Review: Air New Zealand Airbus A320 economy class

Depending on your fare, the AirNZ experience could rival that of full-service Qantas, or mirror low-cost Jetstar...

Overall Rating

By Chris C., May 19 2021
Air New Zealand Airbus A320 economy class
Route

Auckland to Brisbane

Aircraft Type

Airbus A320

Airline

Air New Zealand

Flight

NZ149 (travel bubble flight)

Cabin Class

Economy

Seat

6C

Notes
The Good
  • Flights booked using non-NZ miles get The Works
The Bad
  • Meals, movies, baggage not included on all fares
X-Factor
  • Reserved rows for Gold-grade flyers with extra legroom
Service
Meals
Seating
Overall

Introduction

Connecting cities across Australia with destinations around NZ, Air New Zealand is a fierce competitor for trans-Tasman travel bubble passengers.

Its flexible fare line-up offers lower ticket prices for those who ditch some inflight inclusions, with a choice between Seat, Seat+Bag, The Works, and Works Deluxe fares on Airbus A320 flights.

Executive Traveller puts the overall AirNZ economy experience to the test following a recent Auckland-Brisbane flight.

Check-in

  • Frequent flyer program: AirNZ Airpoints, Star Alliance. Miles can also be earned and redeemed through partnered programs such as Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer and United MileagePlus.
  • Standard checked baggage allowance:
    • 0kg: Seat-only reservations – that's no checked baggage.
    • 1x23kg: Seat+Bag and The Works fares.
    • 2x23kg: Works Deluxe fares
  • Checked baggage for AirNZ Koru, Gold, Elite and Elite Partner, and Star Alliance Gold:
    • 0kg: frequent flyers and Koru members on Seat-only bookings still get no free baggage.
    • 2x23kg: Seat+Bag and The Works fares.
    • 3x23kg: Works Deluxe tickets.
  • Carry-on baggage allowance: 1x7kg bag up to 118cm, plus one 'small item' such as a briefcase or handbag. NZ Gold, Elite, and Star Alliance Gold can bring two bags total at a combined weight of 14kg (max. 10kg per item), plus one small item.
  • Airport fast-track: Economy passengers can save time by completing check-in online, with Star Alliance Gold frequent flyers enjoying speedy check-in at AirNZ's premium check-in suite at Auckland Airport, located to the far right of the main check-in area.

Lounge

As you'd expect, airport lounge access isn't included as standard for passengers booked in economy, but your frequent flyer card could open the door instead.

In Auckland, Air New Zealand's international lounge is back in full swing and welcomes the airline's Koru members, Airpoints Gold members (and above), and other Star Alliance Gold frequent flyers.

This includes newly-minted Airpoints Gold members who brought their status across from a competing airline via AirNZ's recent Touch of Gold promotion

With a variety of zones throughout the space – including the relaxation area pictured above, found at the far end of the lounge – there's no shortage of seating, with bartender and barista service available too. 

Coffee orders can be placed at the counter, or you can shortcut any queue by requesting a drink through Air New Zealand's mobile app. The coffee ordering feature activates after your boarding pass has been scanned at reception, and this worked effortlessly.

Flight

Air New Zealand currently offers two daily return flights between Auckland and Brisbane.

Half are operated by the airline's Boeing 787s, offering both business class and premium economy in addition to economy.

The other half are served by either standard Airbus A320s (as reviewed here) or the more modern Airbus A320neo/A321neo jets, which top out at 'Works Deluxe' economy.

As all these flights are within the Australia-New Zealand 'safe travel zone', you can only travel to Australia if, within the 14 days prior to your flight, you've only spent time in New Zealand, Australia, or both.

You'll need to complete an online declaration to enter Australia – confirming your quarantine-free status – and this is verified at check-in at Auckland Airport.

As with all other international flights into Australia, you'll also need to fill out an incoming passenger card prior to your arrival.

These cards clearly haven't been updated in some time, as you're still asked to confirm that you weren't in "Africa, South/Central America or the Caribbean in the last 6 days", with no questions about other countries or safe travel zones. 

When jetting in the opposite direction from Australia to New Zealand, there's a separate declaration to complete online which confirms your quarantine-free entry into NZ.

Also read: What you need to do before travelling to New Zealand

Seat

From tip to tail, Air New Zealand's A320s sport seats in a 3-3 layout.

Each provides an adjustable headrest – but the amount of legroom depends on your exact seating choice.

Here in the 'frequent flyer zone' available to Star Alliance Gold members, a seat pitch of 83cm (just under 33 inches) provides ample space, without your knees touching the seat in front.

For the most part, seats with that smidgen of extra legroom are on the left-hand (port) side, in front of the emergency exit and with the letter A, B or C – 6C, in this case.

