How Far in Advance Can You Book Airline Award Tickets? How Far in Advance Can You Book Airline Award Tickets?

How Far in Advance Can You Book Airline Award Tickets?

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One of the most challenging aspects of award travel is finding airline award tickets — particularly premium cabin awards when flying popular routes. It’s no secret that airlines limit saver-level award space.  A common strategy is to search for award availability at the outer limits of the booking window, as soon as carriers open up their schedules for paid fares. This leaves one wondering: How far in advance can you book airline award tickets?

What isn't common knowledge is that airline booking windows can vary by as much as 60 days — even more if factoring in revenue-based rewards programs. There are some details that are critical to understand, so let us walk you through airline booking calendars, how that affects the ability to book award tickets, and other factors that influence award space.

Airline Booking Calendar Basics

Most airlines open their booking calendars on a rolling basis. They also don't open it more than 365 days out. This prevents ticket booking errors where the wrong year is entered as part of the flight date. For the majority of carriers, they allow flight bookings 10–12 months in advance. If you're curious about the exact window each carrier uses, don't worry. We have that data tabulated below.

people look at documents and use laptops at a desk
Credit: Scott Graham/Unsplash

When airlines open up bookings for their flights, many also release award seats on those flights. It isn't guaranteed, but some have historically had a set number of seats available in each cabin as soon as their schedule opens. Booking as soon as the calendar opens is a strategy many people use to snag a seat on the exact flight they want. This is especially useful on popular routes where it can be difficult to find award space.

Searching at the edge of the booking schedule doesn't guarantee that you’ll secure that elusive first-class redemption. But as a general rule, your chances of redeeming miles for an award ticket increase the farther out you search.

However, if the booking window of your frequent flyer program (the miles you want to use) is shorter than that of the operating carrier (the airline you're flying on), you could face a significant handicap over members of that carrier’s loyalty program.

Related: How To Find Airline Partner Award Flight Availability

Schedule window vs. loyalty program window

Let's consider an example. All Nippon Airways (ANA) opens its booking window 355 days out. This is when flights are added to ANA's schedule. If you book using Mileage Club miles, you can book an award ticket as soon as the calendar opens. Therefore, ANA has a 355-day window for booking award flights.

Screenshot of ANA booking calendar as far in the future as possible

Air Canada Aeroplan has a similar award booking window at 354 days. This means that ANA members only have a one-day jump on saver award availability over Aeroplan members when trying to book the same seats on ANA flights.

How far in advance can you book award flight tickets? Screenshot of Aeroplan booking calendar as far in the future as possible

However, what if you want to book this ANA flight using United MileagePlus miles? United only opens its flight schedule 337 days out — for both cash bookings and award flights with United or partners. If you want to book an ANA award with MileagePlus miles, you'd need to wait until you're 337 days away from your trip. That's 18 days after ANA members have already started booking their tickets.

The above award availability is the final day of the Aeroplan schedule (August 17, 2024) for a search run on August 29, 2023. Searching United.com on the same day, you can only search through July 31, 2024.

Screenshot of United Airlines booking calendar as far in the future as possible
United only allows you to search for awards 337 days out — one of the shortest windows among Star Alliance carriers

You're at a clear disadvantage if you want to book a popular route with limited award availability using United miles. Aeroplan members have 17 more days to redeem miles for ANA (and Air Canada, and some other carriers') award seats before you even have a chance to make a booking!

It comes down to this: The frequent flyer program you're using to book dictates the award booking window — NOT the airline you fly.

The reverse isn't a problem

For airlines that don't open their schedule as far out, the frequent flyer program you're using matters far less. United opens its schedule 337 days out. It doesn't matter that you plan to book with ANA Mileage Club. You simply can't book anything until United opens its schedule. And when United opens the schedule, seats may be available to book with United miles or with partners.

In a nutshell, you should be aware of programs providing members additional time to book award seats in advance of other frequent flyer programs. 

But watch out for mismatched booking calendars

There are a handful of programs where the booking window for the airline's frequent flyer program does not match the schedule release window. Some are off by just a day. This leads to either one of two possibilities:

  1. You can book awards on other airlines, even though flights aren't released for the airline whose frequent flyer program you're using.
  2. You can use another airline's frequent flyer program to book awards on the operating airline's flights before that airline's frequent flyer program can.

You'll see examples of both of these in the table below. There are only a couple programs (like Avianca) where the award booking window is a bit longer than the carrier's own schedule window. In this case, you can use LifeMiles to book awards on other carriers whose schedules are available. However, you need to wait a handful of days for Avianca to release its own flight schedule. It's weird, but it could prove useful.

Conversely, you could potentially get a jump on an award before members of an airline's own frequent flyer program. Aeromexico is an example of this. Flights are added to the schedule 331 days out, but awards can only be booked 330 days out. You could potentially use another airline's frequent flyer miles (such as Delta SkyMiles) to snag an award seat. This situation is rare.

