How I have underestimated Airpoints

GUIDE: Program Guide
DIFFICULTY: Intermediate
TIME TO READ: 12 minutes
POSTED: December 2, 2019
UPDATED: December 2, 2019
LOYALTY PROGRAMS: Air New Zealand Airpoints

A key principal to understand with award travel is that not all frequent flyer programmes are created equal.

I moved to New Zealand almost five years ago, and since that time I have almost feverishly avoided earning Air New Zealand Airpoints.

The points ‘look’ different, and there are what appears to be low earn rates on practically anything. What’s the point (pun intended)?

However my mistake has been not devising a system to fairly compare the value of Airpoints with other programmes.

As with a lot in New Zealand, it is a country filled with secrets not understood the world over. I have learnt that its home-grown frequent flyer programme is no difference.

This article looks at:

  • A system for equalising the worth of Airpoints with other points currencies ↓
  • Some examples showing how Airpoints stack up against redemptions using points or miles with other frequent flyer programmes ↓
  • Seeing what partner earn rates look like once converted ↓
  • A comparison of earn rate on Air New Zealand flights between Airpoints and other programmes ↓
  • The other benefits of Airpoints that I think make it a good option for New Zealanders ↓
  • Other key points to remember ↓
  • It is difficult to compare Airpoints with other points currencies

    It is really hard to compare Airpoints with other points currencies.

    Most programmes have ‘points’ or ‘miles’ as their currency. Redemption rates vary, but for the most part they are easy to table and compare in terms of value.

    However Airpoints are effectively like cash. Each ‘point’ is promoted as being worth $1 when redeemed on flight with Air New Zealand.

    They have a similar value when redeemed on products and gift cards via the Airpoints Store.

    When you see an earn rate of 20 Airpoints on a one-night stay in a hotel, versus the ability to earn 1,000 Qantas Points, you might opt for the latter, because it ‘feels’ like more.

    Grand Millenium Auckland
    You can earn 1 APD for every $15 spent at hotels like the Grand Millennium Auckland

    So the key is to ‘convert’ Airpoints to a form that is easier to compare.

    The way I now do this is by considering the following:

    • The highest earn rate for the major points currencies — Qantas, Asia Miles, KrisFlyer — on everyday spend in New Zealand is 1 point/mile per $1 spent, with the American Express Platinum Charge.
    • The highest earn rate for Airpoints Dollars is 1 APD per $59 spent, with the American Express Airpoints Platinum.
    • For $59 spend on the former card, I would earn 59 points/miles. On the latter, I would earn 1 APD. Thus, I will treat each APD to be worth the equivalent of 59 points.
    • This now provides a way of comparing redemption value, and also the number of points earned outside of everyday spend, e.g. flights, hotels, shopping and fuel.
    • I have excluded the American Express Platinum Edge from this comparison. Yes, you can earn up to 1.5 points/miles per $1 spent at supermarkets, but this is a fraction of your spending. For comparison purposes, it is best to look at two cards where all spend on that card will earn points at that specific rate.

    Now you may ask:

    But the effective earn rate for Airpoints on the Platinum Charge is less, at the equivalent of 1 APD for $87.50 spent.

    Or:

    Yes, but I don’t just spend on an American Express card.

    Yes — but we need to compare the points currencies on some sort of equal footing. For me, this is looking at their highest possible earn rate from everyday spend for the varying points currencies. The converted rates you see are then equal at a 1:1 ratio to how much you would need to spend on that card to generate that number of points.

    Also, if you’re not spending at a specific retailer with your Airpoints Platinum due to lack of American Express acceptance, then you also wouldn’t be using the Charge.

    The ‘loss’ of points earn however is not the same, because if you are using a Visa or Mastercard that lets you earn Airpoints, you’re still picking up more points with that programme overall.

    Further, the Platinum Charge with its high earn rate for other points currencies is not for everyone, because it:

    • Has an annual fee of $1,250
    • Requires a minimum annual pre-tax income of $100,000

    You’re more likely to hold the American Express Platinum Edge, which with an annual fee of $149, has a lesser earn rate of 0.5 points/miles per $1 spent outside of supermarket and fuel spend.

    The Airpoints Platinum however:

    • Has an annual fee of just a little more, at $195
    • Requires a minimum annual pre-tax income of $65,000
    • Has the highest Airpoints earn rate of any card in New Zealand, regardless of merchant or retailer

    With the difference in cost between these cards, you could get another two with cash to spare:

    1. A Kiwibank Air New Zealand Airpoints so you can buy Airpoints Dollars for top-ups
    2. The Westpac Airpoints World Mastercard if you’re looking for a card with elite benefits and Priority Pass access.

