When Do Airlines Open Award Seats?

One of the questions I’m most often asked is when do airlines open award seats, so I figured I’d compile a master list of the various frequent flyer programs, and how early you can book mileage tickets.

Let me start with a few important disclaimers:

  • Not all airlines release award space as soon as 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.
  • Award seats don’t necessarily become available at 12:01AM. Besides, for a global airline, what does 12:01AM really mean, since that happens a couple of dozen times a day? The truth is that award space doesn’t open up at exactly midnight in any timezone. For example, American 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).
  • What matters is when award space opens up for the airline with which you have miles, and not the airline you want to fly. Hopefully that’s pretty self explanatory. 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.

With that in mind, here are the approximate dates on which airlines open up award space (give or take a day, since with timezones it really isn’t a science):

If you have miles with this program:You can book this many days before departure:
Air Canada Aeroplan356 days
Air France Flying Blue305 days
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan331 days
All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club356 days
American AAdvantage331 days
Avianca LifeMiles360 days
British Airways Executive Club355 days
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles360 days
Delta SkyMiles331 days
Emirates Skywards340 days
Lufthansa Miles & More359 days
Qantas Frequent Flyer353 days
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer355 days
United MileagePlus338 days

For what it’s worth, if you’re trying to determine how many days out a particular trip is, I recommend using a date calculator like http://daycalc.appspot.com/. You just enter the date and then it will tell you how many days from today that is:

Calculating-Days-1

Calculating-Days-2

Alternatively, timeanddate.com lets you enter the target date (so your ideal day of departure), and then subtract a given number of days out:

Date Calculator

This is handy if you want to set a calendar reminder to check space on a certain date.

Implications of when airlines open their award calendars

As you can see, the time that airlines open up award space can vary by almost two months, and there are lots of implications of that.

For example, on one extreme you have Air France, which only opens up award schedules about 10 months out. Typically airlines only make award space available to partner airlines once they open up space to their own members, though Air France is an odd exception, because they release award space to partner airlines before they release space to their own members.

So you can redeem Delta SkyMiles for travel on Air France about 11 months out, while you can only redeem Air France Flying Blue miles for travel on Air France about 10 months out.

What this means is that award space on Air France is typically excellent 10-11 months out, since their own members don’t even have access to the space!

Air-France-Availability

Conversely, Qantas opens up their award calendar ~353 days out.

Say you want to redeem American AAdvantage miles for travel on Qantas. Well, unfortunately American only opens up their award calendar 331 days out. What this means is that AAdvantage members are at a roughly three week “disadvantage” compared to those redeeming miles from British Airways, Cathay Pacific, etc.

Qantas first class award space between Australia and the US is almost impossibly difficult to come by to begin with, and is tougher on AAdvantage miles when others have a three week head start.

For example, as you can see below there’s Qantas first class award space from Los Angeles to Melbourne, though it’s for March 3, 2015, which is outside the window which AAdvantage members can book. In fairness, there is a workaround for “holding” Qantas award space if you have miles with other programs.

Qantas-Award-Availability

Then you have programs like United MileagePlus. United opens their calendar ~338 days out for travel on partner airlines, while they only open up space for travel on their own flights ~335 days out.

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.

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

More articles by lucky »

Comments

  1. yeah, it’s a bummer about Qantas… that’s one of the A380 i’d really want to try.
    i guess 2 seats are basically impossible, right? espcially with AAdvantage?

  2. @Lantean re-read the end of this post, and the link that Lucky included. He doesn’t make it super-clear, but he actually tells you how to use AAdvantage miles to book those 2 first class award seats on the A380… you just need to have miles in another program, too, like Avios… 🙂

  3. Does LH still release F awards 14 days out? I’m watching a 747-8 flight I want and it only seems to come available a day or two before. Similar pattern for LX J.

  4. More than once I have booked CX business class lax/hkg to get seats when first was not open, and later on called and was able to change to first.

    seems to me, their seat availability is in flux, or opens up closer to the dates of departure.

  5. One other important point is that airlines often say 331 days, but there could be drastic changes at 330, 329 and 328. With Alaska, it sometimes seems like they release seats at 331 and then change their mind and take them back at 330.

    Delta doesn’t actually release seats until 329 days out even though their calendar goes until 331. And they don’t release the space at midnight. It usually comes up at a seemingly random time between 10am and 6pm EST each day. The time changes every day.

    The Air France trick on Delta is great though. Tons of space!

  6. @Lantean-

    I was in the same boat for a trip to Aus next January. There is way more availability for QF F LHR-MEL/SYD and vice versa, that’s what I did. Sure you need to get to LHR, and it’s much longer way to go, but these are the things we do to try new products 🙂

  7. Lucky,

    I was wondering does this apply when trying to book ANA 777-300’s Suites using United miles?

