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How To Use ExpertFlyer To Automatically Search for Award Space and Upgrades

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Stephen Au

Stephen Au

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Stephen is an established voice in the credit card space, with over 70 to his name. His work has been in publications like The Washington Post, and his Au Points and Awards Consulting Services is used...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury

Keri Stooksbury

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If you’re an award traveler, follow Upgraded Points closely, or are interested in aviation and credit card points, you’ve probably heard of ExpertFlyer.

Planning trips with points and miles can be overwhelming, complicated, time-consuming, or all of the above. All of this hinges on a single factor: award availability. ExpertFlyer is one of the best, most user-friendly ways to access this highly valuable information.

ExpertFlyer is incredibly useful in many ways, but its best use is searching for award availability. Though the tool does much more than that, we’ll focus on availability, which can also be known as “award space” or “award seats.”

This comprehensive guide will provide a thorough walk-through of ExpertFlyer. We’ll start with an introduction and dive into the tool’s features, benefits, and costs. And finally, we’ll look at how to search for award availability, upgrades, flight details, and more.

Introduction

ExpertFlyer is an incredibly useful tool, as we’ve already stated. However, most of the key features are only available with a fee membership.

Benefits of the free version. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

With a free membership, you can see seat maps (with real-time availability) and set 1 seat alert at a time to find out if the seat you want becomes available. You also can find seat reviews from users on SeatGuru.

For anything else, you’ll need a paid version. A free 5-day trial for new members and 2 paid membership options exist.

A membership to ExpertFlyer can help you with award and upgrade searches, fare searches, flight timetables, flight status, seat maps, and much more. Let’s quickly touch on the membership tiers and why you may want to opt for the top one.

ExpertFlyer Membership Tiers

There are 2 tiers of membership: Basic and Premium.

Comparison of features included in the Basic and Premium memberships. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

With Basic, you’ll pay $4.99 monthly for up to 250 queries. You can check data from over 400 airlines, search for direct-only flights, search for awards and upgrades, access detailed seat maps, create seat alerts, and more.

The main thing missing from Basic membership is flight availability alerts. With a Premium membership, you’ll have unlimited queries per month, access to flight availability alerts, flight schedule alerts, aircraft change alerts, all published fare pricing, flexible searches of up to 3 days plus or minus your search date, saved queries, and even the mobile edition of ExpertFlyer. Note that paying $99.99 annually saves money over paying $9.99 per month (an annual cost of $119.88).

We’ll look in-depth at each of these features below, but the most important benefit of Premium membership is that you get to set flight alerts. Say you are looking for 2 ANA first class tickets from New York to Tokyo, but there are no flights currently available with any first class space.

With Flight Availability Alerts, you can receive email notifications if/when 2 first class seats open up for an award redemption based on the dates you’ve specified. This eliminates much of the stress associated with award bookings, automating much of the award availability search. Getting an alert when the seats become available means you don’t need to check again, day after day.

This perk alone may be worth the upgrade to Premium membership over Basic, but that’s up to you to decide. Let’s dig into the bread and butter of ExpertFlyer: award and upgrade availability search.

Awards & Upgrades

Flight awards and upgrades are at the heart of points and miles travel, so it makes sense that we spend a significant chunk of time on this.

Generally speaking, the process of securing an award flight consists of 2 parts:

  1. Award search (most difficult part)
  2. Award booking (least difficult part)

Award searches often cause headaches and consume the most time. But ExpertFlyer’s flight award and upgrade availability search removes much of the hassle in this sense.

In addition to availability searches, ExpertFlyer offers flight alerts, seat alerts, and aircraft change alerts; we’ll touch on these in the coming sections.

The ExpertFlyer Awards & Upgrades Availability Search receives input information from the user (you) and performs the award search. You can only search 1 airline at a time, and not all airlines are searchable with ExpertFlyer.

