ExpertFlyer Loses Star Alliance Award Availability

ExpertFlyer Loses Star Alliance Award Availability

58

I’ve written before about ExpertFlyer, which is a valuable paid subscription service for frequent flyers. It can be useful for seeing fare class availability, seat maps, and even for setting award availability alerts. Unfortunately the website just became a lot less useful, at least for now.

ExpertFlyer loses Star Alliance flight alerts

ExpertFlyer has just sent out an email to subscribers, noting that the company can no longer obtain award and upgrade data for a variety of airlines. Here’s how ExpertFlyer explains this:

Due to issues in obtaining award and upgrade data for the below airlines, we have removed them from our list of supported airlines in the Award & Upgrade search for the time being. This also means that any active Flight Alerts for those airlines are not currently working.

The list of airlines impacted by this includes all Star Alliance airlines, Virgin Australia, and Vistara. To be clear, you can still see fare class availability and seat maps for most of these airlines. However, you can no longer search award or upgrade space, and can no longer set award or upgrade alerts for these airlines, whereby you’ll be emailed or texted if space on these airlines becomes available.

This is a huge loss, since one of the most valuable features of ExpertFlyer is the ability to set availability alerts, and snag otherwise hard to find award seats.

ExpertFlyer no longer supports Star Alliance award alerts

What’s going on behind the scenes here?

ExpertFlyer isn’t being very transparent here. On the one hand, the company isn’t referring to this as some temporary outage, and isn’t saying that availability will be restored shortly. Rather everything about this sounds permanent to me, except ExpertFlyer states that this availability is being removed “for the time being.” That almost seems like a way to suggest people should hold out hope.

Why would ExpertFlyer remove flight alerts on these airlines? Well, ExpertFlyer doesn’t publicly share how it has access to award availability across airlines, though my assumption is that the airline is scraping the availability off airline websites, or something along those lines.

Based on the airlines that ExpertFlyer is removing, it sure sounds to me like ExpertFlyer was using United’s website to search award availability:

  • United is the only airline that displays award availability for all of the above Star Alliance airlines, plus Virgin Australia and Vistara
  • One quirk is that ExpertFlyer has never shown how many award seats are available in a particular award fare class, which also suggests the company was using United’s website, since United doesn’t show the number of award seats on partner airlines

So my best theory — and this is purely speculation on my part — is that United forced ExpertFlyer to stop using its site to search award availability. I could be totally wrong, though.

Was ExpertFlyer using United’s site for award availability?

Bottom line

ExpertFlyer has just lost award availability on dozens of airlines, including all Star Alliance airlines, plus Virgin Australia and Vistara. ExpertFlyer states that this change is “for the time being,” but there’s no indication as to if or when this availability might return.

This is a huge loss for the usefulness of ExpertFlyer, since being able to search award availability and set availability alerts on these airlines was one of the main perks of the service.

What do you make of these ExpertFlyer changes?

Conversations (58)
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  1. iamhere Guest

    It will happen with more airlines and alliances. Sites like that one are not good for their companies and loyalty programs

  2. Clark Guest

    Definitely wrong about scraping airline websites. If they were doing that, why wouldn't they show PZ or PN upgrade classes on United? This would massively increase the utility of Expertflyer. The speed which it operates indicates using API services from individual airlines or some data aggregator.

  3. AL Guest

    I just canned my EF sub. The way they talk to people on FT annoys me but with the loss of *, and the previous loss of VS and BA data, it literally has no use to me any more.

    I always figured that EF was looking at Sabre or another GDS, rather than scraping and caching. A lot of the information it had about VS wasn’t available on their website.

  4. JohnSF Guest

    As an ExpertFlyer user I have not had confidence in them for a few years, start from when TPG took them over. They have had outages with BA and EK, EK lasted for months, and they just had some weak response such as, "it is an issue with one of our providers and we are working to resolve it". Yeah, right. For months? Probably their scraping got broken and they had to find a new...

    As an ExpertFlyer user I have not had confidence in them for a few years, start from when TPG took them over. They have had outages with BA and EK, EK lasted for months, and they just had some weak response such as, "it is an issue with one of our providers and we are working to resolve it". Yeah, right. For months? Probably their scraping got broken and they had to find a new way to scrape.

    EF still has value, but the value keeps diminishing more and more as they lose more and more airlines. Most of the time they wont even tell you when it breaks and you only find out the hard way. Sad. I am starting to use other options now but some EF functionality is not available via other options (seat monitoring) and so I keep it for now.

  5. Randy Diamond

    I did not receive the email from ExpertFlyer on this change. Got my notice of auto-renewal last week.

