It's the news we've all been waiting for – the chance to take an international flight. After much anticipation, NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced that details of a travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia will be revealed on 6 April!
It's time to start locking in flights
With the NZ travel bubble on the cards, frequent flyer members will look to use points on flights across the ditch – many of them in business class. But when it comes to award redemptions, booking a one way business class flight from Australia to New Zealand doesn't come cheap. It will cost you well over 40,000 Qantas Frequent Flyer points.
So it's fitting that one of my favourite frequent flyer redemptions of all time is back in play – with wide open availability.
Did you know that it's possible to book trans-Tasman business class for just 15,000 miles?
Forget Qantas and Velocity. There's a lesser-known loyalty program that can provide incredible value for Australians looking to cross the Tasman in style – Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.
In this post, I'll explain how you can leverage Virgin Atlantic to score a one-way international business class flight from Australian cities to Auckland for just 15,000 miles (plus carrier fees) – less than half the points you'd pay with Qantas or Virgin Australia! There's also loads of availability to travel from many Australian cities (including Perth!) to Auckland in economy for an incredible 10,000 miles.
Read on to find out how.
What's the deal with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club?
Virgin Atlantic isn't an airline program we hear much about in Australia, but it's one that absolutely should be on your radar if you hold a credit card that earns into the Membership Rewards program, such as the Amex Platinum Card or Amex Platinum Edge Credit Card.
Virgin Atlantic counts Air New Zealand as a partner, unlocking trans-Tasman redemptions in Air New Zealand business class for less than half the points outlay you'd pay to redeem via Qantas or Velocity.
Air New Zealand's international-grade business class is one for the bucket list.
Before Covid hit, I flew to Auckland frequently. With a lie-flat seat, bottomless Champagne and personalised service from a friendly crew, Air New Zealand's international grade business class is one of my favourite ways to travel. And in the midst of the pandemic, it's probably one of the most aspirational travel experiences we can expect to have in the short to medium term.
Using Virgin Atlantic, a one way Air NZ award flight between any serviced Australian city and New Zealand costs just 15,000 miles one way in business class (or 30,000 miles return), plus carrier fees.
How does this compare with Australian loyalty programs? The table below calls out the cost to redeem a one-way business class award flight between Sydney and Auckland using Qantas, Velocity and Virgin Atlantic. As you can see, Virgin Atlantic costs less than half of the points you'd fork out when redeeming a business class seat via Qantas or Velocity:
|Qantas||Virgin Australia||Virgin Atlantic|
|Points / Miles:||41,500||35,500||15,000|
|Carrier Fees (approx):||$139||$143||$124|
That said, if business class isn't your thing, you can still extract great value from booking an economy ticket. Subject to availability, you can nab a one way Air NZ economy class trans-Tasman flight for just 10,000 Virgin Atlantic miles (plus carrier fees) – and there's plenty of availability from many Australian cities, as we detail below.
The best value economy redemption is arguably Perth – Auckland, a medium-haul journey with a flying time of over 7 hours. The table below sets out the redemption costs between Qantas, Velocity and Virgin Atlantic on this medium-haul route. Once again, Virgin Atlantic comes out ahead of the pack on both the points cost and carrier charges:
|Qantas||Virgin Australia||Virgin Atlantic|
|Points / Miles:||18,000||17,800||10,000|
Ok, so what award space is available right now?
At the time of writing, availability of Air NZ business class across the ditch is wide open, giving you plenty of options to book speculative travel for next year's travel bubble. In fact, we've found at least two business class seats available between most Australian cities and Auckland from late March/early April, up until mid-November.
We're also seeing extensive economy class awards (often four seats or more) on a number of routes, including between the excellent value Perth and Auckland redemption. Here's what we've found:
Sydney: At least two business class seats most days between 1 April 2021 until 30 October 2021, including Easter and school holiday periods. Four economy seats available from 28 March 2021 until mid November 2021.
Melbourne: Four economy seats and two business class available almost every day from 1 April 2021 until mid-October 2021.
Brisbane: At least two business class seats most days between 1 April 2021 until 30 October 2021, including Easter and school holiday periods. Four economy seats available from 28 March 2021 until mid November 2021.
Adelaide: Four economy seats and two business class available almost every day from 1 April 2021 until mid-October 2021.
Perth: Four economy seats available almost every day from 1 April 2021 until mid-October 2021.No business class availability.
Note that award availability is subject to change at any time. Taxes and carrier fees apply in addition to the mileage cost.
Note that Air New Zealand can be notoriously stingy when it comes to releasing premium award space to partners, so this represents an excellent opportunity to lock in an award seat. That said, in the midst of the pandemic, the state of play can change quickly, so bear in mind that flights could be cancelled.
How to book Air New Zealand awards via Virgin Atlantic
First up, you'll need to transfer points to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.
