When Do Airlines Open Award Seats?

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 Aeroplan355 days
Air France KLM Flying Blue359 days
Alaska Mileage Plan330 days
All Nippon Airways Mileage Club355 days
American AAdvantage331 days
Asiana Club361 days
Avianca LifeMiles360 days
British Airways Executive Club355 days
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles360 days
Delta SkyMiles331 days
Emirates Skywards328 days
Etihad Guest330 days
Iberia Plus330 days
Japan Airlines Mileage Bank330 days
Korean Air SkyPass361 days
Lufthansa Miles & More360 days
Qantas Frequent Flyer353 days
Qatar Airways Privilege Club361 days
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer355 days
United MileagePlus337 days
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club331 days

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. In no particular order:

Not all airlines release award seats when the schedule opens

There’s a myth that if you call the airline at 12:01AM on the day their 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 is an airline that consistently makes seats 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.

You have to consider timeline for the airline you’re flying and airline you have miles with

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 of 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 for how little first class award availability they open up.

So 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

It can make sense to 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 US to the Middle East on Qatar Airways would cost 70,000 American AAdvantage miles without big fees, or 101,500 Qatar Privilege Club miles, with big fees.


Redeeming American miles on Qatar is a great value

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 their 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 their Flying Blue program
  • Singapore Airlines makes a vast majority of their longhaul award space available only to members of their KrisFlyer program
  • Lufthansa only makes first class award seats available to Miles & More members more than 15 days in advance, while within 15 days they open up seats to partners

Those are just a few examples.


Singapore Airlines makes most premium space available only to KrisFlyer members

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.

Comments

  1. Thanks for this! Anyone have an idea how far in advance Swiss releases space? It doesn’t seem to be 360 days like Lufthansa….

  2. Also bear in mind that an airline might not release reward seats in every cabin at that window.

    For example BA only guarantees to release 4 economy and 2 club seats at t-355 on every flight.

    They may release PE and F rewards at a later date as well as additional Y and CW seats so it is always worth checking on a regular basis as you may get lucky.

    Also there is no guarantee that if someone cancels or changes their reward flight it does mean the original seats get released back immediately if at all.

  3. JL has a sneaky “glitch” where they release 2 F seats right at their window, but then the seats disappear if not booked after 48-72 hrs. pretty consistent on ORD-NRT route

  4. This is a helpful post for beginners… would like to see a similiar post breaking down anecdotal trends of when space is actually loaded. For example, AA has very low intl business availability ~95% of the time, then goes wide open for a few days. Lufthansa 1st is more reliable to open up a week before flights, while their Biz is pretty good in general.

  5. Also keep in mind how long points take to transfer to certain partners. Lucky has updated his post for 2019 for all the points currencies. If these points take a couple days to transfer you could be out of luck when the schedule opens!

  6. Does this mean that everyday there is award seats opening up for dates that are X number of days in the future? Like today you will find seats for Feb 11, 2019 and tomorrow you will find seats for Feb 12, 2019?

  7. @ Chris — Nope. The chart shows the furthest out you’ll see award seats based on when the schedule opens. But see the section about “not all airlines release award seats when the schedule opens.”

  8. Agree with Dylan. It took me 2 weeks to transfer points from Marriott to ANA. Even then Marriott screwed up the transfer rate leaving me with 10 miles too less to book my tickets! Had to wait another 2 weeks for the issue to be resolved plus HOURS on the phone with Marriott and ANA both pointing the finger at each other.

  9. It seems SQ has not got the memo. Consistently they offer waitlistable flight instead of bookable flights. Partner airlines can easily be booked through SQ but their onw flights are a disaster.

    The only flights that can be booked straightaway are those that require you to spend a night in singapore. SQ is extremely cheeky.
    I can imagine that certain flights are tight, but certainly not all for weeks in a row.

  10. oh yea, don’t fall for the waitlist trap on SQ Krisflyer (and possibly on CX AM)

    Just placing the waitlist order is telling SQ not to open up the seats until ultra minute last in hopes you might cave under the pressure and just go for higher mileage price for the same seat confirmed.

  11. I shared Sanjay’s problem with the evil Marriott switchover, but persevered

    I’m waiting for Etihad 1st to open using Etihad Miles for 1 route. Seems in 1st only 3 weeks from departure, so I keep checking.

    OTOH, another leg (A380) was bookable way early using fewer AA miles than EY charges

    What a great hobby . YMMV

  12. How about a section about airlines and when they open closer in booking award seats (and if there are ant airlines that dont) I almost never book 330 days out, but frequently book in the few months/weeks before a trip

  13. “Singapore Airlines makes a vast majority of their longhaul award space available only to members of their KrisFlyer program.”

