Top tips to help you secure an award seat to the US

Point Hacks reader Jim posted this on the Questions & Answers section of our Australian website:

Has anybody ever got an award ticket to the US in Business or First Class?

I have been looking a long way in advance and there seems to be no availability for direct flights from the East Coast of Australia on any airline in Business or First—only in Economy. The only glimmer of hope seems to be taking a detour via Asia or Europe.

You may be reading this and have the same sentiments—know that you are not alone. Finding award availability in premium cabins on direct flights between New Zealand or Australia and the US is difficult, but not impossible.

So here are some tips to improve your chances of snagging a comfortable seat.

1. Plan well in advance

Although sometimes hard to plan so far in advance, due to the intense competition for award seats and airlines opening their award calendars 11-12 months in advance, it pays to think ahead.

It is easy to find Economy rewards on United with Airpoints, but hard to find Business

Check school holiday dates for the coming year/s and try to secure your seat a year out. At the 3-6 month mark, chances are quite low.

2. Fly off-peak

Increase your chances of securing a seat by flying in both directions on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays, as well as school holidays, are more popular.

3. Consider flying via Fiji, French Polynesia, Asia, Canada or the Middle East

Your options will open up exponentially if you have time to make a stop on the way to the US, either as a layover (less than 24 hours) or a stopover (more than 24 hours, giving you time to see the place).

via Fiji

Fiji Airways is a great option for using your Qantas Points. As a ‘preferred partner’, it costs the same to fly with Fiji or Qantas but Fiji offers more award availability.

Nadi – Los Angeles flights have upgraded to Airbus A350s from December 2019. They have lie-flat, direct aisle access Business Class seats.

Fiji Airways A350 Business Class

However, you will find more availability on its flights from Nadi to San Francisco (with the older product below) than Los Angeles.

Fiji Airways A330

via French Polynesia

You can use Qantas Points to fly on Air Tahiti Nui to Los Angeles via Papeete. As these redemptions have a QF code, they are also treated as a ‘preferred partner’, costing the same number of points as Fiji Airways. You’ll also have their new Dreamliner to look forward to.

via Asia

For a slightly higher price but improved award availability, you may consider using your points to fly from Auckland or Christchurch to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific and then on to the US.

If you have KrisFlyer miles—which you can transfer your Velocity points to—then flying Singapore Airlines to Singapore will take you the long way round (more on this later on).

Singapore Airlines combines comfortable seats with excellent customer service

via Canada

Vancouver may become a more popular transit point for travellers to the US now that they fly to Auckland during the New Zealand summer.

If you are flexible with dates, you may be able to secure a lie-flat seat on an Air Canada flight from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. Airpoints Dollars, KrisFlyer miles, United MileagePlus miles and Avianca LifeMiles can be used to access this redemption.

You can book Air Canada reward seats with Airpoints at a competitive 94,400 points in Business (using this calculation method)

via the Middle East

If going to the East Coast of the US, flying via Asia or the Middle East may not actually add much to your travel time compared to transiting via the US West Coast. That opens up the opportunity to use your Qantas Points on Emirates or Qatar Airways.

If you are going to take the scenic route, you might as well do it in Emirates First Class!

If you do not have enough miles for the whole journey, you could book a cash ticket to a place like Fiji, Papeete, or Hong Kong and fly in Business from there to the US.

4. The sweetest sweet spot: Alaska Mileage Plan miles

Alaska is an underdog in the frequent flyer world, especially here in New Zealand but how do you get your hands on their points currency? Through:

If you find an open Qantas seat, you will get it for 55,000/70,000 Alaska miles one-way for Business/First Class—that is a steal! Just note that Alaska members have more restricted access to Qantas award inventory than Qantas Frequent Flyer members and some other partner programs like Asia Miles.

A chunk of Qantas’ US flights have been upgraded to Boeing 787 Dreamliners

Instead of backtracking to Australia, you could fly via Fiji with Fiji Airways for the same amount.

You can go via Hong Kong—with a free stopover!—with Cathay Pacific for 5,000 miles more.

