When Is the Best Time to Book Award Flights?

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Million Mile Secrets readers often ask when they should book award tickets.

When Is The Best Time To Book Award Flights

The Best Time to Book Award Tickets to Places Like Switzerland Is When You Know Your Travel Plans

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.

When Is The Best Time To Book Award Flights

Start Looking for Award Tickets to Places Like Hawaii When You’ve Decided When to Go

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!

When Is The Best Time To Book Award Flights

There Are Only 3 Dates in March 2015 With Award Seats From Austin to Maui Using American Airlines Miles

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.

When Is The Best Time To Book Award Flights

Last-Minute Award Seats to Hawaii in the Summer Are Possible

Award Ticket Fees

Link:   Alaska Airlines Award Ticket Fees

Link:   American Airlines Award Tickets Fees

Link:   Delta Airlines Award Ticket Fees 

Link:   United Airlines Award Tickets Fees

Link:   US Airways 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.  

When Is The Best Time To Book Award Flights

Do You Know How To Avoid the $75 Fee When Booking Award Flights Within 21 Days of Departure on United Airlines?

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!

When Is The Best Time To Book Award Flights

The Best Time to Book Award Tickets on Southwest and JetBlue Are During Sales

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.

Bottom Line

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?

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5 responses to “When Is the Best Time to Book Award Flights?

  1. Darius, if I’ve booked an aa reward flight for March, but now realize we can’t go, instead of cancelling, can I reschedule as far out as possible (November)? Then later, reschedule again for next March. All without penalty fees?

  2. The no cancelation fee with Southwest is fantastic. I’ve canceled and rebooked flights for a lower point cost many, many times.

  3. “There Are Only 3 Dates in March 2015 With Award Seats From Austin to Maui Using American Airlines Miles”

    When I look at this picture, I see that 22.5k on 24th, 0k on 25th and 0k on 7th
    So what does 0k mean? Base on my guess, I think we don’t need mile to book this seat on 25th and 7th. Am I right?

  4. Thanks to your informative blog I’ve been able to accrue points and book a flight to Europe. Now I need a little more advice. What do you do when you’ve spent days figuring out a good itinerary, have it booked then weeks later United/Lufthansa changes one leg to a much less desirable one? After an hour on the phone the agent gave it back, then a few weeks later it’s changed again. Upon calling a second time the agent gave up and said maybe more seats will open up later. I did ask for a change to a better return flight with no change fee. The flight over is still available but at a much higher level of points. Are award seats subject to the whim of the airline? Southwest has never changed my flight other than for a delay.

  5. Hi Daraius. I have a question for you about using my dividend miles to book a roundtrip business class award from Boston to Beijing( ideally leaving in July and coming back in Oct). I have a little more than 160,000 dividend miles in my account. However, I was not able to find any availability on U.S. Airways for business or first class, only economy. I was able to find some availability on AA.com during low season (Sep-Dec) that I can book once they merge their loyalty programs. But it routes from Boston to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Hawaii, then Hawaii to Beijing. I don’t mind having two stopovers but none of the flights offer good, flat bed business class seats, only recliner seats.

    My question for you is: Is it possible to book Cathay Pacific Business or First Class using dividend miles by calling? Or do I need to wait till they merge their loyalty program with AA. I just have a feeling that after they finish merging it will be harder to find business/first class availability since there will be more people looking for it and AA might increase the mileage requirement redemption too. What do you think is the best option to do? Thank you very much for your help!