I've become a bit of a hoarder of my airline miles (click here if you are interested in learning how I accumulated over 100K miles in 6 months). On several occasions, I've convinced myself to just pay for a flight- not wanting to put a dent in my beautiful stack. Well, my interest in cashing in my miles changed after my beloved and I decided we were going to get married in Mexico. If you didn't know, weddings are expensive!!! So, immediately after we decided, I plotted how I could get us BOTH to Mexico and back for the low. It's a popular notion that when using miles, that the earlier you book your flight, the better award options you have (READ Better = more low mileage tier options). With American Airlines, you can book a flight through Economy or Business/First Class options 331 days out (UNLESS you have ELITE status, in which case none of this will be relevant to you because you have some unspeakable privileges-- and yes I'm super jealous of you...but one day...).
My heart was set on obtaining two roundtrip tickets to Cancun for 12.5 K miles (the lowest tier available) each. I set an alert in my calendar and awaited the day I would be able to book our award travel. Alas, securing these tickets did not happen the way I thought it would. It ended up taking me THREE days just to get our departure flight. Let me explain why:
The clock turned from 11:59 PM to 12:00 AM. "It's time to book!"WRONG.
Global airlines like American Airlines operate off of the timezone in which they are based. So 12:00 AM Eastern (where I am), only meant 10:00 PM Central (where they are)..... AKA there were two more hours until the date I wanted to become "available".
What does "available" even mean....
So it turns out, the idea that award options become available 331 days is actually bit of a myth. While American does seem to "open up" award space after midnight central, the options are generally not bookable for several hours. (I called AA about the errors I kept getting and was told that while the options show up in the system, they aren't really made available until the next work day when the employees are back in the office. Seem's a little antiquated to have a computer system that automatically populates but really needs the manual entry of a worker to be functional...but I digress)
Not all award options are equal!
Within the first 24 hours of opening, the lowest award option available was 27.5K miles. More than double the mileage I was ready to "spend". So I played the waiting game.
Almost Day 2 : When a new day is on the horizon, the previous day becomes a cheaper offering. So as American's computer systems were preparing to populate for November 3rd, November 2nd went from 27.5 to the magical 12.5. To my dismay, I hit another wall, as the award option was "available" but not bookable...
Day 3: The date of interest truly became available at the mileage point I wanted 328 days in advance.
Can't say I wasn't a lil perturbed (you know after staying up until 2am for a few nights in a row trying to snag some flights), but I quickly got over my irritation when I discovered our departure flights would cost us $25 each.
Having a better understanding of the system, I booked our return flights a few days later without a single issue. Ultimately, we spent a total of $100.52 for two roundtrip tickets to Mexico.
So if you are wanting to book award travel, it's helpful to know the general date ranges that the options become available, but it may take a couple of days before you lock in exactly what you are looking for.
BONUS: Because I purchased these flights using my American Airlines card, I received 10% of my redeemed miles back the day after each purchase. Thus, a trip that should have ran me for 50K miles, ran me for 45K (Look at that-- a little less than halfway to one way trip!- EVERY MILE COUNTS). Consider getting a credit card with your favorite airline- there are so many wonderful perks!
If you are new to mileage game, check out my previous post to learn simple ways on how to earn miles!