What is considered a short-haul, medium-haul and long-haul flight?

Air New Zealand airplane on tarmac
GUIDE: Using Points
DIFFICULTY: Easy
TIME TO READ: 2 minutes
POSTED: November 14, 2019
UPDATED: November 14, 2019
LOYALTY PROGRAMS: Relevant to Multiple Programs

One common approach amongst frequent flyers is to use points for premium cabin travel on flights over three hours in duration and fly Economy Class on shorter routes.

However, what exactly is the difference between a short-, medium-, long- and even ultra-long-haul flight? There is no official definition but below is the most common one.

What is considered a short-haul, medium-haul and long-haul flight?

A short-haul flight is one of up to 3 hours in duration. Medium-haul flights take 3-6 hours. A long-haul flight runs for 6-12 hours, whilst an ultra-long-haul flight is in the air for over 12 hours.

QantasLink Boeing 717 | Point Hacks
Qantas uses Boeing 717 planes on some of its short-haul routes in Australia like Sydney – Canberra

Examples of short-haul, medium-haul, long-haul and ultra-long-haul flights

Short-haul vs long-haul route examples
Can you guess which is which?
DefinitionDurationRouteAirlineAircraft
Short-haulUp to 3 hoursAuckland - WellingtonAir New ZealandAirbus A330
Medium-haul3-6 hoursAuckland - AdelaideAir New ZealandBoeing 787
Long-haul6-12 hoursChristchurch - Hong KongCathay PacificAirbus A350
Ultra-long-haulOver 12 hoursAuckland - DubaiEmiratesAirbus A380
Emirates A380s on the tarmac at Auckland Airport
Emirates’ A380 aircraft are used on flights as long as 17 hours (Dubai to Auckland) but can also operate on ones as short as 40 minutes (Dubai to Muscat)

Other definitions

Airline-specific

Some airlines have their own definition of flight length.

For example, Virgin Australia considers flights within Australia to be ‘domestic’; between Australia and New Zealand ‘Trans-Tasman’; the Pacific Islands and Southeast Asia ‘international short-haul’; Hong Kong and Los Angeles ‘international long-haul’.

Virgin Australia A330 Business Class (domestic) overview | Point Hacks
Even though it is six hours in length, Virgin Australia’s Sydney – Bali flight is considered by the airline to be short-haul

Air New Zealand class medium-haul flights as those to Perth, Honolulu and Bali or between Sydney and Rarotonga. This is despite some of these flights fitting into other categories used by the airline to define product offering, such as ‘Pacific’ and ‘Trans-Tasman’.

American Airlines, on the other hand, uses distance travelled as their measure. To them, short- and medium-haul flights are less than 3,000 miles, and long-haul flights are those over 3,000 miles as well as those between New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco.

Airport-specific

Hong Kong Airport considers most Asian destinations to be short-haul, with everything else (including New Zealand, India and the US) long-haul.

Summing up

Understanding the difference between a short-, medium-, long- and ultra-long-haul flight can help you formulate a strategy to use your frequent flyer points more effectively.

It does so by helping you prioritise when to fly Economy Class and when to opt to pay more for a comfortable seat. For example, you may be happy flying in Economy Class on a Trans-Tasman flight and save your points for a lie-flat Business Class seat to Asia.

Everyone has different definitions of short-, medium- and long-haul flights. What’s yours?

What is considered a short-haul, medium-haul and long-haul flight? was last modified: November 14th, 2019 by Matt Moffitt