Here’s the list of searchable airlines:

  • Aegean Airlines
  • Aer Lingus
  • Aeroflot
  • Aeromexico
  • Air Europa Lineas Aereas
  • Air France
  • Air Malta
  • Air Mauritius
  • Air Serbia
  • Air Seychelles
  • Air Tahiti Nui
  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • Azul
  • British Airways
  • Canadian North
  • China Airlines
  • China Southern Airlines
  • CSA Czech Airlines
  • El Al
  • Emirates
  • Finnair
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Gol Transportes Aereos
  • Gulf Air
  • Hainan Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • JetBlue Airways
  • Kenya Airways
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • Kuwait Airways
  • Martinair
  • Philippine Airlines
  • Qantas Airways
  • Saudia
  • Shanghai Airlines
  • Turkish Airlines
  • Xiamen Airlines

And here are some airlines you cannot search for using ExpertFlyer:

  • Adria Airways
  • Air Canada
  • Air China International
  • Air India
  • Air New Zealand
  • All Nippon Airways (ANA)
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Austrian Airlines
  • Avianca
  • Avianca Costa Rica
  • Bangkok Airways
  • Brussels Airlines
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Condor
  • Copa
  • Croatia Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Egyptair
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • EVA Air
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines
  • LATAM
  • LOT Polish Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • Qatar Airways
  • SAS
  • Shenzhen Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • SWISS
  • TACA
  • TAP Air Portugal
  • Thai Airways International 
  • United Airlines
  • Virgin Australia
  • Vistara

You’ll notice that the list of unsupported airlines is much longer after recent changes, where ExpertFlyer lost access to nearly all Star Alliance carriers in early October 2023. While this diminishes the breadth and utility of the tool overall, it remains useful in some aspects.

Once logged into your ExpertFlyer account, you’ll arrive at the following landing page:

ExpertFlyer home screen. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

You’ll want to click the button that says Awards & Upgrades in either menu:

Where to find Awards & Upgrades in the menu. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

After you click either of the awards and upgrades buttons, you’ll arrive at a search page with several fields you’ll use to conduct your search:

The award and upgrade search page. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

Let’s look at an example query:

Available search options. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

In theory, all you need to perform an award search is your airport pairs, number of passengers, travel dates, and airlines. However, repeating these searches is extremely tedious, and ExpertFlyer does a great job of reducing your burden.

Here are some of the displayed options:

  1. You can search using flexible dates (up to 3 days plus or minus)
  2. You can search for multiple booking classes (first and business class, upgrade fares)
  3. You can restrict your award search to nonstop flights only

After initializing a query, let’s see what the search results would look like:

Results of a query for American Airlines business class. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

I did an award search according to the filled query above, looking for 2 business class seats on American Airlines between New York and London. These are the results. There are 4 nonstop flights, plus numerous connecting options. Of the nonstop flights, 2 have available seats.

In this case, AA 104 and AA 106 have business class award space. Additionally, the on-time departure percentage is displayed in the Frequency Reliability column. In our case, neither is very good — both below 80% on-time performance.

Note that the flight availability may be displayed in a different format. Other airlines may show Yes or No in the results, indicating whether there are sufficient seats for your inquiry. American Airlines, though, shows the number of available seats.

The query search form may look slightly different depending on the airline you’re searching on. For example, if you choose American Airlines or British Airways as your carrier, you can select connecting airports. This option isn’t available with all carriers.

In our case, we’ve chosen to connect in New York (JFK) between Los Angeles (LAX) and Paris (CDG). American Airlines has countless flights on both legs of this route, and saver space (bookable by partners) can be rare.

Search options for connecting flights with AA. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

The result? ExpertFlyer works its magic and up comes the unicorn that is American Airlines’ first and business class availability:

Search results from our query. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

There are 2 seats available aboard the Flagship First class from Los Angeles to New York. Business class availability (3 seats then 2 seats) is featured on both legs. If you ever see 7 seats, more award seats may be available, but the maximum displayed is 7.

Can you see the power of ExpertFlyer’s award and upgrade search? Simply put, if you take the time to learn the system and how to query results and searches properly, you’ll have much to gain out of this.

Hot Tip:

One thing you’ll want to do is learn about fare classes. Some airlines, such as American Airlines, have different tiers of award tickets. Saver and everyday awards can have a drastic price difference. You’ll want to check off the correct boxes when choosing your fare classes to search. And if you are eligible for elite upgrades, those can add additional fare class options. Click here to learn about the different airline fare classes searchable with ExpertFlyer.

Let’s talk about some of the other core functions of ExpertFlyer.

Flight Alerts

Let’s go back to those American Airlines flights between New York and London with no business class seats available:

Options to view flight details or create alerts. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

There are 3 buttons on the right side of the flight results page:

  1. The top button looks like a square with an exclamation point in the center and is used to create an alert for availability on the flight. This is known as Flight Alerts.
  2. The middle button gives flight information.
  3. The bottom icon looks like a chair and lets you view the seat map with real-time availability.

