How to Use ExpertFlyer Like a Pro [2020] Ricky June 3, 2020

How to Use ExpertFlyer Like a Pro [2020]

Originally published in 2018, our ExpertFlyer guide has been refreshed with information on the full suite of ExpertFlyer features, more outcomes that can be accomplished, and more current examples.

The guide will also act as the first installment in an ongoing series examining the many online travel tools that I regularly use, such as FlightConnections, Google Flights, ITA Matrix, and more.

Over the years, ExpertFlyer has become a tool that I can’t live without. Whether I’m researching upcoming trips, booking award travel or running into flight delays and cancellations while I’m on the road, ExpertFlyer has always come in handy and has saved me countless man-hours in a hobby that can often get quite time-consuming.

Considering the relative dearth of information on flight loads, award space, fare codes, etc. outside of paid services like this, it’s quite astounding just how far-reaching ExpertFlyer’s capabilities really are. 

Today, I’m going to walk you through all the things you can accomplish with this wonderful service.

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In This Post

ExpertFlyer Pricing & Features

A subscription to ExpertFlyer’s Pro service costs US$99.99 for the year, and there is a free five-day trial that you can use to play around with all the features and see if you want to commit for a full year.

You can in theory “churn” the free trial by using multiple email addresses, but that’s not really conducive to setting up seat alerts that ping you whenever an open seat is found, which is one of ExpertFlyer’s most useful features.

Instead, if you find yourself put off by the upfront cost, I recommend splitting the US$99.99 annual subscription with other people. Paying US$100 a year for ExpertFlyer is already hugely worthwhile; paying US$20, for example, would be an absolute steal.

ExpertFlyer’s suite of features are divided into eight key sections, accessible via the sidebar on the left. Let’s walk through some of the most important features one by one.

Awards & Upgrades: Searching for Award Availability

ExpertFlyer’s greatest feature is no doubt its ability to effectively conduct searches for airline award space using the Awards & Upgrades function.

Say you’re planning an Aeroplan Mini-RTW trip for two people, from Vancouver to somewhere in Asia, and you’d really like to fly with either ANA or EVA Air on the transpacific segment in business class.

EVA Air’s terrific business class product is your first choice, and you know they operate a flight between Vancouver and Taipei, so you go ahead and input the search parameters as follows.

Screen Shot 2020-06-02 at 6.41.22 PM.png

Unlike the award search engines on Aeroplan, United.com, or other frequent flyer programs, which can search across all airlines in the alliance at once, ExpertFlyer requires you to specify the airline whose award space you’re searching.

That’s why it comes in handiest when you already have a route in mind and would like to search for award space on that particular route. In order to find out which airlines operate which routes, use tools like FlightConnections.com – which we’ll also cover in a future article.

However, the added benefit of ExpertFlyer is that it allows you to search for up to a week’s worth of dates at once.

As you can see in the screenshot above, using the “+/- 3 days” parameter effectively lets you search for an entire week at a time – a huge time saver compared to clicking through individual days on other search engines.

Screen Shot 2020-06-02 at 6.png

Depending on the airline, you might also be asked to specify how many seats you’re looking for, and then ExpertFlyer will come back with either a “Yes” or a “No”. As you can see, this is the case with EVA Air. For other airlines, you won’t have to specify this – ExpertFlyer will simply return the number of seats available.

For certain airlines, ExpertFlyer will also search for space on any other routes operated by the airline that can get you to your destination. As you can see, for our EVA Air search, ExpertFlyer has searched for YVR–TPE, but also NRT–TPE, SEA–TPE, SFO–TPE, etc.

In fact, one of the flights from Seattle shows space available, so you may be getting excited to book it…

…but before you do, note that these additional results are accompanied with connecting flights on airlines other than the one you searched for (EVA Air), and that doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s award space on these connecting flights. You’ll notice there’s neither a “Yes” nor a “No” in those rows!

