As part of my research into a forthcoming expedition to New Zealand, I have been scouring the internet to learn everything I can about how to get there and making the most of my time. As is always the case, I have a particular interest in how I can do this on a budget, or maybe even for free. This post is the first in a series about NZ and will detail my findings on the best award redemptions from the United States to New Zealand and back again.
UPDATE, 1/11/2016: I found a goldmine of economy award space today for United redemptions by searching from SFO. Remember to search from multiple west coast hubs as it might be worth repositioning to find availability!
Crossing the Pacific Ocean to Oceania and Australia/New Zealand has typically been a very tough redemption space, but with renewed interest from US airlines, there's hope for some positive change in availability. Meanwhile, if you've got the desire to visit New Zealand on miles, there are already some valid options if you have United, American, or Alaska miles in your account!
Using United Airlines Miles for New Zealand
This is the partner that unlocks Air New Zealand flights, so if you've got United miles you've got a good shot. While Air New Zealand doesn't open up much availability on its own flights, when it code-shares with UA there are often 4 economy seats bookable with miles if you plan way ahead (like 11 months ahead, the first few days they become available). A roundtrip to Auckland or Queenstown from LAX will cost you 80,000 miles and typically will route through Australia (Sydney or Melbourne).
To make the most of your points, you could organize a "stopover" in Queenstown for a few days on a roundtrip flight from LAX-AKL, giving you both New Zealand cities for no additional miles. Alternatively, you could also use an "open-jaw" award to fly Los Angeles to Queenstown and back from Auckland to Los Angeles. You'd need to find your way between the two New Zealand cities (typically $100-200 for a one-way), but this would save your stopover for Melbourne or Sydney if you want to see a bit of Australia, too.
Using American Airlines Miles for New Zealand
Continuing to look at our late-November window, there is lots of economy seat availability on partner airline Quantas to Queenstown, via Sydney. I also found space for the same route on Wednesdays booking directly through American Airlines. Flying back from Auckland to LAX, via Sydney should be easier, so just a one-way flight from Queenstown to Auckland would be needed to complete the loop.
A third option, and perhaps the best, is partner Fiji Airways. There is ample availability (if booked 11 months out) for both economy and business class routing from LAX to Auckland, via Nadi Airport (Fiji). A roundtrip flight to and from Queenstown would still need to be booked to complete the loop.
All of these awards would price out at 37.5k each way in economy and 62.5k in business (although soon American is raising business award redemption rates).
Using Alaska Airlines Miles for New Zealand
There's one obviously good play with Alaska miles that needs to be added to the award options. Alaska, like American, is partnered with Fiji Airways. The difference between the two programs is that Alaska allows a free stopover, so you can actually spend some time enjoying Fiji on your way to New Zealand. Alaska allows you to do this for 40k miles each way in economy or only 55k in business and I have seen availability for both options.
The Hybrid Miles Option for Getting to New Zealand
Johanna and I have a rather substantial supply of American Airlines miles and a growing supply of Alaska miles as well, so we will probably do a hybrid redemption. Both airlines offer one-way awards, so we'll be looking to book with American miles on the way and Alaska miles in order to relax in Fiji on our way home.
Since Alaska miles are harder to come by and include things like free stopovers (which American no longer allows), I value them more highly. Using the AA miles on the outbound (when we wouldn't use a stopover anyway) preserves more of our higher-valued miles. We may even decide to use our additional Alaska miles to make the long return trip in business class, which would be a first for us in seven years of traveling together.
Note: Don't get me wrong, American miles are valuable! However, there are lots of AA credit card sign-up bonuses in the 50-60k range to pad your accounts and they have announced a devaluation of their award chart for March of 2016.
Other Options for Award Travel to New Zealand
It's also possible to get from the US to New Zealand using Hawaiian (via Honolulu) or KLM (via Tahiti) and I did do a fair bit of research before concluding these options to be less desirable. The exception would be if you wanted to visit those places anyway, in which case the issues in award availability and routing might be worth fighting through.
Using Miles within New Zealand for Domestic Flights
Once in New Zealand, you may find yourself wanting to hop between the two islands by plane, in which case, you should be looking for cheap flights or an alternative mode of travel. United is partnered with the domestic monopoly that is Air New Zealand, but its a rip-off. It costs 17,500 United miles for a domestic one-way, making those points worth a cent or less each, whereas you'd be redeeming United miles for at least 1.5 cents-per-mile when flying from the US to New Zealand.
The Bottom Line for Award Travel to Kiwi Country from the US?
As American and United announce new routes from the US to New Zealand and Australia, we should see more space come available as well as a decrease in the cost of a paid ticket. If, however, you're like me and just can't wait to get to New Zealand, there are still plenty of options if you plan far enough in advance and know how to find the award space.
Next up in this series, I will tackle all the ways to visit both Auckland and Queenstown (on opposite ends of the country) in one trip. Stay tuned!
Do you have an interest in New Zealand and lots of miles to cash in? I can help you find those flights and get you headed out on your next adventure. Contact Thorpe Travel for more information.