What should I know about restrictions on award travel?

Q: What should I know about restrictions on award travel?

A: The programs manage their award seats in two ways: 1) by imposing blackout dates during which award travel is prohibited, unless a traveler pays a mileage premium, and 2) by regulating on a day-to-day, flight-to-flight basis how many award seats are available for booking.

Many airlines have removed blackout date restrictions from award flights. To determine whether your airline still employs them, check the member guide or airline website. Planning around blackout dates is pretty straightforward. The bigger challenge is getting an award seat on a popular flight with severely limited award availability.

In general, your best bet is to book well in advance, before those few award seats are reserved by others. Flights are usually loaded into an airline's system 330 days in advance, the best time to book award tickets.

Alternatively, if you book close to the actual flight date, the airline may make unsold seats available for frequent flyers.