Flight Alerts allow you to automatically receive email alerts for either of the following scenarios:

  1. You see a flight you want, but it doesn’t have award seats at this moment. You want to receive notifications when there are award seats on the exact flight and for the exact number of people in the exact booking class you want.
  2. You see a flight with more award seats than you need, but you might be waiting on a better flight or more definitive travel plans. You want to be notified when there are fewer than a set number of award seats available so you can decide to book (or not).

Here’s what the dialog box looks like to create an ExpertFlyer flight alert:

Flight Alert box. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

You’ll want to name your flight alert, select your cabin class code, select At least or Less than, choose the number of seats, and click Verify and Create.

Let’s talk through a couple of examples.

  • If you haven’t found enough seats for what you need, create an alert with At least and choose 2 (or the number of people you’re traveling with) for your availability quantity. This will notify you via email when there are 2 seats available on your flight.
  • If you’ve found more seats than you need, this means you don’t have to book today for fear of the last seat disappearing. But you can choose Less than for an alert, choosing 3. That way, when just 3 business class seats are available (or less), you’ll know it’s time to make up your mind before the last seats are gone.

Double-check that your flight alert is operational and active by checking the box that says, “Have a test email of this alert sent.”

If you want to set a generic flight alert without performing an award or upgrade search, we’ll show you how here.

How to create a flight alert from the main menu. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

From the home screen, click on “Create Flight Alert.” This will take you to the following page:

Page for creating a flight alert. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

Follow the instructions and fill in the necessary information to create your flight alert.

Bottom Line:

Award and upgrade flight alerts can help put an award traveler’s fears to rest. If you’re planning a trip and would love to travel on a specific route and aircraft, you can set up flight alerts with ExpertFlyer to automatically notify you when award space opens up. This is the single most useful perk of the Premium membership tier. 

Seat Maps

If you’ve searched for award availability already and want to see the available seat map, ExpertFlyer makes that easy, too. Click on the chair icon to the right side of the search results. You can view the seat map of flights with and without available seats:

Location of button to view the seat map. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

After clicking the chair button, a dialog box will pop up, asking you to select the cabin(s) you want to see the seat maps for:

AA seat map pop-up window. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

After clicking Search Seat Map, a display page similar to the following will show:

The legend is located at the top, and you can use this to determine if your “favorite” seat is already reserved. Furthermore, you can view the aircraft type for this flight.

The aircraft type is not as specific as it could be, however. For example, the seat map shown above is for a 777-300ER, though the seat map itself is only labeled “777.” Sometimes, it displays the exact variant, and other times, it doesn’t.

And remember what we said above about “7” as the maximum number of seats available? The search results said this plane had 7 business class seats available, but look at the map. The cabin is nearly empty.

If you want to perform a seat map search without first searching for award and upgrade availability, you can do so from the home screen:

Seat Map menu options on the home page. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

After clicking the seat map button, you’ll arrive at a query page, which you can fill out to view your desired seat map:

The search form for seat maps. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer
Bottom Line:

The seat map search can help you determine if your favorite seats on your desired flight are available. Some examples include bulkhead business class seats, which can provide more legroom. The process is pretty simple, and the results are easy to interpret.

Seat Alerts

Another benefit of ExpertFlyer is seat alerts, which you can use similarly to flight availability alerts. These seat alerts will instantly notify you via email when your desired seat is available. There are many cases when this would be useful.

Let’s say you’ve found 2 seats available in Qatar Airways Qsuite business class; then the seat map shows you the only 2 seats left aren’t together:

Yikes, the seat map says the only 2 seats available aren’t together. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

You can use seat alerts to be the first to know when 2 seats together become available, and then you can call to request them or select them through “manage my booking” on the airline’s website.

Create a seat alert directly from a seat map search by clicking the “Create Seat Alert” button. Next, you’ll see an area to create your seat alert:

Options for creating a seat alert. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

If you’re looking for specific seats, you’ll want to check the box that says Select Specific Seats. In our example, you would choose Any 2 Seats Together.

Hot Tip:

Not all Qsuite seats are the same. Did you know some are closer together and some are further apart? Or what about the seats that face backward during the trip? Learn about these intricacies in our guide to Qatar Airways’ routes, plane types, and seat options on flights to and from the U.S.

