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Secrets of booking New Zealand with miles: Your best award flight options

by on Wed December 23, 2015 • 40 Comments
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New Zealand is an incredibly rewarding destination, and airlines are adding more flights than ever from the U.S.

Air New Zealand just started service from Houston, and United and American are each launching flights next summer. But snagging award space is still a challenge unless you know where to look.

For Economy Class your easiest option is to use United MileagePlus miles for Air New Zealand or United flights. And for Business Class the easiest option is to use American AAdvantage miles to fly via Fiji on Fiji Airways.

We’ll cover these and other options in detail below, along with exactly where to find and book the awards.

Economy Class Awards

United MileagePlus (Easiest)

Your best bets to New Zealand are with Air New Zealand and United, who each have nonstop flights from the U.S. to New Zealand. And United MileagePlus, which is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, is your best bet for booking their flights with miles.

United flies from San Francisco to Auckland starting July of 2016, while Air New Zealand files from Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, and Honolulu.

newzealandroutes

It’s not hard to find award seats in Economy Class for 40,000 miles each way and no fuel surcharges.

And when you use MileagePlus for a roundtrip flight you get the benefit of a free stopover, which we talk about in detail here, so you could for example get a free flight within New Zealand from Auckland to Christchurch as part of your ticket.

Where to find award space: Use United.com and choose ‘Award Travel’ when you search for flights. You’ll have the best luck if you first search out of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, or Vancouver first, then work backwards from there to your home airport.

laxaklunited

Lots of easy to search MileagePlus award space

American AAdvantage

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American is starting its own flights from Los Angeles to Auckland during the summer of 2016, and it’s also a partner with Qantas, who has lots of flights from the U.S. to Australia, and then onward to New Zealand.

Economy Class availability used to be really generous on Qantas flights, but now it’s a lot more spotty than it used to be. And you will find almost no Saver level award space on American’s own flight from Los Angeles to Auckland.

An alternative is to go via Tahiti or Fiji with decent award space, and you can read about that below in the Business Class section.

Until March 22, you can get to New Zealand in Economy Class for 37,500 miles one way (75,000 miles roundtrip), and after then the price increases to 40,000 miles one way (80,000 roundtrip), all with no fuel surcharges.

Where to find award space: AA.com makes it easy, just do an award search there without any need to login. If you want to take advantage of Qantas options you may need to search for the U.S. to Sydney separately, then the Sydney to New Zealand leg to coax the website into showing you all the options.

Delta SkyMiles

Delta and its SkyTeam partners don’t have any nonstop flights from the U.S. to New Zealand, but there are lots of options with connections in Australia and China if you fly on Virgin Australia or China Eastern flights.

You’ll pay as little as 50,000 miles one way (100,000 roundtrip) for Economy Class, and while flights on Delta and Virgin Australia flights don’t have fuel surcharges, you will pay them on China Eastern.

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Very good Economy Class award space with Delta SkyMiles

Where to find award space: Delta.com shows nearly all partner options to New Zealand when you do an award search.

Alternative: If you have Citi ThankYou points or Amex Membership Rewards points, Air France Flying Blue is an alternative that gives you access to the same flights for the same price of 50,000 miles one way. Check award space at AirFrance.us.

Business Class Awards

United-BusinessFirst3

While Economy Class flights to New Zealand are pretty easy to find, getting there in a Business Class seat can be challenging, but not impossible if you’re creative.

You can forget about finding availability on the nonstops from the U.S. to New Zealand, though you might have luck if you gamble and waitlist for a Business Class seat on the United flight from San Francisco to Auckland. (Read about waitlisting for Business Class on United flights here).

Another gambler’s options with better odds is to look for Virgin Australia award space from Los Angeles. Bookable with Delta SkyMiles (80,000 – 95,000 miles each way) or Virgin America Elevate miles (45,000 miles one way), Virgin Australia tends to release good Business Class award space about 1 – 2 weeks before departure.

If you want a confirmed seat in Business Class to New Zealand ahead of time, consider the following strategies:

Strategy 1: Connecting in Asia

Yes, connecting in Asia is the long, long way to New Zealand. It’s almost twice as long as a nonstop from the U.S. But in Business Class the time does fly by faster, especially when you’re drinking champagne in a lie flat bed.

If you really want to stretch your points, the lowest price in points is via ANA MileageBank, which is a transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest and Amex Membership Rewards. With ANA you can book Star Alliance flights like those on ANA or Thai Airways which have good availability onward to New Zealand, for just 120,000 miles roundtrip using any ANA partner, or 105,000 – 120,000 miles roundtrip using ANA’s own flights.anaawardchart

You do end up paying fuel surcharges, which are usually around $500, but compared to the typical price of 160,000 miles roundtrip, saving 40,000 miles can be worth paying $500.

