Miami to PMI Palma de Mallorca, Spain on American though Madrid different times of the year until Covid hit. Now I can’t even find a flight anytime of the year through Madrid sharing with Iberia to Palma. I was lucky last summer getting good connections through the UK on BA for a very low and average fee cost around $55. Coming back was a different story....

    I usually have had no problem booking from MIA Miami to PMI Palma de Mallorca, Spain on American though Madrid different times of the year until Covid hit. Now I can’t even find a flight anytime of the year through Madrid sharing with Iberia to Palma. I was lucky last summer getting good connections through the UK on BA for a very low and average fee cost around $55. Coming back was a different story. Had to pay for Ryan Air to Barcelona then use miles back to the US. Now every flight through the UK has fees of around $500 or more which does not pay to use miles. Very frustrating. There is no problem booking MIA to Madrid or Barcelona then paying my way from there.

  13. JC Guest

    Looks like JAL has blocked all AK Air saver awards going to Japan December 11 through the 25th 2022. SEA, SFO, LAX, DEN. Anyone know if this is normal? Do these awards eventually open up?

  14. GBOAC Diamond

    I have a newbie question about booking award seats on a partner airline. Specially I'm referring to using Aeroplan miles (I've just joined) to book a United award. Where do I this from -- go the the Aeroplan award page, enter my itinerary, and hope one or more United flights how up. Or is there some award booking page (either at Aeroplan or United) that I can book a United flight using Aeroplan miles?

    1. Jimbo Guest

      Yes search for points bookings on Air Canada site and it shows partner award flights incl UA.

    2. GBOAC Diamond

      Thanks. I've looked at the AC award site for SFO-LIM space in the fall and I don't find any direct or almost direct space on UA; occasionally there will be UA space on a short segment on a ridiculous 2 or 3 stop itinerary. Hence my question about where to look for UA space

    3. Azamaraal Guest

      Aeroplan is a joke website. Before the "new" Aeroplan that Ben loves you could find partner space on the Aeroplan site. Now only flights that have one or more AC legs will show. Try YVR-IST (a TK direct) and you find nothing all year but flights are available on TK. How far it has dropped. I think you can use United to find the appropriate flights but then have to either phone Aeroplan and book...

      Aeroplan is a joke website. Before the "new" Aeroplan that Ben loves you could find partner space on the Aeroplan site. Now only flights that have one or more AC legs will show. Try YVR-IST (a TK direct) and you find nothing all year but flights are available on TK. How far it has dropped. I think you can use United to find the appropriate flights but then have to either phone Aeroplan and book through an agent - but I am no sure this is even possible now.

      And remember - NO BOOKING FEES are ever refunded by Air Canada or Aeroplan even if this is the only way to book and THEY CANCEL YOU! Beware

  15. Jan Guest

    Just checked, it is currently 4/14 occupied. Again no availability for me to upgrade atm so I am hoping there’s some space by check-in (and not just a fare difference upgrade obv.)

  16. Andrew Diamond

    tl;dr: it's complicated.

  17. MikeL1986 Guest

    Regarding Alaska Airlines, I've been looking at award flights to Maui for next December. Although their schedule is open, their cash and award rates are crazy high! We're talking 50,000 miles each way or $1,100 each way for economy. It seems like their normal pricing doesn't kick in until a month or more after the schedule opens. I don't understand why they do that.

    1. Harry Guest

      Trying to get from DFW to FAI for three years now going on a land/cruise. Booked Alaska right after it opened up for an August 2022 departure. My experience you better seal the deal ASAP either cash or miles if you're going 1st class. On a four row 1st class 737, once four seats are sold, up the price goes and goes high. Alaska now in OneWorld, American has certainly rubbed off. IMO Alaska has...

      Trying to get from DFW to FAI for three years now going on a land/cruise. Booked Alaska right after it opened up for an August 2022 departure. My experience you better seal the deal ASAP either cash or miles if you're going 1st class. On a four row 1st class 737, once four seats are sold, up the price goes and goes high. Alaska now in OneWorld, American has certainly rubbed off. IMO Alaska has seen it best days and downhill from here. Other blogs out there about the subject.