Aircraft Change Alerts

The last main service we’ll cover from ExpertFlyer is the aircraft change alert. This is self-explanatory and much more straightforward.

Your flying experience can be adversely affected depending on the aircraft you’re flying in. An excellent example is Air France: You want to fly in Air France business class on the 777-300ER instead of the A380-800. If you originally booked a flight on the 777-300ER and it was suddenly changed to the A380-800, you’ll want to know so you’re not in for any surprises on the day of your flight.

This is just one example. If you’re flying with an airline that performs aircraft swaps frequently (such as British Airways or Lufthansa), it’s in your best interest to leverage this feature from ExpertFlyer.

You’ll access the Create Aircraft Change Alert from the main menu:

Location of this alert on the menu. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

Fill out the flight information, name your alert, and click Verify and Create:

Fields for creating your alert. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

Other Services

Now that we’ve talked about the main benefits of ExpertFlyer, we’ll cover some of the lesser-known parts. These advanced tools might be out-of-scope for some travelers, but we did promise the ultimate guide to ExpertFlyer!

The fare information search is primarily for paid tickets rather than award tickets. Specifically, if you want to learn about the most current fare information for travel between 2 cities, this is one of the best ways to do it.

Some of the best applications of fare information searches are:

  1. Looking for Y-Up fares — more or less, these are instantly upgraded economy tickets into business class.
  2. Looking for RTW (around the world) cash tickets given a city and up to 3 airlines of choice.
  3. Checking how a different ticketing city can make your airfare cheaper.
  4. Checking how different negotiated corporate and government fares compare.

If this appeals to you, play around in this area to get a feel for it. Let’s take a look at how to get to the screen. From the homepage, click the button that says Fare Information:

Location of the menu option for fare information. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

You’ll arrive at a fare information search page that looks like this:

Fare information search page. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

Enter your departure and arrival airports, travel dates, any airlines you’re interested in, your cabin, and your currency.

What is Purchasing City? This is the city from which the ticket will be purchased. You can select any city you’d like — and there’s a possibility that you’ll be able to save a lot of money on airfare by playing around with the purchasing city. Remember that just because you enter a city does not mean you can buy the ticket at a lower price.

A completed search form for travel between Los Angeles (LAX) and London-Heathrow (LHR) purchased in Bogota for travel on April 10 to 17, 2024, on 3 possible airlines (United, Virgin Atlantic, and British Airways) in business class paid with U.S. dollars will look like this:

An example of using this search. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

When you click Advanced Options, your search criteria will be expanded, looking like this:

Additional advanced options for the search. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

Here’s what the results will look like. There are a lot of letters and numbers that look like gibberish, but the important thing to observe is the table’s header, which describes each column. Another thing to check is the Legend for the icons on the right:

Search results for fare information. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

We won’t go in-depth, but this tool is for conglomerating all your cash ticket prices with specific booking and fare classes. It’s a super technical functionality and extremely useful for those who play around and learn it.

The flight status search receives inputs in 2 ways:

  1. By flight number, airline, and date
  2. By departure date, departing and arriving airports, and airline

This screen allows you to find out the status of any given flight. It’s especially useful for people who need real-time data like departure time, estimated arrival time, and even airline notes/comments from the flight.

Additionally, you’ll also see the historical TSA security wait times for the departing U.S. airport and any applicable delay information.

To check out this section, click the buttons as shown below:

Finding Flight Status on the menu. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

After clicking the Flight Status button, you’ll arrive at the following screen. You can fill out the search fields by flight number and airline or click the other tab to use a city pair:

Flight status search page. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

Click Search; a returned search will look like this:

Search results for a delayed flight. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

There’s quite a bit of information here, including the reliability of your flight, the gate and terminal numbers, and even average delays. This is hugely useful for those who like to know what’s going on or are obsessive about logistics and planning.

In addition, you’ll get the terminal-wise TSA security historical wait times for your departing airport, which are super-detailed and broken down by the hour. Lastly, you’ll see any airport delays for either airport due to circumstances like weather, closed runways, etc.

This flight departed late. You can click the View Additional Comments button to see some of the notes that the airline jotted down for this exact flight:

Additional comments on a delayed flight. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

 Flight Details

If you want to know more about the details of a given flight, ranging from the plane to the meals provided, you can do so using the Flight Details button:

Flight Details menu option. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

Simply fill in your departure date, airline code, and flight number. Click Search:

Fields on the flight details search page. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

Then, ExpertFlyer will perform the search and return the results to you:

Search results to view flight details. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

Overall, this search is pretty simple, but it can be helpful for some of us. Clicking the button on the right that looks like an exclamation point lets you create a flight schedule alert, which we’ll discuss in the next section.

