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In the past, I have shown you some of the free tools I use to help me find awards such as Award.Flights but sometimes, these tools just don’t cut it. Maybe you need to search for an award with an airline that isn’t part of the Award.Flight search criteria or maybe you would rather automate some of your searches. That’s where ExpertFlyer comes into play.
What is ExpertFlyer you might ask? We’ll first off, it’s a paid service but it allows you to search for awards, flight loads, which seats are taken on a flight, and a plethora of other things which we will cover in this post.
Paid Service? Really?
I know. I struggled with this at first as well but I personally could not live without the services of ExpertFlyer. It has saved me countless hours of searching and through its Flight Alerts, it has allowed me to free up much of my day. The time that this service saves me easily outweighs the cost.
What is the Cost?
There are two tiers of subscription for Expert Flyer, the Basic and the Premier. I personally use the Premier service because I need the ability to set Flight Alerts. The other major benefit for the Premier subscription is the ability to search for +/- 3 days on either side of your search, so you are able to search for the entire week.
The Basic subscription is $4.99 a month while the Premier comes in at $9.99 a month or you can purchase a year of the Premier subscription for $99. All prices are in USD.
ExpertFlyer allows you to try out the Premier Service for 5 days prior to deciding whether the service is right for you. All you have to do is sign up and choose “I just want to try the service”.
Now you could simply use a new email address every time you wanted to use the service and start a new trial, but you wouldn’t be able to effectively use the biggest feature of ExpertFlyer, which is setting and receiving Flight Alerts.
How To Use ExpertFlyer
ExpertFlyer is an incredibly powerful tool that you can use to delve into the weeds of all travel related items like Fare Rules, Minimum Connection Times, Interlining Agreements, TSA Historical Wait Times, and other nerdy things.
What we will focus on in this post are the main features that most of you will be interested in. Don’t get me wrong, I use all the tools I mentioned above but not on an everyday basis. What we are going to walk through today are the things that I use all the time.
When you first log into ExpertFlyer, you will be presented with a menu that looks like this:
Most of the important stuff we are interested in can be accessed through the Awards and Upgrades menu. As with many pieces of software, there are many ways you can do the same thing but I’ll try to keep it simple so that we don’t get lost in the minutia.
Awards and Upgrades
This is the primary menu item that you will use if you are looking to use ExpertFlyer for its main intended purpose, to find out whether or not an award is available to book.
Let’s take a look at how we might try to find a flight from Sydney (SYD) to Abu Dhabi (AUH) in Etihad’s First Class Apartment … this is actually the process I went through to book my own award.
After clicking on the Awards and Upgrades Menu item, you will be presented with a bunch of fields to fill out. They are pretty self-explanatory but I’ll highlight some fields that may not be that familiar to new users of ExpertFlyer.
For the Departure Date, I always choose Wednesday and then add the +/- 3 days to the search. This results in a Sunday to Saturday search.
For ExpertFlyer, you always have to choose the Airline you wish to search for. Depending on the airline chosen, you may or may not need to enter the number of seats you are looking for. For example, Air Canada requires it while Etihad does not.
If an airline requires you to enter the number of seats required, it will return a Yes or No for availability. Airlines that do not require the number of seats required will return how many seats are available.
You will be required to choose the class of service you are looking for. Be aware that some airlines have Classic award levels as well as Flex award levels. The terms Classic or Saver typically indicate that the award is available to the general public and partner airlines, where as terms like Flex Awards tend to refer to awards reserved for Elite Members of the airline’s Frequent Flyer Program. ExpertFlyer does a very good job at helping you understand which is which. Just be sure to read the description.
You can also choose your Connection Preference but I’ve always found that it doesn’t make much of a difference as all flights are listed.
Finally, I like to have my results displayed in Tabbed Results by Date. I find that it’s less confusing. For example, if you show all your results on one screen, the entire week is displayed in one screen. This allows you to potentially think that an award is available on a Tuesday when in actuality it’s a Monday or Wednesday flight. If you have good attention to detail, it’s not a big deal but I prefer to have my results displayed on a tab for each date.
After you click search, you will be presented with the Results page. From here you will be able to access additional functionality.
As you can see, there are 2 First Class seats available from SYD-AUH on the 3:20 PM flight. Unfortunately, it’s on the 777 which does NOT feature the Etihad Apartments, that’s only available on the A380. So, while we have availability, it’s not on the aircraft that we want to fly. That’s where Flight Alerts comes in handy.
See that column to the right of the flight information? That’s where we access the additional functions of ExpertFlyer.
The first thing we will explore is the Flight Alert functionality which can be accessed by clicking on the box with the exclamation mark. Notice we are clicking on the Flight Alert for the flight that is currently unavailable, the flight on the A380.
The interface is very simple. All you need to do is to set an Alert Name, decide which class of service you are searching for and how many seats you are after. Once you click on Verify and Create, your alert is set and ExpertFlyer will search for that award availability each day automatically. If a positive result comes back, you will immediately receive an email so you can jump on the booking.
For me, this is hands down, the biggest reason to have an ExpertFlyer subscription.
Another feature that is highlighted above is the Seat Map feature.
Here we select the cabin(s) we want to view and again we are able to view it as one screen or on tabs. I still prefer the tabs.
Why would you care about this? Well, it provides you with some insight as to how many seats are remaining for a flight and whether or not the airline may release additional award space. This is especially true in the First and Business Class cabins where customers typically choose their seats in advance of the flight.
Here we can see that this particular Etihad First Class cabin seems to be completely occupied. However, if we look closely, we can see that 1A, 1C, 2C, 5C and 5H are blocked off.
Why does this happen? It could be for a number of reasons. It could be that those are preferred seats that are held for their Frequent Fliers or it could be that they are held open in the event that someone in a wheelchair requires it. Regardless of the reason, a blocked seat does not necessarily indicate an occupied seat.
We know that 1A is the Residence so that leaves 4 potentially open seats. But how would we know if they are available for an award booking? Well, we don’t know for sure because different airlines open up award seats using different criteria, but we can see what the load factors are on this particular flight, EY455 on September 14. The theory goes, if we can see how many seats are for sale in the First Class cabin we can get a sense of whether or not those seats might become available for an award redemption. If for example, there are 5 First Class seats available, there’s a good chance that at least 1 gets opened up for award redemption.
Flight Availability is the second menu item in the ExpertFlyer menu and for me, the second most used feature.
If we continue on with our example from above, we want to see if there is any likelihood that award space opens up on EY455. One proxy for that is how many paid seats are available, which is where Flight Availability comes into play.
Here we plug in the information for the flight we are curious about and run the search.
Here we see the fares that are available. Don’t worry if you aren’t familiar with the codes because if you click on them, ExpertFlyer will tell you what class it refers to. For Etihad, P class refers to the Residence so it’s not relevant here. F, A and R class refer to First Class on Etihad and here we can see that there is 1 F fare available, meaning that even though the seat map from earlier shows a full First Class cabin, there is one First Class fare still available for purchase.
While I wouldn’t bank on an award becoming available with these sorts of numbers, it gives you the ability to have a good idea of which flights might have award availability open up closer to the date of travel.
ExpertFlyer is one of my primary tools when it comes to finding out about award availability and something you might want to consider using yourself. It has saved me countless hours by automating searches and is well worth the cost of admission.