It’s important to remember that to book a partner award, you need to ensure there is saver-level award space available on the operating carrier. If you need a primer on booking partner awards, we’ve put together a guide covering the best websites and to search for saver-level partner awards.

How Far in Advance Can You Book Airline Award Tickets?

If you've been curious about the specifics on how far in advance you can book award flights with each program, the wait is over. We’ve listed the booking windows below from longest to shortest. The first column shows the number of days in advance flights are scheduled with a particular airline. The second column shows how many days out you can book an award ticket through a particular airline's frequent flyer program. For many airlines, these are equal. But make sure to note where they are different.

Airline & Frequent Flyer ProgramDays in Advance Award Seats are Released by Operating AirlineDays in Advance Frequent Flyer Program Allows Bookings
Aer Lingus AerClub341-
Aeromexico Rewards331330
Air Canada Aeroplan354-
Air France–KLM Flying Blue352-
Air India Flying Returns360-
Air New Zealand Airpoints354-
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan331-
American Airlines AAdvantage331-
ANA Mileage Club355-
Asiana Club361-
Austrian Airlines Miles & More359-
Avianca LifeMiles355360
British Airways Executive Club354-
Brussels Airlines Miles & More360-
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles353360
China Airlines Dynasty Flyer351-
Copa Airlines ConnectMiles337-
Delta SkyMiles331-
Egyptair Plus360-
El Al Matmid360-
Emirates Skywards360-
Etihad Guest354331
EVA Infinity MileageLands360-
Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles330-
Iberia Plus360-
Japan Airlines (JAL) Mileage Bank360-
Korean Air SKYPASS360361
LATAM Pass331-
LOT Polish Airlines Miles & More360-
Lufthansa Miles & More360-
Qantas Frequent Flyer353-
Qatar Airways Privilege Club361-
Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) EuroBonus359360
Singapore KrisFlyer355356
SWISS Miles & More357-
TAP Air Portugal Miles & Go360-
Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus340-
Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles355-
United MileagePlus337-
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club331-
Virgin Australia Velocity334332
JetBlue TrueBlueJetBlue extends its schedule in blocks, the latest was 296 days out. More info and dates on this Flyertalk.com thread331
Southwest Rapid RewardsSouthwest extends its schedule in blocks, the next schedule opens 232 days out. More info and dates on the Southwest website-

The revenue-based JetBlue TrueBlue and Southwest Rapid Rewards offer the shortest windows. However, neither of these programs is subject to the award space gremlins of traditional programs (i.e., if a revenue seat is available, it’s possible to book with points). That means the frequent flyer program with the shortest booking window falls to AirFrance–KLM Flying Blue.

We want to highlight Avianca LifeMiles as a program that can book all partners' award seats through the end of the schedule. It doesn't look like you can do this at first glance when performing a search. But if you know a carrier has released seats, search one of its routes up to the end of the provided calendar. Then, keep clicking the right arrow to move the window along through the end of the schedule. I've found Lufthansa flights bookable 360 days out this way.

Award Availability Isn't Always Released When the Booking Window Opens

There is another twist. Award seats don’t always open at the edge of the booking window for paid fares. Some airlines consistently provide this. However, others routinely release award space based on other factors, such as route popularity and time of year. Award space is often released at additional points throughout the year, dictated by supply and demand. If you’re traveling during a busy holiday period, particularly on popular routes, expect award space to be limited.

On the other hand, award space can open close-in if the carrier doesn’t think it will sell all the seats. I cannot tell you how many times I've booked last-minute award tickets. It's actually been a consistent strategy for me on a few routes. To aid this, you can use tools like ExpertFlyer to set alerts for award space on select routes/carriers.

Something else to consider is that an operating carrier may not release award space to partners until close-in. For instance, Lufthansa doesn’t release first-class partner award space until roughly two weeks out, leaving award travelers to sweat out the wait if they’re not booking through Miles & More.

Related: How To Book Lufthansa First Class Using Miles

Even worse, some programs don't release award space to partners at all. SWISS and Air France are examples of this. They don't allow partner bookings for their first-class seats. You must book through their respective frequent flyer programs and hold a specified level of elite status to boot.

Similarly, Singapore Airlines doesn’t release awards for its premium suites to partners. If you want to redeem miles for Singapore’s first-class suites, you must transfer points to KrisFlyer. This is another reason we recommend collecting transferable points like Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards. You can move points from four different flexible rewards programs to KrisFlyer when it's time to book.

How Far in Advance Should You Book a Flight Award?

If you're booking with miles that allow free cancellation, I'd say you should book at the soonest opportunity. The only downside is tying up your miles for nearly a year when you could use them for other things. For many carriers, booking as soon as the schedule opens is a great strategy — as long as they are among those that release awards (most do).