Or you ould fly with Korean Air via Seoul with excellent award availability for 125,000 miles roundtrip. It is the same price as a one-way flight, so don’t shortchange yourself!

A Korean Air 747 at Seoul Incheon Airport

Best of all, if you use Alaska miles, you will not pay hefty fuel surcharges in the hundreds of dollars like you have to with Qantas Points.

5. Consider Premium Economy

Premium Economy is a growing space for airlines and it is worth considering it as a compromise between Business (more comfort but less award availability) and Economy (less comfort and more award availability). This cabin sits in between, literally and also in terms of value.

I thoroughly enjoyed my Virgin Australia 777 Premium Economy flight to Los Angeles

All three airlines flying direct between New Zealand and the US—Air New Zealand, United and American Airlines—offer this product.

6. Lock in long-haul flights first

The most important flight is the trek from New Zealand to the US, not your connecting flight from Invercargill to Auckland.

So, if you find award availability on the long-haul segment, lock that in and then work out the domestic segments for connections within New Zealand and the US to get you where you need to go later on.

7. Be realistic about Hawaii

It is difficult to find availability on flights between New Zealand and Honolulu. There is almost no Business Class availability on Air New Zealand and upgrading is near-to-impossible as the cabin fills with passengers on paid tickets.

If you have Velocity Points or American Airlines AAdvantage miles, then Hawaiian Airlines is an option worth checking out.

Hawaiian Airlines A330 Business Class flies from Auckland to Honolulu

For more information, here is our comprehensive guide on how to use points to fly from Australia to Hawaii.

8. Get Airpoints Elite, Gold, Silver or Koru

Air New Zealand give those with status or Koru Club members a discount on Business Class seats to the US. Here is our guide to Air New Zealand elite status.

One-way discounted business award fares are available with Air New Zealand on selected routes:

  • Auckland – Honolulu: 107,970 points (i.e. 1,830 APD x 59)
  • Auckland – North America: 164,610 points (i.e. 2,790 APD x 59)

Discounted seats are also available for one travelling companion.

It makes more sense to try and use these discounted rates on flights to the East Coast of the US, e.g. Chicago and New York, as opposed to Los Angeles or Vancouver.

9. Use cash for Economy tickets

You usually won’t get the best value out of using points for Economy Class tickets.

A return ticket from Auckland to San Francisco on United will set you back 88,500 points with Airpoints (i.e. 1,500 APD x 59) + ~$120 in taxes.

Given that cash tickets usually start at $1,500—sometimes pushing $2,000 during peak periods like Christmas—you are usually better off saving up your points for a better use and just buying your Economy flight with cash.

You’ll do better booking an Economy sale fare on an airline like American Airlines than using your points

10. Transfer your Velocity Points to KrisFlyer

Velocity Points can be transferred to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer. In the context of flights to the US, this option can be beneficial to access improved award availability and to avoid fuel surcharges. You can also get a free or cheap stopover in Singapore.

(You cannot transfer your Airpoints to any other programme but you can use them with Air New Zealand’s many partners such as the ones mentioned above).

11. Don’t get your hopes up for an upgrade

Although you are unlikely to get an upgrade cleared on a New Zealand – US flight, flying off-peak will help maximise your chances.

You can read more about upgrades on Air New Zealand, Qantas and Virgin Australia.

12. Get a credit card that gives you lounge access

If you do end up flying in Economy, then you may as well be in a space that is relaxing and grab some food and a drink before boarding your flight.

If you have an eligible American Express card, you can access Priority Pass lounges in Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown.

Manaia Lounge Queenstown

Important related guides

Summing up

Question: Has anybody ever got an award ticket to the US in Business or First Class?

Answer: Yes, they have! It just requires advance planning, flexibility with dates and routes, and realistic expectations.

Do you have any tips that have helped you secure an award seat to the US? Share in the comments below!


Do you have a travel-related question?

  1. Search the NZ Point Hacks website using the Looking For Something? box (located to the right-hand side of any post) to see if we have already answered your question in a post.
  2. You can post your question in the Questions & Answers section of our Australian website and someone from the Point Hacks community, whether another reader or one of our team members, will hopefully be able to help you out.

Supplementary images courtesy respective airlines.