Planning an Award Ticket a Year Out? Here’s When Airlines Load Their Schedules

There’s a persistent myth that the best time to book an award ticket is instantly when an airline’s schedule opens — and that the time is 12:01am exactly 330 days prior to travel.

But this isn’t quite right on two levels.

  • Different airlines publish their schedules at different times
  • Different airlines load award seats at different times — not necessarily when their schedule loads

Airlines want to release those seats as (saver / low) awards that they don’t expect to sell for cash. They may load some award seats when the schedule opens but ~ 11 months out they only have a rough idea of what seats are going to go unsold. They may not add a single award seat on a given flight when the schedule opens.

As time passes, as the date of travel for a given flight approaches, airlines adjust availability. They constantly evaluate how the flight is selling. If sales exceed expectations, they may withdraw award availability, thinking they can sell the seats for a higher fare instead of offering the seats as awards. When award availability disappears, it does not mean that someone booked the award. It could just as easily mean that the airline decided not to offer the seat as an award anymore, thinking now that they might sell that seat.

Similarly, an airline might add more award seats, perhaps a flight is selling below expectation or circumstances have changed to make them believe that they won’t sell the seat.

Because of the myth of booking award seats the moment the schedule opens, it’s a very common story for people to stay up until midnight. And when they don’t get the seat they want they’re frustrated because they think that somehow someone else beat them to the seats.

Frequently people who want me to book their award tickets for them are anxious to jump on the seats once the schedule loads, they’re just too frustrated with the process of staying up until midnight and getting ‘beaten out’ by someone even quicker on the draw.

While timeshares may actually work this way, frequent flyer awards rarely do. Most of the time when an award seat isn’t available at midnight when the schedule opens, it’s that the airline didn’t make those seats available yet. It was just too early for them to make a decision.

Some airlines open seats right away, others only a month after the schedule loads, and some airlines vary the pattern by route and even day of the week.

Still, since “right away when schedules loads” is one good time to book awards (although not the only time) it’s worth reviewing when different airlines load their schedules.

So when do airline schedules load?

Here is a sampling of airlines and the number of days prior to travel that their schedules load:

  • Adria Airways – 355
  • Air Canada – 355
  • Air China – 355
  • Alaska Airlines – 330
  • All Nippon – 355
  • American – 331
  • Asiana – 352
  • Austrian Airlines – 355
  • AviancaTaca – 355
  • British Airways – 353
  • Cathay Pacific – 360
  • Croatian – 355
  • Delta – 331
  • EgyptAir – 355
  • Finnair – 354
  • Iberia – 354
  • Lufthansa – 349
  • Qantas – 354
  • Singapore – 350
  • Thai – 338
  • Turkish – 354
  • United – 337
  • US Airways – 330
  • Virgin Atlantic – 336

But there are exceptions…

There are some exceptions and variations in these dates. For instance, while ANA schedules are loaded 355 days out I do not believe you can use the ANA website to search more than 331 days out. And while Thai is currently showing schedules 338 days out, I’ve seen them not load schedules past 260 days … and then add a couple of months all at once.

I didn’t include Etihad in the list above. Right now I’m seeing their schedules 331 days out, though I’m certain I’ve seen them loaded farther out in the past. Perhaps they changed this when they switched reservation systems towards the end of February.

Also not on the list is Air France because of a strange anomaly — they won’t let members book award travel more than 10 months out, even though schedules are loaded further out than that (and thus Delta and Alaska Airlines members can book travel on Air France earlier than Air France’s own members can).

Some airlines load schedules flight-by-flight in the local time zone of departure when the calendar turns. But that’s not universally true. Time zone issues can affect the moment that a schedule becomes available.

The most important date is when the airline whose miles you have loads its schedule

In most cases you can only book as far out as the airline whose miles you are using loads its own schedules (although of course you cannot book on a partner farther than out than that partner loads its own seats).

So even though AviancaTaca loads its own schedules 355 days out, you can’t use their LifeMiles to book a United flight more than 337 days out from travel.

Conversely, you cannot use United miles to book an Air China flight more than 337 days out, even though Air China has already had its schedules loaded for 18 days — because United’s systems go out only 337 days.

The lone exception to this rule I can think of is Alaska Airlines. Even though Alaska loads its schedules 331 days out, you can use Alaska Airlines miles to book partner flights whenever those partner flights are loaded. You can’t include Alaska Airlines flights in the itinerary until 331 days out, of course, so if you book a Qantas or Cathay Pacific flight immediately upon schedule opening you’ll have to call back later when the Alaska schedules open to add any domestic feeder flights to your award.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Not sure why you keep writing that booking about 330 days out is not the best time for awards seats. If I had listened to you and waited 6-10 months out, I would have never been succesful booking my XMAS trip to Vietnam and Cambodia and just yesterday for my LAX to KTM with one leg on the Thai airways 380 . Also, after I booked my Vietnam and Cambodia trip , all on Biz class for Xmas 2012, I checked almost every day and only a few seats were available with a crappy route.

