Anyone who has booked flights using solely airline miles knows that the award availability for many airlines can be frustrating when it doesn’t work with your intended schedule. What’s worse is that many airline search engines for award flights are clunky, inaccurate, and frustrating.
I want to share with all of you a website that many miles enthusiasts are probably already familiar with, but one that I’ve recently grown to appreciate even more when it comes to searching for award availability: Expert Flyer.
While Expert Flyer does cost $4.99 or $9.99 a month, depending on the plan you choose, it’s definitely worth the few extra bucks if you are booking a lot of flights (whether paid or on award flights), or to help you find that perfect mileage run. There is even a 5 day free trial that comes automatically if you choose the option.
But let’s be clear here: you can accomplish almost everything that Expert Flyer does on your own via free resources out on the web (i.e. ITA Matrix) or by just searching airline sites yourself. That being said, what Expert Flyer does do is save you a LOT of time!
Here are some of the features Expert Flyer does:
- Checks airline award & upgrade availability across over 400 airlines (including Star Alliance! So great way to redeem United miles!)
- Checks flight availability, including allowing you to search multiple airlines at once or with multiple routing options
- Flight status & flight details
- Airline seat maps are shown before you book tickets! Now you can know if the flight has your favorite seat or not!
- Mobile edition of the search system so that you can search on the go. I personally love searching when I’m on public transit or waiting in line at the store.
- Fare information – will show all published fare pricing between a city pair for one-way, roundtrip, or around-the-world fares
- Seat alerts – sends you notifications for when the seat you want is available!
- Flight alerts – sends you notifications for when the flight you want is available, based on your criteria! I love using this for being notified on my next mileage run!
Most notable I think the ability to check for award & upgrade availability, airline seat maps, mobile edition, and seat + flight alerts are what make Expert Flyer worthwhile. For me, I care the most about the award & upgrade availability, as well as the flight alerts, since that really affects how I find solid mileage runs and deals.
If you are planning on booking a flight in the near future–especially if it’s an award flight or one you want to upgrade using miles–definitely give Expert Flyer a try using their free 5 day trial. If you don’t like the time it saves you, just cancel.
A few tips when using Expert Flyer (most of these primarily relate to Star Alliance and United flight bookings); these are all for Under Award & Upgrades searches:
- Appropriate award level: make sure you select the appropriate award you want for the search. Remember that in general, only saver and standard awards will be available for most airlines.
- Choose the right airline: I usually start with a United search, since it has the most availability. But do this based off of what miles you are burning and what your preferences are, as well as your destination in mind. (Does the airline fly there? Do other members of its alliance fly there?)
- Play around with the departure & arrival cities: If you have some flexibility on the airports (i.e. LAX versus SFO or SFO vs. OAK), sometimes that can make a world of difference for award availability. Check nearby airports if you can. And if you’re traveling to Europe, keep in mind that inter-Europe air travel can be incredibly cheap if you’re booking via a cheap airline like RyanAir. (For Europe, I like looking at SFO to FRA flights since there are a lot of availabilities and because the fees/taxes come out to $2.50 each way only.)
- Flexible dates: If you can be flexible on your dates, that will definitely help you find award availability. Definitely turn on the +/- three days option if you have that flexibility.
- Plan ahead and turn on flight alerts: Award availability can change at any time. It’s best to plan out award flights far in advance, especially if you have a specific set of dates you need to be somewhere. If you don’t find the award availabilities that work for you, turning on flight alerts for what you are looking for will let you know as soon as the right saver award comes along!
I just used Expert Flyer to help me book two award one-way flights from SF to Europe (and back to SF) for a college student who was selected for a travel scholarship that I just started doing as part of a non-profit organization I’m a part of. The flights had to be before and after the convention in Portugal that the travel scholarship is for, so it was a little rough at first finding the right availability that worked with both her school dates and the convention dates. Booking flights for others is always exciting–especially when you can donate it for someone who otherwise would not have been able to travel to the destination! Expert Flyer definitely helped save me time. 🙂
Link to Expert Flyer here.