If you're like me, or many of the others bloggers on UPGRD, you've used ExpertFlyer (EF) in the past to scope out the number of available seats for upgrade, or to piece together an award ticket.
Although there are some websites out there that allow you to search for Star Alliance inventory for free, namely United & Air Canada's Aeroplan, I've found the benefits of ExpertFlyer to greatly cover the cost. One of my favorite features is their flight and seat alert program. On a recent international award flight on United, I had to book one of the segments in economy, as business and first class were not available for a saver award ticket. Now, this wasn't too big of a deal, as the flight was under three hours, but a free meal and a lie-flat seat are nice. And when I'm flying on a first or business class award ticket, I've already paid the necessary amount of miles to fly that segment in business class. With the flight alert option, I filled in the necessary information (flight #, operating carrier, cities, etc), and then was able to select which cabins or fare codes I was looking for. After creating the alert, their system automatically checks for availability in that particular class, and then emails once it has found you the specific number of seats.
Two weeks after creating the alert for my flight, I received an email from ExpertFlyer notifying me that United had released some saver business class seats on my flight. Thanks to the alert service, I did not have to waste time calling United every day to see if they had opened up any seats in business.
With their introduction of 100% coverage for Star Alliance Award & Upgrade searches, I believe that the amount of time I spent on United.sux.com will be drastically decreased. ExpertFlyer loads much faster than the United websites, and also allows me to check availabilty for up to three days before and after my search date. This can be quite handy if you have a flexible schedule, and award availability is not available on your date of travel. United.com also seems to run into issues when searching for complex award tickets (itineraries with more than two or three connections). I run into this error quite often, which usually means that I have to search for each flight individually. If I were to add up the time it takes me to do an individual search for five or six flights, and then wait for United.com to load, I'll have spent more time that I would had I used ExpertFlyer.
Now that ExpertFlyer has added support for all of the Star Alliance member airlines, you can also select the "Star Alliance" option, which will return results on all of the Star Alliance carriers that fly to your destination. As an example, I chose a one-way search from New-York JFK to Cairo for next May.
The Star Alliance option has now offered me a number of possible connections that would get me to Cairo.
As I mentioned, this is a new feature to ExpertFlyer, and one that I am excited to use. When searching for an award ticket, I sometimes refer to Wikipedia to determine which airlines fly to a specific airport. This feature will likely cut out the time I would normally spend on doing those searches.
Some of the other benefits of ExpertFlyer include the ability to check flight status for flights all across the world. In the case of irregular operations (IRROPS), the status tool offers a nice amount of information, such as the ship number, time the flight pushed from the gate, time the flight took off, and then arrival information. Additionally, if the outbound flight is delayed, it will show the reason for the delay (often giving more detail than the airline websites), and show the inbound flight number and aircraft number if the delayed flight is waiting for the aircraft to arrive. Since March 3rd (UAs conversion to Continental's computer system), this tool has been particularly helpful to me.
ExpertFlyer also offers some of the traditional availability searches that you may want to do when looking for fares on an upcoming trip.
You can also view the seatmap for any flights that you are trying to gauge the load on.
If you think ExpertFlyer would be useful to you, I'd suggest you check them out. They do offer a five-day free trial of the Premium/Pro service, which should allow you to try out their services. As a 1K on United, I've found ExpertFlyer to be an invaluable resource, especially since the computer conversion in March. With Continental's unreliable computer systems, I am constantly having to monitor reservations to either make sure that upgrades clear properly (they don't, unless you babysit them), or to make sure that I am not booted out of my exit row seats.
The above chart should give you a good idea of what the subscription covers, but I am also happy to answer any questions you may have about the use of the site.