Air New Zealand rejigs frequent flyer scheme, debuts new Elite status
An overhaul of Air New Zealand’s Airpoints program will see vast changes to the earning rates for both Airpoints Dollars and Status Points, with higher-spending members to receive the most recognition with a new invitation-only VIP tier.
From March 31 2014, any ‘regularly available’ Air New Zealand fare will qualify for Airpoints Dollars, with the exception of last minute 'greenlight' fares via grabaseat.co.nz and fares purchased using Airpoints Dollars, while earning rates will be harmonised across the airline’s network for simplicity.
The airline’s regional and ‘main trunk’ routes – flights between Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and Queenstown – will see an increased spread of earning rates, primarily due to the inclusion of the cheaper ‘grabaseat’ fares when booked through traditional channels, including airnewzealand.co.nz.
When travelling on short haul international flights, the earning rates on the less-expensive Seat and Seat + Bag fares are set to fall, though travellers on most Works, Works Deluxe and Business fares will see an increase.
How the changes impact Australian travellers
Airpoints members travelling on Virgin Australia domestic flights will earn fewer Airpoints Dollars after March 31.
Based on the current earning table, a Sydney-Melbourne flight would earn 20 Airpoints Dollars in Business, 10 on a Flexi fare, and 5 on a Saver/Saver Lite fare.
After March 31, the number of Airpoints Dollars you can earn on the same flights drops to 10 in Business, and 5 and 3 in economy, respectively – a reduction of up to 50%.
Conversely, travellers on Virgin’s coast to coast flights will earn more at the pointy end, with Business fares set to earn 52 Airpoints Dollars (up from 30), with Flexi fares decreasing from 20 to 18, and both Saver types from 15 to 10.
These earning rates follow the new ‘simplified earning structure’ for NZ’s partner airline flights, for which calculations will be based on standardised 1,000 kilometre distance bands.
Long distance flights
International long haul routes will see varying changes, with Auckland-London soon to earn a minimum of 67 Airpoints Dollars (up from 40 for an Economy Category 5 fare, or from 50-60 on comparable Category 3 & 4 fares).
Business class passengers will see a modest to impressive increase from the current 360 figure, with the new Air NZ tables paving the way for between 368 and 497 Airpoints Dollars on that same flight, depending of course on the specific fare type.
The airline has launched a new Airpoints calculator to assist with your post-March travel planning, available at www.airnzpoints.co.nz.
While relatively basic and somewhat vague at this stage, the airline promises to introduce fare class, routing and cabin search options prior to the changeover taking place.
Changes to the Airpoints engine couldn’t come any sooner for Wellington-based traveller Kai Koenig, who notes that while “the Status Points earning for Premium Economy between Wellington and Los Angeles seems to have actually increased significantly, it's a bit hard to tell what you'd actually get as they only specify ranges that are very broad”.
Airpoints Elite frequent flyers
In line with the spend-based changes to the Kiwi carrier’s Airpoints rates, similar changes will apply to the earning of Status Points – with the revised rates and ranges also available through the new look-up engine – though the airline still expects to maintain the same overall number of Gold and Gold Elite customers.
A new Airpoints web portal has been released today in an effort to be more tablet-friendly, replacing the previous Flash-based system.
Further changes to Air NZ’s website allow travellers to see the number of Airpoints Dollars and Status Points they will earn when booking a domestic flight, with the same functionality expected to be available in early 2014 for international flights.
Perhaps one of the better changes, Gold Elites will receive a free ‘Short Haul Recognition Upgrade’ from 31 Mar 2014, in addition to the two less-restrictive Recognition Upgrades already received each membership year.
With around 120 domestic and international flights each year, Koenig – a frequent Air NZ traveller at the ‘Elite’ level – notes that while the new short haul upgrade can be used on trans-Tasman and Pacific Island short haul flights (specifically excluding Perth, Bali and Honolulu), the upgrade offering is particularly Auckland-centric.
“Given that Air NZ doesn't offer business class trans-Tasman anywhere else... it makes one wonder what anyone else outside of Auckland is supposed to do with it,” he details.
Citing the ease of acquiring Status Points through the use of credit cards, the 'Banked Gold Elite year' benefit – whereby high-flying members can keep an extra year of Gold Elite (Star Alliance Gold) up their sleeves after earning 2,000 Status Points in a single year – will now kick in at 2,400 Status Points, with at least 1,400 (60%) to be earned on Air NZ flights.
This aligns the Banked Year threshold with that of the Gold Elite tier, which already required at least 60% of Status Points to be earned directly with Air New Zealand at the minimum qualifying level.
Elite tier changes
The airline’s top spending travellers will receive a personal invitation to Elite Priority One – a new VIP tier to be launched in early 2014, the benefits of which are yet to be finalised.
Airpoints membership cards will also begin to show how many years the traveller has consecutively held their current elite status, with ‘Gold Elite’ to be concurrently renamed ‘Elite’.
With this in mind, membership cards will bear ‘Elite 5’ if a member has held the currently-named Gold Elite status for five years.
Currently policy has members waiting for up to seven weeks (yes, nearly two months) after a new status level has been attained before they can actually begin to enjoy the benefits.
Under new ‘functional improvements’, members will wait no more than seven days for their new status to take effect, though one does wonder why such a waiting period should be necessary in the first place – at least for flights on one’s home carrier.
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