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ExpertFlyer is one of the most powerful tools available to frequent flyers. Taking information from two global distribution systems (GDS), ExpertFlyer hosts a wealth of information from flight timetables to upgrade and award availability.
With so many features and functions available on one platform, getting started with ExpertFlyer can be a somewhat daunting task. However, we’ve simplified each feature and function in this guide.
Here’s how to get the most out of the tools and resources found on ExpertFlyer.
- What Is ExpertFlyer and How Does It Work?
- What Tools and Features Are Available on ExpertFlyer, and How Do You Use Them?
- View Award & Upgrade Availability
- Major airlines with upgrade and award availability available through ExpertFlyer
- Noteworthy airlines missing from ExpertFlyer upgrade and award availability
- What information is needed to search for upgrade and award availability on ExpertFlyer?
- How to search for upgrade and award availability on ExpertFlyer
- View and Sort Through Flight Availability Using ExpertFlyer
- Explore Flight Timetables
- Track Flight Status
- View Flight Details
- Access Real-Time Seat Maps
- View Fare Information
- Access Other Travel Information
- Should I Pay for an ExpertFlyer Membership?
- The Bottom Line
What Is ExpertFlyer and How Does It Work?
ExpertFlyer may seem like a rather complex tool — to some extent, it is. When you peel back the layers of the platform, it’s actually a very simple concept. In short, ExpertFlyer gives travelers a way to access information from global distribution systems (GDS).
So, what is a global distribution system — or GDS, as it’s better known? A GDS is the most complex aspect of ExpertFlyer, and it’s also what makes the platform work. A global distribution system is a digital network that allows other groups — like airlines, hotels, and travel agents — to access relevant information.
ExpertFlyer is connected to two major global distribution systems. Through these GDS networks, travelers can access information once limited to the most tech-savvy travelers and travel agents.
GDS information powers flight booking sites like Google Flights and Kayak. What makes ExpertFlyer different is the amount of information about a flight the platform is able to provide. And the fact it deals with award travel using points and miles sets it apart from these sites where you can only buy flights with cash.
What Tools and Features Are Available on ExpertFlyer, and How Do You Use Them?
The following section provides a deep dive into what’s available on the ExpertFlyer platform. As a result, there’s a lot of information in this section. If you’re only interested in one or a few of the features available on ExpertFlyer, you can use the table of contents to jump from section to section. The main features we'll cover include:
- View award & upgrade availability
- View and sort through flight availability
- Explore flight timetables
- Track flight statuses
- View flight details
- Access real-time seat maps
- View fare information
- Access other travel information
Travelers have a number of ways to check for upgrade and award availability. One of the most common methods is using an airline’s website or mobile app. As many travelers know, these rarely show the full picture.
Airlines utilize a letter-based system to designate fare classes and available inventory. Upgrade and award tickets are included in this letter-based system.
For example, if you’re flying with American Airlines and are hoping to upgrade to business class using a systemwide upgrade (SWU), you’ll want to know if it’s possible on your desired flight. ExpertFlyer allows you to view upgrade availability like this on a number of airlines — including American Airlines.
Similarly, if you’re looking to redeem points or miles, it's good to know if award space is available for a given flight or itinerary. Sure, you could search for award tickets using an airline’s website. However, some awards may be missing from an airline’s award search results — especially if you're trying to book with a partner airline.
Having the ability to see all available fare classes, including upgrades and award availability, allows you to book hidden awards and know for sure if an upgrade will clear.
Unfortunately, not every airline shares the information needed for ExpertFlyer to display upgrade or award space. Below you’ll find a list of major airlines that do and do not allow users to view upgrade and award availability:
Major airlines with upgrade and award availability available through ExpertFlyer
- Aer Lingus
- Air Canada
- Air France
- Alaska Airlines
- All Nippon Airlines (ANA)
- American Airlines
- Ethiopian Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- Turkish Airlines
- United Airlines
Noteworthy airlines missing from ExpertFlyer upgrade and award availability
- British Airways
- Delta Air Lines
- Emirates (only “Flex” awards available)
- Qatar Airways
- Virgin Atlantic
What information is needed to search for upgrade and award availability on ExpertFlyer?
Each airline has a unique way of handling both upgrades and award travel. For example, if you’re hoping to snag a confirmed systemwide upgrade (SWU) from economy to domestic first class on American Airlines, you’d be looking for availability under the fare code “C.”
But, if you’re looking for upgrade availability on United Airlines, you’d most likely be looking for availability under the fare codes “PZ” or “PN.”
The same differences exist when searching for award space. American Airlines uses the fare code “Z” to designate domestic first-class awards. United, on the other hand, uses the fare codes “I” or “JN.”
