ExpertFlyer is a service that collects proprietary airline data, including award inventory, from a number of airlines and for a subscription fee, will reveal that data to consumers. ExpertFlyer is a unique tool, as they have contracts for data-sharing with airlines, unlike a number of other services which scrape the data from publicly available sources. I find that ExpertFlyer is the most accurate tool to search for award inventory for participating airlines, as it does not show phantom availability which can be a serious problem (looking at you Air France!).
Although you can’t search for award inventory with all airlines, a very long list of airlines participate, including some obscure but useful carries like: Canada North, Air Seychelles, Air Tahiti Nui, Emirates, Kenya Airways, and a number of other airlines that are difficult to search for award inventory. Note that Delta and United have both reneged on their deals with ExpertFlyer, and you cannot search for their award inventory.
Once you have an ExpertFlyer “Pro” account, for which you can get a free 5 day trial, you are able to search for award inventory, among other things.
First, click on “Awards & Upgrades”
Then put in your destination pairs, the airline you want to search, and the fare class you’re looking for. Note that for some airlines, only one of the available classes of service show. There is no workaround for this.
Here, we’re searching on Air Tahiti Nui between LAX-PPT. Note that I instructed the system to search +/- 3 days from my selected date. The results will return 7 days of availability.
Here, I class is for business, and W is for economy. We now know there is 1 business award seat available and 6 economy award seats available on this flight. Using this data, I would now call the award issuer (ex. Delta Skymiles), and ask them to manually pull this inventory. You would not be able to search for Air Tahiti Nui award availability on the Delta.com website, and doing so over the phone would be a very, very long and tedious process. By having ExpertFlyer award availability to instruct the award agent, I have saved myself a lot of time and hassle.
ExpertFlyer has a number of other useful features for planning your award trip. The most significant are: Maximum Permitted Mileage (MPM) and Minimum Connecting Time (MCT).
The MPM tool shows you the IATA published maximum allowed distance flown between two cities, including what the 5%, 10%, 15%, 20%, 25% over-mileage values are. This can be very useful when the award issuer applies an MPM calculation to restrict your itinerary.
Here we note that the MPM value between Toronto YTO and Narita TYO is 12,687 miles if you’re travelling via the Atlantic (MPM AT), or 7,705 miles if you’re travelling over the Pacific (MPM PA). If there’s no AT/PA value, that means you’re not allowed to fly over the missing ocean, if the award issuer follows MPM rules for making itineraries.
The MCT tool shows you the minimum allowed connection time at an airport. This means that if you’re under this published time, the award issuer does not believe that you can make your connection in time, and will not issue a ticket for a connection that is under MCT.
This was an MCT search for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia ADD. The MCT at ADD for a domestic to domestic flight is 30 minutes [D/D .30], domestic to international is 1 hour [D/I 1.00], international to domestic 1 hour [I/D 1.00], and international to international is 45 minutes [I/I .45]. There are exceptions though. For example, if you arrive on Ethiopian Airlines ET and leave on Saudia SV, on a domestic to international itinerary, your MCT is 1.5 hours [ET-SV DI 1.30].
The above information would be very useful for planning a trip on the Toronto YYZ – Addis Ababa ADD direct flight on Ethiopian Airlines, and then connecting on Ethiopian Airlines to Delhi DEL. If the flight to DEL leaves 29 minutes or less (see ET-ET II .30 above) than after the YYZ-ADD flight lands, you won’t be able to ticket this itinerary.
ExpertFlyer is an excellent resource for planning award travel. Although it can get a little complicated, it is a quick learning curve, and I highly recommend any travel hacker to give it a try.