This is the last post in the How to Master ExpertFlyer series and I really hope all of this information has been helpful. As always, if you have any additional questions, drop a line in the comments. Happy to help how I can.

Other posts in this series:

Today we’re going to talk about how to use ExpertFlyer to predict your chances of getting an upgrade. This works best for those of you that have elite airline status and are wondering whether or not you have a good chance of getting an upgrade when booking a paid ticket.

Identifying a candidate flight

Ideally, you want to choose a flight that has more than a few seats open in business or first class. With that said, you definitely want to pick the flight that’s within your schedule that has the least amount of seats taken in the class that you want to fly.

But be warned, just because ExpertFlyer’s seat map is showing seats available, this does not mean that these seats are actually available. Sometimes when people book a flight they may not choose a seat assignment. When this happens, their seat is assigned by the gate agent at the airport. As such, you might see 10 seats available in first class but 7 of those seats are actually sold and have yet to be assigned a seat number. Just something to be aware of when performing this exercise.

For the purposes of this lesson let’s say I want to fly from New York to Los Angeles on a random weekend this summer.

Click the Flight Availability button within ExpertFlyer and enter your search parameters…

Here you can see I have many flight options. But I want to make sure that I select the flight that I think I have the best shot of being upgraded on.

Take a look at the red box above. There are more than a dozen letter/number combinations.

These are fare buckets and each bucket has a price assigned to it. If you pay $100 for a flight, that $100 fare is assigned to a fare bucket. There may be a different bucket with a $150 fare. It’s a way for airlines to manage revenue:

  • F, A = First Class
  • J, D, I = Business Class
  • Y, B, H, K, M, L, G, V, S, N, Q, C, E = Economy Class

The number following a letter signifies the number of unsold tickets available in that fare bucket.

Now how does this factor into upgrades?

Notice how all of the available flights have at least 7 unsold first class (F) tickets available. This means you can be reasonably assured that if you pull up a seat map and see many open first class seats, you aren’t seeing a mirage — the seats more than likely actually exist.

To find the seat map in ExpertFlyer, select the airplane seat icon in the far right column of the search window…

But wait, there’s another way

If you aren’t into paying for premium ExpertFlyer service, you could also go to the airline’s website and see how many seats are open when booking.

upgrade seat search

Final Word

I hope by the end of this ExpertFlyer series you’ve come away with some pretty good knowledge of how to use the system to your advantage. I think it is a really useful tool for travel research, but I understand that it isn’t for everyone.

To summarize what I talked about today, the first step to take if you are hoping to gauge your chances of upgrading is to go to ExpertFlyer. Next, click Flight Availability and search the different flight options that are available to you. Next, narrow down the flight options to those that fit your schedule. After you do that, take a look at the fare buckets to understand how many tickets are still available in each class of service. Once you have a good idea of that, look at the seat map for any open seats and compare the two. You want to be sure that what you’re seeing actually exists!

Hope this helps, catch you all next time!

If you prefer video:

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Good article. The little nugget on checking seats on flights is clever-silly me had never done that. So for someone like me that travels a little-maybe 2x a year- which would you suggest, award nexus or expert flyer. I realize they are not the same but some overlap in utility and I find it hard to justify even paying for one 🙁