  18. Gabriel c Guest

    Note that tickets are valid one year from the ticket being issued, so if you book 350 days in advance you lose almost any chance to postpone it, even with a fee.

    1. anon Guest

      Just redeposit the miles in your account and book a new ticket

  19. Reno Joe Guest

    Ultimately, award seats are controlled by an airline's revenue management team.

    With AA, on day 330, revenue management will code a certain number of first class seats as A and everything else is F. But, with AA, it is important to note that A inventory is split into A revenue and A award. So, when revenue management releases that certain number of A seats on day 330, it is only releasing them as A revenue...

    Ultimately, award seats are controlled by an airline's revenue management team.

    With AA, on day 330, revenue management will code a certain number of first class seats as A and everything else is F. But, with AA, it is important to note that A inventory is split into A revenue and A award. So, when revenue management releases that certain number of A seats on day 330, it is only releasing them as A revenue seats and NOT A award seats. If one books a first class award ticket on day 330, its points will be priced as an F ticket . . . not as an A ticket. At a much later point in time, revenue management MIGHT (or might not) release seats as A award inventory.

    This has substantial implications for bookings. Because revenue management has not yet "flipped the switch" on A award inventory, one cannot use points or system-wide upgrades to upgrade from business to first. (Until the switch is flipped, AA's telephone agents will not even see the A revenue inventory, which is strange.)

    Also, partner airlines must wait for A award inventory to open up before first class award inventory becomes visible and eligible for partner award redemption. So, Alaska, BA, Jet Blue, etc. will show NO first class award inventory on AA until AA's revenue management releases A inventory as award-eligble.

    British Airways has the same thing going on -- its version is designated Z award inventory.

    1. Reno Joe Guest

      PS And then you have airlines that afford NO partner redemptions for certain cabin classes, such as Air France's La Premier award seat being unavailable for partner redemptions and only available to Flying Blue members with at least one notch of elite status.

  20. Jan Guest

    I have an upcoming flight on EK A380 J, what are the chances that during check-in they may have F availability for an upgrade? (F has been unavailable during booking)

    1. DenB Diamond

      Expertflyer can be helpful for this scenario, if not to answer your question concretely, at least to help you surmise. EK is reputed to offer last seat availability for battlefield upgrades (upgrade to F with points at the airport or even onboard) so if Expertflyer shows F3 on day of travel, maybe you have a chance. If Expertflyer shows F0 before travel, you're SOL I'm afraid.

    2. Jordan Guest

      I get error messages when searching expert flyer for EK aware. Says there’s a data issue with their provider.

      How do you get around this?

  21. DenB Diamond

    Another consideration, certainly worth a full discussion, is loyalty programs with "dynamic" pricing. Aeroplan's change has effectively nixed partner bookings on Air Canada operated flights, with rare exceptions. LifeMiles and MileagePlus used to be useful currencies for premium travel on AC. No longer.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

John Guest

I had a question. In December, I flew roundtrip from the US to Bangkok in business class. My plane both to Tokyo and then to Bangkok were virtual ghost planes. Tons of empty seats in all classes. My question is that since the airlines know they are going to being flying mostly empty, why wouldn't they open up the rest of the seats for redemption thru miles. Isn't a plane mostly full of free fliers better than a mostly empty plane? I checked the awards and there was nothing else available for flight. You would think they would want to find a cheap way to get those excess miles spent. Covid times would be a good time to coax the brave back out into the flying world by offering a ton of miles seats, thus decreasing the huge number of available miles out there waiting to be spent during more normal times. Just my two cents, but if anyone knows why they don't do this, I would be curious. This was for American Airlines, thru Japan Airlines.

1
Derek Guest

Again, AA has released 0 saver biz seats on any international route since at least September. Not even odd times or routings, through end of schedule..... truly horrendous. Cheapest I've seen for their "web savers" is 78K OW to Europe.

0
Jordan Guest

I get error messages when searching expert flyer for EK aware. Says there’s a data issue with their provider. How do you get around this?

0
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