Flight review: a $400 round trip to Auckland on Air New Zealand

It was late on a chilly night, a few days after Thanksgiving last year, when the flight deal alerts started going out on Twitter — flights from almost anywhere in the U.S. to New Zealand were on sale for around $400 round trip on United.com.

Here is what I tweeted.

Considering that round trips to New Zealand typically start at around $1k, this was a superb price.

Was it an intentional Cyber Monday deal, or a mistake fare? The question remains.

Because New Zealand was at the top of my bucket list, this was the sale I’d been waiting for.

I booked two tickets for early June.

NZ fare breakoutI booked the flights on United.com, but the San Francisco-NZ legs of the trip were on Air New Zealand, while the Portland-SF legs were on United.


Our Air New Zealand B777 in San Francisco.

Air NZ’s marketing must have gotten to me over the years, because I had lofty expectations for my first trip with the airline.

So how were the flights?

Enjoyable, even though the ~12-hour flight over to NZ had us sitting in the middle two seats of the B777 10-wide row (3-4-3 seat configuration).


It was only a month or two before the trip that I realized I could select my Air NZ seats by finding my Air NZ confirmation code (edited below) in the United app — by tapping the “Additional information” option within my reservation — then using that on Air NZ’s site to select my seats:

Screen Shot 2018-05-19 at 8.04.38 PM

The middle seats were the only ones available by the time I figured that out.

IMG_4231 2

I’m 6 feet tall, for reference.

The Seats

They weren’t spacious, but they passed my leg room test: there was enough room to stretch my legs out under the seat in front of me.

There were easily accessible power outlets, though I didn’t use them because the seat-back screens offered more than enough content to keep me entertained during my waking hours.

IMG_4237The Food

It was similar quality to the meals I’ve had on international flights on Finnair, American Air and KLM.

Definitely nothing to complain about, though admittedly I expected to be more impressed.

They were pouring NZ wines that I’m guessing were decent quality, but I’m not a wine person, so it just tasted like wine.


Dinner. Upper left is a lime custard wedge.



The Wi-Fi

Okay, so my reporting kinda failed on this one.

Air NZ is in the process of rolling out Wi-Fi, but our airplane on the way over didn’t have it.

On the way home, I didn’t realize that we did have Wi-Fi until 20 minutes prior to landing.

I quickly connected to it, and it seemed to work, but I didn’t have time to test out how well it worked.

The pricing is pretty reasonable:

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 8.08.36 PM.png

About $16 USD for a full flight pass.

How many United miles did you earn for the trip?


United miles earned to NZ.png

I’m nowhere near reaching the spend requirement to re-qualify for elite status, so those PQMs won’t do anything.

Prior to 2015, I would’ve earned ~14,000 miles for this trip, not counting my elite bonus.

Were there any elite benefits on Air NZ for being a United Silver member?

Unfortunately, no, other than the mileage bonus.

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 8.29.08 PM

I searched high and low on the Web hoping there would be a seat selection advantage or something — especially since I booked the flight on United.com — but  I couldn’t find anything about it, and sure enough there weren’t any benefits to be found (as I confirmed with United on Twitter).

I did at least get to select Economy Plus seats for the two domestic United flights.

What about premium/business class?

I’m not very ambitious when it comes to travel hacking my way to business/first class, but I did try to grab a few photos on my trek to the back, for readers who are into it (seat map here):


Business Premier.


Premium Economy.

And the photo below is of the Skycouch row right across the aisle from me.

What is that? Well, a cushion pops up from under the seat, and the row turns into a couch of sorts.

I saw families using it, and it looked pretty cramped. But definitely could be a nice option, especially if you’re under 61 inches tall (the length of the couch).


The flight home, we left Tuesday evening and got back to the States Tuesday afternoon.



Spending ~25 hours for a round trip in economy class is a nightmare for some travel hackers, but I found flying Air NZ to be comfortable and enjoyable.

Questions/comments are welcome!

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