    While acceptance of American Express cards grows by the day, Visa and Mastercard still have a greater level of acceptance both locally and overseas, and you’ll still want one in your wallet as a back up — and none of those cards are going to let you earn points or miles other than Airpoints.

    Okay… so what are some examples that compare the redemption value using this method?

    Here are some real life scenarios to show how Airpoints can come out ahead for some flight redemptions.

    All flights are one-way unless stated otherwise, and compare only to points currencies that you can earn through card spend in New Zealand.

    1. Frankfurt to New York City in Lufthansa Business Class

    Frankfurt to New York Lufthansa

    Not everyone will find themselves in Europe taking this flight, but it’s a good example of how Airpoints can be fantastic value on rewards outside of our region.

    • KrisFlyer: 72,000 miles
    • Airpoints: 59,000 points (i.e. 1,000 APD x 59)

    2. Sydney to Melbourne in Qantas Economy Class

    Airpoints come out ahead of other points currencies when flying with Australia’s biggest airline on short-haul flights — even ahead of Qantas’ own programme.

    Another benefit here is that the normal Airpoints price gives you a good play as to whether the redemption is good value.

    For example, if the cost of this flight at the last minute was $300, it’s clear that 125 APD is a good price, with each APD effectively now equal to $2.40 — you may even buy Airpoints just to make this redemption. However it’s much harder to tell with other currencies, because they don’t have a minimum fixed value.

    • Asia Miles: 10,000 points
    • Qantas Points: 8,000 points
    • Airpoints: 7,375 points (i.e. 125 APD x 59)

    3. Auckland to Melbourne in Air New Zealand Business Class (Return)

    Here is a slightly different example, of an ‘any seat’ reward on Air New Zealand. As a reminder, this is where you can use your Airpoints Dollars towards any flight, but at the price of the normal cash fare, rather than at a fixed rate like a partner reward.

    For this type of redemption, each APD is worth $1.

    At time of writing, Air New Zealand was offering $300 off return Business Class flights to Australia.

    You cannot use points towards taxes and charges, so we deduct the $184.53 from the total price, giving us a ‘reward cost’ of 1,140 APD for this return flight.

    • KrisFlyer: 62,000 miles
    • Airpoints: 67,260 points (i.e. 1,140 APD x 59)

    Okay, so KrisFlyer comes out ahead here. But what this doesn’t take into account is:

    • It’s far easier to earn Airpoints through incidental spend on shopping, fuel, or online shopping in New Zealand. Opportunities to generate KrisFlyer miles outside of credit card spend is minimal.
    • Air New Zealand do not release many Business Class reward seats to their partners, so you might not even find a return flight through KrisFlyer on the day you want to fly.
    • You could redeem at this rate for your whole family, presuming you have the points, and there are plenty of seats on sale — because all seats are redeemable at this rate, not just one or two.

    Lets presume you cannot redeem through KrisFlyer, and you wanted to consider other reward options Trans-Tasman. Your choices on this route would be Qantas or Virgin Australia, at the following rates:

    • Qantas Points: 83,000
    • Virgin Velocity: 71,000
    • Asia Miles (on Qantas): 60,000

    Airpoints come out well ahead of using Qantas Points or Velocity Points, and behind with Asia Miles.

    Though again, the factors above are at play and contribute to making Airpoints about on par, when you consider the greater ease at which you can earn them outside of card spend.

    4. Auckland to Rarotonga in Air New Zealand Business Class

    This is another ‘any seat’ reward example, to Rarotonga. This one is a non-sale fare, at $579 one-way.

    You cannot use points towards taxes and charges, so we deduct the $35.71 from the total price, giving us a ‘reward cost’ of 543 APD for this flight.

    • KrisFlyer: 31,000 miles
    • Airpoints: 32,037 points (i.e. 543 APD x 59)

    The difference here is negligible, demonstrating again that Airpoints is not as far behind their competitors as point collecting naysayers would like you to believe (yes, that has included myself). You also have the choice of dozens of seats and departure dates.

    Virgin Australia also fly this route, but a seat with them would cost 35,500 Velocity Points.

    You’d be redeeming more with Velocity to fly on a Boeing 737 in a recliner seat, versus the larger, more comfortable lie-flat beds on Air New Zealand’s Boeing 777-200 aircraft, which are scheduled on this route.

