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You signed up for a credit card, met the minimum-spending requirements and earned a welcome bonus. You’ve done everything the credit-card issuer told you to do to take your first free flight on points, but you just can’t find any award space.

Don’t worry. This happens all the time.

Before you throw away the credit card that didn’t meet your quite reasonable travel expectations, let me teach you a valuable trick. ExpertFlyer is a travel information website that shows you a hidden world of award availability, seat upgrades and space alerts on your preferred travel dates.

Just to be clear, an ExpertFlyer subscription won’t make the award space appear out of thin air, but at least it’ll save you some time searching for it.

So, without further ado, let’s learn how the website works to avoid wasting hours next time you want to book an award trip somewhere.

How to Find Award Space with ExpertFlyer

I assume we all agree that searching for award space can be maddening. Some websites can search no more than one day at a time. Others display phantom availability.

With ExpertFlyer, you can search a range of dates on a specific airline in a preferred class of service.

When you first log in, you’ll land on a homepage with a list of ExpertFlyer’s functions. Select the first one called “Awards & Upgrades.”

There, you’ll find a form with blank spaces for your airports, travel dates, airline, classes of service and whether you prefer a nonstop flight.

Unfortunately, not every airline’s award availability can be found on ExpertFlyer. Still, the website has access to most carriers, including:

  • Aegean Airlines
  • Aer Lingus
  • Aeroflot
  • Aerolíneas Argentinas
  • Aeroméxico
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air Europa
  • Air France
  • Air India
  • Air Malta
  • Air Mauritius
  • Air New Zealand
  • Air Serbia
  • Air Seychelles
  • Air Tahiti Nui
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Alitalia
  • All Nippon Airways
  • American Airlines
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Austrian Airlines
  • Avianca
  • Azul Brazilian Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Brussels Airlines
  • Canadian North
  • China Airlines
  • China Eastern Airlines
  • China Southern Airlines
  • Copa Airlines
  • Croatia Airlines
  • Czech Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
  • EgyptAir
  • El Al
  • Emirates
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • Etihad Airways
  • EVA Air
  • Fiji Airways
  • Finnair
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Gol Transportes Aéreos
  • Gulf Air
  • Hainan Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Hong Kong Express Airways
  • Iberia
  • Icelandair
  • Kenya Airways
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • Kuwait Airways
  • LOT Polish Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Mandarin Airlines
  • Middle East Airlines
  • Philippine Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Royal Jordanian
  • S7 Airlines
  • Saudia
  • Scandinavian Airlines
  • Shanghai Airlines
  • Shenzhen Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • Sri Lankan Airlines
  • Swiss International Air Lines
  • TAP Air Portugal
  • Thai Airways
  • Turkish Airlines
  • United Airlines
  • Vietnam Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Virgin Australia Airlines
  • WestJet
  • XiamenAir

Airlines that are notably missing from ExpertFlyer’s database:

  • Bangkok Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Condor
  • Japan Airlines
  • LATAM Airlines Group
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Air Maroc

To look up available space, fill in the blanks and search. You can choose a range of up to seven days per query (with a premium plan).

Let’s say I want to fly from the Maldives to Chicago on Etihad on a specific date. I enter my to and from airports, travel dates (exact if specific or a range of +/- three days), pick the airline and check both economy and business boxes. I see that the flight I want has four business-class seats and nine economy seats bookable with miles.

In a perfect world, Etihad’s partners, such as Air Canada Aeroplan and American Airlines AAdvantage, should see the same award availability. Sure enough, Aeroplan displays the flights as available for a mileage redemption.

However, not all results look the same. Some airlines, instead of providing the exact number of award seats available, say whether they have availability for the specified number of passengers. You’ll have to enter the number of passengers in the search field in this case.

Let’s take a look at the following example on a flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo on All Nippon Airways (ANA). I enter TYO into my destination airport for more broad results instead of specifying Haneda Airport (HND) or Narita International Airport (NRT) and select two passengers.

In this case, the results are displayed in a “Yes” or “No” format. I see that first and business class awards are available for a mileage redemption to Narita, but only business class is available for a redemption to Haneda on one of the dates in my week-long range.

So, if flying in first class is important to me, I know that a flight is available on that specific date. ExpertFlyer saves me time when searching date by date directly with ANA.

How to Set an Award Alert

If you’re flexible with your travel dates, that’s great. However, what happens when you need a flight on a specific date, but it’s not available to book with miles? You can set an alert in the event it opens up for a redemption—someone cancels or the airline releases more seats, for example.

On the results page, hover over the exclamation point box in the far-right column.

Click on the box and fill in the blanks: alert name, class of service and number of seats you want—less than [a number] or at least as many as [a number]. If the number of awards on your specific flight becomes available, you’ll receive an email.

Another way to create an alert is by clicking on “Create Flight Alert” from the homepage. A form will come up with blank fields, including your departing and arriving airports, departure date, airline, flight number and fare code.

Fill it out, choose a number of seats—at least [a number] or less than [a number]—and create an alert.

Because award availability changes all the time, it’s a great way to be alerted as soon as your preferred seats open up for a mileage redemption instead of searching for it every day.

Another reason you might want to use this feature is when award space is there but is dwindling. Perhaps you’re not 100% sure about your travel plans yet. Perhaps you want to find a flight with a better schedule or on another airline. Whatever the case is, you want to buy time to think about booking what’s available now.

Set an alert to “less than [a number]” and if the number of available award seats drops below your comfort, you’ll receive a notification and you can decide whether you want to snag the remaining seats.

How Much an ExpertFlyer Subscription Costs

As you can see, ExpertFlyer is a handy tool for travelers looking to save time when searching for award space. As with anything useful, it doesn’t come for free.

  • Free trial: five days
  • Basic subscription: $4.99 per month
  • Premium subscription: $9.99 per month / $99.99 per year

You can test the service for five days to learn how it works and even find a few award seats if you want. However, some features, like setting flight alerts, for example, work best for long-term subscribers.

Of course, premium subscription offers users more features than basic subscription. For starters, a basic plan is limited to 250 queries per month, whereas a premium plan allows you to search for unlimited queries.

Additionally, premium subscription includes flight availability alerts, schedule alerts and aircraft change alerts, a flexible date range, the option to save queries and a mobile app. With a premium plan, you also have the option to pay once per year at a reduced rate.

Final Thoughts

Finding that sweet award availability is a skill that isn’t easy to master. ExpertFlyer makes the process less difficult and more enjoyable once you learn how to use the service.

ExpertFlyer can save you countless hours searching for award availability with miles, set flight alerts and empower you with knowledge whenever you speak with airline agents over the phone. For a frequent flyer, the tool is a worthy investment.

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