    1. digital_notmad Diamond

      I believe they sent it only to those with active alerts for the affected carriers.

  6. Phillip Diamond

    “One quirk is that ExpertFlyer has never shown how many award seats are available in a particular award fare class, which also suggests the company was using United’s website, since United doesn’t show the number of award seats on partner airlines”

    Am I missing something? I could always see the number of available award seats. At least for the airlines I have searched for.

    1. Randy Diamond

      Same here - for Oneworld I see the number.

  7. Whatever Guest

    It’s not just that it takes time, but some sights like AC don’t properly display First Class availability making even available seats invisible - which the point. So when airlines hid fraud to us how is that not fraudulent on them

  8. Brett Guest

    This is a bummer. I didn't pay EF all year, but I'd sub when I needed it. Cowtool was awesome as well, almost turned me off entirely from EF. I need to plan a trip, went to cowtool, saw it's going down, so I subbed EF just days ago. Only to have the search die on me last night, and today all the airlines I wanna search are gone. The UA site is ok, but...

    This is a bummer. I didn't pay EF all year, but I'd sub when I needed it. Cowtool was awesome as well, almost turned me off entirely from EF. I need to plan a trip, went to cowtool, saw it's going down, so I subbed EF just days ago. Only to have the search die on me last night, and today all the airlines I wanna search are gone. The UA site is ok, but the old version was better imo. It's too hard (at least I find) to search for premium cabin other airline non-stop across a date range. Which is exactly how I put the trips together.

    Ok, no major issue, all these sites can kinda go down, I'll revert to just using the AP search which has gotten way better over the years. Except, now with this issue about family pooling and whatever, AP search engine is a total dud. What good is a search if it shows basically no availability across the rest of the alliance when we know from other searches, that's not true.

    So now I guess it's on to other sites, i feel like point.me is a little pricey, and on first glance i don't love the look on seats or roame. I never really understood KVS when I tried to use it back in the day, maybe it's time to try again.

  9. AF Kay Guest

    Perhaps we all should just ditch any and all frequent flyer programs.

    1. NathanJ Diamond

      Righhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhttttttttttttttttt

  10. Sash Guest

    It's more than likely from the cease and desist letters that Air Canada sent to websites like seats.aero for website scraping. I assume EF also received the same letter.

    On a side note, I strongly believe that seats.aero is the one to point the finger as the root cause of all this.

    1. AL Guest

      Scraping isn’t bad, per se. It’s a not uncommon technique on much of the internet. AC cease and desisting seats.aero is poor AC choice - ties in with usual airline lack of investment in IT infrastructure.

      The first airline that provides a good developer experience to get this information from them is going to get the kudos. Didn’t UA have this for a while?

      Maybe the new IATA infrastructure standards will help… but only time and money will tell.

  11. Adi Guest

    This might be part of the Air Canada Aeroplan cease and desist letters sent out. Seats.aero also got one.

  12. JetSetFly Guest

    Just takes more time to go from websites to websites to look for award tix. This is fine for individuals but bad for point brokers. More award ticket availability for most.

  13. Tim Guest

    Do any of the other award search websites offer similar alerts?

    1. hypertext Member

      Seats.aero, point.me, roame.travel are the main players (in that order)

  14. John Guest

    If I had to guess, this is how airlines may be pushing back against point brokers. And unfortunately, a lot of experts flyer subscribers got caught in the crossfire.

  15. Al Guest

    Hmmm Thought something was up. Figures I just renewed ExpertFlyer Premium a few days ago. Too good to be true service

  16. David Diamond

    ExpertFlyer is losing access as part of a wider push against data-scraping. Air Canada execs communicated this in a recent fireside chat:
    https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/35626155-post1610.html (About 1 hour 20 mins in)
    It's not just an Air Canada initiative, seems like something that's largely agreed on alliance wide.

  17. Daniel B. Guest

    @Lucky: unrelated but I have just found out that Chase removed the "combine" points and "share" points options from its website and app. It has now a totally new account page without those options. I have just called Chase, they told me it was done because of the rampant fraud when transferring points to other people. Now we have to call them if we want to transfer points to the selected family member.
    Have you heard about it?

    1. Scott Guest

      It's still there it's just been moved, at least for moving points between multiple cards for the same person/biz.

    2. Daniel B. Guest

      @Scott. Maybe that option I do not see because I have moved all my other points to my Ink Preferred UR account prior to this change. Maybe when my Sapphire points post, it will show up. Where do you see that option of combining your own points? Thanks.

  18. Chris Guest

    ExpertFlyer using United would explain why both were showing a bunch of phantom Eva award availability that couldn't be found elsewhere.

