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Perhaps one of the most useful features of ExpertFlyer is the ability to set alerts for award buckets. So the second an airline releases award seats, you get an email notification letting you know the space is available so you can book the awards before anyone else. This feature also works for upgrade space as well – while airlines say they have automatic waitlists, I’ve found that knowing when upgrade space is available is key to snagging the upgrade before others.
This feature takes the guesswork out of trying to figure out when airlines release award seats and saves you the time and hassle of constantly checking to see if seats are available for an upcoming trip. The only downside is that this feature only works for airlines that show award availability in ExpertFlyer (see a full list here – most notably absent are Continental, US Airways, Delta and British Airways awards), though ExpertFlyer has been adding more and more partners, so I hope one day the service has an accurate picture of award space on all airlines.
Before you set a flight alert, you need to know the following information:
Departure and arrival airports: these alerts only work for one segment, so if you are flying LAX-JFK-LHR on Delta, you’ll want to set two alerts – one for LAX-JFK and then one for JFK-LHR.
Date of travel
Flight number: If you need to find that, use the Flight Availability function I wrote about yesterday and write down the number which comes directly after the 2 letter carrier code. For example DL 28 means Delta Flight 28. If you don’t know what a 2 letter airline code is, you can always click on it and the name will pop-up (for example not all airline codes make sense, WN= Southwest).
Award class: When you are creating a flight alert, it will give you a link to the award codes for the airline you enter “Enter the class code. To see the list of codes, click here“
Once you have that information, simply select the Create New Flight Alert button on the main screen in the bottom left. For my example, I’ll use a real life situation when I recently used this feature. A client needed help booking a trip to Paris this summer and wanted to use a System-Wide Upgrade to buy coach and upgrade to business class. Delta only allows upgrades on super-expensive $3,000+ Y, B or M coach fares, so I recommended she buy Air France Premium Economy S, A or W fares which cost almost 30% less – $2,000. The only problem was that there was no upgrade space on her travel dates (which were not flexible) so she had to waitlist on both legs. No problem – I know Air France intermittently releases award space, especially as the flight date approaches. At a very minimum she was booked in Air France Premium Economy, which is a different cabin and much more spacious than a regular coach seat. If she would have booked on Delta, she would have had to pay $700 more and only been booked in coach – so in a worst case situation and the upgrade space never opened up, at least she’d be flying more comfortably on Air France and saving a boatload of money.
The first box is Alert Name – you can create whatever name you want, but I try to make it short and sweet. Something like; Paris Trip Return, so you know which segment is open if you have multiple alerts set (I have many alerts pending, so I use a special naming convention) works well. Then enter in the departure and arrival cities, date, flight number and award class. Once entered, simply create the alert and let ExpertFlyer go to work. As soon as Air France opens award space, you’ll get an email alert. In this case, it took about 2 weeks, but at 6:22am I got the alert so all I had to do was call Delta and tell them to use a System-Wide Upgrade to upgrade her into business class and 2 minutes later she was all set. I wrote about this experience in February, click here for the full post.
You can also set an alert from the Award/Upgrade and Flight Availability results pages by clicking the (!) icon next to the flight, this way you don’t have to manually input the flight info – the system takes it from the results.
Overall, this feature can save you time and give you a leg up against other passengers who are vying for a limited pool of award and upgrade seats. I’ve used ExpertFlyer flight alerts to score peak seats to Hawaii on the day after Christmas and for my trip this summer when I needed to fly Paris to Los Angeles and no space was available at the time of booking.