You’ll have to run a separate search for YVR–SEA on this date, specifying Air Canada as the airline, in order to verify the existence of award space and that you can in fact book the two flights together.

The direct flight on EVA Air didn’t quite work out, so let’s check ANA, which has a direct flight to Tokyo Haneda. If there’s space on that one, then we’re golden. We’ll set up the search…

Screen Shot 2020-06-02 at 7.19.39 PM.png

The instant 7-day search helped us find a Vancouver–Tokyo flight that works, so we can earmark that flight for our itinerary.

Screen Shot 2020-06-02 at 7.19.06 PM.png

Going forward iteratively in the same manner, you can use ExpertFlyer to verify award space for all the remaining segments of your desired trip.

If, say, you’re actually originating in Calgary and you’d like to tag on an Air Canada flight before catching your ANA flight to Tokyo, you’d input that search as follows (note that we’ve checked off both Business and Economy, assuming that you’re flexible about the class of service for the short segment):

ExpertFlyer-AC-YYJ-YVR

Awards & Upgrades: Creating Seat Alerts

Now let’s say that you’ve booked your Aeroplan Mini-RTW, but you really want to fly EVA Air and would be happy to pay a change fee to change your itinerary if space were to open up on the direct Vancouver–Taipei flight.

This is where the ability to set availability alerts comes in extremely handy.

Simply pull up the EVA Air search results again, and click the “Create Flight Alert” icon next to the flight for which ExpertFlyer is currently showing a “No” in terms of availability. Specify the class of service as well as how many seats you’re looking for, then click “Verify and Create”.

Screen Shot 2020-06-02 at 7.39.26 PM.png

ExpertFlyer will then check award space on your behalf continuously and send you an email once it opens up. Once you get this email, that’s your cue to go ahead and finalize or make changes to your booking.

Besides helping you continuously check for hard-to-obtain award space, other potential uses of seat alerts might include:

  • Monitoring for business class space after you’ve booked an economy class flight on a mixed-cabin itinerary, so that you can upgrade that segment for free

  • Monitoring for award seats that typically get released on a set schedule, such as Lufthansa First Class seats at T-15

  • Letting you know if the amount of seats remaining falls below a certain amount, which may be useful when you’re monitoring an award flight closely, but not quite ready to book it yet

One last thing to say about the award availability and seat alert functions: while ExpertFlyer’s coverage of major airlines is pretty comprehensive (including pretty much all Star Alliance members), there are a few notable absentees, such as Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, and Qatar Airways.

Flight Availability: How Many Open Seats Are There?

ExpertFlyer’s ability to search for Flight Availability is distinct from its award availability function. It basically lets you know how many seats are remaining for sale on any given flight, breaking down the remaining seats by fare code.

I tend to use this function for two main purposes:

  • Looking at passenger loads when I’m hoping for the airline to release additional award seats (perhaps for an elusive last-minute award)

  • In the case of IRROPS (delays and cancellations), to search for available alternative flights

For example, airlines like Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific often limit the amount of First Class award space they release in advance, and only release further seats within a few weeks of departure if they haven’t been sold already. Using the Flight Availability function, you can track how many First Class seats remain unsold on your flight and therefore how many award seats are likely to open up.

For example, if someone to snag last-minute award space on Japan Airlines First Class in October, they might run the below search for the number of open First Class seats on the Chicago–Tokyo route.

Screen Shot 2020-06-02 at 8.12.59 PM.png

Then they might surmise that it’s more likely for two First Class awards to be released on October 7, when there are seven seats remaining, than on October 4, when there are only four seats remaining.

Of course, the Flight Availability situation can always change as other travellers make and cancel their bookings, so the idea is that you’d check back continuously and also check other departure gateways if you were eyeing an elusive award.