  8. I am interested in what you have to say about about how, why and when seats open up for award days and weeks before you want to fly. Ex. I just got round trip in Biz NYC DPS on Cathay return on Cathay or JaL biz in early April. Bonanza!

  9. This is very helpful and data provided is exactly what I am looking for. I have a lot of expiring Miles and couldn’t use them before expiration. I discovered a website (GIIFT) that allows to trade miles from one program to another even for other loyalty programs.

  10. @Gary

    i did read his post but unfortunately i don’t have enough avios to hold 2 seats… i would not mind the fees but i just don’t want to transfer too many points to avios because i hardly use them.
    🙁

  11. @ Ginny — Yup, these windows apply regardless of what carrier you’re hoping to fly. It all depends on the miles you have.

  12. Hi Lucky – as always, thanks for all of the info. You have a great blog!

    I’m trying to book a flight for Sept 2014 (9/20) (either SAN->AMS or LAX->AMS) and can’t find any business class award availability on United.com. I was hoping to transfer my Amex MRs to Aeroplan and fly business class for 90k miles. I also can’t find any business class availability for my return (10/5) trip which is most likely going to be FCO to either SAN or LAX. Does United just hold off on releasing business class availability until closer to Sept 2014, or do yo think it’s just not available? I’m debating on just flying coach, but would definitely prefer to fly business class. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!

  13. @ Jason — Airlines definitely release more award space as the departure date approaches, so there’s a good chance more space will open up. That being said, have you tried searching a bit more creatively than just the origin and destination maybe? For example, if you search San Diego to London or New York to Amsterdam, for example, and then try to “piece” together the other segments? Good luck!

  14. @Lucky – thanks for the reply. I have not tried that method, but will definitely try it and then let you know. When you say piece together a trip, are you referring to checking United.com for a SAN->NYC and then a NYC->AMS and the vice versa? Wouldn’t that be more than the 90k Aeroplan miles??

    If worse comes to worse, I may just have to use your booking service. I had a good friend use it last year for him and his wife and they said you guys were great. I’m trying to put together a trip with myself and 8 firefighter buddies and it’s not going as easily as planned. I currently have 1.3MM miles between various hotels, airlines and CCs and I’m having trouble booking a reward ticket – what an amateur I am!!

  15. @ Jason — It should be the same mileage. The issue is that if you’re just searching between your origin and destination it will only search the most direct routings that exist. It won’t automatically show creative routings that may be available but that the site would never otherwise suggest (and the mileage cost would be the same).

  16. @ Lucky – Awesome. Thanks a lot for all of the info and the amazing blog. You’re always so prompt to respond as well. Top-notch!

    Last question – If I’m successful in finding this creative routing, I would then have to call Aeroplan and book it with them directly.. Not online, right?

  17. @ Jason — Always happy to help! You can try using the multi-city tool on Aeroplan to see if it’ll price it, but chances are you’ll have to call.

  18. @ Lucky – You’re the man! I will continue to refer all of my friends to your site for any CC signups/info and such. I’m actually trying to get all of my firefighter buddies over to Europe on miles, so we’ll see if I can make this happen. Also, LMK the next time you’re in the SD area, I owe you a beer – Thanks again!

  19. Lucky, great post. But I’m still confused about the workaround for QF. I read your other post that you linked to. Wouldn’t you need to have enough Avios miles to initially book 355 days out? Thank you!!

  20. This is somewhat related to the topic…
    I am a Diamond Medallion Delta flyer, based in SYD (formerly and about to be based in MSP). I use my Platinum and Diamond gifts to upgrade the SYD-LAX flight. I have been tremendously successful at getting the upgrade–of the ~25flights I’ve taken, I’ve gotten the upgrade all but two times.
    On the last trip, I called the medallion line to upgrade after the ticket was booked through corporate travel. I had looked at the free seats and knew I would go on the wait list for the outbound (this is normally the case), but figured I’d be successful on the return since only about 10 seats were actually booked. I talk to the agent and sure enough waitlisted for outbound, but got waitlisted for return as well. After asking about it, she said that they hadn’t sold enough seats yet, and put me on the waitlist for that flight as well. Not entirely sure that is true since I didn’t get the upgrade until I was at the gate, 1 hour before departure.
    After doing the wait list thing many, many time, the only consistency I can say Delta has is that there is no consistency. I’ve got many stories about the wait list gets processed, including putting me on as a Delta employee–I only know this because when someone else’s seat didn’t work the pursor woke me up mid flight and made me trade seats with the guy, not believing that I didn’t work for Delta.

    cheers

  21. Great post….it is now on my Award Sweet Spot excel chart……..what about Korean? Or do you just consider them too flaky to deal with?