Flight Schedule Alerts

If you have an upcoming flight and need to be alerted whenever the flight schedule changes, you can’t always count on the airline to send you information in a timely manner.

This is what Flight Schedule Alerts are for. Specifically, you can receive email notifications from ExpertFlyer whenever the schedule is changed for any flight in question.

If you’re on the Flight Details page like the image above, click the icon that looks like an exclamation point in a square. A box will pop up, prompting you to name your alert, select a schedule change tolerance, and send a test email:

Flight schedule change alert options. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

The schedule change tolerance can range from Any Time Change to At least 2 hours.

Travel Information and Reference Data

This last section is a fusion of all the above travel-related functions.

Here are the key pieces of information this area provides:

  1. Ratings & Delays
  2. Minimum Connection Times
  3. Maximum Permitted Mileage
  4. Connecting Cities
  5. Interline Agreements
  6. Visa, Health & Passport

We won’t go in-depth on these since they are either very advanced, previously discussed, or of limited use for most travelers. To get to the page, click the button that says Travel Information:

Location of this menu option. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

Select the function you want to use by clicking the appropriate tab, then perform your searches:

Travel information search options. Image Credit: ExpertFlyer

We’ll touch on the utility of each button:

  • Ratings & Delays: Searches for historical information about a flight, route, or airport.
  • Minimum Connection Time: Tells you the time needed for a connection to be valid. It will vary depending on the airport, route, cities, and more.
  • Maximum Permitted Mileage: Provides the maximum allowed mileage between 2 cities (limits backtracking). Useful for round-the-world or advanced award bookings.
  • Connecting Cities: Shows all single and double connection points between 2 cities. You’ll still need to check the routing rules to determine whether your route is allowed for your specific ticket.
  • Interline Agreements: Shows airlines with an Interline Agreement with the queried airline.
  • Visa, Health & Passport: Will show airport taxes, health warnings/information, currency restrictions, customs rules and regulations, passport requirements and exemptions, visa requirements and exemptions, and visa/entry requirements based on your citizenship country and your destination countries.

Additional Resources

On top of the standard ExpertFlyer services, you can also utilize tools like Airport Parking, Flight Explorer, FlyerTalk, Great Circle Mapper, Seat Expert, and SeatGuru. They aren’t owned wholly by ExpertFlyer, but they’re located all together in 1 convenient place.

Final Thoughts

Overall, ExpertFlyer is a tremendously helpful tool that should be in every frequent flyer’s arsenal. With the reasonable monthly subscription price of $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year for the Premium tier, it’s a no-brainer and is very affordable if you find the features useful.

There are countless benefits that have proven helpful in my travels, from the flight award and upgrade search to the seat alerts and the invaluable flight availability alerts.

Additionally, there’s quite a bit of non-award flight information that’s still an added benefit, though it may be more technical than everyday travelers want to worry about.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is ExpertFlyer?

ExpertFlyer is an airline travel information website capable of finding award seats, flight upgrade space, seat maps, cheap tickets, and other travel-related information.

How much does ExpertFlyer cost?

ExpertFlyer has limited free functions and also offers a free trial period. The basic membership costs $4.99 per month. For the premium membership, you can pay as little as $99.99 per year or $9.99 monthly when paid monthly.

The functionality differences between basic and premium membership make premium the more beneficial tier.

What can you do with ExpertFlyer?

There are tons of applications for ExpertFlyer. You can:

  1. Search for airline award space
  2. Set up automated alerts to notify you when award space becomes available
  3. View seat maps to optimize seating (bulkhead, window, seats together, etc.)
  4. Look up travel and visa information
  5. Create automated alerts to notify you when a specific seat is unblocked
  6. Perform advanced fare and ticket searches

And much more!

Is Qatar Airways on ExpertFlyer?

No, Qatar Airways is one of 30+ airlines that are unavailable for searches on ExpertFlyer.

About Stephen Au

Stephen is an established voice in the credit card space, with over 70 to his name. His work has been in publications like The Washington Post, and his Au Points and Awards Consulting Services is used by hundreds of clients.

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