Is ExpertFlyer.com the Right Tool for You?

Expertflyer review: Expert Flyer is a collection of tools for the frequent flyer, some of which duplicate offerings found elsewhere and some of which are really unique and that I find absolutely worth paying for.

They offer a 5-day free trial, otherwise it’s $5 (for limited access) or $10 (for unlimited access) a month, the $10 a month plan can be purchased for $100 a year. There’s also a free account that allows you to access only “seat alerts,” which I’ll describe below.

The site offers the ability to search for award and upgrade seats on some airlines, plus flight availability similar to FlightStats.com but that doesn’t exclude American Airlines, flight status, seat maps, fare rules (including “maximum permitted mileage” for a route), and the ability to set up e-mail alerts for seats to open up or for space to open in particular booking classes.

What’s unique and valuable about Expertflyer, in my opinion:

  • Award and upgrade availability you can’t find elsewhere. – They cover some ‘special classes’ for about 50 airlines, but the ones that are unique to Expertflyer that I find valuable are:
    • Aeroflot awards
    • American confirmable business class (C) and first class (A) upgrade space, as well as “E” inventory for same-day confirmed changes
    • Delta business and first class upgrade space
    • Emirates awards
    • Malaysia Airlines coach awards
    • OpenSkies awards

  • Availability alerts – You can tell Expertflyer you email you when a specific fare class, including the ‘special classes’ for awards and upgrades that they have access to, opens up. If you’re searching for an award or trying to improve an award, that’s invaluable. Award Nexus offers something similar for the airlines they cover, it will search every day for your awards and email you full search results, but each result costs more money and can be impractical.

  • Seat alerts – Say you are a united elite and there’s no economy plus seating available when you book. Or you want an exit row on American or Delta. Seats open up when someone cancels, or most likely close to departure when upgrades clear. Expertflyer lets you know when the seats you tell it to check for become available, and you can then go online or call and change your seats. When I booked tickets to Dallas one day out last month, there were nothing but middle seats available. I wound up with exit rows both ways.

  • Maximum Permitted Mileage for a route – This is of some occasional use on paid tickets, it’s really useful on award tickets. United used to enforce a rule where you couldn’t fly more than the published maximum permitted miles between two cities on an award ticket. After the merger with Continental was announced they increased it to Maximum Permitted Miles + 15%. The post-March 3 rules are a bit more opaque. Aeroplan says Maximum Permitted Miles + 5%. American allows you to go 25% over (provided there’s a published fare on the overwater carrier between origin and destination cities). So knowing the published “MPM” is helpful in figuring out allowable routes for award tickets. (You get this from the KVS Tool as well, which I’ll review in a later post.)

    For New York – Bangkok, if you are crossing the Atlantic then Maximum Permitted Mileage is 11,734. So 5% over (which is what Aeroplan permits) is 12,320. Crossing the Pacific implies a lower permitted mileage.

  • Minimum Connection Times – When putting together flight segments, you need to know if the connection time is long enough to be ‘legal’ and thus whether the airline will ticket it for you (you can often force illegal connections on paid tickets, the airlines usually won’t be responsible if you misconnect, but doing so on award travel is much harder). Every airport has a published minimum allowable time for connections, it varies whether you’re connecting from domestic to domestic, domestic to international, international to international, or international to domestic. It’s based on how long it should take to walk from gate to immigration if necessary, through security if necessary, etc. And there are some connections between specific flights that have shorter or longer connection times than the general published rule. Expertflyer lets you look this up. (You get this from the KVS Tool as well, which I’ll review in a later post.)

    All you need to do is pick the airport, but you can specify further whether it’s connecting to and from specific airlines, and whether the travel is international/domestic.

    And here are the general results for Washington Dulles:

    If you’re coming off a domestic flight, the minimum connection time at Dulles is 45 minutes. If you’re coming off an international flight, it’s one hour thirty minutes.

