UPDATE | Air New Zealand has now confirmed to Australian Business Traveller precisely which premium economy, extra-legroom, exit row, bulkhead and extra-elbow-room seats are now up for sale -- and which are still part of the package for its Gold, Gold Elite and Koru cardholders, Virgin Australia Velocity Gold and Platinum frequent flyers, and Star Alliance Gold members.
PREVIOUSLY | Air New Zealand is removing extra-legroom seats from the domain of frequent flyers and offering them for sale to all passengers under its new "Seat Select" program.
Previously known as Space+ seats, these have long been a free perk for the Kiwi flag-carrier's Gold, Gold Elite and Koru members, along with Virgin Australia's Velocity Gold and Platinum cardholders.
But from this Thursday they're available to any traveller at the following rate:
- NZ$10 (A$8) within New Zealand
- NZ$20 (A$16) across the Tasman
- up to NZ$75 (A$60) on longer flights, including extra legroom seats in premium economy
Air NZ's top-tier frequent flyers will also need to pay up front in order to guarantee their seat up front, or risk missing out.
The seats will only be available for free to the airline's most valuable customers "if there are any Preferred or Exit Row Seats still available 48 hours before travel" Air NZ says. "Gold Elite, Gold and Koru members will have access to paid Seat Select (if available) free of charge from 48hrs prior to departure."
However, there's also some confusion around an obliquely-worded statement on the Air NZ website which says that despite "some location adjustments" (whatever that means) , "Gold Elite, Gold and Koru Club members still have seats reserved exclusively for them in premium locations."
Australian Business Traveller has requested some clarification from Air New Zealand, especially around the choice of seats you'll have and whether any seats are still specifically reserved for frequent flyers, but the airline has yet to respond.
Virgin Australia Velocity Golds, Platinums also hit
The same pay-for-your-legroom rule applies to high flyers from Air New Zealand partner Virgin Australia.
"Velocity Gold and Platinum members are treated the same as our Air New Zealand Gold Elite, Gold and Koru members when they are flying on the Tasman or a connecting Tasman journey," an Air New Zealand spokesperson confirmed to Australian Business Traveller.
In comparison, Virgin Australia reserves the good seats at the front of economy -- including extra-legroom bulkhead row 3 -- for its Platinum and Gold members of its Velocity frequent flyer program and has previously swatted down suggestions that it would charge passengers for those seats.
"The final straw", says one frequent flyer
International IT architecture consultant Kai Koenig, a top tier frequent flyer with both Qantas and Air New Zealand, describes the the new Seat Select policy as "the final straw" which is steering his travels away from the Kiwi airline.
"Air NZ has clearly missed the boat when it comes to loyalty and providing a benefit for frequent flyers" he states, saying he feels insulted that despite being a Gold Elite flyer the airline "charges a fee for me selecting what's called 'preferential' premium economy seats."
"I've changed the vast majority of my flying over to Qantas for trans-Tasman trips," Koenig says, citing the Qantas First Class Lounge as a significant draw when he transits through Sydney.
"For my travelling it essentially means that I'm just using Air NZ for domestic trips where there's no alternative at all."
Think this is a bit much? At AusBT, we've laid out some better alternatives for you: how to get real business class across the Tasman and how to find the big planes with more room per seat on flights to NZ.
For more -- and to keep track of updates -- follow us on Twitter: we're @AusBT.