(Video) Sunday Reader Question: When To Book International Award Tickets

Oct 21, 2012

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. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

This Sunday I decided to answer a great question from TPG reader Ben who asks about booking international award tickets:

“I am planning a trip overseas in 11 months. The ability to even search for reward tickets just opened up given how far away the trip is timewise, and I am finding there are not many great flights available (let alone great flights at great reward levels). Most of the reward flights I am seeing have multiple stops and excessive travel time. However, there are tickets for purchase that are either direct or have one stop at most. My inclination is to lock in the best tickets I can find, and perhaps even just purchase the tickets, but it is almost a year away. Is it worthwhile to wait and see if new rewards open that are more direct or require fewer points? Do the major US carriers (Delta, United, etc) typically release new seats/routes as the travel date gets closer?”

The age old award booking wisdowm was to book 11 months out, which is when most airlines would release award inventory. However, as airlines become more technologically savvy and have a better gauge of how well flights will sell, they are holding award inventory closer to the date of departure. This is great for people with flexibility who don’t mind booking last minute (like me), but less useful for those who need to plan in advance.

What I Would Recommend

If you need to just get something on the books, I’d recommend locking in the best tickets that are available right now.  As long as you book an itinerary that will work for you if absolutely necessary then you can always use that as a back-up plan. If an award seat does open up you can switch your booking to get the better deal- and some airlines will even let you do it for free.

Once you book the initial itinerary you should keep checking throughout the year so you don’t miss any opportunities. I would suggest using Expert Flyer to set award alerts so if/when the airline releases desirable award availability, you’ll instantly get an email alert.  ExpertFlyer offers three different subscription plans, a free subscription that alerts you when a specific seat location becomes available, a basic plan for $4.99 per month, and a premium plan costing $9.99 per month.  With the basic and premium subscriptions you can search for awards and upgrades along with several other features.  Although ExpertFlyer doesn’t’ let you search on every airline, many are supported and are listed on this page.

Be Mindful of Fees
Something you need to watch out for are the change fees that certain airlines charge when you want to switch your booking.  In my situation where I am constantly making changes to my itineraries, it is necessary for me to have elite status so I can avoid those fees.  I know Delta will charge $150 for every minor change that you make unless you are Platinum or higher and none can be made less than 72 hours prior to departure.  US Airways also charges $150 per ticket to change award tickets. American and United are more much lenient- free changes as long as the origin and destination remain the same.

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card

Alaska miles are extremely valuable because you can book awards on partners like Emirates, Icelandair, Korean Air and Japan Airlines. The current bonus of 40,000 miles can book you a roundtrip ticket on Alaska Airlines from Boston to San Diego or New York to Seattle, for example.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Now - 40,000 Bonus Mile + Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ Offer.
  • Get 40,000 bonus miles and Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) with this offer. To qualify, make purchases of $2,000 or more within the first 90 days of opening your account.
  • Save with a free checked bag on Alaska flights for you and up to six other guests on the same reservation.
  • Get Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ every year! Each year on your account anniversary get a companion fare from $121 ($99 plus taxes and fees from $22). Valid on all Alaska flights booked on alaskaair.com with no blackout dates.
  • Earn unlimited 3 miles for every $1 spent on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases and 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases. And, your miles don't expire on active accounts.
  • New! Enjoy 50% off day passes at the Alaska Lounge and 20% back on all Alaska Airlines inflight purchases when you pay with your new card.
  • Redeem miles with no blackout dates on any of Alaska's 1,200 daily flights or choose from over 900+ destinations with more than a dozen global airline partners. Plus, get exclusive access to discounted redemption levels when you redeem miles for hotel stays at over 400,000 properties using Alaska Airlines Hotels.
  • Plus, no foreign transaction fees and a low $75 annual fee.
Intro APR on Purchases
Regular APR
17.49% - 25.49% Variable APR on purchases
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.