Something good just happened in the world of Delta flyers and travel hackers. After a lot of takeaways, they have reversed course and given something back. ExpertFlyer subscribers have regained visibility into the unsold inventory on Delta flights.
An Overview of ExpertFlyer
ExpertFlyer.com is the de facto site and service for researching airline flight information. They don’t sell tickets. They do show you in-depth information about each flight and, most important of all, they show you the number of seats that are available in various fare buckets, so you can decide when and if to buy a ticket. They contract with two different GDS services for their data. That ensures they can provide accurate and diverse information to their subscribers. (A Global Distribution System (GDS) is a network operated by a company that enables automated transactions between travel service providers.)
Take a look at the image above and focus on the column entitled, “Available Classes”. This is one of the key value-adds ExpertFlyer provides. This information lets you the know the minimum number of tickets still available to purchase in each fare bucket. Each airline uses slightly different letter designators for each of their fares. Full fare First Class is usually F, Full fare business is usually J and so on. Using Air France (AF) flight 23 as an example we know the following:
- There are at least 25 business class fares for sale (J6 + C6 + D6 + I4 +Z3)
- There are at least 12 premium economy fares for sale (W4 + S4 + A4)
- There are at least 89 economy fares for sale (all of the other letters and numbers)
ExpertFlyer always shows an “at least” number as this is a limitation of the GDS systems they get their data from. There’s room in the data structure for one letter and one number. With this information you can start to make some informed decisions about your ticket purchase. The aircraft column shows that this is an Airbus A330-200. We can cross reference the seating charts for this type of aircraft to see the location of the unassigned seats and determine how well the availability of the fare buckets matches up with the assigned seats. I have found that the numbers don’t always match up exactly due to the fact that some fares that are for sale can only be used in special situations. You can also jump to the airfare information for each particular flight and see the cost of each fare bucket.
OK. So that’s a brief overview of the ExpertFlyer offering. Now let’s look at the ExpertFlyer – Delta relationship.
Expertflyer and Delta – An On-again, Off-again, On-again Relationship
Starting sometime in 2012 Delta started to modify its policies regarding access their flight data by other sites and services. By modify I mean they didn’t want any 3rd party service to access that data and use it to display their information to their customers. They sent a cease and desist letter to AwardWallet, the points and miles aggregation site. This forced AwardWallet to drop direct support for Delta. Since then they’ve managed to come up with a couple of workarounds, but it’s not as elegant as it was prior to the cease and desist action.
ExperFlyer wasn’t immediately affected, but in 2013 Delta pulled visibility into its inventory of free upgrade space for DL Elites (Sliver through Diamond). That move was not a big hit among the DL Elite community as the data could be used to book a ticket on a flight that had good availability of free upgrades, and avoid flights with little or none. Here’s an example taken from the popular online forum Flyertalk from October of 2013:
Just got this email from ExpertFlyer:
|Dear ExpertFlyer Subscriber,|
As of today, Delta has requested that we remove the visibility of the DL elite upgrade classes (RU/OU) from ExpertFlyer.com. As such, your Flight Alerts for these 2 classes can no longer check for availability in those classes so their status has been changed to Expired so they do not count against your available alert allocation.
If you would like to send feedback …
As always, thank you for your support of ExpertFlyer.
Then in September of 2014, DL didn’t just drop the other shoe, they emptied out the shoe store completely. ExpertFlyer sadly notified their subscribers about what had become the new normal.
“Delta has requested that we no longer offer to you any information on ExpertFlyer pertaining to Delta. Since our inception almost 10 years ago we have accessed Delta information through a GDS where they publish information for the benefit of various travel providers. We have always done this with the full knowledge and tacit approval of Delta. However, there now appears to be a change of thinking at Delta where this is no longer the case. As a result, we will no longer display Delta information in any of our Tools, including Flight Availability, Upgrades, Seat Maps, Fare Information, Flights Status, Flight Details, and Flight Timetables.”
Fast Forward to June 2016
After approximately two years of a near complete data blackout, someone at Delta HQ in Atlanta figured out that it might not be such a bad thing if they let ExpertFlyer access and display their data. I don’t know who and I don’t know why. All I know is that they changed their mind. There’s been little glimpses that DL was loosening up a bit. They’ve loosened the restrictions on upgrade priority when an elite is traveling with a lower level elite or non SkyMiles member. They’ve invested in CLEAR and are offering free memberships to Delta SkyMiles Diamonds. And now they are letting ExpertFlyer members see their flight information. And that’s a good thing. Almost.
You can now view Delta Fare information on ExpertFlyer.com but the way they did it is……. kind of odd. Other than codeshare flights you can’t see DL fare bucket availability unless you specify DL as the only airline in your search. This doesn’t keep you from just opening another browser window or tab so you look at the information side by side. But it is a really strange way to grant access to the information without giving you equivalent access.
All in all this is very good news for Delta flyers and travel hackers that want the very best information to make their choices. It’s not perfect. It’s not as good as when compared to other airlines. But it’s certainly much better than no information, and that’s where we were just a few weeks ago.