ExpertFlyer breaks down the various types of awards and upgrades for each airline, so you won't need to become an expert on what each fare code means. However, knowing these fare codes can make using ExpertFlyer much easier.
Travelers have a number of sources you can use to determine what fare codes mean on each airline. CWSI.net is a great tool for viewing fare codes for major US carriers. You can click this link to view CWSI's fare code information for Alaska Airlines as an example.
While ExpertFlyer's search tool eliminates the need to memorize fare codes for each airline, you still need to have some basic information in order to complete your search. Here is the typical information you'll need before searching for award or upgrade space:
- Desired route: The departure and arrival cities for your desired itinerary.
- Route type: How does the airline classify your route? For example, does the airline consider it part of its domestic network, or is it categorized as international?
- The upgrades or awards available to you: Some airlines (like United) allow certain customers, like MileagePlus members with elite status and select credit card holders, additional access to award and upgrade space. While there may be space for a certain award, you'll want to confirm that you'll have access to this specific award type.
- Aircraft type: The type of aircraft combined with the route will determine which fare codes are utilized by an airline. For example, American Airlines will operate its Boeing 777-300s on domestic flights but will only see domestic first class (F) and economy (Y). This is despite the aircraft having four cabins of service on international flights.
How to search for upgrade and award availability on ExpertFlyer
To get started, log in to your ExpertFlyer account here and select “Awards & Upgrades” from the ExpertFlyer menu.
On the following screen, input all required details, including departure and arrival city, dates, and desired airline. Once you have selected your desired airline, you’ll be presented with a list of possible upgrades and awards.
You cannot select every single option, which means you should have an idea of what fare types will be available on your desired flight or flights. In this example, I am checking for systemwide upgrade (SWU) availability on a flight from St. Louis (STL) to Los Angeles (LAX) with American Airlines. This is a domestic route operated by an Airbus A319, a two-class aircraft with a domestic first and main cabin.
With that information, I am able to select my search parameters from the list. In this example, I need to select “Business – Upgrade (Including 2-Cabin Domestic First) (C)” to view SWU availability for my desired route.
On the following screen, you will see flights that fit your search parameters. In this example, flights with fare class “C” availability have SWU space.
Again, it's important to stress that the information you’re searching for will vary by airline and route. You will need some basic flight information before completing your search. Once you begin to familiarize yourself with the various fare codes, searching for award space and upgrade availability becomes a much simpler and far easier process.
Applications like Google Flights and other flight search tools can be helpful in understanding flight availability. However, as is the case with award and upgrade availability, these tools do not show you the full picture. ExpertFlyer allows you to access a very detailed summary of what's available on a certain flight.
ExpertFlyer will provide you with each fare code and the number of available seats for purchase for a fare code. Knowing which type of fares (and the number of tickets available for that fare) are on offer makes searching and booking flights a little easier.
In this example, let's say I want to view the availability of flights from Miami (MIA) to Mexico City (MEX). To start searching for availability, select “Flight Availability” from the main dashboard. On the following screen, provide all required information and any additional information if you would like to limit search results.
For this example, I checked the option to exclude codeshares to refine my search results. And I chose the option for + or – 3 days since my travel dates are flexible.
The following screen will display flights that meet your search parameters. You can tab across different dates at the top of the search results if you indicated that your departure dates are flexible. The flight result page shows:
- Flight number
- Number of stops
- Departure/arrival cities
- Aircraft type
- Frequency reliability
- Available classes
On the far right side of the flight results page, you can select one of the three icons to view additional information for a specific flight. These icons toggle the option to create a flight alert, access detailed flight information (i.e., meals, flight time, etc.), and view the seat map.
It's important to know that “9” is the highest number you'll see for any given fare type. It's impossible to know the exact seat load factor for a given flight using the information provided by ExpertFlyer. However, it does give you a pretty good idea of what you can expect. If you see nine seats available for a fare type, you'll know that at least nine seats are available. But you won't know exactly how many more seats are available in that fare bucket.
ExpertFlyer also allows you to view flight timetables. While this may not sound revolutionary, you can view more than just timetables for flights between two airports.
You can view flights departing from any major airport on a given day. You also can view all of the flights that will arrive at any major airport. This information is especially valuable during irregular operations, like in the case of the Southwest Airlines holiday meltdown in late 2022. If you need a backup plan, seeing all the flights from where you are to where you want to be can be invaluable.
Travelers have three ways to view flight timetables:
- All flights for a given day between specific departure and arrival airports
- Departures from a specific airport
- Arriving flights at a specific airport
To search for flights between two airports, simply input your desired departure and arrival airport and select a date.
