Booking flights with your airline miles is more of an art than a science. It hinges on award availability to actually book those seats with miles, and that can be unpredictable … but there's one undeniable trend right now: Booking early (like 11 months or more in advance) is often your best bet – especially for business and first class.
There isn't a one-size-fits-all answer for the best time to book flights when using miles, as every airline releases these award seats differently: Some are generous while others are notoriously stingy, meaning your searches may come up empty. But there are some basics that can help you make a game plan: When airlines open their calendars to book flights, which airlines typically release the most seats to book using miles … and when they do it.
Regardless, those with flexible travel plans who plan well in advance will have the best chance to score a (nearly) free flight booked with miles: the Flight First Rule is crucial for award travel. But even procrastinators may have great luck – some airlines regularly release award seats last-minute, too.
Let's dive into some of the specifics regarding when airlines release award availability and highlight some of the trends and easiest ways to help you put your points and miles to good use.
How Far in Advance Can You Book Award Travel?
There are two important timelines you'll need to understand when trying to use your points and miles to book flights:
- When you can book a flight with the airline whose miles you're using
- When you can book the airline you want to fly
No, they're not the same. Partner award bookings – when you use miles from one airline to book a flight on another carrier – adds a layer of complication. While many international airlines allow you to book flights up to 361 days in advance of travel, most U.S. airlines only allow you to book flights up to 331 days in advance.
For example, Qatar Airways allows you to book its incredible Qsuites business class as far as 361 days in advance when redeeming its own Qatar Avios miles. At the time of publication, that means you can book with Qatar Avios all the way through mid-June 2024.
But if you're trying to book flights with American AAdvantage miles through AA.com, you can only book 331 days in advance – or only through mid-May 2024 (at the time of publication). That means you'd have to wait an extra 30 days before American is able to book those same suites in June 2024 that you can book today through Qatar itself.
In the chart below, you'll find the approximate timeframes for when you can book with some of the most common (and useful) frequent flyer programs. Due to different time zones, this may vary by a day or so.
|How far in advance you can book
|Aer Lingus Aerclub
|Air Canada Aeroplan
|Air France-KLM Flying Blue
|Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
|ANA Mileage Club
|American Airlines AAdvantage
|British Airways Executive Club
|Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
|Etihad Guest Miles
|Qantas Frequent Flyer
|Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
|Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles
|United Mileage Plus
|Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
Just keep in mind: Airlines don't necessarily release award seats on all flights exactly when the calendar opens up for booking. Rather, these timeframes should be used as a guide to let you know when you should start searching for award availability.
If you're trying to use one airline's miles to book flights on a partner airline on this list, you'll need to use the lower number of the two. For example, while Air France Flying Blue allows you to book flights up to 359 days in advance, Delta's time window for selling flights is shorter. So if you plan to use Flying Blue miles to book Delta flights, you'll only be able to book those up to 331 days in advance.
The easiest way to figure out which date is the furthest you can book at any given time is to just Google something like “331 days from today.” Or, to know when to start looking for your travel dates, search something like “359 days before July 1.”
Book Early for the Best Chance at Snagging Award Availability
When it comes to booking flights with points and miles, your best bet is often by planning well in advance.
In general, it's easiest to find availability for the cheapest award tickets between eight and 12 months before you plan to travel. Of course, this isn't true for all airlines and it also depends on the class of service you're looking to book.
Economy awards are generally much easier to find at any time of the year, except when you're looking to travel during peak travel periods such as summer or holidays. For those, you may want to check to see if you can snag a seat as soon as the schedule opens.
Looking to fly business class? Seat availability tends to be quite limited – especially if you are looking to book two or more seats. But many airlines regularly release business class award availability as soon as the booking window opens – around 11-12 months in advance of travel. Once those are booked, you might not see them again.
Related reading: The Basics of Booking First & Business Class with Miles
Here's a list of airlines that typically release at least two business class award seats far in advance, based on what we typically find for our Thrifty Traveler Premium+ members.
- Air France & KLM: Using Flying Blue miles to book Air France business class or KLM business class is often one of the easiest ways to find availability to fly lie-flat to Europe. The best availability tends to be when booking six to 12 months in advance.
