At Travel-Dealz, we regularly use the Expertflyer tool, which we see as a Swiss Army knife for frequent flyers. The website combines various useful features (with a paid subscription), including:
- Searching for available seats for award flights and mileage upgrades
- Including email notifications when a seat becomes available
- Flexible searches for available booking classes for a specific airline
- Viewing seat maps and receiving notifications when desired seats become available
- Displaying fare rules and routing codes for almost all fares
For the first, and for many of us, the most important function, there have always been a few limitations. For example, searching for award flights for Iberia, KLM, Etihad, and other airlines was not possible or only partially usable. Now, 26 more airlines have been excluded in one go, affecting nearly all Star Alliance carriers.
Nearly the entire Star Alliance (and two more airlines) affected
All the functions under the Awards & Upgrades tab have been removed for the affected airlines. These airlines include:
- Air Canada
- Air China
- Air India
- Air New Zealand
- ANA All Nippon Airways
- Austrian Airlines
- Avianca (incl. Avianca Costa Rica & TACA)
- Brussels Airlines
- Croatia Airlines
- Ethiopian Airlines
- EVA Air
- LOT Polish Airlines
- SAS Scandinavian Airlines
- Shenzhen Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- South African
- TAP Air Portugal
- Thai Airways
- United Airlines
- Virgin Australia
Only Aegean Airlines, and Turkish Airlines remain as supported Star Alliance members.
It doesn’t sound like this is just a temporary restriction. Expertflyer stated in an email to its users:
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.Email from Expertflyer
Speculation About the Reason
Expertflyer officially does not disclose the reasons for this change, but it’s clear that they wouldn’t voluntarily give up one of their most important functions.
Looking at the list of removed airlines, all except Vistara and Virgin Australia are members of the Star Alliance. Based on this, Ben Schlappig of One Mile at a Time speculates that Expertflyer’s data collection has been based on automated scraping of the United website, which is already known as the best way to search flexibly for award flights.
It’s not entirely clear why Air Canada is being excluded as well; after all, Canadians (with their Aeroplan frequent flyer program) also have partnerships with Vistara and Virgin Australia, and their data could be scraped easily.
What is clear, however, is that the Star Alliance is increasingly cracking down on automated tools. The website Seats.aero, which functions very similarly to Expertflyer, recently received a cease and desist order from Air Canada. This suggests that Air Canada wants to take action against mileage brokers who sell award tickets to individual and business customers.
As an Expertflyer user, this change is initially frustrating. I have several flights within Asia and Europe coming up, and I was hoping for availability notifications from Expertflyer.
However, it’s understandable that such tools are seen as problematic by airlines. Currently, it’s sometimes impossible to find award seats without Expertflyer and similar tools. In theory, blocking automated tools can help improve availability for “regular” users. By doing so, available seats cannot be immediately snatched up by power users or even mileage brokers.
Cover Picture: Marten Bjork / Fotomontage Travel-Dealz