Getting to New Zealand in Economy


I’m a newly minted New Zealand evangelist, but it’s not an easy place to get to with miles–at least not on a decent itinerary.

The only flights operated between the US and New Zealand are on Air New Zealand, which flies:

Auckland <-> Los Angeles

Auckland <-> San Francisco

Auckland <-> Honolulu

Air New Zealand is a member of the Star Alliance and has a world-class business class product on the California routes, but there’s a problem. I never see any business class space on the California routes. And the Honolulu route, which has some award seats available has a recliner seat in business class.

So if you want to get to New Zealand, you have two choices: fly an indirect premium-cabin itinerary (like I did on United Global First via Sydney) or fly directly to New Zealand in economy class.

Here’s the award space for getting to New Zealand in Air New Zealand economy class.

San Francisco to Auckland

Dates that are shaded yellow have at least one economy class award seat available. There is literally no business class space available for the next 11 months, and economy class space disappears after July.

If you can’t get the February 23rd flight, your options are limited to the North American spring, which is New Zealand’s fall. New Zealand never gets particularly hot, so by April it’s quite cool in Wellington, the capital.

Los Angeles to AucklandLos Angeles to Auckland shows almost the exact same pattern. Space is currently available from April to June.

Auckland to San Francisco

Coming back shows the same pattern of availability except worse.

Space is only available coming back from New Zealand starting in May.

Auckland to Los Angeles

The AKL to LAX flight shows the same pattern, May and June availability in economy.

Best Strategy to New Zealand

You aren’t getting from the continental US to New Zealand on a direct flight in business class. You can get there routing through Asia or Australia in business or first class. Or you can fly direct in economy, but only during late fall, not during New Zealand’s summer.

Which you prefer will depend on your mileage balance, preference strength for direct flights, and your dates.

I would generally recommend taking an indirect routing through Australia as the best option for a few reasons.

  1. Business class is better than economy.
  2. You don’t really want to fly into Auckland. You want to go to Queenstown, Wellington, or some isolated part of New Zealand nature. LAX to Queenstown via Auckland (15:00 + layover) is not much less flying than LAX to Queenstown via Sydney (17:30 + layover).

If you skipped Auckland and flew to Wellington to start the trip, you could easily do it through Sydney in United BusinessFirst, which is a world-class business class seat.

Booking the Tickets

All the flights I’ve mentioned in this post operated by United and Air New Zealand can be booked with either United or US Airways miles. United charges 40k/67.5k/80k miles each direction to New Zealand in economy/business/first. US Airways charges 70k/110k/140k roundtrip in economy/business/first. If you’re booking a roundtrip, US Airways is quite a bit cheaper–especially in business class. But if you’re booking one way, you should book with United since US Airways charges the roundtrip price for oneways.

To construct your award, find the transpacific space first, then the intra-Oceania flights, then the domestic US flights. Once you’ve found it all, you can book on with your United miles. If you are having trouble booking online, hold one segment online then call 800-UNITED-1 to finish the booking and avoid the phone fee as outlined in How to Avoid the Phone Fee on Award Bookings. To use US Airways miles, call 800-622-1015. (Or skip it all and hire the MileValue Award Booking Service for only $99 per person.)

Don’t forget to add a free oneway onto your award!

Master Thread: Free Oneways on United Awards

Master Thread: Free Oneways on US Airways Awards

Getting the Miles

You can get 100k+ United miles from two credit cards that you get on the same day, enough for a roundtrip to New Zealand with one way in business.

The card to apply for now is the Chase Ink Bold (or if you’ve gotten the Bold, the Chase Ink Plus.) The Chase Ink Bold is a business card that comes with 50,000 Ultimate Rewards after $5,000 in spending in the first three months.

Ultimate Rewards can be transferred to United at a 1:1 ratio, so this is an easy 50,000+ miles–possibly many more since the card earns 5X points on telecom, cable, and internet bills and at office supply stores.

The reason to get it now is that the spending requirement used to be $10,000 and may go back to that soon.

