Disclosure: We get a commission for links on the blog. You don’t have to use our links, but we’re very grateful when you do. American Express, Barclaycard, Capital One, Chase, and US Bank are Million Mile Secrets advertising partners. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or endorsed by our partners. Here’s our Advertiser Disclosure.
Million Mile Secrets readers often ask when they should book award tickets.
You should book award tickets as soon as you know your travel plans…usually. But there are times when you should wait. Keep reading to find out when you should wait to book award tickets.
This isn’t an exact science.
Confirmed Travel Plans
The best time to book award tickets is when you know your travel plans.
You should start looking for award tickets after you’ve decided where you want to travel.
Book “Saver” Awards (the Cheapest Seats) as Soon as You Find Them!
Link: Airline Award Charts
Most airlines have Saver level award seats which let you use the least amount of miles for an award ticket. These are usually capacity controlled and aren’t usually offered during the peak season such as during the holidays and summer.
You should book Saver award tickets when you find seats. Because if you wait, the award tickets may not be there.
So you should book as many award tickets as you can while Saver seats are available, especially if you need several award tickets or are traveling during summer or the holidays.
However, there’s always the chance that additional seats won’t open up. So you may need to split up if that happens!
Because more Saver award tickets could become available, you should keep checking.
You can usually book award seats ~1 year in advance. This means that usually the best time to find award seats is 10 to 11 months in advance.
Although, as mentioned earlier, it can be hard to find award seats during the holidays and summer. So you should look for award seats during peak times ~11 months in advance versus ~3 months in advance.
You can use a tool such as Expert Flyer to help you find award seats.
Booking award tickets can be tricky, so some folks use an award booking service.
Waiting Until the Last Minute
If the airline hasn’t sold all the seats, you can find last minute award seats. This is usually, but not always, true for US airlines. And you should NOT expect it during peak travel.
Although, sometimes you get lucky and get last minute Saver award space to Hawaii in the summer like Debbie from Traveling Well For Less.
Award Ticket Fees
Some airlines charge a fee when you book an award ticket on the phone or within 21 days of departure, if you do NOT have airline elite status. So you should book award tickets online to avoid those fees. Here’s how you can avoid the $75 United Airline award ticket fee.
Other airline programs, such as British Airways do NOT charge a fee when you book an award flight close to the date of departure. (This is great for last-minute domestic travel on American Airlines using British Airways Avios points!)
For award tickets that can’t be booked online, like partner award tickets, you can ask the airline to waive the ticketing fee.
After you book an award ticket, you can always change or cancel an award ticket. Although, usually you will pay a fee to make changes or redeposit your miles unless you have elite status with the airline.
American Airlines charges non-elite members $75 if you change your date to leave within 21 days.
To redeposit your miles back into your account, you’ll pay a fee from $150 to $200 depending on the airline.
Exceptions When Booking Award Tickets on Southwest and JetBlue
Link: JetBlue Fees
Because Southwest and JetBlue have revenue-based award programs, the best time to book award ticket is NOT when you know your travel plans.
You should book award tickets on Southwest and JetBlue during sales. That’s because the point cost of award tickets on Southwest and JetBlue are based on ticket prices. So when the fare goes down, the number of award points goes down too!
Note: But when a fare on JetBlue rises, the required number of award points does not always increase proportionally. So you might get more value for your points!
You pay NO fees on Southwest to cancel or change an award ticket. The points go back to your account! So if you’ve already booked an award ticket on Southwest, you can cancel and rebook without paying a fee.
But there are fees to change or cancel your award ticket on JetBlue.
You should book award tickets when you know your travel plans. But you should wait if you’re booking award tickets on Southwest or JetBlue.
When you find available award tickets during the summer and holidays you should book them immediately. That’s because if you wait, the award seats might not be there because of the high demand.
Unless you have elite status with an airline, you might have to pay a fee to book an award ticket on the phone or within 21 days of departure. But there is a trick to avoid the $75 United Airline award ticket fee.
You do NOT pay fees to change award tickets on Southwest, but you will pay fees on JetBlue.
Some folks find it easier to use an award booking service.
When do you think is the best time to book award tickets?
* If you liked this post, why don’t you join the 16,000+ readers who have signed-up to receive free blog posts via email (only 1 email per day!) or in an RSS reader …because then you’ll never miss another update!