How ExpertFlyer saved my spring break trip from a drastic schedule change
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My wife and I are advanced planners to our cores — especially when it comes to international travel. While that approach has faced numerous challenges over the last two years, we’ve nonetheless leveraged the flexible cancellation policies of most award tickets (and the pandemic) to plan trips several months ahead of time, hoping that they’d go off without a hitch but knowing that they might need to be changed.
But sometimes airline schedule updates can wreak havoc on our strategy. And that’s exactly what happened earlier this month with an upcoming trip.
Fortunately, one of my favorite travel services came to the rescue.
Here’s how ExpertFlyer (which is owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures) helped save our trip.
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Background on the trip
Last May, we finalized plans to spend our daughter’s 2022 spring break in Jordan, a country that has been high on our travel wish list for a number of years. Despite a brief scheduling snafu, we ultimately landed on an itinerary that worked great for our schedule:
- Royal Jordanian from New York-JFK to Amman (AMM): Three business-class awards booked using American AAdvantage miles.
- Emirates from Amman (AMM) to Miami (MIA) via Dubai (DXB): Three business-class awards booked using Alaska miles, prior to the end of the Alaska-Emirates partnership.
We had planned to book a separate, one-way ticket from our home in Florida to JFK as a positioning flight, since the appeal of flying straight from the U.S. to Jordan (as opposed to stopping in Europe or elsewhere in the Middle East) was simply too good to pass up.
And then, things went haywire.
The schedule change
After planning our time in Jordan, we stepped away from this trip and focused on other, more immediate plans — including our first international trip in two years to Wales and Finland last November. But in early January, I revisited this plan and was dismayed to see that our outbound flight had been changed. We were on the exact same flight — but it was departing one day earlier than originally booked.
I am not sure when (exactly) this was updated. I frequently monitor my flights for schedule changes, and I simply missed this one. American still had the itinerary listed in my AAdvantage account, but I didn’t spot the fact that we had been moved up a day.
Upon further research, I figured out that Royal Jordanian had cut the frequency of the flight from daily to 3 times a week. But with a family wedding in Florida on our new day of departure, there’s no way we were going to make a 7 p.m. flight out of JFK.
I immediately began researching alternatives, but with less than three months until departure, there was simply nothing available for three passengers in business class on the date we needed. I saw that Royal Jordanian was still offering a daily nonstop flight from Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Amman (AMM), but there was no award availability.
I even tried pushing American to work with a Oneworld liaison to request that Royal Jordanian open up space to accommodate us. Unfortunately, that request was denied. Instead, American offered to rebook us through Paris (CDG) with a 10-hour layover.
This routing was far from appealing, so I turned to ExpertFlyer for help.
And the service came through — in a big way.
Creating ExpertFlyer alerts
I’ve been a longtime premium member of ExpertFlyer, and it’s one of my favorite ways to research award availability (you can join here for a free, five-day trial; after that, a premium membership costs $9.99/month or $99.99/year). As soon as I noticed the problematic schedule change, I used ExpertFlyer to research alternative routings with other alliances. I knew I could get my AAdvantage miles back, so if I could find a different way to get from Florida to Jordan, I’d be able to salvage my trip.
Sadly, the only itineraries I could find required positioning flights, long layovers and multiple connections — none of which sounded like a fun start to a vacation.
However, if a flight doesn’t have the award space you want, ExpertFlyer allows you to create alerts that will notify you when those seats open up. Once you receive the alert, you can go to your favorite frequent flyer program to confirm the ticket.
With this in mind, I set up several alerts on various long-haul flights out of the U.S. that would work with our schedule seeking three business-class award seats. This included not just the ORD-AMM flight on Royal Jordanian but also:
- Lufthansa from Orlando (MCO) and Miami (MIA) to Frankfurt (FRA).
- Turkish Airlines from Miami (MIA) and Atlanta (ATL) to Istanbul (IST).
- Qatar Airways from Miami (MIA) to Doha (DOH).
I was cautiously optimistic, given that many of the seat maps on these flights were relatively open. I knew that there was no guarantee, but I was hoping for the best while (mentally) preparing for the worst.
Less than a week later, my optimism was validated.
Award availability alert
Over the weekend, I received the following email from ExpertFlyer:
This was actually our ideal flight, since it allowed us to leave Florida early and arrive in Amman the following morning. In fact, we’d land more than four hours earlier than originally planned.
I immediately logged into my Avianca LifeMiles account, as I was sitting on a bunch of miles from a postponed trip in 2021. I verified the award availability on both Turkish Airlines legs, and a few minutes later (after paying $175.50 in taxes and fees), we were confirmed on the flights.
This MIA-IST flight is also (as of now) slated to be on Turkish Airlines’ excellent 787-9, so we should have a very comfortable flight across the Atlantic — though sadly a relatively short layover in which to enjoy the carrier’s lounge in Istanbul.
Nevertheless, I’m thrilled with the new routing — and it was made possible by ExpertFlyer’s easy-to-use flight alerts feature.
Sure, I could have manually searched for this award space and come across it on my own, but that takes time and effort (and, the right timing). I’d much rather leave it to a service like ExpertFlyer to do the heavy lifting for me.
Other features of ExpertFlyer
Of course, ExpertFlyer isn’t just about award tickets. There are other alerts you can use that can come in handy, especially in the ever-changing world of international travel:
- Seat alerts: If your desired seat type (or specific seat) isn’t available, you can ask ExpertFlyer to notify you when one opens up.
- Aircraft change alert: If you’ve booked a particular flight in order to experience a specific plane, an aircraft change alert will notify you when there’s been an equipment swap.
- Flight schedule alert: You can add any of your existing flight reservations here and ExpertFlyer will notify you if there’s a schedule change. You can even set a tolerance level for how significant the change needs to be in order to trigger an alert.
Note that I neglected to use the last functionality with my original Royal Jordanian flight. Otherwise, I would have been notified of the schedule change when it first happened. With carriers continuing to adjust their schedules due to fluctuating demand tied to the ongoing pandemic, this feature can keep you up to date — and give you the chance to quickly rebook an existing reservation.
Some schedule changes are minor, but others can end up completely messing up a trip. Our vacation to Jordan fell into the latter of these categories after Royal Jordanian moved our departure up an entire 24 hours onto a new flight we simply couldn’t take.
Fortunately, ExpertFlyer saved the day, as the site’s flight alert feature notified me when three award seats opened up in business class on an alternate routing that worked perfectly for our schedule. And our trip isn’t just salvaged. We now have an extra 4-plus hours on the ground in Amman. It’s this kind of experience that cements my loyalty to ExpertFlyer — and makes it an ideal tool for anyone looking to leverage their points and miles for upcoming travel.
There’s still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the next few months of travel, but I remain optimistic that I’ll be able to make our trip to Jordan a reality — and I have ExpertFlyer to thank for it.
Featured photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.
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