    5. Auckland to Perth in Air New Zealand Business Class (Return)

    While Air New Zealand categorise this as medium-haul flight, it certainly feels longer at between 6-7 hours flying time. It is the quickest way to travel between the two cities, being the only direct flight on offer.

    At time of writing, Air New Zealand is selling a return ticket on this route for $2,860. The only way to redeem for a seat on this flight using Airpoints is as an ‘any seat’ reward.

    You cannot use points towards taxes and charges, so we deduct the $178.63 from the total price, giving us a ‘reward cost’ of 2,681 APD for this flight.

    • KrisFlyer: 62,000 miles
    • Airpoints: 158,179 points (i.e. 2,681 APD x 59)

    KrisFlyer is the sure winner here, at less than double the cost of using Airpoints. This is because KrisFlyer have a reward chart based on regions, rather than distance — the price shown above will stay the same regardless of whether the flight is to the East or West Coast.

    However, lets say KrisFlyer is seeing no reward availability on the route. A quick search using United’s website shows that for June 2020, there are no seats being released to partners. No use comparing with impossible redemption rates, right?

    So, what is your alternative? Qantas or Virgin Australia are likely options, each with a layover in either Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane.

    • Qantas Points: 136,800 points
    • Virgin Velocity: 119,000 points
    • Asia Miles: 122,000 miles

    All of these rates are cheaper than using Airpoints.

    While this shows that a redemption on this route may not be as good value using your Airpoints Dollars compared to other points currencies, the rate difference (excluding KrisFlyer where you’re unlikely to see reward availability) is not so great that it would turn me off using the Airpoints programme altogether.

    People often focus on collecting Qantas Points or Velocity Points in Australia, because the ability to earn these points through incidental spend is much easier. The rates for these programmes are often higher than available with some overseas ones, but spend and earn with partners helps to close the gap.

    6. Taipei to New York City in EVA Air Business Class

    If you’re a fan of Hello Kitty, than this could be the redemption for you.

    For the Business Class reward seat you see above, Airpoints come out well ahead of KrisFlyer based on my conversion method.

    • KrisFlyer: 115,000 miles
    • Airpoints: 94,400 points (i.e. 1,600 APD x 59)

    You could use United MileagePlus miles and redeem for the same seat at a lesser rate, relying on a transfer from American Express Membership Rewards via Marriott Bonvoy.

    To compare, the effective rate based on spend on the American Express Platinum Charge is slightly less at 91,500.

    The fixed rate for this seat use to be 80,000 miles, but for last minute redemptions will now be greater thanks to United’s new variable mileage pricing.

    Is this slight difference alone worth it in exchange for the high annual fee of this card? I would say no. It’s the equivalent of around 50 APD, which are easily picked up through spend with partners, or a top-up.

    Also with Airpoints, you have the flexibility of being able to ‘buy’ this seat outright for only $1,600. At their best ever sale price, when United MileagePlus miles can be purchased with a 100% bonus, the required number of miles would cost $2,442 ($1,569 USD).

    7. Auckland to Seoul in Air New Zealand and Asiana Business Class

    I will close off these examples with a multi-segment redemption.

    Unlike most programmes which set redemption rates based on total trip distance, the Airpoints partner chart sets a rate for each segment, irrespective of whether you’re getting a layover of under 24 hours, or a three week stopover. This is a great incentive to stop in every city on the way to your final destination, as long as you can redeem for the reward online and avoid the $100 phone booking fee.

    Here is another great benefit — though not one that can be stacked with the above when booking online — as long as at least one of your segments is with a partner airline, you can also score a segment with Air New Zealand at partner rewards rates.

    Here is one such multi-segment example, flying with Air New Zealand to Osaka, and then Asiana to Seoul.

    For the Business Class reward you see above, Airpoints beat KrisFlyer again:

    • KrisFlyer: 94,500 miles
    • Airpoints: 91,450 points (i.e. 1,550 APD x 59)

    It is worth being flexible with route combinations. Flying to Seoul via Japan is 2,950 points (50 APD) cheaper than flying via Taipei, due to the way the distances are calculated — albeit still cheaper than KrisFlyer (just).

    What about converting the earn rate of spend with partners?

    Here is a table I have collated of the main Airpoints partners, and the converted points rates using the method above. I have also shown earn rates for KrisFlyer for comparison, noting that both airlines are part of Star Alliance and share similar redemption opportunities.

    As you can see, Airpoints come out in front in some areas, at par in others, and behind for a few.