In Australia, the easiest way to obtain Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles is through an American Express Membership Rewards credit card which earns into the Ascent or Ascent Premium tier.
Of course, you'll also need to be a member of Virgin Atlantic Flying Club to use the program. You can join for free quickly and easily here.
Once you have at least 2,000 points in your American Express Membership Rewards account, you can transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. The process is undertaken from within the Amex Membership Rewards portal.
You'll need to allow time for the transfer, so plan ahead. Amex states that the miles may take up to five business days to show up in your Virgin Atlantic Flying Club account.
American Express Membership Rewards points transfer at a 2:1 rate to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. This means that you'll need 30,000 Amex MR points to score your one-way trans-Tasman business class flight.
How to book Air New Zealand awards with Virgin Atlantic
Once you have your Virgin Atlantic miles, it's time to book.
Note that partner awards using Virgin Atlantic miles can only be booked over the phone, and you can't search for Air New Zealand award space using the Virgin Atlantic website.
While it might start to sound like it's all too hard, don't despair. Air NZ award space can be easily searched via other partners. Also, I can confidently say that Virgin Atlantic phone agents are some of the best in the business – they are generally very knowledgeable, able to locate seats quickly and very good to deal with.
Searching for Air NZ partner awards
Air New Zealand award space can be located using a publicly available searching tool for a partner airline. I'd recommend using United, which, in my experience, shows the same Air NZ award space available to Virgin Atlantic.
To search for Air NZ partner award space via United, navigate to the flight search screen here. Select ‘Yes' when asked if you want to book in a Mileage Plus ticket and enter your desired dates.
As mentioned above, Air NZ award space can be patchy, and some routes may show only very limited availability. Ticking the ‘flexible dates' option will enable you to view availability across a 30 day period:
Once you've hit the ‘search' button', the United site will bring up the available award space (if any), at ‘Saver' rates. Taxes will also be displayed – and these are roughly around $120 AUD per sector between Australia and New Zealand.
Booking Air NZ award space via Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
Once you've searched for availability and located date(s) on your route of choice, it's time to call up and book via Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.
The US call centre can be reached on 1-800-365-9500. It's generally staffed by friendly, competent agents who will proactively step you through the booking process. Simply feed them your dates and they will do the rest.
Once the booking has been completed, you should receive your e-ticket shortly thereafter via email. Simple!
Note that there is a $50 USD cancellation or change fee per person (up to 24 hours before departure), with all miles and taxes refunded. If you're cancelling within 24 hours of the flight, you'll only receive your taxes back (miles are forfeited).
Why I personally love Air New Zealand business class
Before Covid, I flew across the Tasman frequently, and Air New Zealand business class, or ‘Business Premier' as it is officially known, is one of my favourite products. It's also arguably the best business class service across the Tasman.
Onboard, travellers relax in herringbone style seating that converts to a fully-flat bed, with all seats providing direct aisle access. Plus, there’s generous refills of high-end vintage champagne (usually Laurent Perrier or Billecart Salmon), a selection of fine New Zealand wines and delectable meals crafted by New Zealand’s answer to Neil Perry, Peter Gordon.
Air NZ operates international grade Boeing 777 and 787-9 aircraft for travel between New Zealand and a number of Australian cities – including Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. Passengers in Business Premier enjoy additional baggage allowance and lounge entry before the flight.
If you'd like to find out more about the Air New Zealand trans-Tasman business class experience, check out my pre-Covid reviews here ( Air New Zealand 777-200) and here (Air New Zealand 787-9 Dreamliner).
Verdict: Booking the Air NZ sweet spot via Virgin Atlantic
While award space can be hard to find, booking Air New Zealand business class using Virgin Atlantic miles is a real ‘sweet spot' and offers incredible value. That's particularly the case at present, where international flight redemptions are severely restricted.
Not only will you enjoy a true, international-grade business class product across the Tasman, you'll also pay less than half the mileage cost you'd need to fork out via Qantas or Virgin Australia to fly one of the same routes.
This is a particularly valuable redemption on routes like Adelaide to Auckland, where Air New Zealand holds a monopoly, and where revenue tickets, by consequence, are typically very expensive.
Prefer to redeem economy? Booking in Air New Zealand economy class between Perth and Auckland for just 10,000 Virgin Atlantic miles arguably represents great value, too.
And with many dates offering up to four seats, families who can't usually push their points haul far can often find an opportunity to travel together.
The fact is, for those looking to earn and burn American Express Membership Rewards points, Air New Zealand business class flights booked via Virgin Atlantic are up there as one of the best redemptions around.
Start collecting Virgin Atlantic miles with the following American Express credit cards:
Will you be putting Air New Zealand business class on your redemption list for THE AUS and NZ travel bubble in 2021?
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