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Beginners guide to finding award space with ExpertFlyer

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If you rely solely on airline websites and phone agents to find airline award space, you may face difficulties and not be able to find all available options. Airline websites often lack the necessary functionality, and phone agents may not have the proper training to navigate complex itineraries and partnerships.

Fortunately, there are additional tools that can make award redemptions easier. In this guide, we’ll introduce you to one such tool called ExpertFlyer (owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures) that can help you find available award space and simplify booking your dream trip.

We’ll share the basics of ExpertFlyer and provide step-by-step instructions on using the tool to find award space and set alerts.

ExpertFlyer basics

Air France Boeing 777-300ER business class

ExpertFlyer currently offers three plans, including one free option. Each plan has access to different features — here’s a quick overview:

  • Free: Set an alert to notify you when a more desirable seat opens up on your flight. You’re limited to one free alert at a time, though you can add more for 99 cents each.
  • Basic ($4.99 per month): Offers additional features, such as award and upgrade inventory search and flight availability (including fare buckets). You can set four seat alerts simultaneously, but you’re limited to 250 monthly queries.
  • Premium ($9.99 per month or $99.99 per year): Includes flexible search options, unlimited queries, 200 seat alerts at a time, aircraft change alerts and the ability to create up to 200 flight availability alerts.

You can find almost anything you need about airline schedules, seat maps, flight statuses and award availability using ExpertFlyer. These are important tools to keep in your frequent flyer toolbox, especially if you’re booking last minute and need to find a specific flight. In this guide, we’ll cover how to search for awards and upgrade space using ExpertFlyer.

The ExpertFlyer platform currently allows you to search for this inventory on 38 airlines. Carefully review the list to see what inventory is available for your desired airline — American Airlines, for example, shows both award and upgrade space for its flights. While United Airlines and Delta Air Lines aren’t listed on ExpertFlyer, you can check award and upgrade availability on other U.S. carriers like Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines in addition to many international airlines.

Related: How ExpertFlyer helped me score a first-class experience of a lifetime

Finding award seats and setting award alerts

American Airlines Flagship business window seats
ExpertFlyer regularly helps me find award space on American Airlines. KYLE OLSEN/THE POINTS GUY

Let’s dive right into finding award space. Before starting, ensure you have a Basic or Premium account, as free accounts cannot run award searches. You can sign up for a free five-day Premium trial if you’re a new member.

Setting up your ExpertFlyer searches

After logging in to your account, look for the “Awards & Upgrades” tool by clicking its label on the left-hand sidebar. You’ll immediately notice several search fields. Fill in the basics, like your departure and arrival airports and departure and return dates. If you’re looking for a one-way flight, you can keep the return date empty.

The Premium subscription comes in handy here, as it offers the ability to search plus or minus three days from your desired travel date. This allows you to view a week at a time and search for multiple fare classes. I recommend using this if your dates are flexible since it will yield the most award space.

Searching from LAX to LHR ExpertFlyer

When you select the airline you’d like to fly, you’ll see the fare classes that ExpertFlyer can search alongside a description.

AA fare classes on ExpertFlyer

To search for nonstop flights on ExpertFlyer, select the “Direct/Non-Stop Only” option. You can exclude codeshare flights if you’re only interested in the specific airline you’re searching for. When searching across multiple dates, select the “Show all dates on 1 screen” option to view all results simultaneously, making it easier to scroll through.

ExpertFlyer search

Related: The best websites for searching Oneworld award availability

Reading ExpertFlyer search results

Click the search button at the bottom of the screen, and ExpertFlyer will present you with a list of the available flights broken down by date. Each flight option will show the fare classes you searched for. Some airlines — like American — will also show the number of seats available in that class. Other airlines will show “Yes” or “No” — Yes shows if the flight has at least the number of seats you searched for available.

ExpertFlyer search results

The results page will also show you connecting options (if you don’t limit it to nonstop flights) available for your itinerary. That said, every leg of a connecting itinerary must have award availability in the desired class of service to book the entire trip with miles.

ExpertFlyer connecting flights

Once you have the date, flight number and fare class, you can book your flight online or call an airline phone agent and give them the exact information about the flight(s) you found.

If the flight you’re looking to book doesn’t have the fare class you’d like, you can select the top square with an exclamation point to set an alert. If you set an alert, ExpertFlyer will notify you by email if a seat is released. This way, you can avoid needing to regularly run award searches.