The site is a collection of useful tools. It’s indispensable for an American or Delta elite flyer. For everyone else, it depends on whether the specific airlines covered for award tickets are useful to you, or especially whether the specific inventory is something you’ll want regularly checked and emailed to you. The ability to set up email alerts when first class awards on United to Sydney open up can easily be worth the subscription price, since it’s a tough award to get otherwise, if that’s your cup of tea.

Key to determining Expertflyer’s usefulness to your specific situation is poking around the site (use the 5 day free trial) to see whether their anachronistic coverage of particular airlines matches your flying patters. If it does, it’s indispensable. If not, not so much.

Update: as pointed out to me, Aeroflot award availability is searchable via the KVS Tool as well, and OpenSkies is of course searchable via the British Airways website (for free) and thus also via the KVS Tool.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. […] The subscription-based ExpertFlyer.com website now lets you search award availability across the full Star Alliance. There’s not really information here that isn’t available for free on websites like United.com and Aeroplan. But ExpertFlyer lets you set up email alerts so that you are notified when the award space you want opens up, which is huge. (I outlined Expertflyer and its benefits back in June.) […]

Comments

  1. Gary, I’d argue it’s also indispensable for United flyers as well, since the airline no longer has a dynamic waitlist (allowing opportunists to “jump the queue”), and continually fails to clear upgrades at T-24 even when upgrade space opens.

    If the PMUA system was still in place, I would not be a subscriber to EF. The new lack of a reliable, trustworthy upgrade scheme makes it essential however now.

  2. Wow another great post with a lot of useful information
    Thank you so much Gary. I learn a lot more by reading your blog everyday

  3. Gary, how does Exper Flyer compare to the KVS tool? Does it have as good an ability for the fare class listings? And how is the interface and user friendliness of the site?

  4. I swear by ExpertFlyer mainly thanks to its mobile version. On multiple occasions, I’ve been able to find multi-carrier connection reroutes via ExpertFlyer when the airline agents have not seen the availability in their systems. When you’re stuck in Lilongwe or Addis Ababa or Cairo or Windhoek (all actual examples for me!), this access is more than invaluable – its a lifesaver.

  5. @chitownflyer That question was actually just asked and answered on our FT thread: take a look at this post and the one after: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/travel-tools/963178-expertflyer-com-master-information-updates-thread-46.html#post18728514 The bottom line is that as Gary noted, EF has unique features because we directly access the GDS systems. There are a couple draw backs, however any gaps can be filled in by using several free websites that screen scrape the airline website award searches, no need to pay for that free data.

  6. Is there a tool that will let me search for a multiple city to city search?
    For example, I currently would like to search for flights leaving from SFO,SJC,OAK to CHI,DTT,JAX leaving in the next 2-5 days.

  7. Hey, all,

    Brand new to expertflyer. Loving it so far, but where did those screenshots for MPM come from? I can’t seem to find MPM anywhere near that easily. THanks.

  8. Gary – Is this (or Award Nexus) the only way I can set e-mail alerts for award seats on United? I would like a free option but it doesn’t appear that one exists.

  9. Gary, does EF offer access to award inventory on BA and AA? If there is any advantage using EF over KVS other than availability alerts? TIA!

  10. Fan,
    EF offers AA award inventory but not BA. Other differences include:
    – Full AA upgrade inventory (C as well as A class)
    – Seat Alerts and Award Alerts
    – Full mobile version for all functions
    – Web based, no app to download
    Any other questions please email us.

  11. @ExpertFlyer Voice – to be clear C and A are the confirmed upgrade inventory, domestic complimentary X is not supported any longer. Your site is the only place I have access to the C bucket, so appreciate it on that basis alone!

  12. Can you see the actual amount of miles needed for the award?
    I am trying to book LAX, SFO or HNL to PPT for the last week of june coming back after july 8th and it seems that it shows availability but it doesn’t show the miles.
    Sorry for the dumb question… Newbie here

  13. It may be a good service but whoever is running their email account is a bit of a jerk. Ask a simple question, get a snarky answer. Is there any other site that gives the same service but without the snarkiness? I’d rather not give my money to jerks.

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