Use ExpertFlyer Like a Pro: Part 1 – Introduction to ExpertFlyer
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The ExpertFlyer website has saved me countless hours of frustration when trying to find award seats.
Folks who do a fair amount of air travel (whether on paid or award flights) should consider using this powerful tool to save time and money.
You can be automatically alerted when the award seats you want become available, search for upgrades, find the best airfares, and access handy features like seat maps, flight timetables, and more.Note: You can get a free ExpertFlyer subscription, but its features are very limited.
I’ll show how ExpertFlyer can make your travel planning easier!
Try Before You Buy (or Fly)
But if you fly often on paid and award tickets, and you’re willing to pay for their service, ExpertFlyer is a much more powerful website.
You can join ExpertFlyer for free, but you’ll only be able to use Seat Alerts. This feature will notify you if a seat you want on a specific flight becomes available.
Their basic plan allows you to make 250 searches per month for paid and award seats. You’ll also get some alerts and reference information such as seat maps. It costs ~$5 per month.Premium memberships include all the features of their basic plan, but you can do unlimited searches (with more flexibility), and have access to more alerts and their mobile app. You can pay ~$10 per month or subscribe for a year for ~$100.
The free membership is pretty limited (you’ll just be notified if a better seat becomes available, for example if there were only middle seats left when you booked, but you really want an aisle or window).
The basic membership should suffice for most folks who want to be able to search for paid and award tickets, check airline schedules, and access reference information.
But if you are a very frequent flyer, or often find yourself frustrated when paid or award seats aren’t available right away (and don’t like having to check back over and over), the premium membership is your best bet.
That’s because you’ll get Flight Alerts, which notify you if a paid or award seat on a specific flight becomes available. That’s a huge time-saver!
You can always switch your membership when the end of your current billing period expires. I think it’s better to pay monthly (because you can cancel if you won’t be using the service for a while, then re-instate your membership if you want it).
If you sign-up for a whole year, you’re committed to that membership level for a full year!
What Tools Are Available?ExpertFlyer offers a ton of useful tools for folks traveling on both paid and award tickets.
My favorite is Awards & Upgrades, because it lets you search for award seats on many airlines in 1 place. And it shows available seats that airline websites don’t often show.
And if you can’t find what you’re looking for right away, you can set up alerts which will notify you if the flight, upgrade, or seat you want becomes available.
I’ll discuss some of these tools in detail in later posts, but for now here’s a summary of what ExpertFlyer can do!
1. Awards & Upgrades
If you’re looking for award seats, Awards & Upgrades is an amazing resource. By specifying your departure airport, arrival airport, date (or date range up to plus or minus 3 days with a premium plan only), and airline, you can see if award seats are available (and how many!).Note: ExpertFlyer is only able to search certain airlines for award seats. Some major airlines, like British Airways and Cathay Pacific, are missing. Another good reason to do a trial membership before you commit!
That said, this feature saves a lot of time! Instead of going to multiple websites to search individual airlines, you can do it all in 1 place. And I like that you can find seats in different classes and award levels in 1 search.
For example, I searched for available award seats on American Airlines from Chicago to Dublin departing May 4, 2015, and returning May 11, 2015 (plus or minus 3 days).
Here’s the partial list of my search results. You’ll see the number of seats available in each award class on the right side of the screen. In this case, there are plenty of standard level award seats available, but nothing at the saver level.Note: American Airlines will show a maximum of 7 available award seats. But there could be more available.
2. Flight Availability Search
If you want to find the flights that operate between 2 cities on a certain date (or date range) on specific airlines, use the Flight Availability Search.
You can specify departure and arrival cities, date(s), airlines (up to 3) or alliance, and connection preferences. Folks who only want to see certain fare classes (for mileage earning purpose, for example) can also specify those.
I searched for flights on American Airlines, Japan Airlines, and ANA between Los Angeles and Tokyo on May 18, 2015.Note: If you leave the Airline(s) fields blank, your search will return all flight options between the cities on that day.
From the results, you can see flight numbers, departure and arrival times, connections, frequency and on-time performance details, and the number of seats available in each fare class.Note: Click on the fare class to get more details. Each airline uses different letters for their fare classes. ExpertFlyer has a reference page listing all the fare class codes for each airline if you’re unsure.
3. Flight Timetables
Folks who want to see all the flights between 2 cities on a certain date (plus up to 7 days after) can use the Flight Timetables search.
You can also search all the flights departing from, or arriving into a specific airport on a specific date.
I searched for all the flights between Austin and San Diego on March 16, 2015. There are lots! Here’s a partial list:
To see all the flights departing from or arriving into an airport, use the “Search by Arrival / Departure City” tab.
