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
- Aeroflot 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.