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How to use ExpertFlyer alerts to snag a better seat

Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with the latest 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 automatically. Best of all, you can set an alert for a window or aisle seat with ExpertFlyer’s free membership. In this guide, we’ll take you through exactly how to set up and use ExpertFlyer seat alerts.

What is ExpertFlyer?

American Airlines first class seats A321neo

ExpertFlyer is free for anyone to join, but it also includes two paid membership tiers that unlock expanded features and functionality. You can sign up for a free five-day Premium trial on the ExpertFlyer website if you’re a new member. 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 and flight alerts. You can have up to 200 combined flight and seat alerts simultaneously.

For more information on ExpertFlyer, check out our guide to finding award space with ExpertFlyer. The remainder of this guide will focus solely on ExperFlyer seat alerts.

Related: Tips for picking the perfect airplane seat every time

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. 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 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.

Using ExpertFlyer

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

SJC to HNL AS ExpertFlyer

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. In this case, I’ve set the alert to advise me about aisle and window bulkhead seats.

SJC to HNL AS seat map ExpertFlyer

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

Related: Are airlines required to seat families together? Guide to airline family seating policies

When 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:

  • Your preferred seat type (aisle or window) isn’t available.
  • You’re stuck in a middle seat and prefer a window or aisle seat.
  • You can’t find seats together for you and your spouse/friend(s)/family member(s).
  • 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).
  • 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.

Related: Apps and websites that make award redemptions easier

Using ExpertFlyer seat alerts

Now, let’s consider how to use ExpertFlyer seat alerts.

Let’s say you are flying American Airlines flight 185 from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on Nov. 26, 2023 — a flight roughly five weeks away when we last updated this guide. 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.

AA 185 seat map

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: Nov. 26, 2023
  • Airline name or code: American Airlines (AA)
  • Flight number: 185
  • Class of service: Economy

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

AA 185 ExpertFlyer seat alert

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

Finish seat alert page

You’ll receive an email notification once ExpertFlyer locates a seat that matches your alert criteria. 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, so acting quickly when you get an alert will maximize your chances of moving to a better seat.

Related: Should you ask to switch seats on a plane?

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 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 upgrading to a Basic or Premium ExpertFlyer membership to create a seat alert for any two seats together.