If you don’t have Starwood points, your next best bet is United MileagePlus (a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner) or Delta SkyMiles (an Amex Membership Rewards transfer partner).

For 80,000 miles one way you can get connections to New Zealand with decent availability.

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Delta SkyMiles options are generally on China Eastern via Shanghai with a few hundred dollars in fuel surcharges, but with really nice Business Class seats if you catch one of their new 777-300 aircraft.

chinaeastern777

China Eastern’s 777-300 Business Class seats are elegant and private

United MileagePlus options are generally on ANA via Tokyo to Sydney with no fuel surcharges.

With MileagePlus you can then take Air New Zealand flights from Sydney to New Zealand on the same award ticket, though there’s often no Business Class space on the short 3 hour Sydney to New Zealand flight, so you may have to suck it up in coach for that leg.

Alaska MileagePlan is also an option, letting you fly on Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong for 60,000 miles each way, but Alaska isn’t a transfer partner of any of the major bank point programs.

Where to search for space: Use United.com to look for Star Alliance space, though you’ll have the best luck looking for space to Sydney, then onward from Sydney to Auckland separately. For SkyTeam space Delta.com does a decent job without much coaxing.

Strategy 2: Going via Fiji, Tahiti, or Hawaii

You can also get to New Zealand via Fiji, Tahiti, or Hawaii, and by doing this you’ll have a better shot of scoring Business Class seats all the way through without having to traverse Asia.

Your best bet is via Fiji with Fiji Airways using American AAdvantage miles or Alaska MileagePlan.  Fiji Airways serves Nadi from Los Angeles, and soon San Francisco airports, with flights that connect to its Nadi to Auckland service. With AAdvantage you can grab a Business Class seat for 62,500 miles one way until March 23, 2016, and 80,000 miles one way afterward. Award space is pretty generous if you plan ahead in both Business Class and Economy Class, so you shouldn’t have to spend hours searching for space.

Here’s an example, pulled from ExpertFlyer.com, which is the best place to search for Fiji Airways awards.

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You can call AAdvantage or Alaska Airlines directly to book.

And while the seats in Fiji Airways’ Business Class don’t quite go all the way flat, the cabin is still pretty swanky looking.

fijibusinessclass

Hawaiian Airlines also flies to Auckland. You can get the Hawaiian flights via Hawaiian Miles, which is a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards. The price is steep at 105,000 miles one way in Business Class from the U.S. But if you start in Hawaii it’s a little more reasonable at 65,000 miles one way.

hawaiianawardchart

Air Tahiti Nui has spotty space from Los Angeles via Tahiti, which you can book using American AAdvantage miles and search using ExpertFlyer.com.

airtahitiakl

AAdvantage even recently changed its rules to allow you to book Air Tahiti Nui’s codeshare flight run by Air New Zealand on an AAdvantage award, giving you a few extra flights a week to get down there.

If you’re still having trouble, you’re welcome to ask us for help. We won’t do the booking for you, but we can help you find options you might not be aware of.

 

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40 thoughts on Secrets of booking New Zealand with miles: Your best award flight options

  1. Barbara

    I will be flying from Austin to Sydney in January to get on a cruise ship in Sydney on January 10, 2018. I will have between 300 and 400 thousand Chase Reward Miles by this spring and would like to fly business class. I have never used points before to fly and am very confused. What is my best airline option and route to take with Chase to get business round trip tickets and how do I transfer my points to the airlines?

    Reply
  2. Jennifer

    I have 388k United points and 500k Amex points. Trying to get my husband, niece and myself roundtrip to NZ in business class in May/June. Suggestions?

    Reply
  3. CGE

    Hello, I would like to fly my wife & myself to Australia or New Zealand preferrably in Business Class. We are based in Ft Lauderdale and we currently have a little over 200K Citi Thank You points of which I need to transfer 25K prior to December 4th so that they do not expire. In addition, we presently hold a Southwest Companion Pass thru the end of 2017 and hold approximately 85K SWA points. I would appreciate any assistance in formulating a strategy to accomplish this. Timing is not a priority & we are willing to wait to accummulate more points via sign-up bonuses, etc. The only reason I mention the SWA situation is that it might be of value if needed to reposition within the US. Thank you in advance for any assistance.