Seats on the right-hand (starboard) side, being D/E/F, mostly have a pitch of 76cm (30 inches) instead, which won't be as comfortable.

Regardless of your assigned seat, each comes with a 9-inch entertainment screen, and a USB (Type A) power port.

The tray table folds down, making it easier to access the pouch below.

Keeping the tray at half size improves your personal space, but for dining or laptop work, the table folds open.

Particularly handy for those in rows with extra legroom, the table can slide towards you as well.

All seats, except those in the very last row (28A-F), can recline by 5cm.

Meal

On the food and beverage front, the experience you'll have depends on the fare purchased, although tea, coffee and water are free for all.

Meals and most other drinks are then included for travellers on The Works and Works Deluxe tickets, as well as on flights booked using frequent flyer points from airlines other than Air New Zealand.

(Air New Zealand Airpoints members spending their Airpoints Dollars would instead need to select a Works or Works Deluxe fare for the same inclusions, whether paying using real money, Airpoints Dollars, or a combination of both.)

Having reserved this flight using Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles – akin to booking 'The Works' – the service began with a pass of the bar cart, delivering a complimentary gin and tonic. 

Shortly after came the meal service, where an enthusiastic crew member described the choices as "fabulous beef, terrific chicken, or awesome vegetarian". 

While more detail would have been helpful, the beef was respectable and came served with green beans and polenta. On the side, a warmed roll with butter, and a tasty NZ ice cream.

Drinks remain complimentary after the main service for these same passengers – with a nip of gin putting the rest of that tonic can to use – with additional snacks available to purchase if you're peckish.

Travellers on Seat and Seat+Bag fares will instead need a debit or credit card for anything beyond the free tea, coffee and water, with substantial bites such as paninis, sandwiches and pies offered for sale.

Alternatively, Airpoints members can spend their Airpoints Dollars on these purchases when placing an order through the seatback screen, when their Airpoints number is linked to the reservation.

Entertainment & Service

With an Airpoints number hooked up, the seatback screen will ask to confirm your birthday before allowing your Airpoints Dollars to be spent inflight.

But whether you're an Airpoints member or not, the system serves up a selection of TV shows, music, and games.

Movies are included as well for those on The Works and Works Deluxe fares – plus guests travelling on a reward flight booked through other frequent flyer partners, including KrisFlyer – and are available for purchase for Seat and Seat+Bag travellers.

Complimentary headphones are provided, but higher-end BYO pairs can be connected via the two-pin outlet in the arm rest. 

Cabin crew on this flight were friendly and lively while remaining professional, and that pleasing service began before departure where priority boarding for Koru, Star Alliance Gold, and Works Deluxe was both called and actively enforced.

Having selected a seat in the frequent flyer zone, this also gave what some travellers would call a 'double shadow', with the other two seats in the trio remaining empty, despite the flight otherwise being relatively full.

That's because 'infrequent flyers' can't normally select these seats: and even if the window seat had been occupied, most Gold-grade travellers would look for a window or aisle elsewhere before resigning themselves to the middle, and filling the row.

Planning a trans-Tasman Air New Zealand flight?

When buying your ticket, pay very close attention to the fare type you select, as it greatly impacts the experience you'll have.

Booking a 'Seat' fare gives an experience much like Jetstar, while 'Seat+Bag' is a little more like Virgin Australia, in that luggage is included and more frequent flyer benefits apply.

'The Works' gives Qantas' trans-Tasman economy a run for its money, while Works Deluxe edges closer to Euro Business, guaranteeing a vacant seat beside you, even on a completely full flight.

This sees Air New Zealand competing at all ends of the market, being a low-priced airline for some and a full-service carrier for others.

For the full 'traditional economy' experience, we'd suggest booking The Works: otherwise, keep your credit card handy inflight, as you're sure to need it.

Also reviewed: Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 Business Premier, Brisbane-Auckland

Chris C.

A Brisbane-based contributor to Executive Traveller, Chris Chamberlin lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

Delta Air Lines - SkyMiles

16 Oct 2017

Total posts 138

If booking via the Air NZ website you can select seats port side rows 3-9 (320ceo, 320 neo and 321) for a small additional fee. These are not restricted to FF, they are officially Space+ seats with 3-4 inches more legroom than standard seats. On 320ceo 9A the window is partially obscured. 

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2585

Hi Tommy, interesting observation. On this booking, these frequent flyer rows were simply showing as occupied/unavailable on the AirNZ site when a non-status frequent flyer number was attached to the reservation (and 'occupied', in other tools like ExpertFlyer), although there was the option to pay for extra legroom in other places like the exit row. Once I'd swapped the frequent flyer number over to my Airpoints Gold, the rows became available for selection.

