How Far in Advance Should I Book Award Flights?

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

TPG reader Steve emailed me to ask about finding award availability:

“I would appreciate your thoughts on when to book award flights. I’ve heard booking 331 days out is a good strategy. Should I call in at midnight EST as soon as the schedule opens?”

One common criticism of airline loyalty programs is that there’s not enough saver level award availability, especially in premium cabins along the most popular routes. The solution for some frequent flyers is to try to snag seats before anyone else by figuring out precisely when they become available. However, while your chances of finding award space generally improve the more in advance you search, there’s no set rule about when’s the “best” time to book.

The idea of searching for awards 331 days in advance stems from the booking calendar of several major airlines, including Delta, American and Alaska. Other carriers use different timelines, so 331 days isn’t a hard and fast rule. In addition, some airlines allow you to book paid fares at the limits of their respective calendars, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can book award travel for those same dates. Finally, when award space does open up, don’t expect it to consistently appear at the same time (midnight or otherwise).

Another thing to keep in mind when booking partner awards is that the operating carrier might use a different calendar than your frequent flyer program. For example, United’s booking window is 338 days, but Air Canada’s is 355 days. That means using the MileagePlus program for awards on Air Canada puts you at a 17-day disadvantage compared to anyone redeeming Aeroplan miles for the same seat. As another example, Lufthansa notoriously doesn’t release first-class award space to partners until about two weeks prior to departure, so booking early won’t work unless you’re using Miles & More.

lufthansafirst
If you’re looking for Lufthansa first-class awards, use the Miles & More program or be prepared to book late in the game.

The gist is that award availability changes all the time (as airlines add and remove space, and passengers make and cancel reservations), so there’s no single right answer about when to book your flight. You might find zero saver awards one day and half a dozen the next, so it pays to be persistent. Again, you’ll generally have better luck searching far in advance, but some awards do pop open at the last minute.

If you don’t want to be glued to your computer waiting for award space to open up, ExpertFlyer can do the heavy lifting for you. You can set alerts to notify you when flight or upgrade awards become available on a range of dates and routings. Some awards don’t show up — for example, Delta pulled all its flights from ExpertFlyer back in 2014 before re-adding select inventory last year. Still, if you book award flights regularly, setting alerts is a lot easier and less tedious than repeating your searches manually.

For more tips on finding award space, check out these posts:

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at info@thepointsguy.com.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Apply Now
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named a 'Best Credit Card' for Travel Rewards by MONEY Magazine
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
  • Sleek metal card design
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • $0 foreign transaction fees, plus chip-enabled for enhanced security and wider acceptance when used at a chip card reader
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading frequent travel programs at full value — that means 1,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points equal 1,000 partner miles/points
  • Travel confidently with premium Travel Protection Benefits, including Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Trip Delay Reimbursement and more
Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Balance Transfer Credit Rating
N/A 16.24%-23.24% Variable Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95 See Terms Excellent Credit