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @CGE – There’s decent space in August from LAX-SYD on AA. That would run 145k Asia Miles roundtrip or 85K one way. Probably best to book the 2 flights down for 85k each. Then you’ll need to earn some points to get back. Would suggest getting the 100k Sapphire Reserve and some United miles if you’re under 5/24. 160k of those should get you some options for your return.

      Reply
  4. Michael

    My wife and I travel from Salt Lake to Queenstown, NZ often to visit family/ friends. Have not found a way to use Delta miles – any ideas?

    Reply
      1. Michael

        Thnx ! I just looked and you’re right. In the past and as late as a couple days ago I swear all I saw was itineraries to Auckland @ something like 180 k miles

        Reply
  5. Melanie

    My husband and I are interested in traveling to New Zealand and/or Australia in 2017. We are on the east coast, close to BWI, PHL, or IAD. We currently have about 175000 UR points and 125000 TY points. Do you have any suggestions as to the best use of these points to get there, preferably in Business or First class?

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Melanie – Looks like you have enough for 1.5 tickets in Business if you’re flexible. The 175k UR would be enough for 2 one ways with United MileagePlus. And the 125k TY would be enough for 1 one way in Business using Air France Flying Blue, or use 97.5k for Singapore Krisflyer. Maybe try to see if you can pick up some more miles for example with the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

      Reply
  6. Will

    Strategy 2 appears the best for me, living in LA (with my best old ex-friend Ray). Is the best strategy to accumulate Alaska miles or given that I have 75,000 AA miles to focus on both AA and Alaska miles? I write this with an eye towards available award space. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Will – If you’re in LA, maybe you can also consider gambling on Virgin Australia. They tend to release decent award space about 1 – 2 weeks before departure. Bookable with 80-95k Delta miles one way, or 45k Virgin America miles.

      Reply
  7. Jose

    I would like to try and plan a trip for my wife and I to Sydney and New Zealand late august 2017. We use AAdvantage points.
    We were thinking 5 days in each city and we would like to fly business from Louisville ky area.
    Any suggestions for that time of the year? And what routing would you recommend?
    Thanks

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Jose – Business Class with AAdvantage is really tough to get down there, since they don’t let you go via Asia without charging a lot more points. Hard to say right now – the seats won’t open up for another 2-3 weeks – but start checking LAX-AKL/SYD/MEL religiously on AA.com.

      Reply
  8. Alyssa

    Hi! Trying to book a flight at the saver level round trip from Washington, DC to Auckland in January 2017 with United miles. In the United section above, you said:

    “You’ll have the best luck if you first search out of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, or Vancouver first, then work backwards from there to your home airport.”

    What do you mean by “work backwards”? How do I work backwards so that the flight from DC to SF is also included in the 40k mile 1-way ticket? There is more saver award availability earlier in the month for SF > AKL than for DC > AKL so I’d like to try to use one of those earlier dates. Sorry I’m fairly new at this!

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Alyssa – On the dates you see SFO – AKL availability, do a separate search for DC – SFO availability. You might find some Saver availability that doesn’t show up when you search DC – AKL all the way through. If you do find that space, then call United to try to piece it together.

      Reply
      1. Alyssa

        Thanks so much! That makes sense – Wasn’t thinking of the option of calling to have them piece it together.

        Reply
        1. Alyssa

          Also is there any way to do a Fiji stopover either on the way there or on the way back when booking an award flight to New Zealand from the US?

          Reply
  9. Martin

    Hi, I was looking for award space on Air New Zealand form either SYD or AKL to NAN – but united.com isn´t showing any availability at all. Did they remove awards from this route?

    Reply
    1. Alyssa

      I’m currently trying to find Air New Zealand award availability on the United site too for January 2017 and can’t find a thing! 🙁

      Reply
  10. joe burmeister

    I flew our family of 5 to New Zealand a year ago for the Christmas/New Years. I looked at using MR but it wasnt cost effective to use points for a family of 5 flying to NZ from the midwest. So what I did was book 5 one way tickets from ORD to Maui at 38K ANA miles each by transferring Amex MR points to the ANA website. For the return portion, I booked 5 one way tickets using MR points on the ANA website from HNL to ORD with a layover in Minneapolis to see some relatives for a few days (again 38K miles each). We spent a week in Maui, then flew to Auckland, New Zealand via AirNZ and spent 3-weeks in a rental car driving from Cape Reginga (northern most point of NZ) all the way down to the southern tip of the North Island (Wellington) before flying back to Honolulu, and spending another week in Hawaii (buit this time in Honolulu).For me, it was better to pay in cash for the HNL to NZ then use points (it was like $695 RT from HNL to AKL per person). so our family got to do the ORD-SFO-MAUI using points, interisland xfer via Hawaiian Airlines using points, HNL/AKL via Air NZ using cash, HNL-MSP-ORD using points. I would highly recommend departing for AKL from HNL especially if you have young kids. And the ANA websites has lower points redemtion value than other airline websites (38K RT to go to Hawaii…but i think ANA has recently revamped therir rules back in Oct 2015 so its not a great deals now as it was back then).