Another situation when the Flight Availability function will prove invaluable is when IRROPS (flight delays and cancellations) occur. If you’re experiencing a flight delay or cancellation, the usual rebooking rules and fees no longer apply, and you can ask the airline to re-route you on flights of your choosing, as long as there are seats remaining.

Whenever I’m faced with an IRROPS situation, I find incredible value in having ExpertFlyer’s Flight Information feature at my fingertips, as it allows me to quickly determine the most convenient alternative flights that still have seats available that I can ask to be rebooked on.

Flight Timetables/Status/Details: Some Basic Information

The Flight Timetables, Flight Status, and Flight Details lookup functions mostly access basic information that’s also widely available with other online resources, so I personally only use these functions on rare occasions.

Flight Timetables allows you to search for all the flights that operate a given route. For example, here’s a sample of the search for all flights on the NYLON route, one of the world’s busiest, for later this year:

 

(Note that ExpertFlyer tends to include codeshare flights among its search results, which may not be very useful since it’s just a duplicate of the original flight by the true operating carrier. You can tell when the marketing carrier’s two-letter code is followed by the true operating carrier in parentheses.)

Flight Status can be a very useful tool because it provides more information about a flight than what you’d get on other public websites like FlightRadar or FlightAware.

In particular, after you’ve looked up the basic status information of a certain flight, click “View Comments” to read the technical comments, which can be very interesting for a flight that’s en route, delayed, or cancelled.

For a flight that’s en route, you’ll get to see when the plane left the gate, took off, is estimated to land, and is expected to arrive at the gate, among many other interesting notes about the flight:

In the case of a delay or cancellation, the technical comments can also be used to identify the cause of the issue (maintenance, crew, weather, etc.) and determine if you’re eligible for compensation under the Canadian APPR, EU261, or other conventions.

Finally, the Flight Details function is a very simple tool that brings up the most basic information about a flight, so there isn’t too much to say about it.

Seat Map: Ideal Insight for Aircraft Configurations

The Seat Map is another nifty feature that I make use of quite often for two main purposes:

  • To identify which variant/configuration of a certain aircraft is being used for my flight

  • To look at which seats are still available when I’m choosing my seats

In the first scenario, airlines often do a bad job of distinguishing which routes are operated by which of their planes, and ExpertFlyer allows you to cut through the confusion and find out exactly which business class or First Class seat type you’ll be getting.

For example, let’s say that you’re thinking of booking a Qatar Airways business class flight that’s operated by a Boeing 777. It’s only by looking up the Seat Map that you’ll be able to tell if you’re on the reconfigured 777s with the luxurious Qsuites

…or their significantly older 777s with an outdated 2-2-2 business class product.

The same is true if you’re trying to differentiate between ANA’s new “The Room” vs. their older staggered seating, Japan Airlines’s Apex Suite vs. their reverse herringbone, TAP Air Portugal’s older A330s vs. their newer A330-900neos, etc.

You can also use the Seat Map to monitor which seats are available on a given flight. You’ll notice that the feature is also linked to SeatGuru.com, which provides comprehensive reviews on the quality of individual seats on any given flight, marking any seats that have been designated as Good, Poor, or Mixed, and providing the reason for such an assessment.

If you’re eyeing an ideal seat onboard a certain premium cabin, and you’re hoping to book it as soon as it’s no longer blocked by the airline or it’s vacated by a fellow passenger, then you can take advantage of the Seat Alerts feature to check for this seat constantly and ping you when it’s available.

For example, let’s say you’re booked on Singapore’s 787 business class and you want to secure the bassinet seats, which have additional personal space.

Using the “Create Seat Alert” button on the right side of the search result, you can specify the exact seats that you’d like ExpertFlyer to keep checking on your behalf.

The feature works in the exact same way as the flight availability alerts that we covered previously, sending you an email notification as soon as the seat is open and bookable so that you can take action straight away.

Fare Information: Airfare, Behind the Scenes

If your travel style involves regularly hunting for low fares or “mistake fares”, or if you generally book revenue fares in addition to award travel, then ExpertFlyer’s Fare Information section will be a treasure trove of insights.

