Free First Class Next Month: Using expertflyer.com

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Hey there, you’re reading an outdated post! The updated series from April 2015 can be found here.

This is the twenty-seventh post in a monthlong series. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flier miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

Expertflyer.com is a paid service–$100 per year, $10 per month, free for a five day trial–that I use for four distinct purposes.

Checking for Published Fares

The first is to check whether an airline has a published fare between an origin and destination city pair. I do this when researching the validity of an American Airlines award because AA requires the region-connecting carrier to have a published fare from origin to destination.

To see whether an airline has a published fare for an origin/destination city pair, once signed into expertflyer, click Fare Information.

Fill out the form with your origin and destination city pair, pick a random date next month, and type in the airline you are checking.

Remember that the origin and destination include any free oneways, so if you want to add a free oneway LAX-JFK onto a JFK-AUH award, your origin is LAX and destination is AUH.

After clicking search, hone in on the Airline column on the results page. You need to find at least one fare listed as being published by the two letter code of the airline you searched. (List of two letter codes.)

I only specified one airline to search for published fares–Etihad (EY)–so it will only bring up EY and YY results. YY is a generic result. If YY is the only airline listed, the airline you searched does not have a published fare.

This search shows that Etihad does have a published fare from LAX to Abu Dhabi. This is despite the fact that Etihad does not fly to LAX. Airlines publish many fares to cities that they do not serve.

Finding the MPM

My second use for expertflyer is finding the Maximum Permitted Mileage (MPM) on a route. Each airlines has different award routing rules, but most use some multiple of the MPM as one constraint on routing. (For instance, on an AA award, your award’s routing must be no more than 1.25 * MPM.)

MPM is found on expertflyer the same way as published fare, except on the screen that lists published fares you have to make one more click.

Find the most expensive fare published by the airline whose MPM you want, and click the middle icon on the right side.

That will bring up a jumble of rules. Inside that jumble, look for MPM.

AA’s MPM for LAX-AUH is 10,834

Award Searches

Expertflyer provides at least some award search capability on all these airlines. (They just removed United from what they can search, which is quite annoying. Hopefully United is added again soon.)

I find expertflyer incredibly useful for Delta award searches because it shows Delta partners China Southern, China Eastern, China Airlines, Virgin Australia, KLM, Alitalia, Air France, and Air Europa.

It’s also useful for American awards on non-oneworld partners El Al and Air Tahiti Nui.

To perform an award search, click Awards & Upgrades on the left side after signing in.

Type in the departure and arrival city. You can also type in the connecting airport city if you want to limit the possible routings the search will produce. I am generally searching segment-by-segment for direct flights and leave that blank.

Select an airline and the classes for which you want to see award space. Pay close attention to the names. The correct fare class will usually be named something simple like Award or Classic Award. A special note on Air France is that Delta does not have access to Classic Europe Award, only Classic Award.

You can select just one date if you are searching oneway or input two dates for a roundtrip. Next to each date you can specify a search of up to +/- 3 days, which is a full week search.

I usually select Direct/Non-Stop only, although sometimes they still show me connecting flights. The next screen will show results for your search, broken down by cabin. For some airlines, expertflyer will display 0 if there is no space. For others, it won’t show the flight at all if there is no space.

This search shows great ATL-CDG economy space on Air France in early March, but not any business class space.

Flight Alerts

If an airline has no space released on your dream flight, you may want to track that flight to see if any space is opened up. Rather than daily searches, you can set one Flight Alert to email you when your desired award space opens.

On the left side after signing in, click Create Flight Alert.

Fill in the form with the information you learned from your unsuccessful flight search. If I wanted to see whether business class space opened on the flight from last section’s screen shot of Air France availability, I would fill out the form like this:

There is a link to the fare codes, if you don’t know how to fill in the box labeled Class Code.

The annoying thing with the Flight Alerts tool is that you have to create a new one for each flight number, day, and class.

That means if you wanted to be alerted if any space on either of two daily United flights from San Francisco to Frankfurt in either business or first class opened up for a four day period, you would have to fill out the form 16 times (2 * 2 * 4). I know because I’ve done it.

A premium member can have 30 active alerts at any time. If one of the alerts’ targets opens up, you’ll get an email and hopefully you can claim the seats before anyone else.

Should You Pay for Expertflyer

Expertflyer charges $10 per month for its premium package, $5 per month for its basic package, or $100 per year for its premium package. I have the annual premium package. The basic package only allows 250 award searches per month, which is far fewer than I do for my Award Booking Service.

This page compares Basic and Premium. If you click on Premium, you will have the opportunity to start membership with a five-day free trial.That means you can try out the service for free and see if it’s worth the money to you. Or you can use the service strategically for one award-planning session then cancel. Just remember to cancel within five days to avoid your credit card being charged.

Much of the information on expertflyer is available from other free sources. But many of those free sources are harder and more time-consuming to use. Like many things, expertflyer is a trade-off: spending money to save time.

For me the trade-off is well worth it. For you, it may or may not be. Reread this article, sign up for a free trial, and decide for yourself whether $10 per month is a good deal for all these features.


Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

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25 COMMENTS

  1. Used the 5 day free trial to get first class seats on Alaska to Hawaii compliments of IcelandAir. So many advanced tools to learn.

  2. Thanks Scott for that great review! A couple more tips:
    – MPM information is also easily available via the MPM search on the Travel Information page. This is also available to Basic subscribers.
    – You can also easily create a Flight Alert by clicking on the (!) icon to the right of that flight in the Award & Upgrade results

    • How accurate is the United flight info right now? Are some things still working or should I not trust any of the search results for that airline? I noticed, for example, on many flights most of the fare buckets were listed at 0, while ITA and United show available flights with those fare codes.

      • The information shown is accurate. As noted in the EduGuide on our Help page, just because there is a class code with availability doesn’t mean there is a published fare to go along with it – both are needed to be able to sell a ticket in a given fare class. If you need futher help to understand the data, please email us at customercare@expertflyer.com

        • I’ll have to read the help…because I can’t remember the specific example now, but there was one flight where on United all fare buckets below W were showing zero, while there were bookable flights in those buckets showing up on the United website. Maybe it was a glitch.

          • There are many reasons for this. One could be married segment logic, another is that the UA website could have been using a constructed fare. Without a specific example you can’t really know, next time email us when you have the question.

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