Tag Archives: SYD

The Worst Frequent Flyer Program Nominee

I love the challenge of optimizing my frequent flyer mile and point redemptions to travel around the world. It’s the only way I could afford to travel, really. The US is very lucky with airlines offering some of the best loyalty programs out there even when foreign carriers offer superior aircraft and service products. But it amazes me how bad some foreign loyalty programs really are. The worst I’ve had to deal with is Airpoints from Air New Zealand, and I’ll explain why giving examples from my upcoming trip to the Pacific.

So my goal is to use my New Zealand based Airpoints to book a one way trip between Sydney, Australia and Auckland, New Zealand. I say NZ based because Air New Zealand treats Australian Airpoints and American Airpoints very different from New Zealand Airpoints. 1 Airpoint equals $1 of the currency where you first registered your program. So 1 Australian Airpoint is NOT equal 1 New Zealand Airpoints because $1 AUD does not equal $1 NZD. And this little nugget has been the cause of much of my frustration trying to burn the damn NZ Airpoints I’ve accumulated for something more useful then letting them expire.

Last week Air New Zealand announced a 24 hour Australia sale.

The Auckland to Sydney route was advertised at $159 NZD outbound and $206 NZD on the reverse trip, on the Kiwi web site. The Sydney to Auckland route on the Aussie web site was advertised at $179 AUD for the leg that I was interested in booking. However, when I tried to use my NZ Airpoints for this booking the Aussie web site booted me to the Kiwi web site, where the route re-priced at $317 NZD without any sale in sight even though it was clearly coming up through both web sites separately. The global web site, or the American web site as I like to call it because the prices come up in American dollars, was quoting the same trip at $250 USD. So you got three Air New Zealand sites quoting four very different prices for the same exact trip:

$179 AUD = $133 USD (Australian sale price o/w purchase)

$206 NZD = $139 USD (Kiwi sale price based on r/t purchase)

$317 NZD = $214 USD (Kiwi regular price, based on o/w purchase)

$250 USD (American regular price, based on one way purchase)

Now, Air New Zealand is not the only carrier out there that publishes different pricing based on the country of origin. But when it comes to redeeming frequent flyer miles or points, it is generally a common practice to have the  value of airline’s miles or points not change from country to country, there’s some predictable consistency… the airline’s frequent flyer miles or points are the currency of that airline independent of the currencies of the countries where that airline operates. Air NZ has to be the only one that doesn’t follow this model, and it’s totally one sided. I’m sure it benefits Air NZ greatly, but me as a consumer: not so much.

The other unfair practice is the redemption of the Airpoints towards the purchase of the flight. I recently booked Auckland to Rarotonga using one of Air NZ’s sales. The price was advertised at $209 NZD one way, and I booked it using my Airpoints, where only 177 Airpoints  were applied to the purchase and the rest I had to pay in cash. Try doing that the other way around. Say I would accept the ridiculous $317 NZD price for a $133 AUD sale ticket, and I wanted to pay partially with Airpoints and the rest with cash, you are not allowed to do it. Air New Zealand will not take my 100 or 200 Airpoints as credit towards partial payment for a ticket if I don’t have enough to cover the air ticket portion of the price, the tax they collect in cash. Not cool at all.

Saying all this, Air New Zealand is actually a great airline to fly and I have a number of flights booked with them on this trip already using their Star Alliance partner United Airlines. I am very much looking forward to the All Black planes and the outstanding service on board. But I’m frustrated to no end about their sneaky loyalty program operation that does not allow me as a consumer to burn off the Airpoints I had collected because of all the damn restrictions.

So shame on you Air New Zealand!


Frequent Flyer programs theoretically are meant to reward loyalty not punish customers by making it impossible to use the points or miles. I will have to get creative with my redemption though… considering it’s possible to book the SYD-AKL trip outright for less than $130 USD using third party sites like Expedia or Orbitz (and even less when one of those American sites announce a sale). And then maybe dump the remainder of my Airpoints on a round trip flight within New Zealand… I’ve never been to Queenstown, Dunedin or Invercargill on the southern tip of the South Island… I wouldn’t mind going there for FREE… the only deficit I have at this point is the limited time I am spending in New Zealand overall….    so the challenge for the most exotic road trip continues!