However, if you're not sure about your trip plans, make sure to factor in potential award change or cancellation fees.

Independent Tools To Help Find Award Availability

We’ve covered the best websites and booking engines to find award availability in another post. Most airline websites offer limited functionality and don’t provide all the tools you’ll need to secure the best awards. If you want to get creative with your routing or set an alert for a specific aircraft/cabin combination, you may need to call in more specialized equipment like a paid award search aggregator. Here are some of the more popular tools available.

ExpertFlyer

ExpertFlyer is a subscription service costing $4.99–$9.99 per month. It allows you to search for award seats across an array of frequent flyer programs. You also can view seat maps, search for upgrade space, and set alerts and notifications if the dates you’re looking for don’t show availability. It's ideal for the “set it and forget it” functionality for checking award space, saving you the time of checking yourself every day. If space pops up, you'll receive an email notification.

It has its limits, and it comes at a cost. But it's a handy tool to add to your award search toolkit.

Award Nexus

Award Nexus is another subscription-based tool with varied pricing models. The upside is that Award Nexus is a comprehensive award search tool that allows you to search multiple routes, cabin classes, dates, and airlines in a single query. It's intended to find space on complex routes or for elusive first- or business-class space. Award Nexus pulls data from numerous airline sites.

It’s not a perfect service, but the ability to search complicated routes across a range of alliances can save you a ton of legwork compared to manual searches using airline websites alone. Award Nexus also offers similar alert functionality to ExpertFlyer.

Point.me

Of all the tools to help find award availability, Point.me is probably the easiest to use. Its user interface is excellent. Like other tools, it lets you search award availability across a swath of loyalty programs. But unlike ExpertFlyer or AWardNexus, Point.me tells you which points transfer to the frequent flyer program(s) that can book the award. The site doesn't just provide seat availability. The service even provides the steps to the booking process. Point.me is better for the award travel novice versus a service like ExpertFlyer, which is more difficult to navigate for the uninitiated.

Point.me does have a cost. The monthly self-service subscription is priced at $12. You can buy a one-time pass to try it out for $5, providing 24 hours of access.

Roame.travel**

Roame.travel has a great user interface similar to what Point.me provides. You can search seat availability pulled from a dozen award programs all in the same search. This beats checking each airline's site for award space. Roame went for speed; it falls short of the number of programs Point.me scours.

The search is intuitive, and Roame provides a rundown of which loyalty program you can use to book the ticket and the points that you can transfer as well. Finally, Roame shows how much of a given itinerary is in a premium cabin — a feature I appreciate greatly.

Roame.travel search results interface
Roame.travel offers a clean, simple UI and fast searches.

Unlike Point.me, Roame is free. You do need to provide an email to perform searches.

Seats.aero

If you're looking for last-minute trip ideas for maximizing your points, you can't beat Seats.aero. While it can help with specific searches, I find that it has a different place among the arsenal of tools. Free usage (no sign-up required) lets you view seats available through any of 10 loyalty programs for the upcoming two months. You can literally search anywhere to anywhere. Results are chronological, and only nonstop routes are provided.

I find its best use is to search your home continent to anywhere, filtering by your home airport code. You'll get a first cut at the current award availability. The primary downside is that the price isn't provided. For many searches, once I moved on to the airline site itself, the prices were completely unappealing.

KVS Tool

KVS Tool is a software program that you can download and run locally on your computer. Of all the award search tools, the KVS Tool is perhaps the hardest one on the list to wrap your head around. But once you understand the search function, it can help immensely. You can set multiple searches of up to a month and wait for the results to roll in.

The KVS Tool is a Windows application but can work through software emulation on other platforms.

Google Flights

While Google Flights isn't meant for finding award seats, it is a tool for finding scheduled flights in general. And for that, it's a great tool. But it's useless for helping get a jump on award seats. Google Flights uses a 329-day window. This is after all the major U.S. carriers have released their schedules.

Other tools

If there are other tools on your radar that might be of value to fellow award travel enthusiasts, please let us know in the comments.

If you're still struggling to find the award you want, AwardWallet offers a concierge award booking service. Our experienced team can search for awards and complete your booking for you. There is a search fee and a booking fee.

Final Thoughts

Understanding how far in advance you can book award flights can help immensely with booking an award ticket. It's critical to understand the schedule window and frequent flyer booking window for each program. You can employ the longer booking windows of Asian frequent flyer programs like Mileage Club and Asia Miles to secure award space before that space is visible to partner programs like MileagePlus or Flying Blue. Combined with the tools listed above, you'll have a powerful arsenal to secure the flight awards you want.

Don't forget to check out our post on How Far in Advance Can You Book Hotel Reservations.

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