  22. While some of the infer is useful to a newbie, most of this is pretty common knowledge to anyone who has played this game for a while. That said, I can’t let this one go by unchallenged:

    “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.”

    Where I come from, THAT is what we call a “whopper”. That is simply nonsense. There are many, MANY routes where award seats are simply unattainable, never mind easy. This is increasingly the case, with all the bloggers flogging credit cards incessantly, people churning, and millions of points chasing a diminishing number of available seats. There is a huge, ongoing, silent devaluation taking place – funny, the bloggers never write about that.

  23. @ Jonjon — If planning when the schedule opens, what destinations other than the South Pacific is it really tough to find award space to? I wasn’t suggesting you could find award space on a particular flight you wanted, but rather that you could find award space to a destination if planning far out, which I believe to be true.

  24. Lucky, the 335 days for US Airways, is it only for redeeming their own flights? I vaguely remember for redemption on Star Alliance partners, it opens up 330 days ahead?

  25. @ DJ — It all depends on the partner, but in general should be possible to book partners as soon as the schedule opens, assuming the partner has released space by then as well.

  26. @ Lucky – Thank you! Interesting to see that LM is the best in *A at 360 days. Seriously need to pick up some of their miles during next promo 🙂

  27. Rather late looking at this, so my comment may be too late to be any use, but Siri really excels in calculating how many days out a particular date is, or ‘what is 331 days before Feb.12, 2015?’ . By far the easiest way to find out when you should be doing your search.

  28. Lucky,
    Have you ever used AsiaMiles to hold Cathay seats and then released them to book with American AAdvantage miles? I think AsiaMiles allows a 48 hour hold. Is this logistically possible? My issue is that it takes American flights to get to the Cathay gateway cities from where I live. And since only 2 First class seats are released early on.

  29. @ JohnB — With AsiaMiles the space doesn’t always go back into inventory, so that’s really risky. Not something I would do.

  30. Do you know if airlines open up add’l award seats closer to departure date? I’ve been watching AA for flights from CDG to JFK (or nearby airports really), and the only flights they have for the low mileage category require an overnight stay in LHR. However, their same day connection, or direct flights from Paris to NY are available as awards seats but for more miles. I want to see if I should hold off booking my return trip?

  31. @ G. — Yes, airlines do open additional award space as the departure date approaches all the time. But it’s not something that’s consistent.

  32. Here’s my dilemma: I can be poised to check ANA for award availability on United or another Star Alliance partner 356 days in advance of the outbound leg–but if I want to use ANA miles to book a round trip award, don’t I have to wait to book until the requisite number of days before the return leg, since ANA doesn’t allow one ways? I’m planning a three-week stay in Europe, so that seems to really screw up my chances of getting a prime award. Any ways to work around this?

  33. Lucky,

    Do you know if Etihad will release more than 2 business class award seats at one time. All the flights i searched from US-AUH have 2 Business and 5 economy seats available.

    I need 4 seats for the family and wanted to see if i can book 2 business seats/2 economy and hope for 2 more business seats to become available.

  34. What time of day (timezone) does AAdvantage get space? If I’m trying to be there right at midnight, which midnight do I need? EST? CST? Problem is that I’ll be in London, so I will need to deal with the time change as well!

  35. Lucky, did US Airways change the number of days ahead of when you can book One World flights? When I called to make a res at 335 days out, it would not book correctly. The supervisor used a date calculator and stated they are bookable 330 days out (which doesn’t align with AA either). Could you confirm? Or is it a case of dial again to see if I get a different response? Thanks!

  36. @ MaxC — Hmmm, it hasn’t changed as far as I know. I’d suggest maybe waiting a day, as it could be a bit delayed. Definitely odd, though.

  37. Thanks Lucky, that did the trick. Finally got in today and booked.

    I did notice that the US Airways wiki page on FT re booking OneWorld awards stated best availability was at the 330 day mark. Not sure how true that is regarding *best* availability…. In my case, the CX J availability was there (viewed on BA) for a couple of weeks already. I just had to wait for the US 335 days mark (+ a day) to be able to book it. Thanks again….

  38. @ MaxC — I think they’re just getting the 330/335 day windows mixed up. Happy to hear you were able to book!

  39. So, I’ve never known about this award seat release date thing. I’ve book many award flights between Nashville and Brisbane and have never had an issue until now. I am chalking it up to now having to fly during school holidays (spring break/easter) as I searched in Feb and there are no issues with finding flights.

