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Award seats are bookable when airlines load their schedules. And there are two relevant airlines that need to load their schedules: the operating carrier of the flight and the airline whose miles you want to use.

You can’t book a flight until both of the relevant airlines are ready.

For instance, American Airlines allows its miles to be used to book flights 331 days before their departure. Qantas loads its flights’ award space space 355 days before departure. If you want to use American Airlines miles to book Qantas flights, you have to wait until 331 days before departure.

In the interim, folks with Qantas miles (and even British Airways Avios) may snag that space. This very thing happened to me when I was booking an award flight to Australia. My First Class seat on Qantas was snagged, so I “had to” fly Business Class.

While there are several examples of getting first crack at award space if you are using the operating carrier’s own miles, I had never seen a partner airline get access to award space before the operating airline until today.

United MileagePlus members get online access to US Airways flights before US Airways Dividend Miles members.

US Airways has a very bad web site for booking award travel. Unlike many of its competitors which show some of their partners’ award space on their sites, usairways.com only shows US Airways award space.

Yesterday I performed a search for award space between Philadelphia and Chicago on usairways.com. The calendar that pops out on the date boxes allowed be to click through June 29, 2014, with June 30 and beyond crossed out.

But if I clicked Search Flights after selecting June 29, 2014, I got this error message.

Fair enough, but when I searched June 28, 2014, I got this calendar, showing that award space has only been released through June 25.

The plot thickened though when I went to united.com and searched the route and saw US Airways award space available through June 30 on the route!

That might be a lot of dates to wrap your head around, so I’ll present it another way:

  • Usairways.com calendar on the home page showed dates searchable 335 days out.
  • An error message was returned if the date 335 days out was selected saying searches were only allowed up to 334 days out.
  • Award space was only displayed on usairways.com for US Airways flights up to 331 days out.
  • United.com showed award space on US Airways flights up to 336 days out.

That means folks searching united.com see US Airways award space 5 days before people searching usairways.com.

I wanted to see if US Airways had access to the space that they were giving to United MileagePlus members if I called US Airways.

The good news is that the space from Philadelphia to Chicago on US Airways that is displayed 336 days in advance on united.com is bookable by phone with US Airways miles by calling 800-622-1015.

The US Airways agent saw the award space and priced it correctly.

I usually search for US Airways award space at united.com, but I occasionally do search for it at usairways.com if I know I want to fly a US Airways-operated flight, so this is something to keep in mind for your and my next award search.

Recap

United.com is showing US Airways award space five days farther out than usairways.com. Instead of keeping up with every little detail of award searching–like this one–on your own, hire the pros for your next award booking.

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