In the interest of keeping the search results short, I picked somewhere small (and random!). Here’s a list of all the flights departing Paramaribo, Suriname, on February 9, 2015.Note: If you’re not up on your airline, airport, or aircraft codes, ExpertFlyer has reference pages for those, too.
4. Flight Status
Want to see if your flight is on time? Or are you curious about whether a specific flight is always delayed? Use the Flight Status tool to search by a specific flight or city pair.
You can search for information on flights up to 1 week ago, or up to 3 days ahead. I searched for United Airlines flight 3385 from Rochester to Washington, DC, to see if it’s operating on-time today (it is, so far!).
I like how you can get gate information, historical wait times at security (great for planning ahead!), and any delay notifications for the departure and arrival airport.
5. Flight Details
Just want the basic information about a specific flight? Enter a flight number and date on the Flight Details page.
I wondered, where does American Airlines flight 1 go? Now I know! (It’s New York to Los Angeles).
I can quickly see that this flight is being operated by an Airbus A321T, breakfast is served in First and Business Class (and there’s food for purchase in coach), the flight time is 6 hours and 30 minutes over a distance of 2,461 miles, and it’s been on time 92% of the time over the past 2 months (with a 14 minute average delay).
6. Seat Map
ExpertFlyer partners with SeatGuru to provide Seat Map information. I like that you can get the information all in 1 place without having to jump over to the SeatGuru website!
To see the seat map for a specific flight, enter the departure and arrival airport, flight number, date, and cabin(s).
You’ll see which seats are available, plus they’ll let you know if a seat is especially desirable (or not!).
This is a very handy tool! You can get some of this information for free from Seat Guru, but only ExpertFlyer will show you in real time if a seat is available.
6. Fare Information Search
The Fare Information Search helps you find all the paid fares available for a certain city pair on specific airlines and dates.
This can get rather complicated! I’ll have a post just about this feature in the coming weeks.
As an example, I checked for fares between Seattle and Cancun, departing April 13, 2015, and returning April 20, 2015.
If you don’t enter any airline information, you’ll get results for (almost) all airlines that fly the route. Or you can specify up to 3 airlines, so I chose Southwest, American Airlines, and United Airlines.
You’ll get a list of results that looks a little intimidating, with fare basis codes, booking classes, and the like. From this list, I can see the cheapest fare offered is $358 round-trip (this is the base fare, not including taxes and fuel surcharges).Note: I shouldn’t have chosen Southwest. ExpertFlyer won’t display their fares. (Southwest doesn’t like sharing their fare information with 3rd party sites – you won’t see them on sites like ITA Matrix or Orbitz, either!)
You can click through to get more information about a fare or “fare rules,” but we’ll cover that in another post!
Once you find a fare you like, you can return to the Flight Availability tool to see if there are still seats available at that price!Note: You can NOT book a ticket on ExpertFlyer. If you find a ticket you want, go to the airline website or an online travel agency to find the same fare.
7. Travel Information Search
There’s a LOT of great stuff in the Travel Information Search. It’s like having your own personal travel agent!
With this tool, you can:
- Search for historical on-time performance information for specific flights
- Check average TSA wait times for specific airports, dates, and times of day
- Find out the minimum connection time at certain airports with different airlines
- View the maximum permitted mileage (good for mileage runners) between cities
- See all the valid connection cities between 2 specific airports
- Check the interline agreements (which airlines have agreements to ticket and handle each others’ passengers) for a specified airline
- Find out if you need a passport, visa, or immunizations for your trip
Again, you can probably get much of this information for free by Googling around, but it saves time to have it all in 1 place!
If you couldn’t find the fare (paid or award) or seat you wanted, you can set up Flight Alerts or Seat Alerts. Then, ExpertFlyer will email you if the flight or seat you want becomes available.
You can also set up these alerts automatically from the Awards & Upgrades or Flight Availability search page.
And if you want to be notified of equipment changes on your flight (because that will impact the seat you want), you can set up an Aircraft Change Alert.
For example, suppose the flight you’re on gets downgraded to an Airbus A320 (narrow-body) from a Boeing 767 (wide-body). You’d want to know about it so that you could re-select a seat. I don’t always trust the airlines to come up with the best seat assignments in this case!
Again, ExpertFlyer isn’t useful for everyone. It doesn’t search for award seats on many popular airlines (like British Airways or Cathay Pacific), and you can’t see Southwest fares.
Bottom LineExpertFlyer is a very powerful website that allows you to search for paid and award seats, check flight timetables, view seat maps, and much, much more.
Paid subscriptions cost ~$5 to ~$10 per month, and could be well worth it for many folks. You can get a free 5-day trial to
see if it’s useful for you.
Stay tuned for more detailed posts on some of ExpertFlyer’s best features!
Do you subscribe to ExpertFlyer? What’s your favorite way to use it?
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Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)