When do airlines open their booking calendar for award tickets?

Plan ahead and get in early when airlines release points-based award seats at the lowest frequent flyer rates.

By Staff Writers, July 6 2023
When do airlines open their booking calendar for award tickets?

Like so many situations in life, timing is everything for getting a great deal on turning your hard-earned frequent flyer points into an airline reward ticket – especially if you hope to secure first or business class on popular routes.

Every airline has its own rules for how far in advance flights can be booked, both with cash and when using points. If you know when an airline opens its booking calendar for award tickets, you can swoop in to quickly take advantage of any initial reward availability before it’s gone.

You planned ahead and unlocked two business class reward seats for that special trip, so cheers!
You planned ahead and unlocked two business class reward seats for that special trip, so cheers!

Get in early and you can get the best deal – it’s as simple as that.

Rather than leaving you to scour the Internet for details on when these individual booking calendars open though, we’ve done the leg work for you, compiling the dates award flights become bookable across many popular airlines, plus some handy tips.

How far in advance can I book a rewards flight?

Understanding each airline’s award calendar gives you the edge when it comes to redeeming your hard-earned points for first and business class flights; in some instances you can even book an entire month before other would-be flyers.

While great deals can pop up at any time, your best bet to get one is to act quickly as soon as carriers open up their schedules for paid fares.

Here are the dates award flights become bookable through some of the main airlines:

Airline

Loyalty program

How many days in advance you can book

Qantas

Frequent Flyer

353

Virgin Australia

Velocity Frequent Flyer

330

Air Canada

Aeroplan

356

Air France

Flying Blue

359

Air New Zealand

Airpoints

350

Alaska Airlines

Mileage Plan

331

American Airlines

AAdvantage

331

ANA

Mileage Club

355

British Airways

Executive Club

355

Cathay Pacific

Asia Miles

360

Delta

SkyMiles

331

Emirates

Skywards

328

Etihad Airlines

Guest Miles

330

Eva Air

Infinity MileageLands

360

Fiji Airways

Tabua Club

353

Iberia

Iberia Plus

331

Japan Airlines

Mileage Bank

360

Lufthansa

Miles & More

360

Malaysia Airlines

Enrich

361

Qatar Airways

Privilege Club

361

Scandinavian Airlines

EuroBonus

359

Singapore Airlines

Krisflyer

355

Thai Airways

Royal Orchid Plus

340

Turkish Airlines

Miles & Smiles

355

United Airlines

MileagePlus

337

Note that these numbers may vary one or two days due to timezone differences, therefore it’s always a good idea to start searching for award seats some days in advance.

Likewise, if there’s nothing interesting on the release day, try again a few days later.

Qantas makes points-based award seats available 353 days in advance.
Qantas makes points-based award seats available 353 days in advance.

Which flights are more likely to have reward seats available?

The holy grail of points redemption is extracting one of those first class tickets. However, with fewer of those seats on a plane, their availability is heavily restricted. 

First class remains the prize for award-hunters, and planning ahead gives you a vital edge.
First class remains the prize for award-hunters, and planning ahead gives you a vital edge.

Business and premium economy are usually more achievable for securing an award seat. Of course some routes are more hotly-contested than others, so if you have firm dates in mind, you might want to aim instead for the lower-end fares. 

What’s the best way to search for award availability?

As shown in the table above, there is a lot of variance with how far out airlines load flights into their systems. There are also some conditions unique to each airline.

Qantas, for example, releases its premium awards 353 days before departure but those are only accessible to Qantas Gold, Platinum and Platinum One frequent flyers: it’s not until 297 days before departure that lower-tier frequent flyers, and members of other partner airlines, will be able to book those awards.

Similarly, Lufthansa only offers premium seat redemptions to its own loyalty program members. But its first class cabin is rarely sold out - especially on less frequent routes - and it’s on those flights that they unload their remaining first class inventory to partner airlines, normally around two weeks before departure. 

Premium seat redemptions on Lufthansa are only open to Miles & More members.
Premium seat redemptions on Lufthansa are only open to Miles & More members.

You can also take advantage of the differences between when airlines open their award bookings for their own frequent flyers and partner airlines. In some cases you can use partner airline programs to redeem points for those premium award seats before anyone else. 

For instance, when booking Qatar Airways' QSuites – one of the most coveted business class products currently flying – with American Airlines AAdvantage Miles, you’d have to wait until 331 days before departure.

Qatar Airways opens its bookings calendar to Cathay Pacific almost a month ahead of American Airlines.
Qatar Airways opens its bookings calendar to Cathay Pacific almost a month ahead of American Airlines.

However, booking them with Cathay Pacific Asia Miles would give you access to those seats 360 days in advance – that’s a 29-day advantage, and could be the difference between securing the seat or not. 