For any given city pair, ExpertFlyer can pull up any airline’s published fares between the two cities, as well as their respective routing rules and fare rules.

For example, take this recent deal that was published on Secret Flying, a popular deals website.

SecretFlying

Using the Fare Information function, you can quickly pull up the underlying fare code and its rules and restrictions, which will give you all the information on which dates you’re allowed to travel using this fare, how far in advance you must book, whether there’s a minimum/maximum stay restriction, whether a stopover is allowed, etc.

To search, you’ll want to enter the respective city pair, a set of dates that falls within the range of the advertised deal, and the operating airline:

ExpertFlyer-Fare-Rules

The search returns the following list of fares. The list can seem rather complicated at first glance, but generally most “hot deals” correspond to the first few items on the list (which you can see are the cheapest base fares). Those are the ones that you’ll want to take a closer look at.

Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 83.png

Sometimes, the website publishing a deal will also reveal the exact fare basis for the deal; otherwise, you can also look up this information using ITA Matrix (another tool that we’ll cover in the future). For now, we’ve determined that the $563 TAP fare corresponds to the “OCADS10E” fare basis, so we’ll click on the “View Rules” and “View Routing” buttons on the right-hand side of the fare in question in order to pull up the details.

Screen Shot 2020-06-03 at 8.34.37 AM.png

The full list of Fare Rules is too long to be displayed, but here’s a selection of some major bits of information. The rules tell us that there’s no advance reservation requirement, there are no minimum or maximum stay requirements, and that you can have one free stopover in either Lisbon or Porto on either the inbound or outbound segment.

That stopover can’t exceed 120 hours in length, which corresponds to TAP Air Portugal’s free five-day Portugal Stopover policy. That’s something useful to know about this fare that you wouldn’t get just from looking at Secret Flying!

Other sections of the Fare Rules that you might wish to pay attention to include:

  • Penalties: Change and cancellation rules and fees

  • Rule Application: Sometimes the rules will specify that a certain fare is only valid if booked by a certain date; this can be a cue that airfare on the route will increase after that date, once this low fare expires

  • Combinations: Determines whether the fare may be combined with other fares on a single ticket, which is essential knowledge if you’re looking into the art of fuel-dumping

Meanwhile, in addition to the Fare Rules, we can also take a look at the Routing Rules:

Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 9.02.30 PM.png

The routing rules confirm that this particular fare can only be applied if you’re travelling from Montreal to London via Lisbon or Porto. (That’s how the code of “YMQ–OPO/LIS–LON” is interpreted.)

If you try to add other connections, you’ll “break” the fare and cause a new fare to be applied, and thus won’t be able to benefit from the low price on this fare.

If this all feels very complicated to you, that’s because airline fare mechanisms are inherently a complex beast, and many more articles could be written on the subject.

For now, you should keep in mind that ExpertFlyer’s Fare Information tab is your one-stop shop for additional information on revenue fares. 

Travel Information: Useful Miscellany

Lastly, I often use a handful of features under the Travel Information tab for a variety of purposes.

The Minimum Connection Times feature is very useful for verifying that your planned connecting itinerary is valid. I’ve written in more detail about using this feature, which you’ll need to check every now and then if you’re in the habit of planning complex trips like Aeroplan Mini-RTWs.

 

The Interline Agreements feature allows you to tell which airlines have partnerships with which other airlines, which can be useful during IRROPS when rebooking alternative flights.

To take one example from my previous travels, I was once taking a delayed Lufthansa flight en route to Moscow. While Lufthansa originally wanted to rebook me on one of their own flights, I looked up their interline partners and saw that Aeroflot was one of them, so I was able to ask to be rebooked on a more favourable Aeroflot flight instead.

The Visa, Health & Passport feature gives you insight to the visa information that the airlines will be checking prior to your journey.

