Right now, Air New Zealand has a monopoly on direct flights between the United States and New Zealand with flights between Auckland and Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Honolulu. It adds an Auckland to Houston flight on December 15, 2015.

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The good thing about booking Air New Zealand award space is that you have access to the whole country through connections instead of just Auckland. Air New Zealand is a Star Alliance member, so you can book its flights for 40,000 Unites miles plus taxes one way in economy or 80,000 miles in Business Class.

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The problem with Air New Zealand is that they never release any Business Class award space to the United States, and they don’t release economy space over the heart of New Zealand’s summer.

Here is the award calendar for two passengers from San Francisco to Auckland. You can see that there is no space in February (peak time), but space most days in April and May (off peak, Fall). There is also no Business Class award space (Blue and Green, March 15 connects in Sydney after flying United Business.)

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In just a few months, Air New Zealand’s monopoly will end. United will begin flying San Francisco to Auckland on July 1, 2016 three times a week with a 787-8 Dreamliner. On October 28, the service expands to daily flights on the 787-9. Both Dreamliners feature flat bed Business Class in a 2-2-2 configuration and no First Class.

American Airlines has just announced that it will begin flights from Los Angeles to Auckland “starting in June 2016.” American will fly the route with the 787-8 Dreamliner with flat bed Business Class in a 1-2-1 configuration, which means every seat has direct aisle access unlike United’s Dreamliners.
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The United flight is better for connecting in Auckland to the rest of New Zealand on Air New Zealand flights. It will cost 40,000 United miles in economy no matter where you start in the United States or end in New Zealand or 70,000 miles in Business Class. The United flight is also good if you want to see New Zealand and Australia on a single roundtrip with a stopover. For instance, this award would be 85,000 United miles in economy with a free stopover in Auckland en route to Sydney.

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The American Airlines flight is better because it is cheaper at only 37,500 American Airlines miles one way in economy or 62,500 in Business Class. It is also better for upgrades if you are a top tier elite, since you can use an American systemwide upgrade to upgrade even the cheapest paid fares if you are an American Airlines Executive Platinum. The American Airlines flights offer no connectivity in New Zealand beyond Auckland. You can connect in Auckland to Australia on Qantas flights, but since there are no free stopovers on American Airlines awards, I don’t see much value there.

Award Space

Currently Air New Zealand opens no Business Class award space between the United States and New Zealand. That has been going on for a few years.

United has only recently started selling seats on its new route to New Zealand. So far it has opened up good economy award space and no Business Class space.

American hasn’t started selling seats yet on its new route to New Zealand, so we can only speculate on award space. Based on the award space on American’s new Los Angeles to Sydney route, I expect American to release some economy space to and from Auckland but zero Business Class space.

At least initially.

Hopefully this huge increase in the number of seats flying daily to New Zealand quickly increases the number of award seats on the route. It would be nice to be able to lock in Business Class awards on the United and American Airlines flights several months in advance or at least have award space consistently opened up within a few weeks of departure.

Until that happens though, the way to fly Business Class on direct flights to New Zealand will be to book the little-known United Plan B awards that allow you to book economy awards, pay the Business Class miles price, get first priority on the waitlist as a “displaced Business Class passenger,” and even get your extra miles refunded in the very unlikely event of not upgrading. More on United Plan B awards here.

Bottom Line

With United and American ending Air New Zealand’s monopoly on direct flights to New Zealand from the United States, I am hopeful for more Business Class award space eventually. For now, though, expect only economy award space and Plan B awards.

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