Scouring an airline’s website to find and book reward flights using your frequent flyer points can be a tedious process – especially when those options can be limited – but what if there was a faster and simpler way to locate those reward flights?
That's just one of the many features of ExpertFlyer – software which is considered the 'secret weapon' of frequent travellers.
ExpertFlyer is a paid service starting at US$4.99/month (A$6.60), and while it lacks a smartphone app or slick interface, this Web-based app has plenty of tricks up its sleeve.
In addition to locating available points-based award seats on any given day, you can also set alerts to notify you when a reward flight becomes available on the dates you need to travel.
This works with many major airlines including Qantas, Virgin Australia, Emirates, British Airways, Delta, Malaysia Airlines and United.
Here's how to use ExpertFlyer to plan and book a Qantas business class frequent flyer award ticket from Sydney to Los Angeles, which is one of the hardest-to-find reward options across the airline’s entire network.
Searching for Qantas flights with ExpertFlyer
ExpertFlyer subscribers can search for Qantas reward flights by logging in to their ExpertFlyer account and clicking the ‘Awards & Upgrades’ button.
Then, just plug in the route, airline and reward type you’re looking for (such as business class or first class), and click ‘search’:
Also checked was the ‘+/- 3 days’ option to search across an entire week rather than a single day, with the next screen revealing exactly what’s available during that period:
[You can click on the image above to enlarge it.]
Among the results, we can see that no business class reward flights were available on May 22 2017, but that a Boeing 747 reward flight could be booked using points on May 23 and that an Airbus A380 service could also be secured on May 24 when using frequent flyer points.
Armed with this information, we can head straight to the Qantas website and book our reward flight.
(While ExpertFlyer can search for available frequent flyer reward flights, you still need to make the actual booking directly with Qantas.)
Booking your Qantas reward flight
Not only does ExpertFlyer make it quick and easy to find reward flights, it also cuts out much of the ‘blind searching’ you’d normally need to do via Qantas’ own site.
That’s because Qantas’ website will present all available options across a number of airlines – they won’t necessarily be on the airline of your choice or non-stop, nor will they always be in the class that you’re searching for.
For example, we searched for reward flights on similar dates via Qantas’ own website, and at first glance there appeared to be plenty of availability:
But let’s take a look at Thursday May 25. The ‘seat’ icons above suggest that business class will be available on that date (in addition to premium economy and economy), but when we click through, only economy reward seats are available on Qantas:
(It’s only when you get to the very bottom of the page that you’ll find a business class option from Sydney to LA via Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific, adding at least 10 extra hours to an already-long journey and requiring more points than flying non-stop with Qantas.)
However, armed with the information we have from our ExpertFlyer search, we no longer need to open every date and keep our fingers crossed for something to pop up: we can instead simply click on May 24 when we know a business class award will be available on QF11 to LAX:
Be alerted when reward flights become available
Planning a trip with your partner but can’t find two reward options on the same flight?
Then create an ExpertFlyer ‘flight alert’, which will email you as soon as something comes up.
On the ExpertFlyer search results page (shown above), just click the small exclamation mark next to your desired flight, choose the type of reward you’re hunting for (in this case, business class), and how many of those rewards need to become available to trigger your alert:
Alerts are created on a flight-by-flight basis, so you might consider setting alerts on a number of suitable flights or across several days to maximise your chances if the trip is a little flexible.
As soon as that alert hits your inbox, you’ll be able to jump onto Qantas.com, key in your dream date and book your flight using points, without the usual rigmarole – and if nothing opens up, it’ll still save you time in not having to search every day or week in the lead up to your trip.
ExpertFlyer subscription pricing
ExpertFlyer offers two types of paid subscriptions that enable reward searching, among other things: 'Pro Basic' for US$4.99/month (A$6.60) and 'Pro Premium' for US$9.99/month (A$13.25) or US$99/year (A$131.20).
New customers are also treated to a free five-day trial of Pro Premium, and if you find the software useful, we'd suggest you take a look at the paid Premium option over the discounted Basic plan.
That's because Pro Basic doesn't allow you to search for awards week-by-week as we've done above (instead, only day-by-day), nor can you set flight alerts.
There's also a limit to how many searches you can perform every month under Basic, but no limit under Premium – so especially if you're planning several trips, you may find Pro Premium the best option.