Virgin Australia, its Pacific Blue subsidiary (which will be renamed Virgin Australia this month) and Air New Zealand form a strong trans-Tasman alliance favoured by many business travellers, both for direct Australia-New Zealand flights as well as connections.
It also means that Velocity Frequent Flyers can access Air New Zealand's international and domestic Koru business class lounges, earn status credits and frequent flyer points on both airlines' flights, snap up extra-legroom seats and take extra luggage.
But the rules are many and confusing -- so this week we'll be bringing you expert advice and insider information on how the alliance works, exactly what frequent flyer benefits are extended to Velocity members, when and where to grab those seats, and more.
The result? You'll quickly become a savvy business traveller when it comes to hopping the pond!
Which airline flies which routes
Air New Zealand runs two thirds of the trans-Tasman alliance flights, with Virgin Australia's Pacific Blue running the rest.
(In 2012, Virgin Australia will complete its rebranding from Virgin Blue, with Pacific Blue flights and planes also taking the Virgin Australia name. Expect some changes to services as a result -- including to premium fares and even business class. Australian Business Traveller will bring you the very latest as soon as the news is out.)
Air New Zealand flies:
- Auckland to: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Adelaide, Cairns, Perth
- Wellington to: Sydney, Melbourne
- Christchurch to: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Gold Coast
- Queenstown to: Sydney, Melbourne
- Rotorua to: Sydney
Virgin Australia's Pacific Blue flies:
- Auckland to: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Gold Coast
- Wellington to: Brisbane
- Christchurch to: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane
- Queenstown to: Sydney (Brisbane in December & January)
- Dunedin to: Brisbane (Sydney & Melbourne in December & January)
- Hamilton to: Brisbane
Both airlines offer domestic connections on either side of the Tasman, giving additional options for flights. Click on the map below for fuller info:
For example, with only one daily direct flight from Wellington to Melbourne (leaving at 6am, meaning a wakeup call at around 3 in the morning if you're staying in Wellington's CBD), it's a benefit to also have the option to connect via Auckland on Air NZ or Brisbane/Sydney on Virgin Australia at more civilised times of day.
The four types of flight you can book, and why that's important
There are four types of flight under the trans-Tasman alliance.
Virgin Australia will let you book:
- Pacific Blue flights with DJ flight numbers
- Pacific Blue flights on Air New Zealand planes with DJ8000 flight numbers
Air New Zealand will let you book:
- Air New Zealand flights with NZ flight numbers
- Air New Zealand flights on Pacific Blue planes with NZ7000 flight numbers
It's important to know which type of flight you're booking, especially if you're a frequent flyer. Many benefits are only extended to Velocity Frequent Flyer members when booking via Virgin Australia, for example.
Seat selection is only available if you book with the airline that will be doing the flying (and then only if you're buying an expensive fare or are a frequent flyer).
You might also want in-flight entertainment, in which case you'll need to be on an Air New Zealand plane unless you stump up for one of the clunky digEplayer handheld devices on Pacific Blue.
At check-in, you'll also need to know which airline's plane you'll be flying on, since you check in at that airline's counters. (That may be in a different part of the terminal to the counters of the airline on which you booked your ticket.)
Points and status credits for frequent flyers
Virgin Australia frequent flyers can accrue points and status credits to their Velocity Frequent Flyer account, no matter which airline's plane they book or fly on -- with the exception of Pacific Island flights.
The same status credits (which help you climb the ladder to Silver, Gold or Platinum status) are earned whether you're on an Air New Zealand or Virgin Australia/Pacific Blue plane when you book with Virgin Australia.
So Melbourne-Brisbane-Wellington, say, will give you Melbourne-Wellington points only.
However, the small print says that an indirect route like this booked through Air New Zealand would earn more status credits, so factor that into your considerations.
More on the trans-Tasman Alliance
All this week, we'll be bringing you more information, sliced into bite-size chunks most useful for Australians heading across the Tasman:
- how to snag those extra-legroom Space+ or Suit Zone seats, with up to five inches more space
- demystifying the eight separate booking options and ticket types on Air NZ and Pacific Blue
- when and how you get up to 32kg extra baggage as a Velocity Frequent Flyer
- which lounges you can access -- and what you need to present to get in