    1. Scott Guest

      All that phantom eva space has really been aggravating me over the past week. Trying to book close in to se asia and even space from Europe was phantom.

    2. Flyer Guest

      100%! All of sudden TPE-IAH nonstop business wide open Oct and Nov! But impossible to book.

  19. Mike Guest

    Quite right that ExpertFlyer is not transparent and that becomes especially obvious anytime a glitch comes up. Seeing the way they respond to posts on FT is cringe-worthy - they constantly appear to treat their subscribers like fools by giving responses that are aloof. It sucks that we lose out on some award availability but EF deserves what’s coming to them for the abysmal way they carry on business.

    1. Brodie Guest

      When I was reading this article, my first thought was the shitty way they respond on FT. Sad

    2. VinLeb Guest

      So true. The way they treat subscribers you can’t help but think that they really hate them all.

    3. NathanJ Diamond

      You are so right, @Mike - they are truly arsey in their arrogance when responding to queries. They treated me in a very pissy way when I asked when the "temporarily unavailable" (or however the hell they list their unavailability of, I think, EK's inventory) - absolute disdain. Sorry for asking! I have platinum status with Virgin Australia too, so this is overall a totaldeal-breaker for me now. It will truly give me great pleasure...

      You are so right, @Mike - they are truly arsey in their arrogance when responding to queries. They treated me in a very pissy way when I asked when the "temporarily unavailable" (or however the hell they list their unavailability of, I think, EK's inventory) - absolute disdain. Sorry for asking! I have platinum status with Virgin Australia too, so this is overall a totaldeal-breaker for me now. It will truly give me great pleasure in cancelling their sorry arses once my yearly subscription runs out.

      Bye, Felicia!

  20. Sam Guest

    “ You would think TPG's parent company wouldn't use a cheap trick to scrape data off sites. “

    And why would you think that?

    1. Eskimo Guest

      Maybe because they are a 4500 employee company with estimated $2 billion annual revenue.

      Not those enthusiast who codes with a handful of people (or just one person) and some seed money funding.

  21. Andy Diamond

    I agree that less information is not good news. But the information was often incomplete or not bookable from certain programs. That why I always search on program website, on which I can actually book because I have the miles/points available.

    1. Eskimo Guest

      Because Andy is not a blogger or a advanced user who can actually maximize the use of these tools.

      Like I said in my comment, to most people the airline's own site or remaining sites are more than enough.

      It's a huge loss for many bloggers' side hustle, the "award trip consultants".
      It's a huge loss for people who rather not redeem LAX-SYD nonstop but LAX-LHR-DOH-SYD for few extra miles on a much better...

      Because Andy is not a blogger or a advanced user who can actually maximize the use of these tools.

      Like I said in my comment, to most people the airline's own site or remaining sites are more than enough.

      It's a huge loss for many bloggers' side hustle, the "award trip consultants".
      It's a huge loss for people who rather not redeem LAX-SYD nonstop but LAX-LHR-DOH-SYD for few extra miles on a much better experience. Because if you know, you know it's always that one segment.

    2. Ecco Guest

      Agree award trip consultants business model is sinking rapidly. There's so much diy now. Even some of the diy search sites won't last long.

    3. Rose Guest

      Lol that's an absurd routing unless you have some business in London or Doha. Doubling your flight time so you can fly Qatar is definitely peak travel blogger, tho.

  22. RetiredATLATC Diamond

    Wow, what a day. AeroPlan has shit the bed as well as ExpertFlyer.

    1. ecco Gold

      I'm going to make some firm bookings and use up all those aeroplan miles I bought. Will stop them living rent free in my head. Far too many ifs and buts with that program that outweigh the free stopover perk and frequent sales they have.

  23. Eskimo Guest

    There goes another paid tool.

    I thought the "scraping the availability off airline websites" is what sets EF apart from their once better and more powerful competition.

    You would think TPG's parent company wouldn't use a cheap trick to scrape data off sites.

    What's left on the market should still be enough for most people, but bloggers can kiss goodbye to clickbait worthy routing.

    1. Steven L. Gold

      > You would think TPG's parent company wouldn't use a cheap trick to scrape data off sites.

      As opposed to, what, a fully documented, publicly accessible API? That doesn’t exist, or else they (and every other third-party search tool) would use that instead. Scraping or making use of the endpoints that a company’s website hits is a pain in the ass; developers do that when there isn’t a better alternative.

    2. Eskimo Guest

      Just because they don't have an API for everyone to use doesn't mean it's not accessible.

      Developers do that when they don't want to cough out dough.
      Scraping is so simple if the data is not complicated.

      You seem to know a little, so either you're a not so good programmer or your programmer just scammed you.

