When redeeming points for award flights, timing is everything! Award flights often sell out quickly – especially on popular routes and during peak travel periods like school holidays. So, when exactly is the best time to book award flights?

Generally, you’ll have access to the most award seats when they’re initially released for sale. It’s not a hard-and-fast rule, as some airlines don’t release any award seats at the same time as the flights go on sale. In some cases, seats are released closer to the departure date – or not at all. But most airlines do release at least some award seats as soon as the flight goes on sale up to a year in advance.

The exact award release date will depend on the airline operating the flight. Some airlines release award seats as far as 360 days in advance. Others don’t release any seats until around 300 days out. But most airlines will have released seats for booking by around the 330-day mark. That’s around 11 months ahead of departure.

 

Award seat release times

Here’s an overview of award seat release times for selected major airlines:

Award seat release timeline for selected airlines as of August 2022

 

A full list of award seat release times by airline is available to Frequent Flyer Solutions members with Training access: Unit 5.1.2 – Award Availability Search Techniques

 

Book 11 months in advance

We usually tell our Award Flight Assist clients that the best time to book award flights is 11 months before you wish to travel. By this point, most airlines will have released award availability. But it’s still far enough in advance that most award seats won’t yet be sold out.

 

Qantas award availability works a little differently

Qantas releases award availability on most of its flights exactly 353 days before departure, at midnight GMT (10am Brisbane time).

But this does not necessarily apply to award seats in Premium Economy, Business and First Class on long-haul international flights. Generally, Qantas only releases these premium awards to Qantas Frequent Flyer Gold, Platinum and Platinum One members at the 353-day mark. Qantas Silver frequent flyers have access to these seats from 323 days out, and Bronze members will only have access to these seats – if there are any left – 297 days before departure.

On some Qantas routes such as Singapore-London, Sydney-Bangkok, Sydney-Honolulu, Perth-London and Perth-Rome, Qantas does not typically release any Business class award seats awards at all. (There can be exceptions, however!)

 

Some airlines release more award seats closer to departure

Some airlines do release additional award availability a few months or weeks before the flight departs. For example, Lufthansa was once well-known for releasing First Class award availability to partner airlines 14 days before departure.

Other airlines including Hawaiian Airlines and United may release additional reward seats 1-6 months out from the departure date.

Unfortunately, this is mostly random and you shouldn’t assume this will happen. But if you don’t mind taking the risk, setting an Expert Flyer award seat alert will ensure you are notified in the event more award seats are released closer to departure!

 

What if your outbound flights are available now, but your return flights aren’t?

If you’re booking a return trip, a common problem is that the outbound flights will become available before the inbound flights back home. This can be a problem if you’re planning to spend a long time at your destination and you need to book your flights as a return ticket.

Most frequent flyer programs offer one-way award tickets for half the cost of round-trip bookings. So if you don’t specifically need to book your flights as a return ticket, you may prefer to book your outbound trip as a one-way ticket, as soon as the flights become available. Then, book your flights home as a separate one-way ticket later.

If you need to book your flights on the same ticket, e.g. to access a complimentary stopover on round-trip bookings or to access Qantas Oneworld Classic Flight Reward pricing, you may just need to wait until all of your flights are available to book.

Alternatively, some frequent flyer programs may let you add flights to a one-way ticket at a later time while charging you the difference (plus any change fees). If you’re using Qantas points, this can be risky though as you’d need to make changes through the call centre.

Award Booking Tips

Where Can Your Points Take You?

Read More

When is the Best Time to Book Award Flights?

Read More

How to Buy Points for Discounted Flights

Read More

8 Common Award Flight Booking Mistakes

Read More

The Different Amex Membership Rewards Programs in Australia

Read More