The Chase Ink Bold is a business card. You may own a qualifying small business without knowing it. See How to Be Approved for a Chase Business Card for information on what business qualify and how to fill out a business application.

I got the Ink Bold months ago and the Ink Plus in December to maximize my own Ultimate Rewards earning.

On the same day as your Ink application, pick up a Chase personal card. Your first choice should be the United Explorer card with a 50k mile signup bonus after $1k in spending in the first three months.

There is no public offer for the card, but many people see it when they sign into their United accounts here or at If you get the card, be sure to add an authorized user for a quick 5k more miles.

Another option is to get the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which earns 40k Ultimate Rewards after spending $3k in the first three months. You also earn 2X on all dining and travel purchases with the card. I like this card so much that I actually paid the annual fee to keep it last month–a rarity for me.

There isn’t quite as quick of a way to rack up 110k US Airways miles for a roundtrip in business. You can get 40k US Airways miles on first purchase with the Barclay’s US Airways MasterCard, but the card has an $89 annual fee the first year. You can also get the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express with a 25k bonus that transfers 1:1 to dozens of airlines with 5k bonus miles for every 20k points transferred.



The only way to go directly from the US to New Zealand is on Air New Zealand, which only releases economy space on its direct routes from Los Angeles and San Francisco.

If you’re going to Auckland, you might take those economy class seats to enjoy a direct journey. Since I would skip Auckland on a short trip to New Zealand, though, I would recommend connecting through Sydney flying United business to Sydney on your way to a more interesting New Zealand destination. It’s only a bit more flying, and a much better way to fly.

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  1. Yup – we did that last year. No biz availibility so we took Air NZ economy to Auckland. After a few days there, we rented a car and eventually made it down to Queenstown.
    I can handle an economy flight if the seating is 2-4-2 and we have the 2 seats by the window. Air New Zealand’s planes has that config (so does Air Pacific to Fiji and Air Tahiti Nui to French Polynesia).
    After 19 nights in in NZ, went to Sydney for 5 days at the Sheraton (great club lounge!) and flew back to LAX on Qantas biz.

  2. Great article. My brother lives in NZ, and I’ve been contemplating the best way to get there for a visit.

  3. Can you get the Sky-Couch with miles? That looks almost as good as business class, really — even for 2 people.

    • I had never heard of Skycouch and just looked it up. That’s a cool idea. If you get on the LAX-AKL flight, that plane has Skycouch. I’ll look into how you get into the right seats. I think anyone with a reservation can pay extra for the Skycouch enabled seats.

    • They are from Expertflyer lets you search a week at a time but has no calendar function like

      • I have heard anecdotally that UA’s search intentionally doesn’t display LAX/SFO-AKL space because it costs them more than flying you to SYD themselves and then letting you take NZ to AKL.

        May or may not be true…

          • I don’t know that they are, but I DEFINITELY remember reading on FT that Air NZ space is hard to find via United because their system tries to route you via SYD as it’s cheaper for them. I believe I also read that you’re more likely to find space ex-YVR than ex-USA.

  4. I can totally see your love of the Kiwi country……. My wife and I completed a 9 month, 25 country around the world trip before kids and a house and New Zealand was one of the top 2 countries….We spent 4 weeks there and loved it! Now with kids, we are hoping to get back their this year and will use your links after obtaining a mortgage in our new house in Denver (after spending a ton of years in the Windy City)

  5. HNL to AKL will also be flown by Hawaiian Airlines starting mid march of 2013, which provides another option to get there from the US with either Hawaiian or AA miles.

  6. I’m planning a return trip from Europe (end of May/beginning of June) most likely from Vienna/Budapest. I live in San Francisco. Would it be possible to fly Vienna to Queenstown or Auckland with a 4 month stopver in San Francisco with United Miles?

    • San Fran to Vienna
      Vienna to San Fran
      San Fran to Auckland

      is probably fine and would cost 85,000 or 125,000 miles in economy or business. I can’t say for sure it’s allowed though because United is inconsistent in what it allows.


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