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American Airlines has a generous hold policy that allows you to put award tickets on hold for five days, with no penalty for cancellation before booking. But, as TPG Contributor Cindy Gossett discovered too late, those holds expire at 11:59pm local time from where the flight departs.

Earlier this summer, my partner needed to be in Spain for a conference, and we decided that our kids and I should tag along. After attempting to use Amex Membership Rewards to fly Iberia, we ended up dipping into our stash of American AAdvantage miles. The latter wasn’t my idea of a great redemption, as a round-trip US-Europe SAAver award during the summer requires 60,000 AAdvantage miles, while the same award requires 40,000 miles during the airline’s off-peak season (October 15 – May 15). In other words, this late May trip would cost 240,000 miles for four people, versus the 160,000 miles it would have cost just a few weeks before. Ah, well.

Because we were booking just a few months out, I worried that award flight availability was going to be an issue, especially when our vacation time and flexibility were limited. It turned out that there was plenty of availability on British Airways, but these flights routed through London-Heathrow (LHR) and would incur BA’s hefty fuel surcharges. Fortunately, I managed to find two different one-way routes to avoid the extra fees: American Airlines from Philadephia (PHL) into Madrid (MAD), then back home from Rome (FCO).

Since American has a generous five-day hold policy on award seats, I put these flights on hold while I continued to look for other options and noted the day on which these flights would expire. The evening of that day, I put the kids to bed, logged on at 9pm Eastern Time and discovered that my award seats from Rome (FCO) were … gone.

I scrambled to re-book, but my seats were no longer available. I looked at my hold confirmation email to double-check that I had the correct date — and that’s when I noticed the exact time of expiration: 11:59pm in the time zone from where the flight departs. 

Holds for award flights departing from Rome (FCO) expire at 11:59pm Central European Time — red font added for emphasis.

In the case of Rome, this meant 11:59pm Central European Time. I’d assumed the expiration was either 12 midnight Eastern Time (perhaps my East Coast bias showing?) or Central Time (where American Airlines is headquartered), but honestly? It had never occurred to me to look closer at the expiration.

The only leg of my trip that actually bore an Eastern Daylight Time departure was PHL-MAD:

Philadelphia (PHL) is in the Eastern time zone, so award holds expire 11:59pm ET.

To investigate this matter further, I looked at different confirmation emails forwarded from the AA website. Here, expiration times are even less evident; time zones aren’t even spelled out — as you’ll see in this Zurich (ZRH) to Philadelphia (PHL) itinerary, where the deadline is in “CET”:

Emails that you forward through AA’s website show even less detail.

Upon further research, I realized that AA’s complimentary 24-hour holds on paid fares follow the same pattern:

Holds for paid fares also expire at 11:59 local time.
Holds for paid fares also expire at 11:59pm local time.

Following my discovery, I could never re-create the trip I had originally wanted to book. I could’ve paid more miles for dates that worked, or I could have rerouted our return flight, but ultimately, we decided against those options.

This proved to be a costly error on my part, but at least I learned an important piece of the AA award-booking puzzle — and you can learn from my mistake! If you book AAdvantage awards as separate one-ways, be sure to note the time zone of your departure cities.

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