Delta Air Lines - SkyMiles

16 Oct 2017

Total posts 138

That's interesting Chris. I have no status with NZ nor *A, though I am an Airpoints member. I usually buy WD so it isn't an issue, but not long ago I bought "Seat & Bag" and was able to choose row 6 on a 320neo ex ZQN for an extra $20.  I'm wondering if a) Airpoints membership made a difference or b) somehow my ANZ Airpoints Platinum card might have made a difference, it's not a listed benefit though or c) those rows 3-9 get released close to flight date.

Delta Air Lines - SkyMiles

16 Oct 2017

Total posts 138

BTW I decided to try Seat & Bag because I'm not impressed with the Works meal or the entertainment provided. I took my own tablet, bought a pie and was just as happy as I would have been four rows forward for twice the price. That $200+ saved went into some very good meals and sightseeing at destination.

Etihad - Etihad Guest

06 Apr 2012

Total posts 117

Great review, Chris.  Really captures the airport and in-flight experiences associated with the different bundles. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Nov 2014

Total posts 368

30" pitch for regular seat!? That's like Jetstar! 

31 Mar 2014

Total posts 377

Qantas 737's are 30". Jetstar is 28" from memory

09 Aug 2015

Total posts 92

A bit off topic but I always liked this model of an all-economy cabin but different inclusions based on how much you pay, and I wouldn't have been surprised if Bain had taken Virgin down this path, including that 'Euro business class' model for the front rows.

Thai Airways International - Royal Orchid Plus

15 Jan 2013

Total posts 378

what's the fare I get a meal in addition to inflight entertainment?i am thinking ages ago when NZ was full service across the tasman regardless of fare type in economy everyone was equal.

Lmc
Lmc

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Nov 2018

Total posts 100

For a small increase, just book Qantas and you don’t  have to worry about bags, seats, meals and drinks!!! 

Thai Airways International - Royal Orchid Plus

15 Jan 2013

Total posts 378

i am in adelaide and using air new zealand unless I really need to or cannot get a direct flight eliminates melbourne or sydney on the way to auckland.qantas frequent flyer or american aadvantage membership points though is a bonus and getting a wide body if lucky.

17 Jun 2020

Total posts 251

This is a detailed and comprehensive review, but I think 3 stars is a bit harsh. The product looks pretty good for a 3 hour flight? 

Flew Qantas two weeks ago and there was only two meal options in economy (hot or cold) in a box. No dessert either. Air NZ looks to be better than this?

The comment around meals etc not being included as a “bad” thing is good for some as it allows them to save money for something they don’t want.

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2585

Hi KW72, the star ratings are really just a brief summary of the experience, with the substance being in the text and content itself.

In this case, the star ratings reflect the in-between nature of the AirNZ economy experience overall (not a rating based on one specific fare or journey type), in that some passengers will have a near-terrific flight much closer to a five-star economy experience (think Gold frequent flyers with lounge access, priority treatment, extra legroom, and on a Works fare, meals, drinks and movies all included), while others will find the experience reasonably on-par with Jetstar (at the lower end of the star spectrum), having less legroom, no baggage or food included, and so on.

It's also worth keeping in mind that while some travellers will be clued-in to NZ's offering and understand what they're getting versus the price, others - such as those whose company travel departments arrange their tickets, or who use some online travel agents - presume they're getting things like baggage and a meal on a four-hour flight on a 'not low cost' airline, but then sit down to discover they need to pay for anything more than water/tea/coffee, which adds complexity and confusion to the experience (and on every NZ flight I take, I overhear somebody complaining that they didn't get a meal when they thought it was included - often when having used a travel agent).

Therefore, the star ratings reflect that AirNZ economy can be anywhere from 'great' to 'poor' depending on fare and status, and the observations on complexity reflect the fact that we write for a broad audience of over 1.3 million people: some of whom will be knowledgeable frequent flyers who know the drill, and others will be those learning the ropes - including those who might expect a meal after paying hundreds of dollars for a four-hour international flight on a 'not low cost' airline.

17 Jun 2020

Total posts 251

Thanks for the reply Chris, that makes sense. 

The works experience does look pretty good though!

CX

16 May 2015

Total posts 14

The transparency of NZ's booking experience has improved over the years, but it is still fairly obscure. Booking as a non-NZ Star Alliance Gold I feel that they are constantly trying to take advantage. It demeans the quite good soft product. Flying from WLG across the Tasman I prefer QF, but only because the lounges are better (at both ends - I even like the peace and quiet of the much-maligned Auckland QF First Class Lounge when flying out of AKL). However, for a three hour flight accross the Tasman from WLG there isn't much in it between the two carriers.


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