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One common criticism of airline loyalty programs is that there’s not enough award availability, especially in premium cabins on 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.
Each airline has its own policy regarding how far in advance you can book flights, with either cash or miles. Knowing how far in advance you can book will save you money with some airlines, as well as help you snag any initial award availability before it’s gone.
Here are the dates revenue flights and award flights become bookable through some popular airline programs, as well as some additional information you may be wondering about when trying to book a flight far in advance.
Some US-based airlines open their booking window for revenue flights a particular number of days before departure. For these airlines, you usually won’t see the lowest fares right when the booking window opens. However, other airlines periodically extend travel dates for which they’ll accept reservations — and for these airlines, you can often snag the lowest fare by booking your trip shortly after the booking window opens.
Here’s when the revenue (and award) booking window opens for the major US-based airlines. Note that seasonal routes may not be loaded when the booking window would normally open.
|Airline||Revenue Booking Window Opens||Notes|
|Alaska Airlines||330 days before departure|
|Allegiant Air||Varies, but Allegiant says to expect six to nine months in advance||Currently accepting reservations through May 11, 2020. Allegiant’s website shows the booking window when you enter an origin and destination.|
|American Airlines||331 days before departure|
|Delta Air Lines||331 days before departure|
|Frontier Airlines||Varies||Currently accepting reservations through March 11, 2020. Frontier’s website shows the booking window when you enter an origin and destination.|
|Hawaiian Airlines||330 days before departure|
|JetBlue Airways||Varies, but JetBlue says to expect six to 10 months in advance||Currently accepting reservations through April 28, 2020. You can see the current end date on JetBlue’s website.|
|Southwest Airlines||Varies, but announced in advance||Currently accepting reservations through March 6, 2020, and will open through April 13, 2020 on Sept. 26, 2019. You can see the current end date and future open dates on Southwest’s website.|
|Spirit Airlines||Varies||Currently accepting reservations through April 21, 2020. A message is shown if you attempt to search a flight departing past this date.|
|Sun Country Airlines||Varies||Different routes accept reservations through different dates, with dates currently ranging from Dec. 16, 2020 to April 13, 2020. Sun Country’s booking calendar shows available dates once you’ve selected your origin and destination.|
|United Airlines||334 to 337 days (exactly 11 months)|
For the airlines that periodically extend the date through which you can book flights, you may want to subscribe to the airline’s email newsletter in hopes that it may send an announcement when the flight schedule is extended.
Of course, if the airline you’re interested in isn’t listed above, you can search on the airline’s website to determine how far out you can currently book.
Knowing when the booking window opens can be critical if you’re looking to snag award tickets — especially if you’re hoping to travel in a premium cabin. Although there’s no guarantee that an airline will release award seats when the booking window opens, some will release a few seats. You’ll have the best chance of snagging these seats if you act quickly once the booking window opens.
For US carriers, the award booking window opens at the same time as revenue ticket bookings. In the chart below, I’ve also included a few popular international airlines because many readers find value in booking award flights on US carriers using these currencies. These numbers may be plus or minus a day due to time zone differences — so you may want to start searching for your award a few days early.
|Airline||Award Booking Window Opens||Notes|
|Aeroplan / Air Canada||355 days|
|Avianca Lifemiles||355 days||May allow bookings for partners that release award space farther out (for example, TAP at 360 days)|
|British Airways||354 days|
|Etihad Guest||331 days|
|Singapore Krisflyer||355 days|
|Virgin Atlantic Flying Club||331 days|
Note that you won’t be able to book flights operated by US airlines like Delta, United and American until both the airline you are booking with (using its miles/points) and the airline you are flying on have opened award bookings for your travel date. If you’re not familiar with using transferable currencies, here are some helpful articles:
- A Guide to Earning Transferable Points
- Redeeming American Express Membership Rewards for Maximum Value
- Redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards for Maximum Value
- Redeeming Citi ThankYou Points for Maximum Value
- Complete Guide to Current Transfer Bonuses
If your favorite airline isn’t in the table above — or you simply want to see for yourself how far out you can book an award ticket on a particular airline — your best bet will be to go to the airline’s website and search for award flights. If you’re looking to book on one airline but fly on another, be sure to check when both airlines start accepting award bookings so you’ll know when to start checking availability.