Once you have your results for your search, you can view additional information about your flight. You'll also see information like the aircraft type, flight duration, and on what days the flight operates.
To search for all departures from a specific airport, head to the Flight Timetables tab and select “Search by Departure/Arrival City.” Then enter your desired airport and date. Make sure you choose “Depart Airport” or “Arrive Airport” based on your needs.
The following screen will display all flights, including codeshare flights from/to your desired airport.
To filter out codeshares or to filter by city, click “Filter Search Results.” You can also filter out flights with connections and filter by airline (using the two-character airline code).
One of the most basic features of ExpertFlyer is the ability to check the status of a flight. Of course, this is also a feature of any search engine. Just type your flight information into Google, and you'll be able to see the status of your flight. However, ExpertFlyer does provide some additional information you won't find on Google or other flight status-tracking apps.
When viewing the status for a flight on ExpertFlyer, you'll also be able to see the following while checking a flight several hours or days before departure:
- Planned flight information, including whether there's meal service
- Up-to-date terminal and gate information for both the departure and arrival airports
- Schedule reliability
- Additional comments
- Any schedule irregularities at your departure and arrival cities
But if you search for a flight closer to departure and choose a flight departing the U.S., you'll get additional details:
- Up-to-date terminal and gate information for both the departure and arrival airports
- Any new comments
- TSA security wait times based on historical information
- Updated schedule irregularities at your departure and arrival cities (if any)
By far, the most interesting feature of the Flight Status tool is the option to view “Additional Comments.” These comments include information related to security and visa requirements, estimated CO2 emissions, and aircraft configuration.
You can also see why an inbound or outbound flight is delayed. Here's an example of a delayed flight earlier this year (Lufthansa flight LH449 from St. Louis to Frankfurt):
And here is an example of additional comments that show why an inbound aircraft arrived late and how it impacted the subsequent departure:
ExpertFlyer allows you to view the status of most flights for up to five days following scheduled departure and up to three days prior to departure. Obviously, the information available several days before departure will be less robust than what's available at boarding time or after takeoff.
Another relatively basic feature of ExpertFlyer is the ability to view flight details. This tool is very similar to tracking flight status. However, the information displayed when searching for flight details is far more basic. To view details for a specific flight, enter the departure date, airline, and flight number.
The information displayed about a flight includes:
- Departure airport, terminal, date, and time
- Arrival airport, terminal, date, and time
- Aircraft type
- Meals served onboard
- Scheduled flight time
- Flight distance
- Schedule reliability
You can also click the “!” icon to the right of the search result page to set an alert for a particular flight. Again, viewing flight details is probably the most basic feature of ExpertFlyer and, therefore, not all that noteworthy or exciting.
The ability to access real-time seat maps is one of the best features of ExpertFlyer. While airlines allow you to access seat maps, airline seat maps might not be a true reflection of the current situation. Additionally, you won't have to visit multiple airlines' websites as ExpertFlyer displays seat maps for most major airlines across the globe.
Accessing seat maps using ExpertFlyer is one of the easier-to-use tools. All that's required to bring up a seat map for a specific flight is the airline, flight number, departure/arrival cities, and departure date. You'll also need to filter by cabin.
Keep in mind that not every airline allows you to view real-time seat maps. Some airlines block the ability to view the seat map for certain cabins and flights — or you might be blocked from seeing the seat map once boarding begins. You can also access seat maps from the “Flight Availability” result page.
But seeing what seats are available can be useful. Maybe you're wondering if you should try to apply Plus Points from your United MileagePlus account (and need to know how many seats are open first), or maybe you're hoping for an upgrade and want to see your chances based on the number of seats still open in business class. The seat map will show you a realistic picture.
You also can create alerts for a particular seat becoming available (e.g. 1A) or if any two seats together become available. Other alert options include:
- Any seat
- Aisle seat
- Window seat
- Any exit row seat
- Two seats together
- Specific seats you select
If you're on the go and don't want to navigate ExpertFlyer's rather cluttered user interface on your mobile device, you can download the “Seat Alerts” app.
ExpertFlyer's Seat Alerts app is only available on Apple devices. The Seat Alerts app allows you to create alerts for specific flights. For example, if you're hoping to score an aisle seat, you can create an alert in the app. If an aisle seat opens up, you'll be notified via the app.
Likely one of the lesser-used tools of ExpertFlyer, you can view fare information for a specific route or flight. If you're wondering how to use this information, it's a good way to create a benchmark for ticket prices for an upcoming flight. It's also a good way to know what type of fare you're seeing on an airline's website, including whether or not a ticket is changeable or refundable.