The same thing happens when booking a Qantas first class seat with Alaska Airlines’ Miles instead of Qantas points. Since Qantas’ own Frequent Flyer members have access to award seats 353 days before departure – as opposed to Mileage Plan’s 331 days – you may find that much of the award space has already been sold. 

How can I increase my chance of booking premium award seats?

While you may be able to get difficult-to-find awards if you plan ahead of time, the truth is that award availability changes all the time, as passengers cancel bookings and airlines add or remove space.

Couple that with the limited functionality of most airline websites and the whole process can become a nightmare.

In order to avoid unnecessary headaches, here are some additional tools that will make the entire process a seamless experience:

ExpertFlyer: this subscription service collects information from several reward programs and shows you the best deals that suit your itinerary. It also allows you to set alerts on award space availability, it also offers a set-it-and-forget-it function that will notify you if a seat on your desired flight becomes available.

Award Nexus: another subscription-based service, Award Nexus allows you to search for awards on several loyalty programs, routes and cabin classes in a single query.

AwardHacker: for each search, this tool allows you to choose your origin and destination, your cabin class and the specific airline program – it’s also the only free award searching tool on the list.

Omni Calculator Day Counter: Forget about counting days on the calendar, simply type in your planned departure date plus the number of days that you’re able to book in advance and you’ll find out the exact opening day of the reward calendar.

The right online tools help you uncover points-based seats on any airline, route or flight.
The right online tools help you uncover points-based seats on any airline, route or flight.

Booking an award flight in advance: FAQs

What time of the day do award bookings open?

There is not an exact science to the time that airlines release their award calendar, but if you log in early in the morning on the targeted day and there’s not a seat on the flight you want, that doesn’t necessarily mean someone else took it from you.

Some airlines will release a few award seats as soon as the schedule opens while others will scatter their release throughout the day.

Should I wait for last-minute award travel bookings?

It depends. While you may find occasional last-minute bargains if an airline is trying to fill a plane, you’ll have to be very flexible with dates and destinations if you want to follow this strategy.

For trips that you really want to take, you should aim to book as soon as you see saver award seats available for your desired date. Award bookings tend to be more flexible than cash bookings  when it comes to cancellation policies, so you can always make changes after your booking if you end up finding a better deal.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Nov 2011

Total posts 362

Award availability across the board post COVID is putrid. Literally can't find any premium seats these days. Your best bet is jumping on a new route when it is launched...

QFF

12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1479

Cannot agree more. And on top of that it looks like QF specifically design their website to make finding award booing incredibly difficult and frustrating exercise.

19 Jan 2017

Total posts 8

...or planning and planning and being ready to jump in at 330-350 days in advance, as per this article. It might not be ideal, but it does work.

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 928

As the comments above suggest, not any easy feat post covid, hopefully with my planes flying soon it will become easier. My favourite reward seat comes on line at 11am with there standard days in advance.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer P1

23 Aug 2014

Total posts 128

Thanks for this extremely useful article

Whether or no the airline controls award release to increase profits is a separate issue to the utility of this article

05 Jan 2021

Total posts 22

Thank you - the problem apart from a real shortage of premium seats  is this 

The  Qantas Frequent Flier booking engine has always been clunky but now is showing more and more alleged availability which , when you try and book it either online or via an agent - is non existent .

I have noticed it particularly when trying to book on a North American flight eg American. 

The QFF search shows business / first seats on certain dates  but ,when you try and get it , it ends up mostly non existent - ie unbookable on line or the agent can't see it . The agent usually says its a "phantom"availability but  that excuse is wearing thin! 

24 Jun 2020

Total posts 45

I find anything to do with Qantas's website is exhausting.

You need a ton of patience and a lot of luck to find anything if using points for the front end of the plane.

Especially if you want 2 seats in first class which are truly near impossible these days compared to pre-covid times when I got lucky more than once.

25 Jun 2018

Total posts 41

Couldn’t agree more with most comments, particularly about QF.   My travel agent & I tried for hours around the 297 day mark, trying to find ‘anything’ out of, or back into Aust. to use up 3/4 million QF points.    Literally nothing to USA or returning from Middle East / Europe.  USA to UK / Europe and thence to Middle East - no problem at all.  Exactly what we wanted.   Finished up buying for cash, JAL to USA at 50% of QF price, and MH back to Aust. at 40% of QF price.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

03 Oct 2012

Total posts 11

Informative article but agree with comments on Qantas & their website. Prior to Covid, from at least 2015 to 2019, my wife & I annually redeemed business class one way to Europe, on average 139,000 to 159,000, then bought a first class fare back to Australia. Different story nowadays as we all know. When we used to search for these redemptions we always used the Qantas calendar view (as displayed above). I cannot find this anywhere on the QF site now, people talk about using multi city etc - no luck. We are both platinum.  Can someone please tell me how we get calendar view??? And where are all the other one world partners nowadays?

HINT:  Best success I have had is to do oneway tickets.  Times I have done as a return no seat availablity comes up, do as a oneways and have managed to get them. 


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