kiwi all blacks air new zealand

The Logistics Behind Planning a Trip to Australia, New Zealand and the Cook Islands

Very excited to say that the 2016 Grand Prix Road Trip of a lifetime has been booked! This post is a follow up to the previous two posts I made on the subject while planning the trip, and it’s nice to see the evolution of the plan over a period of time. Have a look at the previous post at the start of the planning stage here: “the logistics behind planning a trip to Australia & New Zealand,” and a follow up here when I discovered it’s cheaper to fly home from the Cook Islands via New Zealand than directly from New Zealand: “booked a flight to Rarotonga, Cook Islands.”

the trip should look something like this, image from Great Circle Mapper
the trip should look something like this, image from Great Circle Mapper

The planning process went from a mock-up above to the actual route depicted below on this beautiful Great Circle Mapper image. The difference being the addition of Hawai’i stopover on the way to SYD.

dream trip to exotic pacific cook islands australia new zealand
the trip will actually look like this, image from Great Circle Mapper

For those that didn’t read the previous planning posts I’ll explain the process of selecting the routes based on the frequent flyer programs I used. Initially my plan was to burn some Virgin America frequent flyer points I had accumulated on a redemption on Virgin Australia to fly from Los Angeles to Sydney. I’ve determined that that was a poor use of those points, so instead I’ll save them for next year to fly on Singapore Airlines A380 between NYC and Frankfurt for one of the European events. Instead, I used American AAdvantage program to book the trip. My dilemma was that I had already used up 8,000 miles in rebates from booking this year’s European trips, and that 1,750 miles would be wasted as I would only get 2,000 back with the 10% rebate that AA offers for AA credit card holders (10,000 max/year). But in the grand scheme of things I’d rather waste 1,750 AA miles which I could earn back relatively quickly (use one of the many AA video promos or dining promos that give 1,000 bonus) instead of paying money on a connecting flight between NY and LA to position myself for the Virgin Australia alternative that I had dismissed earlier. The two options with AAdvantage were to fly Qantas from JFK-LAX-SYD or Hawaiian Airlines JFK-HNL-SYD. And while I was very much looking forward to another flight on Qantas on one of their soon to be retired Boeing 747’s, I chose the stopover in Honolulu instead. I’ve flown Hawaiian before on the way back from the Korean Grand Prix (ICN-HNL-LAX) and always wanted to step out of the Honolulu airport to see a little bit of the island, and now I’ll finally have that chance… I’ll spend the night in Honolulu arriving at 4pm and departing 12pm noon the next day.

kirribilli australia sydney
G’day Australia! Sydney Opera House from Kirribilli

The trip back home is just as convoluted as on the way over. I’ve blogged before that I booked a $21 USD flight from Auckland to Rarotonga and that was done for positioning purposes. You see, to fly from Auckland to New York requires 40,000 Mileage Plus miles to fly Air New Zealand, a United partner in the Star Alliance. Whereas it only takes 35,000 miles to do the same trip from Rarotonga to NYC. So it seems like a no-brainer, Kia Orana Rarotonga! The caveat is to fly home from the Cook Islands you actually fly via New Zealand, and a further caveat it is possible to spend the entire day in Auckland before heading home (with a 5am arrival and a 10:45pm departure). So I was absolutely sold on that deal. But since I didn’t have enough Mileage Plus miles in my own account, I asked mom for help. Signed her up for a new United credit card, spent very little time charging all the house renovation expenses on her card, and in a month I had the mileage at my disposal with enough miles left over in her account to book a round trip flight within the US. Great deal all around.

I have yet to book a flight between Australia and New Zealand mainly because the flights are quite pricey right now ($300+ with AirNZ direct or $149+ with AirNZ through a third party like Expedia). I will wait closer to the travel dates to book that leg of the trip hoping to use the remainder of my soon to expire AirNZ Airpoints. Luckily they’re spoiled for choice with connecting flights between the two countries, so if SYD-AKL doesn’t work out I can do SYD-WLG, MEL-AKL, MEL-WLG, etc.

auckland skyline new zealand nz
Kia Ora Aotearoa! Auckland Skyline from Westhaven Marina

So, compared to the previous trips I took to Oceania/Pacific with my numerous flights to Australia and New Zealand, I think this will be by far the most exotic one I’ve ever done. I’ve read great things about the Cook Islands and look forward to that being the highlight of my trip. But I’m also very excited to see my Aussie and Kiwi friends on their turf. Bathurst 12h is going to be an amazing event. Unfortunately I won’t get a chance to do the NZ V8 Supertourers (or just V8 Touring Cars since competing NZ V8 Supertourers and NZV8’s series merged), but I’m sure there will be a club event I could attend at Pukekohe or Hampton Downs while on the North Islands.

