As I’ve mentioned quite a few times, I’ve been pretty obsessed with New Zealand ever since visiting for the first time on my recent crazy round-the-world trip.
What is there to love about New Zealand? Well, you’ve got the the dramatic natural landscapes, the widespread multiculturalism, and the year-round temperate weather…
Anything else? Oh yes, the strong fuel surcharge regulations, of course. You see, I’ve been planning a return visit to New Zealand this upcoming December, and it turns out that any itinerary departing from New Zealand is subject to tight restrictions on fuel surcharges or carrier-imposed surcharges.
I’ve previously written about the countries that regulate fuel surcharges, so you can now add New Zealand in that list. Finding award space to get to New Zealand is generally quite a difficult task, but the strong fuel surcharge regulations offer a nice reprieve from that difficulty.
The Challenge of Redeeming Points to New Zealand
New Zealand is one of those places on earth where it’s notoriously tough to visit by redeeming miles for your flights.
Want to fly to Europe or Asia? There’s likely going to be a small handful of flights with availability for you to choose from on your desired travel dates.
But look at New Zealand on a map. It’s on its own, all the way down there, surrounded by its noisy neighbour Australia to the northwest and thousands of miles of open ocean in every other direction.
Air traffic is comparatively limited, with the vast majority of the routes in and out of Auckland operated by Air New Zealand. And while the Kiwi carrier is a member of Star Alliance (and by all accounts a very competitive airline indeed), they’re known for being by far the stingiest Star Alliance member when it comes to award availability.
Think about it. Air New Zealand knows that everyone wants to visit their country, especially in the northern winter and southern summer. They know that they could quite easily sell most of their business class and economy class seats on their long-haul routes for the full revenue price, and therefore have very little incentive to release those seats as awards.
While it is possible to find the occasional Air New Zealand business class award seat to Los Angeles and San Francisco during off-peak or shoulder season, finding one between November and February is akin to striking gold. The same goes for much of their other long-haul destinations around the Pacific Rim, like Hawaii, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, or Taipei. And the Vancouver or Buenos Aires routes? Don’t even think about it.
It’s a real shame, but it leaves you with few options if you want to redeem miles to New Zealand. One way is to look for airlines other than Air NZ – if you’re redeeming Aeroplan miles on Star Alliance, that means you’ll be looking at Thai Airways from Bangkok, Singapore Airlines from Singapore, or Air Canada’s recently-announced direct route from Vancouver (launching December 12, 2019).
Alternatively, you can always book your long-haul routes into one of the Eastern Australia hubs, like Sydney, Melbourne, or Brisbane, and then book a trans-Tasman flight on either Air New Zealand (they do release a bit of space on these flights), or Qantas through British Airways Avios.
This is in fact a great way to plan your travels if you want to do Australia and New Zealand in the same trip, but if you’re only headed to New Zealand, it does add a good few hours to the journey. Therefore, when I was planning my upcoming trip, I treated it as a last resort.
Instead, I looked to take advantage of…
New Zealand’s Fuel Surcharge Regulations
As you can imagine, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that fuel surcharges are not levied on any itineraries departing from New Zealand. This opens up many more possibilities as you’re planning your award travel, since the carriers that usually levy hefty fuel surcharges can now be booked very comfortably.
Take the new Air Canada route from Vancouver, for example. While the inbound flight to Auckland will incur about $355 in carrier-imposed surcharges…
…the outbound flight is limited to $15. How sweet is that?
(By the way, the availability situation on this new Air Canada flight is very good in economy class but quite limited in business class, although unlike Air New Zealand, there are still a few select dates with business class space. If you can nab one of those Dreamliner pods on your way back home, it makes the redemption that much sweeter knowing that you didn’t have to take a huge detour all the way through Asia.)
Meanwhile, Thai Airways usually wants a couple hundred bucks from you for no good reason when you redeem miles for their flights, but when you depart from Auckland, their hands are tied:
It’s not just Air Canada and Thai that are subject to the regulations, though. Some countries out there only apply their regulations on the immediate outbound flights departing from the country, and not on any subsequent flights in the same itinerary, but New Zealand goes the full distance.
In the below example, both Air China and Austrian Airlines, which would otherwise charge you an arm and a leg, have their fuel surcharges knocked out in one fell swoop:
Likewise, you can catch either Singapore Airlines or Thai Airways up to Asia, and from there you’re no longer restricted to avoiding Air Canada flights and their hefty fuel surcharges. When you attach an Air Canada flight as an onward segment in an itinerary departing from New Zealand, you face $0 in fuel surcharges and your range of potential routings is therefore much wider!
If you’re booking close enough in advance, departing out of New Zealand can even allow you to fly Lufthansa First Class without the pesky fees associated with it:
Note that if you do want to fly “the long way around” from New Zealand back to North America, you’ll very likely run into problems with the maximum permitted mileage (MPM), because New Zealand does in fact extend eastwards surprisingly far into the Pacific Ocean. Therefore, you may well need to find some creative solutions by employing Useful Aeroplan Trick #8.
For example, the below routing looks quite attractive: you get to fly Thai Airways from Auckland to Bangkok, followed by Austrian Airlines to Vienna and then Montreal (both of which have very good premium products) all without paying a dime in the fuel surcharges that you’d ordinarily have to pay.
However, the routing falls afoul of the MPM figure for YUL–AKL, which is 14,324 miles.
You might think you could get around this by adding a throwaway leg at the end to St. John’s, NL…
…but in fact that’s over the MPM figure for YYT–AKL, which is 15,934 miles, as well!
We’ve got to get even more creative. How can the MPM be extended further? Why not start your trip further south in Christchurch, and route via Sydney to get on that Thai flight to Bangkok?
The MPM figure for CHC–YYT? 16,448 miles. That’ll do!
What Did I Book?
Planning a trip to New Zealand in December is not easy, but here’s what I came up with. No doubt I’ll be telling you more about this trip when the time comes.
We’re planning to spend some time driving down the South Island, so the return trip begins in Queenstown. There’s a hop over to Christchurch on Air New Zealand, where I have a 23.5-hour layover, followed by another hop up to Auckland.
From there, the long journey home begins. Singapore Airlines 777 to Singapore. Singapore Airlines A350 to Seoul. Air Canada Boeing 787 all the way to Toronto. (And of course a throwaway leg to St. John’s for MPM purposes.)
That’s two new airline products for me on the ever-excellent Singapore Airlines, a decently comfortable ride on the Dreamliner, and a reasonable detour around the Pacific Rim with no awkward connections in the USA or anything like that. For a flight that gets into Toronto on the day before Christmas Eve, and for only $65 in taxes and fees, I’m very happy with that!
I have gone ahead and set up ExpertFlyer alerts for Air New Zealand business class, since I do want to try them if I get the chance, but it’s fair to say I’m not holding my breath.
The outbound is open at the moment. I’m currently eyeing the Alaska Mileage Plan sweet spot of flying Fiji Airways from San Francisco or Los Angeles via Nadi, as well as the possibility of flying Fiji Airways from Hawaii – thus knocking out two of my 10 planned destinations for 2019 in one go – but I’m very much open to other possibilities!
Finding award flights to New Zealand tends to be a laborious process that’s not for the faint of heart. While the competition for award seats can be very fierce, the good news is that New Zealand’s strong fuel surcharge regulations allow you to choose from a much wider range of flights, since the usual suspects like Air Canada, Lufthansa, and Austrian Airlines are no longer off-the-table.