How ExpertFlyer helped me score a first class experience of a lifetime
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While air travel is slowly taking off again, it looks vastly different than it used to.
Back in early March — before the pandemic crippled global travel — I was able to fly on one of the newest (and best) premium products out there. That was ANA’s new “The Suite” first-class cabin between New York and Tokyo. I sat up in first thanks to my hefty balance of American Express Membership Rewards points — and a little help from one of my favourite subscriptions around.
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No, it wasn’t some streaming service that guided me to first class; it was actually a handy tool called ExpertFlyer. Over the years, ExpertFlyer has helped me score several coveted award seats where availability is sometimes extremely limited.
Thanks to my Amex points and that ExpertFlyer alert, I was able to experience one of my most memorable flights — and as of this writing, my last international trip before the pandemic shut much of the world down.
Here’s how I did it.
What is ExpertFlyer?
If you’re new to ExpertFlyer, it’s one of the best — and most advanced — tools around for travellers and frequent flyers. It not only helps you search for award availability but also has access to airline schedules, live seat maps and more.
In my mind, the enduring value of ExpertFlyer is the ability to set specific alerts so that you’re automatically notified when an award becomes available, allowing you to redeem your points or miles right away before the award you want is gone.
A premium ExpertFlyer subscription ($100 for a year) gives you the ability to search for awards and upgrades across dozens of airlines — including unlimited searches across flexible dates along with the ability to set a total of 200 alerts.
Using Expertflyer for award availability
ExpertFlyer has also been redesigned and enhanced for a better user experience — and it’s in public beta now. A premium subscription will get you first dibs at accessing it. You’ll notice the screenshots below reflect searches on beta.expertflyer.com.
Flight availability during the pandemic
During the pandemic, airlines have drastically reduced schedules to coincide with the drop in travel demand. Additionally, aircraft swaps are common, so while this story refers to refurbished Boeing 777s with the new ANA Suite, note that the aircraft may change at any time if you have a flight booked for the future.
As of this writing, the new ANA first and business-class cabins are found on most flights between Tokyo-Narita (NRT) and New York-JFK and Los Angeles (LAX). You can tell which Boeing 777-300ER aircraft are refurbished by referring to the seat map. If the business-class cabin goes to row 20, this indicates it’s a plane that has the new first and business class.
However, most countries still have restrictions on who can enter and for what reasons due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In addition, the frequency of flights has been reduced (click here for the latest ANA flights in operation). And bear in mind that further changes may occur as the uncertainty of COVID-19 persists.
Searching for award space
To begin your search on ExpertFlyer, enter your origin, destination, departure date, number of passengers and airline that you’re looking for award space.
As you can see, this interface looks very much like searching for a flight on an airline’s website, Google Flights or other online travel agency.
Unlike on those sites, however, you must also select your fare class in ExpertFlyer. In this case, since I am looking for first-class award availability, I checked “O” class.
Next, you’ll come across the search results. In this case, ANA flies one flight from New York to Tokyo on 22 October 2020. However, there is no first-class award availability at the moment (highlighted in red).
However, all hope is not lost.
Setting an alert
Here is where the one-stop shopping for award availability and power of ExpertFlyer truly shines. Since there is no award space, you can have ExpertFlyer alert you if and when it does open up.
With ANA, award availability often becomes available at the last minute, so if you’re flexible with your plans (as I was back in early March), then you can really benefit here from Availability Alerts.
When you click Create availability alert, you’ll be asked to enter your search criteria.
Then, once you click Create my alert, you’ll get a confirmation page — and the platform will start searching automatically for your desired seat(s).
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