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 Aeroplan||356 days|
|Air France Flying Blue||305 days|
|Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan||331 days|
|All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club||356 days|
|American AAdvantage||331 days|
|Avianca LifeMiles||360 days|
|British Airways Executive Club||355 days|
|Cathay Pacific Asia Miles||360 days|
|Delta SkyMiles||331 days|
|Emirates Skywards||340 days|
|Lufthansa Miles & More||359 days|
|Qantas Frequent Flyer||353 days|
|Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer||355 days|
|United MileagePlus||338 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:
Alternatively, timeanddate.com lets you enter the target date (so your ideal day of departure), and then subtract a given number of days out:
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!
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.
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.
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.