While this feature is worth double-checking before your journey during normal times, it’ll be particularly useful for keeping track of which countries are imposing or loosening border restrictions against your specified nationality during the era of COVID-19.

For example, here’s the search result for Canadian citizen heading to China – you’ll note the temporary suspension of tourist visas, along with key supplementary information:

Conclusion

Whether your travel style focuses on award travel or revenue fares, you’re certain to find incredible value in ExpertFlyer’s comprehensive suite of features, and I hope you’ll find this guide useful in getting started.

Between the availability search function, the ability to set alerts, and the variety of behind-the-scenes information at your fingertips, ExpertFlyer is a key tool for those who frequently plan, book, and take flights around the world, and getting familiar with it will help you take your understanding of airfare, flight schedules, and flight availability to a higher level.

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31 Comments
  1. Avatar
    Carol

    Ricky – very thorough article. Read your comment below about making a post in Prince of Travel Elites and organize. What would be the (best) maximum number of email?

    Thanks.

  2. Avatar
    Goldy

    I am also interested in the Expert Flyer cost-share.

  3. Avatar
    Ottawa Al

    Moha, Shawn and Greg,
    I am interested in the Expert Flyer cost-share arrangement, also.

  4. Avatar
    Allan

    Pascale, I think you got what you were truly entitled to. I have a round trip biz class ticket (AC points) to Japan and back scheduled for October 2020. Recently AC cancelled the two flights I had booked to Japan (Ott-Van, Van-Osaka) and gave me a truly dreadful route and timing as a replacement. The last flight (Osaka-Tokyo) was left in place. Using Expert Flyer, I found a much better route than my original flights (Ott-Tor-Tokyo), ensured there were (revenue) seats available and called Aeroplan. I followed Ricky’s methodology and there was no challenge to my request to buy revenue seats for me to replace my points seats . Oddly though, they still they wanted me to fly through Osaka, to be sure I used the remaining ticket in place. When I explained that they were asking me to fly Ott-Tor-Tokyo-Osaka-Tokyo and that was crazy, they saw the light and gave me the common sense 2-flight solution I asked for.

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      Nice to hear that Allan. As I mentioned in my reply to Pascale, if it’s on Air Canada then Aeroplan is happy to book revenue seats. But for other airlines, they might insist on looking at open awards first, before booking revenue seats as a last resort (as that’s obviously more expensive for them).

  5. Avatar
    Moha

    Hi Ricky,
    Good article.
    Happy to share Expert Flyer for $20-25.

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      One of you make a post in Prince of Travel Elites and organize 🙂

    2. Avatar
      Greg

      I am intersted.

      1. Avatar
        Shawn Ng

        i am interested as well!

  6. Avatar
    Pascale

    Hi Ricky,
    You wrote: "If you’re experiencing a flight delay or cancellation, the usual rebooking rules and fees no longer apply, and you can ask the airline to re-route you on flights of your choosing, as long as there are seats remaining".
    You’re not talking about Award seats, right? Any seat that is available should be given to you in cas of a cancellation?
    I was able to get Aeroplan buy a BKK-TPE business ticket on EVA for both of us last March when our Thai flight was cancelled (thanks to my EF premium subscription) but the agent was reluctant to do it. So my question is: am I entitled to these seats if they are available even though they’re not award seats?

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      I’m referring to situations when you’re already at the airport and your flight is delayed or cancelled. In that scenario, you can get the ticketing agent to rebook you on whatever alternative flights still have seats available (as long as there’s an interline agreement in place).

      If the flight is cancelled in advance, then you still have to go through the loyalty program to rebook, and they’ll often insist on using available award space or only opening up revenue seats on their own airline (like Air Canada in this example).

  7. Avatar
    Paul

    There’s also that tab for maximum permitted mileage that might become useful soon, with the mRTW stealth devaluation

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      More to come about this 🙂

  8. Avatar
    Alexa

    Hi Ricky, thanks for another great post!

