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How to use ExpertFlyer alerts to snag a better seat

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Editor’s note: We’ve updated this post with new information.

We get it. Airline seat selection can be a frustrating endeavor. Window or aisle? Preferred seat or standard seat? Over the wing or not? Should I not select a seat and hope to score a great one at check-in?

Sometimes, your ideal seat may not be available when you book. And who has time to manually check a seat map multiple times a day leading up to a flight in the hopes that a better one opens up?

Fortunately, ExpertFlyer (owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures) can do this for you automatically. Best of all, you can set an alert for a window or aisle seat with ExpertFlyer’s free membership. Today I’ll take you through exactly how to set ExpertFlyer seat alerts.

In This Post

ExpertFlyer overview

American Airlines 737-800 Main Cabin

ExpertFlyer is free for anyone to join, but it also includes two paid membership tiers that unlock expanded features and functionality. If you’re a new member, you can sign up for a free five-day Premium trial on ExpertFlyer’s website. Here are the three membership levels:

  • Free: Set an alert to notify you when a more desirable seat opens up on your flight. You’re limited to one free alert at a time, though you can add more for $0.99 each.
  • Basic ($4.99 per month): Offers additional features, such as award and upgrade inventory search and flight availability. You can set four seat alerts simultaneously, but you’re limited to 250 queries per month.
  • Premium ($9.99 per month, or $99.99 per year): Includes flexible search options, unlimited queries and the ability to create aircraft change alerts and flight alerts. You can have up to 200 combined flight and seat alerts simultaneously.

For more information on ExpertFlyer, check out our beginner’s guide to finding award space with ExpertFlyer. This guide will focus solely on ExperFlyer seat alerts.

How to set an ExpertFlyer seat alert

Young Asian woman shopping online for flight ticket on airline website with laptop at home, sitting next to suitcase with sun hat, camera, clothings, headphones, smartphone and passport. Getting ready for vacation. Travel and vacation concept

Once you’ve signed up for ExpertFlyer, you can set a seat alert even if you opt for the free membership tier. But before you go to ExpertFlyer to set a seat alert, gather your flight information. Specifically, you’ll need the following information about your flight:

  • Departure airport.
  • Arrival airport.
  • Date.
  • Airline name or International Air Transport Association (IATA) code.
  • Flight number.
  • Class of service.

Once you have this information, log in to your account and click “Create new seat alert” from the homepage.

Finding the seat alert feature on the ExpertFlyer homepage

Next, enter your flight details and click “Search.”

Enter your flight information to create a set alert

Now, click “Create seat alert.” Name your alert and select your criteria on the right before clicking “Create.” Note that if you are on a free ExpertFlyer membership and are using your free alert, you’ll only be able to set up an alert for any seat, any aisle seat or any window seat.

Create your seat alert from this page

Once you create an alert, ExpertFlyer will notify you via email if your desired seats become available.

Related: Don’t leave it to chance: How to make sure your family sits together on a plane

When you’d want to set a seat alert

AA E170 Main Cabin Bad Seat

There are a handful of times when you may find yourself in need of a better seat, including the following scenarios:

  1. Your preferred seat type (aisle or window) isn’t available.
  2. You’re stuck in a middle seat and prefer a window or aisle seat.
  3. You can’t find seats together for you and your spouse/friend(s)/family member(s).
  4. You’d prefer a seat in a different part of the plane (like closer to the front for ease of deplaning or closer to the back for restroom proximity).
  5. You want a specific seat, such as an exit-row seat or a seat in a two-seat row.

In any of these cases, the ExpertFlyer seat alerts feature can help get you out of your existing seat and into a better one.

Using ExpertFlyer seat alerts

Now, let’s consider how to use ExpertFlyer seat alerts. Let’s say that you are flying American Airlines flight 171 from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on Nov. 27, 2022 — a flight roughly four weeks away at the time of this writing. Given the flight’s length, you’d like to avoid sitting in a middle seat. Unfortunately, there are no more standard window or aisle seats left — only paid ones:

The only complimentary seats on this flight are middle seats

To set up an alert, log in to your ExpertFlyer account and click “Create new seat alert” from the homepage. Enter the search criteria for your flight:

  • Departure airport name or code: JFK.
  • Arrival airport name or code: LAX.
  • Date: 11/27/2022.
  • Airline name or code: American Airlines (AA).
  • Flight number: 171.
  • Class of service: Economy.

The site will then pull up the above seat map. You can then select specific seats. In this case, I ticked off all the complimentary aisle and window seats except for the plane’s last row.

Select all complimentary aisle and window seats

Once you’ve added these details, click “Create.” You’ll get an immediate notification that your alert was successfully created.

Finish seat alert page

Once ExpertFlyer locates a seat that matches your alert criteria, you’ll receive an email notification. At that point, it’s up to you to access your reservation directly with the operating airline and select the seat. Do so immediately, especially if your flight departs within 24 to 48 hours. Open seats tend to get snapped up quickly at the last minute, so you’ll want to maximize your chances of selecting a better seat.

You’re limited to just one alert at a time with a free account. You can only use a free alert to notify you of an aisle or window opening. But you can purchase additional alerts that are also valid for the three additional alert settings above — exit rows, two seats together or specific seats — for $0.99 per alert.

If you find yourself purchasing seat alerts with a free account, you might want to upgrade to a Basic or Premium membership. These memberships unlock four or 200 simultaneous alerts, respectively, and allow you to utilize the additional alert settings. Plus, the Basic and Premium memberships provide a lot of perks that are invaluable to frequent award travelers.

Related: We flew some of the worst airline seats in America so you don’t have to

How frequently are ExpertFlyer seat alerts successful?

Row 21 Premium Plus on a United Airlines Boeing 777-300ER
ExpertFlyer could help you find an aisle or window seat, so you don’t have to travel in the middle on United’s Premium Plus. KYLE OLSEN/THE POINTS GUY

In 2019, TPG ran a data experiment to determine how often ExperFlyer seat alerts are successful. TPG looked at all ExpertFlyer seat alerts that had at least one search associated with them from August 1 through September 24, 2019 — which totaled 29,706 unique alerts for 111 airlines — and found that 91.4% of individual alerts were successful at least once.

Of course, this analysis used pre-pandemic data. But I can tell you that I frequently set ExpertFlyer seat alerts for my flights when I want to move to a better seat and these alerts often come through. Several things could explain why ExpertFlyer seat alerts often find a better seat before take-off:

  1. Other passengers get upgraded.
  2. Other passengers change flights.
  3. Other passengers change seats.
  4. An airline changes the equipment type to a plane with more seats.
  5. An airline blocks seats but then opens these seats in the hours (or days) before departure.

However, as noted above, you have to act quickly once you get an email if you want to benefit from these ExpertFlyer seat alerts.

Related: How ExpertFlyer saved my spring break trip from a drastic schedule change

Bottom line

ExpertFlyer can have a ton of utility for advanced flyers, as you can set alerts for awards and upgrades on dozens of airlines with a paid Premium membership. However, it’s also a fantastic tool for casual travelers, thanks to the seat alert feature that’s available even to users with a free membership.

If you can’t select a window or aisle seat you like for an upcoming flight, I recommend starting a free ExpertFlyer membership (or a five-day free Premium trial) and setting a seat alert to search for a better seat. It’s quick and free to do so, and you may let you snag a window or an aisle seat. Likewise, if you’re traveling with a friend or family member and can’t find two seats together, it may be well worth the $0.99 fee on a free ExpertFlyer membership to create a seat alert for two seats together.

Additional reporting by Kyle Olsen.