when do airlines release award tickets seats

Why Does It Matter When Airlines Release Award Space?

If you are hunting for a tough award, like Australia, New Zealand, or even Asia, odds can be against you for finding one Business or First Class award seat, let alone 2 or 4.

But aside from last minute, the best chance you have is booking as soon as the award seats are opened by the airline. And there are actually two factors at play:

  • When does the airline you want to FLY on open award space, and
  • What program can you use that can book those seats before most/all others.

Here’s a very recent real-world example.

My Mother-in-Law wanted to fly to Australia early next year. Business Class or better, any good airline would do. New York to Australia requires a stop somewhere right now, no way around it (although soon Qantas and its Project Sunrise will mean direct flights from NYC to SYD and Air New Zealand will be flying NYC-AKL).

I settled on Cathay Pacific as our likely best shot for two reasons – they open award space 360 days in advance, farther out than most. American Airlines, by contrast, opens just about a full month later at 331 days out. 

We set calendar entries for the dates we’d want to search and this worked like a charm on the second day of searching (we got a goose egg day one). 

Japan Airlines opens at 360 days, the same as Cathay Pacific. That gave us not one but two shots – JAL via Tokyo or Cathay Pacific via HKG.

Sure enough, we were able to secure two seats on JFK-HND-SYD on JAL and, by doing the same two weeks later, for the return as well. On the return, the next day’s flights actually came online *while* we were searching, with at least 4 business class seats. 

Keep in mind that nothing transfers to JAL (aside from Marriott at 3:1… not a great move). But Cathay Pacific is a transfer partner of every transferable bank point except Chase. 

I’ll also note that I was hoping to score her First Class – but alas none were released at the window.

So when you are looking at the chart below, the way you want to read it is:

  • Which airline do I want to fly and when do they release seats
  • Which mile or transferable currency to that mile provides the best combination of value and an early release date to score the seats.

On that second part, to clarify, let’s say AA offers a cheaper redemption than Cathay Pacific. But AA won’t start selling the seats until 29 days after Cathay. Rationally, your chance of snagging that seat when others have had access for 29 days before you is slim.

Chart: When Does X Airline Start Selling Award Seats?

Airline / Frequent Flyer Program ProgramBooking Opens (Days in Advance)
Aegean Airlines362 days
Aeromexico Club Premier330 days
Air Canada Aeroplan355 days
Air France KLM Flying Blue359 days
Alaska Mileage Plan330 days
All Nippon Airways Mileage Club355 days
American Airlines AAdvantage331 days
Asiana Club361 days
Avianca LifeMiles (Only 355 days for Avianca flights)360 days
British Airways Executive Club355 days
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles360 days
Delta Air Lines SkyMiles331 days
El Al Matmid362 days
Emirates Skywards328 days
Etihad Guest330 days
EVA Air Infinity MileageLands360 days
Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles330 days
Iberia Plus360 days
Japan Airlines Mileage Bank360 days
Lufthansa Miles & More360 days
Qantas Frequent Flyer353 days
Qatar Airways Privilege Club361 days
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer355 days
United MileagePlus337 days
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club331 days


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  1. Great article – I’d request a follow up on the times of day when space opens up for each. That will really complete this series!


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