Deciphering information generated from this tool can be somewhat of a challenge if you're not sure what to look for. For a very brief and simple overview of how to interpret the fare basis code, check out this resource from Galileo, an airline reservation system.
When using the “Fare Information” tool, you'll also be able to get additional information about a certain fare, including:
- Fare basis
- Fare class
- Effective date
- Expiration date
- Any minimum or maximum stay requirements
- Advanced purchase requirements
To view fare information, fill out basic information including departure/arrival cities, departure/return dates, and up to 3 airlines. The only part of the search page that may come as a surprise is “Purchasing City.” This is because different regions will receive different fares. For example, an airline may sell different fares depending on the country in which the traveler purchases their ticket. You don't have to put anything here if you don't have any special requirements.
On the next page, you'll see a list of results with fares, cabins, effective dates, whether the fare is ending at a certain time, and advance purchase requirements (e.g.: 10 days in advance to get this price). If you're searching for round-trip flights, you'll also see min/max stay requirements to get this flight price (e.g.: at least three days before flying home or no more than 20 days).
Of course, Google Flights also provides fare information and does so in a much more user-friendly way. Google Flights will indicate before you continue to book a flight whether or not the price displayed is cheap, average, or expensive.
You can also access pricing graphs through Google Flights. Click on “Price graph” on your search results page.
You'll see a graph indicating cheaper and more expensive dates for your route.
If the information already covered in this post wasn't enough, ExpertFlyer offers additional resources for travelers. These resources can be found under the “Travel Information” tab. Here is a full list of the additional travel information that can be accessed through ExpertFlyer:
- Flight reliability ratings
- Historical TSA security wait times
- Airport delay notifications
- Minimum connection time
- Maximum permitted mileage
- Connecting cities
- Interline agreements
- Visa, health, and passport requirements
When using each tool, ExpertFlyer provides additional information as to what each tool does and what information it shows. Additionally, any codes are broken down below the search results.
Should I Pay for an ExpertFlyer Membership?
With all of the valuable information available on ExpertFlyer, it probably doesn't come as a surprise that many of these features are only available with a paid membership. Should you pay for a “Pro” subscription to ExpertFlyer? The answer depends on how you plan to use ExpertFlyer and just how often you plan to use the platform.
The three types of ExpertFlyer memberships
ExpertFlyer offers three types of memberships. The first is a free account, which just requires you to sign up with an email and password. The other two types of memberships are “Pro” subscriptions.
Between the two Pro memberships, the biggest difference is the number of searches you can complete each month and a lack of access to alerts like flight availability alerts, flight schedule alerts, and aircraft change alerts.
Here's a breakdown of the three different types of ExpertFlyer memberships:
|Membership Type||Price (Monthly, Annually)||Available Tools||Number of Queries, Alerts|
|Free||Free||Seat Maps, Seat Alerts||Up to 1 seat alert at a time|
|Pro Basic||$4.99, no annual discount||Most tools. Excluded tools: Flight availability alerts, flight schedule alerts, aircraft change alerts, all available published fare pricing, flexible search of + or - 3 days from travel dates, save queries for repeated use, mobile edition, and annual subscription discount.||Up to 250 queries & unlimited seat alerts|
|Pro Premium||$9.99 monthly, $99.99 annually||All tools and features||Unlimited|
Who should pay for an ExpertFlyer pro membership?
Again, the answer to this question depends on how a user plans to use the ExpertFlyer platform. Many travelers will be fine with just being able to view seat maps and create seat alerts.
Other travelers will likely benefit from the additional tools and features offered by the platform. Seasoned frequent flyers should consider an ExpertFlyer Pro membership, as it makes finding award, upgrade, and flight availability much easier.
Airline enthusiasts and the most avid award travelers might even benefit from having access to unlimited monthly search queries. However, most travelers should be fine with the monthly limit of 250 searches offered by the Pro Basic membership. If you're interested, you can sign up here with a free trial.
The Bottom Line
ExpertFlyer is a very powerful tool with dozens of features and resources. While a free membership is available, this free membership only provides access to seat maps and alerts. For more seasoned frequent flyers and award travel enthusiasts, ExpertFlyer's Pro membership unlocks additional tools.
Included in a Pro membership is the ability to search for award and upgrade availability, view flight availability and timetables, and check the status of a flight. These tools just scratch the surface of what ExpertFlyer offers its Pro members, and it could save you tons of time and headaches when looking for availability on award bookings.
Do you use ExpertFlyer? If so, what's your favorite tool on ExpertFlyer?
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