    PartnerAPD earn rateConverted points earn rate per $1 unless otherwise statedMiles earn rate per $1 with KrisFlyer
    AccorHotels (NZ and Fiji only)20 APD per stay for Sofitel, or 1 APD / $151,180 per stay, or 3.9 points per $1500 per stay, or 0.29-0.58 miles per $1
    Air New Zealand Taxis1 APD / $501.2None, but 1.1-1.44 with other taxi partners
    Aelia Duty Free1 APD / $1000.59None
    AIA Insurance1 APD / $1000.59None
    Airpoints MallUp to 5 APD / $100Up to 2.95Variable with KrisFlyer Spree
    Apex Car Rentals0.5 APD per rental day29.5 per rental dayNone
    AudiMinimum 250 APDMinimum 14,750None
    Avis3 APD per rental day177 per rental day500 per hire
    Bay Audiology1 APD / $1150.51None
    BayleysUp to 500 APD when selling a propertyUp to 29,500None
    Beaurepaires1 APD / $1000.59None
    Bluebridge Ferries1 APD / $750.79None
    Budget3 APD per rental day177 per rental day500 per hire
    Cardrona Alpine Resort1 APD / $1000.59None
    Choice Hotels1 APD / $20 in NZ
    10 APD per stay outside NZ
    2.9 per $1 in NZ
    590 per stay outside NZ
    250-600 per stay
    Commodore Christchurch Airport Hotel1 APD / $124.9None
    Dilworth Hearing1 APD / $1150.51None
    Expedia1 APD / $750.791.92 via KrisFlyer Spree
    Harvey Norman1 APD / $2000.3None
    Henry's0.185 APD / $200.55None
    Hilton20 APD / 10,000 Hilton points1,180 / 5,000 Hilton points500 / 4,000 Hilton points
    IHG Rewards20 APD per stay Intercontinental
    10 APD per stay other brands
    25 APD / 10,000 points
    1,180 per stay Intercontinental
    590 per stay other brands
    1,475 / 10,000 points
    0.64-1.28 miles per $1, or 2,000 / 10,000 points
    Langham10-20 APD per stay590-1,180 per stay250-500 per stay
    Liquorland0.185 APD / $250.44None
    Macpac1 APD / $1150.51None
    Marriott Bonvoy10-20 APD per stay, or 1 APD / 200 Bonvoy points plus 75 APD bonus for transfers of 60,000 points590-1,180 per stay, or 0.3 per Bonvoy point plus 4,425 for transfers of 60,000 points0.64-1.28 miles per $1, or 0.33 per Bonvoy point plus 5,000 for tranfers of 60,000 points
    Mercury1 APD / $2000.3None
    Millennium Hotels and Resorts1 APD / $15 in NZ
    1 APD / $20 outside NZ
    3.9 in NZ
    2.9 outside NZ
    500 per stay
    Minor Hotels20 APD per stay1,180 per stay500 per stay
    Mitre 101 APD / $1150.51None
    MoleMap2.5 APD / $1001.48None
    New World0.185 APD / $250.44None
    Nourish Group Restaurants2 APD / $1001.2None
    Pacific Resort Hotel Group1 APD / $202.9None
    Partridge Jewellers1 APD / $750.79None
    Quest Apartment Hotels1 APD / $401.48None
    SparkUnlimited Mobile Plan or Unplan: 50 APD
    2,950None
    Storage KingMinumum 2 months storage space for 25 APD1,475None
    Sudima Hotels1 APD / $153.9None
    The EconomistFrom 300 to 1,000 APDFrom 17,700 to 59,000From 1,500 to 3,000
    Tower Insurance1 APD / $1000.59None

    A comparison of earn rates when flying Air New Zealand

    Adelaide

    Most of my family live in Adelaide, and I return to visit them at least twice a year. I confess that I usually fly with Qantas because I have Platinum status and like to enjoy the First Class lounge in Melbourne or Sydney on the way home.

    However Air New Zealand offer a direct flight between Auckland and Adelaide, which is the preference for most travellers between these cities.

    Here is a non-sale fare currently on offer for Business Premier on this route, in Z class (you can work out APD earn rates for fare types using this calculator):

    If I were to book this fare, lets take a look at what my earn rate would be depending on who I directed my points to:

    • KrisFlyer: 2,525 miles
    • Airpoints: 4,897 points (i.e. 83 APD v 59)

    Here you can see that the Airpoints earn rate is almost double that of KrisFlyer.

    New Caledonia

    What about a cheap seat only fare to sunny New Caledonia? Well this booking would see you earn 236 points (i.e. 4 APD x 59) with Airpoints, but nothing with KrisFlyer because of the fare class.