ExpertFlyer fare classes

You’ll have to give the alert a title. In this case, I’ve named the alert based on the flight route and date. Once I click the “Verify and Create” button, ExpertFlyer will email me if business-class upgrade space becomes available on this flight.

Related: Complete guide to changing and canceling award tickets

Setting up ExpertFlyer seat alerts

With ExpertFlyer’s seat alert feature, you’ll be notified if specific seats on your flight become available after setting up an alert.

To open a seat map and create an alert, enter the flight details in the fields after selecting “Seat Map” from the homepage.

SEA to SNA Alaska seat map search

In this case, I only selected economy class because my reservation was booked in economy. First-class seat alerts aren’t helpful here because even if a first-class seat becomes available, I wouldn’t be able to select that seat without paying for it.

Selecting seating on Alaska Airlines

Since I want to sit in the bulkhead aisle for this flight, I set a seat alert by clicking “Create Seat Alert” and using the “Select Specific Seats” feature. Doing so allowed me to click on all the seats I’d like email alerts for if seats become available.

Another helpful option is to click “Any Aisle Seat,” which would alert me if an aisle seat in any row of economy becomes available. Doing so can be helpful if you want an aisle seat but no aisle seats are currently available.

Related: How to use ExpertFlyer alerts to snag a better seat

A real-world example of using ExpertFlyer to book an award

British Airways Executive Club is one of my favorite programs, largely due to its discounted partner award rates on short-haul flights.

If you want to book the one-way sweet spot from the West Coast to Hawaii for 13,000 Avios, you can check award space for Alaska Airlines and American Airlines on ExpertFlyer by heading to the “Awards & Upgrades” page. Once there, enter your search criteria and select “Coach – Saver Award (T)” as the class you’re interested in booking. You can also search for availability the three days before and after your specified departure date if your plans aren’t solidified. Additionally, you can specify nonstop flights only.

Here’s a sample search from Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) on Alaska Airlines in late October.

SJC to HNL on Alaska Airlines using ExpertFlyer

While T-fare seats aren’t available every day, there are seven seats available on Oct. 28, indicated by the number “7” in the “Seats” column. At this point, you’d want to take note of the flight information and book with British Airways through your Executive Club account.

Related: Your ultimate guide to searching award availability for the major airlines

ExpertFlyer restrictions

American Airlines Planes DCA

Thankfully, most award seat availability shown on ExpertFlyer will be at the saver level for all programs. This is nice because it should be bookable using any partner program’s currency, but it won’t show you the expanded award inventory that’s sometimes available through certain programs.

Perhaps the biggest downside to ExpertFlyer is the airlines it lacks. Earlier, we mentioned the service could search for award and upgrade space for 38 airlines. A year ago, ExpertFlyer supported 87 carriers. This reduction of supported airlines is disappointing, though ExpertFlyer can still make your travel life much easier on the airlines it supports.

Related: 7 of the best airline award chart sweet spots

ExpertFlyer quick tips

working on laptop in tropical cafe

Now that you know how to use ExpertFlyer to search for award space and set up alerts, here are a few quick tips on how to get the most from the tool. Keep these in mind, and you’ll save a ton of time as you use the tool to find great award tickets:

  • Select the time of day you want to depart if you see the option. ExpertFlyer shows a limited number of search results, so if a popular route has multiple flights, you may think it’s unavailable just because it isn’t displayed. However, you’ll only see this option when searching for awards on select airlines.
  • For premium subscribers, use the “Saved Query” feature to easily return to looking for a specific flight with upgrade space or business-class availability without retyping everything.
  • If a fare class is unavailable on some airlines, the flight will not appear.
  • When switching your search dates, use the “Refine Search” button rather than the back button. This will keep all the search fields intact.
  • Read the ExpertFlyer EduGuide and User Guide. I’ve been using ExpertFlyer for years and still learned some new things from these sources.

Related: 6 award chart sweet spots that can save you money on domestic flights

Bottom line

Finding airline award space, especially in premium classes, can be an art form (and a challenging one at that). Nowadays, there are many partnerships within and across airline alliances, and some websites and phone agents are better at finding available seats than others. That being said, knowledge is power in the world of points and miles, and that’s what ExpertFlyer provides.

Learning how to set seat alerts through ExpertFlyer can help you escape a less-than-ideal seat or find two seats together. Despite the recent decrease in supported airlines, ExpertFlyer is still a powerful tool for travelers to use.