I wanted to address a common misconception that many people have when it comes to booking award travel by sharing tips for redeeming miles and points as efficiently as possible.

Airlines often don’t make award seats available right away

Many people want to be able to redeem their miles for first class travel during peak travel times. It's possible at times, but not necessarily in the way people think.

The key to getting the best award seats is to stay up until midnight on the day that the airline opens its schedule, and then call up to book so that you can be the first person to get those seats.

I get emails from people who are frustrated that someone else beat them to it and booked those saver level award seats before they could.

Good and bad news for people with that belief.

  • The good news is that odds are that no one else beat you to those award seats
  • The bad news is that more often than not, airlines don’t release any premium cabin award seats right when the schedule opens
In many cases award seats aren’t released when the schedule opens

There are some exceptions As soon as the schedule opens, British Airways Executive Club and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club will open up a certain number of award seats on each flight.

The British Airways schedule is currently open until December 10,23. The airline guarantees at least four business class award seats per flight, and if you look at flights for that day, all but one flight have at least four business class award seats. Three award seats were booked right away on that one flight.

British Airways has an award seat guarantee

The policies of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are very different from the norm.

Tips for finding award seats in advance

When airlines release the most space, booking award travel late can be the best option. Many people want to plan their travel in advance so that is not practical.

There are a few things you can do to increase your chances of finding award space on a flight.

Know when airlines open award space

When the frequent flyer program opens its calendar, and not when the airline you want to fly with opens its calendar, is when you can book an award. Check out my post on when airlines open their booking windows for award tickets to get more information.

For example, American AAdvantage opens its calendar 331 days out. You can only redeem American AAdvantage miles for 331 days. There are some differences in the windows when access to awards is open.

It’s important to understand when airlines open award space

Know airline award trends

If the airline is releasing award space on the route you are considering, it is time to book. When the window opens, some airlines release award space. Some airlines open award space close to departure while others don't.

If the previous week had availability, you have a good indication that there will be award space on a flight. Award space is usually released in an automated way. Patterns can be difficult to figure out.

Airlines all have different patterns for releasing award space

If you want to travel over specific dates with limited flexibility, this is a good idea, but you need to book as soon as the window opens. If you want your points to be as diversified as possible, you need to make sure you earn points in other countries.

You can transfer your points to a lot of frequent flyer programs, but you can also redeem them for other things, such as tickets to sporting events.

Air Canada Aeroplan has transfer partners that allow you to redeem points on over 45 airlines. It is great to have points that you can use on any airline.

Transferable points currencies give you the most flexibility

Airlines don't always open award space when the schedule opens It is the case more often than not if you are looking for a saver level award. Many people think that if they check availability the day it opens, they won't see anything.

As the departure date approaches, airlines usually release most of their award space.

What are your experiences with airlines releasing award seats?