    Does American/Qantas tend to open up more award seats periodically? Do I just keep checking? Or do I give up and just buy seats? I’m starting to get paranoid that the cheaper seats will sell out while I’m waiting for award seats to open. I currently have enough miles for two flights to Oz (getting close to enough for 3). But, I need 4 tickets.

    What to do??

  40. @ Julie — While many airlines open up last minute award space, Qantas isn’t really one of them. There’s a chance they’ll open more space, but it’s far from a guarantee. I’d like at space on other carriers or book a revenue ticket.

  41. Hi Lucky,

    I have flights from CA to Venice on 9/10/14 and am using > 600,000 miles for two of us to fly business class! Do you know if they typically open saver award seats, or Lufthansa seats, closer to departure date? If so, any tricks on how to book them?

    Thanks!

  42. @ Mary — Yes, there’s usually lots more saver space as the departure date approaches, especially if you’re willing to connect. I would keep checking back on United’s website.

  43. What time of day does United typically release their reward seats? Right now I’m searching for flights in late July on United and don’t see anything after July 25th, 329 days away. Perhaps United switched to 330 days?

  44. @ Jason — Sometimes they just release space in spurts, without much logic to it. Don’t think anything has changed, just them being weird.

  45. Hi Jason,
    Great info, thanks.

    I have 3 biz class award tix for mid-December booked with Mileageplus – first leg is United (EWR-FRA) and next leg is Lufthansa (flight on to Japan).

    I need one more biz/first ticket.. United shows only standard availability for both Y and biz..
    If I purchased the 4th at Y Standard, (eek) is there a chance that there will be another saver business released or is that unlikely given it is mid Dec?

  46. @ BT — Definitely not a guarantee, though they do frequently release more space as the departure date approaches, so it’s a real possibility.

  47. Lucky, is the 355 days out on US Airways based on departure date only? So says if I want to book an award ticket departing on November 15 and arrive back home on December 1st, I should count the 355 days based on my departure day only? or based on the arrival date? since my award ticket is roundtrip.

  48. @ Raymond — Whatever segment you’re looking at, you can only book it 355 days out. So if you want to book everything at once you have to wait until 355 days from the return date.

  49. Lucky,

    First of all your site has been great a resource for my award booking. Thanks again!

    I just wanted to let you know I was able to book today my return HKG-SFO on two CX first class with US Airways dividend miles at the 336 window, September 22, 2015. The agent told me they are apparently allowed to book out 336 days ahead depending on availability of the partner airline. She also mentioned there has been a lot of changes in the system recently since they are trying to align their systems with AA. So I don’t know if this is just a one time occurence but it was possible to book out 336 days on US Air.

  50. @ Jon Jovi — US Airways does indeed open space ~335 days out, so with time changes that sounds about right. Happy to hear you were able to book!

  51. Hi lucky! I am a silent follower who unfortunately doesn’t have opportunity to travel a lot. Your blog gives me the opportunity to see things I won’t be able to experience. Thanks!

    Do you have a clue for Etihad guest miles? I called them for a trip in 8 9 months from Europe to Japan via ANA but they still can’t see seat openings… They asked me to call back in one month.

    Best,

    Sam

  52. Currently trying to book a flight on United using award miles for December 20-27 and says their schedule hasn’t opened up. Have they made their release days even longer? Thanks!

  53. Lucky,
    Looking into visiting Kauai and Maui in summer 2016 using United miles. If UA opens award travel 338 days out, do I have to try to book my outbound on one day (day 338) and my return on another day (338 – 10 or -14 days) depending on how long I want to stay?

    Also, do you suggest trying to book award travel by contacting an actual live person or trying to do it on the UA website (yuck)?
    Thank you very much. Great blog.
    Joe

  54. I have a similar dilemma as “cocosun” last year in that I’m planning a bucket list trip from San Francisco to South Africa with United miles for upgrades. I’d prefer to buy the economy ticket and upgrade with miles but only if I can get confirmation of the upgrade while booking. Doesn’t United require that you wait until 338 days before the return flight which screws your chances on the outbound leg? What about buying one-way tickets? Are the prices jacked up for one way? Advice? Thanks.

  55. Sure wish you could update this post if there have been any changes in the past 18 months. I’m trying to get home (BDL) from Paris next summer (8/1/16) and the AirCanada flights on United aren’t showing up (for sale or for points). When I called United they said the flights haven’t been released yet, but it seems more likely the rewards seats haven’t been released. Am I just victim of the United/AirCanada systems issues? or has there been a change on the timing of the release of Air Canada flights?

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