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.
Coming back shows the same pattern of availability except worse.
Auckland to Los Angeles
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.
- Business class is better than economy.
- 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 united.com 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!
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 united.com. 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.