    3. Steven L. Gold

      Why would an airline want to sell API access to services that would let FFP members more easily maximize the value of their miles/points? The pittance of income it would generate wouldn’t offset the value of the awards being redeemed, or even just the resources allocated to make it presentable—assuming there is a REST/SOAP API and the pages aren’t being rendered server-side—such as creating documentation (no, you can’t just “throw Swagger at it”) or providing...

      Why would an airline want to sell API access to services that would let FFP members more easily maximize the value of their miles/points? The pittance of income it would generate wouldn’t offset the value of the awards being redeemed, or even just the resources allocated to make it presentable—assuming there is a REST/SOAP API and the pages aren’t being rendered server-side—such as creating documentation (no, you can’t just “throw Swagger at it”) or providing support. And yes, I know there are third-party “API generator” services, but again, the potential amount of income here wouldn’t be worth it for them.

      The problem with scraping isn’t how hard it is to do, it’s simply annoying to maintain when anti-scraping measures get implanted or even just the page changes. Yes, there are tools/services that make it someone else’s problem, but you were the one who brought up devs not wanting to pay money, weren’t you?

      > you're a not so good programmer
      If your entire analysis of a potential approach is “How hard is it to implement?”, then right back at you.

    4. Steven L. Gold

      That should read “implemented”, not implanted. Stupid autocorrect.

  24. frrp Diamond

    Didnt they lose IAG airlines which was called temporary and they never came back?

    Whats the likely cause of it?

  25. Alex Guest

    It will come to all the sites that basically use technology to scrape data from carriers website to monetize their data and then even shame them about not making seats available. Ben if you would be a carrier or alliance u would do the same to protect your turf. The success of blogging and sharing is what will kill the point game in the long run. We. We’d to enjoy while we still can.

  26. Starcflyer Guest

    seats.aero is next! If this means the return of hard to find awards, I am all for it.

  27. Brodie Guest

    It’s almost at a point where it’s worthless. Curious if they will adjust subscription fees. Hahahaaa

  28. ecco Gold

    I still find the seat maps on expert flyer very helpful for seeing which seats are available on expert flyer and don't really use the alert system on expert flyer.

    The blocking of seeing award availability by airlines from scraper programs is probably due to too many points collectors ending up in their premium cabins and degrading the experience for full fare paying premium customers. I've flown on a few J cabins lately and there...

    I still find the seat maps on expert flyer very helpful for seeing which seats are available on expert flyer and don't really use the alert system on expert flyer.

    The blocking of seeing award availability by airlines from scraper programs is probably due to too many points collectors ending up in their premium cabins and degrading the experience for full fare paying premium customers. I've flown on a few J cabins lately and there are people who are clearly not paying cash for their seats. I was on a Fiji airways flight where a guy was in J and his girlfriend was in Y and he got her up to J and shared the bed. Would have been hellishly uncomfortable but that's the sort of behaviour airlines are up against these days.

    Also maybe it's the buying up of award seats by asian operators and onselling that maybe causing the airlines to clamp down on online searches. The only problem is that, in the case of aeroplan, they ask you to ring in for award bookings for eg for SQ. But you can't get through on their call centre lines due to long waits.

    1. Scott Guest

      The cabin crew should have shut down that situation you described on fiji.

    2. ecco Gold

      I told the stewardess. They told me they knew about it and then didn't do anything about it.

  29. Cmx Guest

    For non expert flyer users, this is prob good news!

    1. Dana Guest

      Likely coming from Air Canada, not United. Case in point: Cowtool going under recently and now a letter to seats.aero, as Clem mentioned.

  30. Clem Diamond

    For what it's worth, Air Canada is sending cease and desist letters at the moment to services like seats.aero (and others apparently), so it's likely related.

    1. pointsnerd341 Guest

      Oh wow that's a big loss. Where were you able to find this info?

    2. digital_notmad Diamond

      Seats.aero emailed members about it. However, they do not plan to capitulate to Air Canada despite the legal threats.

    3. Clem Diamond

      It was also posted on the Discord.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Brodie Guest

When I was reading this article, my first thought was the shitty way they respond on FT. Sad

3
Mike Guest

Quite right that ExpertFlyer is not transparent and that becomes especially obvious anytime a glitch comes up. Seeing the way they respond to posts on FT is cringe-worthy - they constantly appear to treat their subscribers like fools by giving responses that are aloof. It sucks that we lose out on some award availability but EF deserves what’s coming to them for the abysmal way they carry on business.

3
JetSetFly Guest

Just takes more time to go from websites to websites to look for award tix. This is fine for individuals but bad for point brokers. More award ticket availability for most.

2
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