    Which is why I am so glad I took your recommendations/referral a year ago and got a Chase Sapphire Reserve. I thought of it as another way to get United miles, but instead ended up joining KrisFlyer and booking SIN-LAX in premium economy for far fewer UR points than United wanted for economy minus. Thank you, Lucky!

  14. I booked a UA award KGL-LAX in June with Turkish and LOT. KGL-IST, IST-WAW and WAW – LAX. About 2 months after I booked United emailed me with a scheduled change and now I’m going to miss the WAW-LAX leg. I’ve been trying to rebook but there is now no Biz class availability at all. I’m praying they release more reward space closer to departure but I’m not sure whats gonna happen.

  15. More importantly, when are seats made available? LH 1st class is 2 weeks before departure to partners. How about Etihad and CX?

  16. @ABC , CX typically releases one F seat at schedule opening. Only 2 weeks before departure are any more F seats made available, depending on how many remaining for sale.

  17. @Lucky, I would also love a write up about which airlines open award availability for their unsold seats at the last minute (think LH F for partners for instance). It would be incredibly useful!

  18. I always wonder if the airlines are monitoring what award flights I (we) are searching for and factoring that back into what they actually release – if a lot of people search for a seat on a particular route on a particular day does that infer high demand to the airline which in turn will not release any award seats on that particular flight. Call me paranoid but I will usually set my search to a date close to the actual date I want and the results returned often include up to a week of available awards on either side of the search date. I also wonder if the same thing applies to large stock brokerage firms – can they see all of the thousands of buy and sell limit orders placed by their clients and analyze them to figure out how strongly a stock will move if it swings in one particular direction?

  19. I agree with Clem – a compendium about when closer in seats traditionally are made available (obviously depending upon availability) would be far more useful.

    For example, there was a time when Austrian would open up a number C seats 90 days in advance if their contemporaneous yields justified it.

  20. @Angelo exact same– and i can answer the second part… yes absolutely.

    But I don’t feel like airlines are doing this quite yet… think about it. If we’re looking at several dates to book an award in business, we probably aren’t going to go pay for the flight in biz in cash if we can’t find it. Maybe I’m wrong, but like… it just wouldn’t make sense to restrict space because people are looking for it.

  21. I have seen Very limited business class availability on Qatar using AA miles. Was trying to book to South Africa recently 330 days out and only a very few dates in October came up and nothing in November and December.

  22. Note that it is easy to use a spreadsheet to compute the date for any number of days from now. Just format 2 cells for date, then put today’s date in the first cell, and in the second cell add the number of days you want to the first cell. For example, after formatting the two cells for dates, I put 2/12/19 in the first cell (A1), then entered the formula =A1+355 into the second cell. That cell showed the result Sunday, February 02, 2020.

  23. Presented in the FWIW Dept., on Saturday, 2/9, I booked two business class seats HKG-SFO on CX for tomorrow, 2/13. One need not always “pounce” the moment award seats are available…

  24. Qantas only open up premium international award space that far out to their premium members, gold, platinum etc

    For bronze/silver members – that’s the majority – premium international award space is something like 208 days out.

    Even then, Qantas has huge blackout periods where it is near on impossible to get even an economy award internationally. Those black out periods correspond…to the school holidays +/- a few weeks either side.

    Thank god for EK as a partner in that program.

  25. @henry LAX

    You are so right.
    And I actually caved in.
    @ T-2hrs FRA-SIN there were 4 First seats empty at checkin. Waitlist for saver wouldn’t clear. In the end decided to blow away 130K instead of the 70.5K to upgrade. Even the station manager thought it was ridiculous but SQ wouldn’t budge.

    I will go out of my way NOT to fly SQ in the future.

  26. After years of trying to get the elusive Qantas F from SYD-DFW with aa miles, I finally snagged one. It would have been for today, but due to some health issues I had to toss it back into inventory around 1/1.
    It killed me, but I’m sure some lucky traveller is enjoying that seat right now.

  27. Very informative!

    For a 2015 Christmas trip to Tokyo, I booked ANA flights through United. I made the reservation about one year ahead of time. It cost me 70,000 points in total. Both flights were nonstop.

    Now I’m trying to book the same ANA flights through United. For Christmas time, I’m unable to find the same nonstop ANA flights costing 70,000 points. Rather, a one way costs 80,000 points!

    Is the because ANA decides not to release reward tickets for the holiday season to partners? I’ve been checking it everyday. I didn’t see any availability.

  28. AA is hopeless. The agents do not have a clue when seats become available and the 331 day rule is not a rule and does not mean that AA will release seats at all. The whole “process”(sic) is not a process, and is arbitrary and capricious. AA is hopeless.

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