    On revenue flights, if a lower priced fare class shows 0 availability, is there any chance that the airline will release more? Or should I just book the next cheapest available fare code ?

    Thank you!

  9. Avatar
    Sidney Lo

    Hi Ricky,

    I have sent you my compliments before but I just can’t stop! I’ve learned so much more from your posts and they are so concise and easy to understand! My most sincere appreciation for your good work!

  10. Avatar
    yo

    it says the basic subscription allows you to search award availability, but i am only seeing that it allows you to do a seat search, with no indication whether or not those seats are available for award travel. Is this feature only available for premium?

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      The basic plan doesn’t let you look for awards. Instead, you can use the 5-day free trial of the premium plan.

  11. Avatar
    Alex

    Does ExpertFlyer, or any other search tool, give you a list of all outbound flights from a particular airport. Sometimes when I am planning a trip and cant find any convenient flights it gets to be pain to search each airport combinations on the aeroplan search engine that could potentially have a reward seat based on where planes fly to from FlightConnection website.

    1. Avatar
      Andrew

      You could try Award Nexus and their multi-city search. Another search engine that comes to mind is Reward Flight Finder but it’s only for British Airways Avios and Virgin Atlantic.

  12. Avatar
    Howie

    Hi Ricky,
    looking for Eva Business class Vancouver to Taipei on a Saturday in October 2019 booked via Aeroplan.
    Call Eva regarding potential space and was advised there are 5 seats, and then called aeroplan and was told there are none.
    does ExpertFlyer differentiate between what is released by Eva to it’s own members and what is released to its partners members?

    Seems like there are 5 business rewards space floating somewhere, but cannot find it on aeroplan, or united search engines.

    1. Avatar
      Andrew

      When using ExpertFlyer’s "Award & Upgrade Availability Search" it’ll specify the type of space it’s returning (for the lack of a better term). As an example when searching Lufthansa, ExpertFlyer will say at the top that "The Lufthansa Award search shows partner award inventory. Availability to Miles & More members may be greater."

      You’ll want to see partner award availability, for EVA that would be in class I.

  13. Avatar
    aeroman380

    So if I want to book a RTW using aeroplan and ExpertFlyer then would I put in AC for the airline if I am looking for a flight from, say, NRT-FRA? or do I choose the airline I want to fly in the StarAlliance like LH or ANA?

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      Nope, you’d put in whichever airline you’re trying to look for space on. So LH or ANA.

  14. Avatar
    Martin

    Thanks for the helpful post! Is there some way to specify an Award Alert over a range of dates? Specifically, say I’m interested in flying LH F on any day of a particular week—is there a way to make ExpertFlyer keep monitoring that +/- 3 day search for me for availability on a given route? Or do I have to set up individual alert for a individual flights on individual days?

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      Hi Martin,

      It’ll have to be individual alerts for each flight you’re looking for.

      Cheers
      Ricky

  15. Avatar
    aeroman380

    Quick question regarding the T-15….If you have a great RTW set up and you only want to change one of your flights to J or F does the agent have to cancel out the whole booking or can they change one flight at a time?

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      If you’re just trying to upgrade one leg (having already paid the mileage for the higher class of travel) then you can do so without paying a change fee.

      Other changes can also be done without cancelling and rebooking the other legs in the ticket, you’ll just have to pay the change fee.

  16. Avatar
    aeroman380

    Where does it say that it is USD 99$? It says $99 so I expect $99 membership from when I view it here in Canada. I always think it is a crime when websites do that.

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      Haha, now imagine how people feel in other countries where the currency is denominated with a $.

  17. Avatar
    Brian

    Yes, Id be happy to share expert flyer for $20 or $25.

  18. Avatar
    yyc

    I use EF mainly for searching award availability and routing rules, and it’s worth every penny!

Ricky

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