    Even changing this to Works Deluxe does not change the fare class. Your Airpoints rate would be boosted to 1,062 points (i.e. 18 APD x 59) but you would still earn nothing with KrisFlyer.

    I recommend using the Where to Credit calculator to see what you would earn with other programmes, in comparison to Airpoints.

    Flights with other airlines

    Okay‘, I hear you say — ‘of course you’ll earn more Airpoints on Air New Zealand’s own flights‘.

    Yes, this is a good rule of thumb, and is consistently true for most route combinations I have searched for on partner airlines. But this is usually a common feature of most frequent flyer programmes, where the airline wants to offer an incentive for you to fly on their own aircraft, and has control over the points they are issuing, without the operating carrier needing to buy them from their partner.

    In other words, this is not a flaw specific to the Airpoints programme.

    The other benefits that make Airpoints a good programme for New Zealanders

    Here are some other programme benefits that help make Airpoints a logical earn choice for New Zealanders:

    • You can earn Status Points with most Airpoints credit cards, which can help get you closer to earning status or hitting the next tier without as much time in the air.
    • The Airpoints Dollars Advance feature on most credit cards gives you enough points to easily ‘close the gap’ on some of the redemption examples above, times over, absent of any earn through spend with partners.
    • Your Airpoints Dollars will never expire, providing you hold an eligible credit card.
    • The cheapest way to buy more points is via a top up using a Kiwibank-issued Airpoints credit card. No need to think about other programmes like Marriott Bonvoy for buying points at a discount and then transferring. You’ll even earn extra APD for the spend you make buying the points! The ability to top up in this way is only available to New Zealand residents, so no international pressure for Air New Zealand to remove this feature.
    • Partner redemptions can be made online, but only for those resident in New Zealand. We’re unlikely to see a trend of devaluations in the programme because of this limitation.
    • You’ll earn a 20% Airpoints Dollars bonus for your business when you travel for work. This boosts earn rate on Air New Zealand flights even further.
    • The redemption rates are extremely transparent, compared to other programmes. Is it cheaper to buy the seat outright paying cash, compared to the price of the redemption? Then do so. On flights with Air New Zealand, you can always be sure that you’re not paying more than the cost of the flight itself. Your points will always have an absolute minimum value of $1 per APD, or 16.9 cents per point using my conversion method.
    • The segment based partner reward chart means you can get unlimited stopovers, for no extra cost. So you may as well spend a week in Bangkok on the way to Europe, because you’re ‘paying’ for it anyway.

    Key Points to Remember

    • The conversion rates in this guide are only true where you’re holding an American Express Airpoints Platinum. If you have a card with a lesser earn rate, say 1 APD per $100 spend, then the Airpoints rates all go up accordingly (i.e. 1 APD = 100 points), but the rates with other programmes stay the same.
    • Every programme has its sweet spots. There is always going to be a redemption with another programme that will be better value than with the programme you hold the most points with. For example, Asia Miles offer unbeatable long-haul redemption rates, particularly on Cathay Pacific. However Airpoints offer competitive rates on single segment long-haul redemptions, or multi-segment redemptions on Star Alliance carriers.
    • Because of this, think about what your goals are before focusing on a programme. If you want to save for Emirates First Class, Qantas or Skywards will be the way to go. If you want ultimate flexibility across a range of programmes, then stick with American Express Membership Rewards. If you want to stick with a programme that is easy to understand, easy to earn in New Zealand, and offers middle-of-the-road redemption opportunities, Airpoints is a good choice for you.

    Summing up

    Phew, that was a lengthy piece of writing — thanks for sticking with me.

    I hope this article gives you some insight into my changing thoughts on the Airpoints programme, and its benefits and features.

    Airpoints is far from perfect, but I am learning why New Zealanders often stick with it, especially frequent flyers.

    I will use my new conversion method throughout guides, to offer a point of comparison. I’ll be sure to link back here so readers can understand how I have ‘worked’ the numbers.

    Have I made you think twice about the value of Airpoints? I would be interested in hearing your thoughts below.


    Looking for more inspiration for how to spend your hard-earned frequent flyer points?

    Here are some of our Best Uses of Points guides. There may be some overlap but each guide has its own twist.

    Airpoints

    Qantas

    Velocity

    Other programs

    How I have underestimated Airpoints was last modified: December 2nd, 2019 by Daniel Kinnoch
    How I have underestimated Airpoints was last modified: December 2nd, 2019 by Daniel Kinnoch