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

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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 has 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, while Air New Zealand files from Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, and Honolulu.

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.

American AAdvantage®

American has its own flights from Los Angeles to Auckland, 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.

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.

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 American Express 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 American Express 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.

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 Starpoints®, your next best bet is United MileagePlus® (a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner) or Delta SkyMiles® (an American Express Membership Rewards® transfer partner).

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

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.

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 80,000 miles. 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.

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.

 

Hawaiian Airlines also flies to Auckland. You can get the Hawaiian flights via Hawaiian Miles, which is a transfer partner of American Express 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.

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

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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