The Air New Zealand business class upgrade guide

By Chris Chamberlin, August 25 2016

With so many ways to upgrade to business class aboard Air New Zealand, there’s no reason you should be down the back in economy on your next trip across the pond and beyond.

It’s possible to bid real money for a business class upgrade via Air NZ’s ‘OneUp’ scheme, and to use points or miles from other Star Alliance airlines such as Singapore Airlines and United to upgrade on Air NZ flights, regardless of your frequent flyer status with Air NZ.

Air New Zealand Airpoints Silver, Gold and Elite members also receive complimentary ‘recognition upgrades’ each year, while top-tier Elite cardholders get a further short-haul upgrade and can use Airpoints Dollars to upgrade to business class as well.

Whether you’re at the top of bottom of Air NZ’s frequent flyer food chain, here’s what you need to know about upgrading to business class with the Kiwi carrier.

Air NZ business class upgrades: the basics

Most importantly, upgrades are only possible on tickets booked with Air New Zealand under its own ‘NZ’ flight number.

Booking a Virgin Australia (VA) codeshare flight on Air New Zealand, for example, means you won’t be able to upgrade. You also can’t upgrade on Air New Zealand using Virgin Australia Velocity frequent flyer points, regardless of the flight number you book on.

Upgrades are also subject to availability and aren’t guaranteed.

Air New Zealand decides how many seats are given over to upgrading passengers on each flight – and in some cases that could be no seats at all, even if business class tickets are still being sold on the same flight.

An empty business seat on your flight doesn't necessarily mean you can upgrade...
An empty business seat on your flight doesn't necessarily mean you can upgrade...

Finally, if you are upgraded you’ll continue to earn Airpoints Dollars and Status Points as per the fare you originally bought. Users of other frequent flyer programs will also receive points, miles, status credits or tier miles (as applicable) as per the original fare also.

Bidding for an Air NZ business class upgrade

You don’t need any frequent flyer points for a business class upgrade – you can bid for that upgrade with real money instead, courtesy of NZ’s ‘OneUp’ system.

These upgrades are all one-class, so if you’re on a flight that offers economy, premium economy and business class, you’ll need to pay for a premium economy ticket in order to bid for a business class upgrade.

Similarly, if your flight offers only business class and economy, you’re clear to upgrade straight from cattle class to business class.

Bids are accepted from the moment your booking is made until seven days before each flight’s departure, with the outcome advised between seven and three days before your flight.

Frequent Air NZ travellers will also have their bid amounts bolstered to help improve their chances at success. Silver members get a 10% boost, Gold flyers a 30% bonus weight and Elite members a 50% increase.

For example, when an Elite member makes a $700 bid, the system treats that as a $1,050 bid, yet the passenger will only be charged $700.

Airpoints Elite members have the best chance at a business class upgrade...
Airpoints Elite members have the best chance at a business class upgrade...

Winning bidders are determined based on a number of factors including the value of the offer and how it compares to offers made on the same flight, any elite Airpoints member status, the number of seats available in business class and the number of passengers in the booking.

Bids aren’t accepted from passengers who book an economy Skycouch; those on the most heavily discounted ‘grabaseat greenlight’ fares; passengers on group tickets; where the original flight was booked using frequent flyer points or on flights from Japan.

Air NZ complimentary ‘recognition upgrades’

Every membership year, Airpoints Silver members pocket one ‘recognition upgrade’ while Gold and Elite members get two. Elite members also get a ‘short haul recognition upgrade’ each year in addition to their other upgrades.

Relax: the more you fly, the more upgrades you get...
Relax: the more you fly, the more upgrades you get...

It works like this: on shorter flights such as between Australia’s east coast and New Zealand, one regular recognition upgrade gets you bumped from economy straight to business class, even if premium economy is offered on that flight.

That’s also what happens with the extra short haul recognition upgrades given to Elite flyers – and while you can certainly use them to move from premium economy to business class, you’ll get the best value by booking a mere economy ticket and scooting yourself to the front row.

On longer flights aboard Air NZ’s Boeing 777 and 787 aircraft such as between Perth and Auckland or Auckland and Los Angeles, one regular recognition upgrade gets you a one-class bump: that’s from economy to premium economy or from premium economy to business class.

However, you can pair two recognition upgrades on the one flight to skip from economy to premium economy and then from premium economy to business class.

Elite-level frequent flyers have ‘first dibs’ when using recognition upgrades with requests able to be confirmed and locked in from the moment a booking has been made until seven days prior to departure, subject to availability. If an upgrade isn’t available, you can also join a ‘waitlist’.