  2. Great post (and no aff links…yay!) 🙂

    If we bookmark this post, will you keep it updated as you become aware of changes? A great idea to have all of it in one place!

  3. @Gary

    I was looking for award availability to get to CPH between Christmas and the New Years. The Qantas search engine shows Finnair availability (economy), but American’s website doesn’t show the same flights. Tried calling in to their reservation center, but they didn’t show availability. Would Finnair release different availabilities to different partners of the same alliance?

  4. Also remember it takes take to populate the entire airline computer system so even though aa offers awards 331 days out, u may have to wait until 5am til the system gets to the particular flt u want

  5. Southwest isn’t on your list.
    So do you think that the airline systems are smart enough to spot when people are just window shopping revenue fares and warn to pull award seats just because of search traffic on a route or date? Just wondering.

  6. So if I want to book US thru ANA 330 days is the best time to look or more seats will consistently open?

  7. Out of all star carriers with F, my experience is that TG is most generous and consistent with releasing awards, not just at 330

  8. Gosh, lots of demanding questions here . . . In MY experience, different airlines have different habits with respect to releasing award seats, which is as relevant to when they load their schedules. I have found that relatively close in Delta seems eager to dump at the saver level. I have also found that while AA loads seats at 330 days, they typically do not get around to releasing award seats, if they care to until 320 days in advance. Just my datapoints.

  9. Great info Gary. Something everyone who books award tickets regularly should archives.

  10. Do you know when Aer Lingus loads? I want to use BA avios points to go to Ireland….

  11. @DaninSTL Southwest isn’t listed because the new Rapid Rewards doesn’t have award inventory. They only have revenue tickets and points can be spent on awards as though they were cash.

  12. Some still have old Awards on SWA. But they release flights in large blocks of time (2-3 months) about 7 months out. They tell you when next block will open up. The best thing about SWA is there is no change fee, so book as soon as schedule opens and change if something better comes up.

  13. Gary: I don’t know anybody who stays up until midnight to book mileage tickets about one year in advance. Is that really a persistent belief/myth by many people? You would think that uninformed mileage users would have no idea about when schedules are loaded and savvy mileage users like your readers know that mileage availability changes all the time.

  14. Aeromexico seems to have pulled their award availability for all dates after Sep 30, 2013. This is less than 5 months out.

  15. So…if you are booking Delta which pretty much forces you to book a round trip ticket, you would have to wait 317 days out to book a 2 week outbound and return trip, correct?

  16. Very usecul info for me, as I am always looking to book 11 to 12 months in advance. The sooner I can book, the sooner I can minimize the loss from devaluation.

  17. Great info…but what happens when you book and then need to modify dates? Is this all out the window then?

  18. Gary – I searched for some flights 337 days out on United to Brazil and the connecting flight is US Airways. I thought that wasn’t possible?

  19. So is there any way for one using Aadvatage miles to get access to Cathay awards during the window after Cathay loads but before American’s 331 days? Sounds like the answer is no, but I wanted to double check. Thanks.

  20. I want to stress, AS no longer allows you to book partners more than 330 days out. It has been confirmed officially.

    I still prefer having the flexibility of booking one ways and booking partners online than having the luxury of booking partners when they load their schedule. Yes, this will make QF F redemptions exponentially more difficult, but if that is the biggest issue with this change then I am a happy camper.

  21. I’ve found your last paragraph regarding Alaska partner award bookings to not quite be the case. I attempted to book both Qantas and Cathay Pacific flights with Alaska Miles when their reward schedules were released, but was told on the phone that it is in the Alaska partners agreement that they cannot sell a partner award set more than 331 days in advance – even if there is availability.

  22. @Alec – it was accurate at the time it was written, Alaska changed its policies as it rolled out online booking of one-way awards and no longer permits this.

  23. HI Gary, thnx for all the info. Looking into Business Class Transatlantic from ZRH and found 2 AA Award Tickets on BA.COM – Called American to book the Tix but they said that they just have one open Biz Seat? How is that possible, how can a AAdvantage Member have less Award Inventory available then another One World Member? What can I do to get these two seats?
    Thnx for your expert view on this.
    JR

  24. Hi Gary, another question do you have an idea when LAN releases GPS award tickets for one World members (date x-mas / new years). For their own programm they have some available.
    Thnx

  25. @JR Two possibilities — (1) mistaken AAgent, (2) BA.com glitch, since it sounds like you’re talking about an American flight did you also see the availability at AA.com?

  26. Wow, thanks for the super fast response! I am talking about an American Airlines flight ZRH-JFK-MIA which shows 7 avail. Eco / 2 avail. Biz on Ba.com on AA.com only one each. Talked to two agents at AA so far – both said – this can happen… Which seems like loyalty doesn’t really pay…
    JR

  27. @JR – don’t buy into explanations offered to you by BA agents, plenty of possibilities here like just a glitch on the BA side where they think it’s available until they go to ticket. Also don’t search multiple segments at once, just ask about ZRH-JFK and don’t say anything about MIA when you search.

  28. Do you know when Scoot release their flights? Looking at Perth to Singapore for Christmas and no flights yet?!?!

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