Commonly Asked Questions
There are a lot of myths and incorrect information surrounding flight booking. Here are a few of the commonly asked questions:
I want to fly on one airline. Why am I booking through another airline?
Many airlines are part of an alliance, such as Oneworld, Star Alliance or Sky Team. When you book a ticket through these airlines, you may be flying on the airline you booked through or one of this airline’s partners. For example, you can book a British Airways award using Avios points from Miami (MIA) to Atlanta (ATL) that is operated by American Airlines because both airlines are part of the Oneworld alliance.
You can book flights on US-based carriers in all three major alliances using partner airline programs:
- American Airlines: British Airways Avios are great for booking short flights in both premium and economy cabins while Etihad Guest can be good for booking longer flights since it uses American’s pre-2016 devaluation award chart.
- Delta: You can get amazing value by booking nonstop Delta flights through Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.
- United: Avianca LifeMiles, Singapore KrisFlyer and Aeroplan all have award charts that can be useful for booking United flights in both premium and coach cabins.
If you don’t have enough miles in your account, you may be able to transfer miles from one of the five main transferable currencies to the partner airline’s loyalty program. Note that some of these transfers aren’t immediate; click the following program names for the transfer times for each of the five major programs: American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou and Marriott Bonvoy.
Since the operating carrier might use a different calendar than your frequent flyer program, you may not be able to book awards when the operating carrier’s booking window opens. For example, United’s booking window is 334 to 337 days, but Air Canada’s is 355 days. That means using the MileagePlus program for awards on Air Canada puts you at a disadvantage compared to anyone redeeming Aeroplan miles for the same seat since they can redeem two to three weeks earlier than MileagePlan folks.
What time do bookings open?
Bookings may open at midnight in the corporate timezone of the airline, but this is by no means a hard rule. There is also often a lag between when an airline loads its schedule and when flights become bookable. In general, don’t expect award space to consistently appear at the same time (midnight or otherwise).
Do I have to book when bookings open?
No, although you may be able to snag difficult-to-find awards if you book soon after bookings open. However, award availability changes all the time (as airlines add and remove space, and passengers make and cancel reservations) so it’s worth continuing to search if you don’t find what you want when bookings open.
Are there tools that check award availability and notify me when awards become available?
Yes, one of these tools is Expert Flyer. You can set alerts to notify you when flight or upgrade awards become available on a range of dates and routings. Note that this method may not work as desired before the booking window opens, since the schedules of some airlines appear before the flights are actually bookable.
When should I book to get the best cash deals?
Generally, you’ll want to track flight prices and determine what fares are “normal” so you know when you find a good deal. Here are some strategies for finding the best deals:
- Top 10 Strategies to Find Cheap Airfare
- The Top 6 Websites and Tools to Find Cheap Airfare
- These Are the Best Times to Buy an International Flight
Can I find last-minute deals?
Yes, there are certainly many last-minute deals to be found on both cash and miles bookings. You can follow TPG’s deals page and we also have a guide on The Best Points and Miles for Last-Minute Flights as well as on 4 Ways to Save On Last-Minute Family Award Trips. Personally, I have found American Airlines’ Reduced Mileage Awards especially useful for booking domestic travel within the next couple of months.
Knowing when the booking window opens for airlines that increase fares as more seats are booked as well as for premium cabin seats for which awards are limited is important. If you have one of these bookings coming up, your best bet is to set a calendar reminder a day or two before you expect the booking window to open and start checking availability. Then, continue checking availability until you find a product and cost that you are happy with.
Featured photo by Tatomm / Getty Images.
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