The best piece of advice for getting the award seat you want is to book early, specifically 330 days before your desired travel dates, when seats first become available. However, many people fail to take advantage of this insider’s trick, either because they don’t know their travel plans nearly a year in advance or they forget to mark their calendars for the correct day to call.
While SmarterTravel.com can’t help you finalize your travel plans earlier, we can act as a reminder for the best times to book your award seats. With this alert, we are letting you know that it is nearly time to call the airline to book your award, preventing you from missing this ideal window of opportunity.
Next year’s Memorial Day holiday will take place on May 29, 2006. July 3, 2005, is 330 days before that date. If you’re planning a long weekend away, call the airline on June 30 to put a hold on a Friday departure flight. Although a large number of travelers opt for road trips on the first long weekend of summer, many Americans do fly, meaning that the earlier you book, the better chance you have of securing a free flight for your getaway.
Why 330 days?
Most airlines load new inventory into their reservations system 330 days prior to the flight date. If there are any award seats at all on the flight you want, they will be available the instant that flight is loaded into the system, and there’s no guarantee that they will still be around a few months, days, or hours later. So calling 330 days before your desired flight is the best way to ensure you get the seats you want. Otherwise, you’ll have to take your chances on availability, choose alternate dates or airports, wait for someone to cancel, or hope that seats are added at the last minute.
While a few days may not affect the inventory of most award seats, waiting a day or two could mean the difference between getting the seat you want and having to compromise. However, sometimes the 330 days is merely a suggestion, and some flights are loaded 332 or 329 days in advance. Because of anomalies like this, you might want to start calling the airline a few days before you think your flight will enter the system to check how far in advance you can book. Keep calling every day until the airline says it is booking flights for the day prior to your desired travel date, and then ask exactly when your date will load into the system. Next, start calling a few minutes prior to that time to ensure that you’re on the phone when your flight loads, so you can book it immediately.
If you’re flexible about your dates, you can also book an award ticket for the day before and put a hold on it, so you have a seat in case there is no availability for your preferred date. You can release the held ticket if your desired flight does have open seats. It’s also advisable to put a hold on your departure date if your return date has not yet been loaded into the system; however, be advised that some airlines might not let you do this.