Recognition upgrades for Gold and Silver members are processed roughly six days before wheels-up, with Gold members given priority after any waitlisted Elite upgrades have been considered.

Upgrading to business class using Airpoints Dollars

Exclusively for Air New Zealand’s Elite frequent flyers, business class upgrades are also possible by using Airpoints Dollars: the Air NZ equivalent of frequent flyer points.

On flights between east coast Australia and New Zealand, Aussie travellers need A$220 Airpoints Dollars for a one-way bump up from economy to business class or a lower $130 Airpoints Dollars to move from premium economy to business.

You could use AP$130 to book an economy ticket, or to fly in business class...!
You could use AP$130 to book an economy ticket, or to fly in business class...!

(Even if your flight has a premium economy cabin, you’re still free to upgrade from economy to business class on shorter flights.)

Longer routes like Perth-Auckland get more complex: where the aircraft serving the route only has economy and business class, it’s $390 Airpoints Dollars for an upgrade – but when premium economy is sold, upgrades are instead only one-class.

That means you’d need to book a premium economy fare to be in with a shot at a business class seat, with that upgrade costing you $330 Airpoints Dollars in addition to your original fare.

Take a trip between New Zealand and the USA or Canada and you’re looking at $430 Airpoints Dollars to upgrade from premium economy, while an Auckland-Los Angeles-London journey costs $860 all up, as upgrades are processed and charged flight-by-flight.

Air NZ upgrades using Star Alliance miles

Using frequent flyer points of other Star Alliance airlines to upgrade to Air NZ business class is a great option also, and you don’t need to hold Star Alliance Gold (or Silver) status to request an upgrade.

For example, United MileagePlus members can use United miles to upgrade from economy and premium economy to business class on all Air NZ routes, subject to availability, when having booked a Y or B flexible economy fare or an E, O or U premium economy ticket.

On all flights between Australia and New Zealand – including that longer Perth-Auckland journey – it’s only 10,000 United miles for an upgrade, although to be in with a shot you’d have paid a pretty penny for those higher-priced tickets.

The number of frequent flyer points or miles needed to upgrade with Air New Zealand varies between Star Alliance frequent flyer programs, but remember that as Virgin Australia isn’t a Star Alliance member, you can’t use Velocity points for business class upgrades on Air New Zealand.

Read: The Star Alliance business class upgrade guide

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Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

11 Nov 2014

Total posts 34

I was able to get an upgrade for $400 NZD from economy to premium economy between San Francisco and Auckland.

I am a velocity gold frequent flyer and with Air NZ I normally get all the benefits that goes with that. Unfortunately, the singapore airlines lounge that hosts Air NZ in San Fran doesn't accept velocity frequent flyers, which I found disappointing.

I am off to London next month on NZ2, I'll see if I can get another cheap push up to Premium Economy.

Air New Zealand - Airpoints

05 Nov 2014

Total posts 14

It's a rubbish SQ lounge at SFO anyway.

The secret is to use an AMEX platinum or black card to use the Centurion lounge 200 metres away at the United domestic gates. It's all airside, so it's a five minute walk each way. And it's a magnificent lounge.

Back on topic, the best thing about Air NZ's loyalty program is that top tier Elite status is easy to get and gives two long-haul upgrades confirmable at the time of booking. Given how often there are Premium Economy sales at less than $3000, that becomes an incredibly priced Business Class return to the USA.

Aegean Airlines - Miles & Bonus

15 Jun 2016

Total posts 19

This is fantastic. I'm an Aegean Miles+Bonus gold member & have loads of award miles to use. Chris, are there any other airlines in Star Alliance that have a similar scheme allowing you to use other *A member miles to upgrade? 

Hi Yanni, Star Alliance allows (almost) all member airlines to upgrade on (almost) all other member airlines using their miles – so you could upgrade on Air NZ using miles from United, SQ, Aegean, Air Canada, Avianca, Asiana, Thai Airways, Lufthansa and many more. It's one thing that Star Alliance does really well that Oneworld doesn't – although to upgrade from economy to business class you normally need to book full fare economy or premium economy, so it's more useful if your employer will pay for that but won't pay the extra for business class – otherwise, using your miles to book business class outright might be a better way to go. :)

21 Sep 2011

Total posts 65

Re Star Alliance Upgrade Awards, you will need booking class "I" to be available on your flight. As most fStar requent flyers know, NZ seldom release any I class other than perhaps their PVG route.  

Any idea on which economy fare you need to book? Cause i just booked sydney to CHC and it says i cannot upgrade it.

13 Oct 2018

Total posts 1

Would anyone have an idea as to how many United points to upgrade a RT from NY to Aukland? TIA.

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