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @joe – Good strategy. It’s like getting to India with the Middle East carriers. Fares are often so low in cash that it’s better to use miles to position.

      Reply
  11. Kbzsk

    Great info, thank you. Any advice on using miles to fly from SYD to New Zealand, minus heavy fuel charges (like on Virgin)?

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Kbzsk – There shouldn’t be any fuel charges on Qantas – they got rid of most of them for flights that *start* in Australia.

      Reply
  12. PG

    Just the info I needed! Looked at a few different articles on line and closed all the others. Thanks! (I’ve also seen some other great content from you guys linked from elsewhere, so now I’m finally subscribing)

    Reply
  13. Rob Carnachan

    I am looking for two business class round trip seats from Denver to New Zealand (any destination city is fine) for next February or March (2017). They would need to be on United or a Star Alliance carrier. I’m seeing standard award seats, but no saver award seats. What is the best strategy for securing two saver award seats in business?

    Reply
      1. Rob Carnachan

        Thanks! We did that a few months ago on a trip to France. Unfortunately, despite us doing everything correctly, the United personnel in Chicago did not understand our waitlisting and gave away the remaining business class seats to 1K upgrades before we got there. They had to call Houston to speak to the staffers there before they accepted our argument, but by then it was too late and the flight was boarding.

        On the Paris end, they understood it and we were able to get the available business class seats. However, we spent a lot of time and energy on the whole process and I would much rather have a guaranteed business class seat for the trip to/from NZ.

        Reply
  14. Brenda Ruth

    I want to fly myself, husband and son to Australia or New Zealand next Christmas, leaving around the 12th returning around the 31st. I have 292,00 Advantage miles so I’m hoping to cover two of the tickets for business class and buy a third economy class and upgrade using my system wide upgrade. I’ve been calling every day for a week with no success. Is there a better way to do this. Would going thru Fiji be a better bet? Any suggestions are welcome.

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Brenda – That’s a really difficult time to get down there. At the moment, yes Fiji may be the better bet to check. Also since you’re Executive Platinum you can change anything for free, so maybe search for one seat at a time and put each of you on different flights if you see availability for just one or two people.

      Reply
  15. Luv2Fly

    What is the best way to search for award space to Australia or New Zealand from the East Coast? Preferrably NYC, but I’m open

    Reply
  16. andy shuman

    Nice write-up. Two small corrections.

    1. You can transfer to ANA from MR, That’s important, as I value my SPG points too much.

    2. Flights from NA to Oceania on ANA metal begin at 105K in J in low season, AFAIR Your chart is for partners. Doesn’t get more awesome than that, but availability is getting hard to come by.

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Diamond Vargas -Yes for Economy but we’ve seen a lot of cases where EF shows biz class space but Alaska doesn’t. Like 4/17 HNL-NAN.

      Reply
      1. Diamond Vargas

        Interesting, good to know. Just booked a LAX-AKL itinerary on FJ today, based on availability on the Alaska site, but in the future will also call AA if there’s no availability showing.

        Reply
  17. Jessie

    Thank you! I’ll check into the skymiles option. I’m new to this but finding that it’s definitely harder for me to burn points than to earn them since we travel as five.

    Reply
  18. Jessie

    Have you seen any consistent options for a family of 5? I’m thinking my best bet might be to rotate us through business seats in shifts. Is there a rule against doing this? Pretty sure I’ll never find 5 RT business seats and I’d appreciate your advice-thank you!

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Jessie – Tough to do – the Fiji route tends to be in pairs. Airlines tend to discourage swapping seats frequently.

      But some of the routes via Asia have 5 seats if you’re really flexible. For example with SkyMiles there are a few dates next year with China Eastern availability for 5 at 80,000 miles each way.

      Also we forgot to mention in the article, but Korean SkyPass also has very good availability via Seoul, very often for 4 or more people at a time. It’s expensive though…195,000 miles roundtrip + about $600 in taxes and fees. But it is a direct Chase Ultimate Rewards xfer partner.

      Singapore also has both Christchurch and Auckland flights, but it’s rare to see more than 2 seats at a time. But if you book via native KrisFlyer miles you can waitlist to get swept in as they decide to open more seats. They’re more expensive – 100k one way in Business from the West Coast.

      Reply

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