It’s going to be awesome!

For anyone needing help planning their next trip using a combination of frequent flyer miles and other cheap flights, please get in touch… I love a challenge.


Some stats on this trip, total mileage flown: 24,098 miles according to the Great Circle Mapper.  Honolulu is almost exactly half way from New York to Sydney, JFK-HNL 4,983 miles vs. HNL-SYD 5,066 miles. I will depart Auckland at 10am on a Monday morning and arrive the Cook Islands at 4pm Sunday afternoon, the day before! (giving me an extra day to spend on the island). Caveat: I will celebrate two Valentine’s Days one in Auckland and one in Rarotonga…

Winter/Summer North/South Hemisphere

2013 is already promising to be an incredible year. I’m particularly excited about the planning process of my next big trip this February and March. I’m not sure what I’m thrilled about the most… maybe its the prospect of flying again. Sure, I love flying! Or perhaps its the prospect of doing some more racing events in the Pacific. Yes, I love Australia and New Zealand racing series a lot, that’s where I got my education. Or maybe I’m just craving a double double with fries animal style? Hmm…

For anyone not familiar with the west coast chain In-n-Out, you don’t know what you’re missing. Well, maybe it doesn’t matter. To be honest, the fast food chain isn’t ridiculously different from any other fast food chains we have on the east coast, like Five Guys Burgers. But they do offer a secret menu and have a cult-like following so every time I get a chance I pay a visit to their establishments. (I think last time was in Las Vegas when I went for the SEMA show). I specifically arranged my flights to LAX in a way that would allow me to have enough time to visit their South Sepulveda location for a nice juicy burger, fries and some half-strawberry half-chocolate milk shake. I do plan to walk to and fro the restaurant to burn off some of the calories.

After I’m properly stuffed with the So Cal experience, I’ll be taking my comfy Qantas A380 flight off to Sydney. Its been a while since I’ve been there, save for of course the quick transit at SYD airport I did on my way home from New Zealand earlier this year. I will be visiting the Blue Mountains in NSW for my first race there. The 12 hours of Bathurst enduro series featuring some Mercedes-Benz SLS, Lambourghini Gallardo, Ferrari 458 Italias and a bunch of others including some Fords and Holdens that will have a GT race within the race running only for the first hour of the event. How cool?

Immediately after the race I plan to make my way over to Auckland for the opening season of New Zealand V8 SuperTourers at Hampton Downs. This would be the second year in a row I’ve volunteered for this event, so I’m especially looking forward to seeing all the folks I’ve worked with earlier this year. Whilst in NZ I plan to do a few trips to the South Island, an experience I missed out on while living there in 2012. Hopefully with the December 12 days of Christmas special I’ll be able to book some cheapo flights to Dunedin or Queenstown on Air New Zealand to make it happen. A visit to Taupo or Manfeild may be in the cards also.

Kiwi land may be the place where I will finally and possibly tragically run out of my savings. But it will not stop me from going. On the way back I plan to return to Australia for the Formula 1 race at Albert Park in Melbourne. A week before there will be another event at a track I’ve been wanting to work since the first time I visited Philip Island. Visiting some friends in Victoria should make an experience memorable as usual.

Retracing my F1 calendar of this year I plan to take a cheap Air Asia X flight to Malaysia for another amazing Formula 1 race at the Sepang Circuit. The flights have already been booked but the confirmation has yet to come, fingers crossed I won’t have any trouble like I did this year. Any visit to Southeast Asia turns out to be a fantastic experience and it would be a great way to end this two month journey.

The excitement will keep me going through the cold Northeast winter we’ll be having in the NYC / New Jersey area, where we just had our first snow not even a week after the superstorm Sandy had her way with us… yikes!

PS. No return flight has been booked yet. It may turn into another epic adventure of a trip!