- British Airways: Uniquely, British Airways actually guarantees a certain number of seats will be available for award tickets on every flight when the schedule opens. However, exorbitant taxes and fees usually make this a bad deal – though you can fork over more miles to cover that cash cost.
- Iberia: You'll typically be able to find award availability to fly Iberia business class seven to 12 months in advance depending on the route and season. The longest flights from Los Angeles and San Francisco tend to get all booked within the first month that tickets go on sale.
- Qatar Airways: For the past year or so, the best time to book Qatar Qsuites business class has been 11 to 12 months in advance of travel. This means you may need to bite the bullet and pay slightly more miles to book with Qatar Avios rather than AA miles, which is otherwise the best (and cheapest) way to book Qsuites.
- Singapore Airlines: Flying Singapore Airlines business class to Asia usually requires booking 10 to 12 months in advance when the schedule opens. You'll find more seats and more dates available using Singapore miles but you can also now book them Air Canada Aeroplan points. Most other partners cannot book Singapore business class awards at all.
- TAP Air Portugal: It may not be the best business class in the world, but TAP Air Portugal business class award availability is typically easier to find than most other airlines. Book seven to 12 months in advance for the best chance.
- Virgin Atlantic: Like British Airways, Virgin also guarantees some seats to be available as award tickets on all flights when the schedule opens. Unfortunately, booking these flights with Virgin points also requires hefty fees.
Other airlines may open up premium cabin award availability as soon as the schedule opens from time to time so it always helps to check as early as possible.
Thrifty Tip: Most airlines have reasonable change and cancellation policies when booking award tickets. This means you can book early with peace of mind that you can change plans in the future – or cancel and get your miles back.
Read our full review of Qatar's Qsuite business class!
Or, Book Last-Minute Award Availability
On the other end of the spectrum, some airlines have a clear habit of releasing business or first class award seats for last-minute travel.
If you're lucky, you'll sometimes find availability up to 30 days out. More often, you'll need to be a pretty spontaneous traveler to catch these deals – seats are usually only bookable for travel in the next few weeks, if not days.
Many airlines follow this pattern, hoping to fill up some seats that might otherwise fly empty. These are the airlines where we most commonly see last-minute award availability to fly premium cabins:
- All Nippon Airways: ANA business class awards are typically tough to book until just three weeks before departure – though ANA has tightened this window even more recently, making it even harder.
- Lufthansa: Booking Lufthansa First Class is only possible with partner airline miles for flights within 14 days of booking. In practice, you'll typically only find availability for travel just five days or less days out. Lufthansa business class is also typically easier to book within a month of departure.
- Japan Airlines: Similar to ANA, Japan Airlines used to regularly release availability to fly Japan Airlines business class or JAL First Class for travel within two weeks of booking. But this has begun to dry up more recently as well.
- United: One of the most consistent ways to find last-minute business class award availability is by booking United Polaris business class. It isn't an exact science, but if you're looking to travel within the next month and want to fly business class, check availability on United.
Get Alerts to Find Award Availability Instead
Of course, it's not always ideal to book flights nearly a year in advance or risk it by trying to book days before your trip. Most travelers will want to book some time in between.
The good news is that airlines sometimes release waves of availability to book flights with points and miles. And Thrifty Traveler Premium+ members have been able to catch several of those unpredictable waves thanks to award alerts.
This has included unicorn fares such as this deal for extremely rare ANA First Class award availability flying the airline's best “The Suite” seats from San Francisco (SFO) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND) for as little as 55,000 points each way for a trip earlier this year.
We also stay on top of new routes and send alerts when award availability opens up such as this deal to book the upcoming new route from Detroit (DTW) to Istanbul (IST) flying Turkish Airlines business class.
Check out all the best award alerts we've sent Thrifty Traveler Premium+ members!
Read our lips: If you're planning to use points and miles for a big trip abroad, plan ahead.
It's (practically) never too early to start looking for award availability. Set yourself a reminder to start checking as soon as the booking calendar opens for your travel dates and sign up for award alerts to be notified when airlines are selling their cheapest award tickets.