Kiwi Conundrum

Kiwi Conundrum

As of Nov. 1, Air New Zealand has completely overhauled its frequent flyer program. In an effort to respond to the needs of the “most loyal customers — those who fly on a regular basis,” Airpoints will focus primarily on domestic travelers.

Naturally, the airline has cloaked its changes in the language of marketing and spin. Accordingly, we are led to believe that the program is simpler and more rewarding, and that there will be more ways to collect points and more ways to use them.

Enough ad-speak. What’s really happening?

For starters, each Air New Zealand flight now earns a minimum of 1,000 points — previously, the minimums were 600 kilometers in economy, and 700 on business class per day. Some flyers will find, however, that elite status is more difficult to attain. Previously, you could attain Gold Elite status for 100,000 accumulated points — just under seven round trips from Auckland to Los Angeles in discount economy. Under the new rules you need 300 status credits, and at just 15 per leg of that trip, you’ll need 10 such trips.

Even in business class, you’re looking at more trips. Business flyers formerly earned a 25-percent bonus on kilometers flown — about 13,125 km per leg from AKL to LAX. This meant that business flyers could reach 100,000 km, and hence Gold Elite status, with four roundtrips. Now, at 30 status points per leg, you need 10 legs, or five roundtrips.

In addition, award levels have gone up. A trip from AKL to LHR has gone from 130,000 points in economy, 195,000 points in Business Class and 243,750 in First-Class to 150,000, 240,000 and 300,000 miles respectively. And not to be outdone by the nickel-and-diming U.S. airlines, Air New Zealand is also going to begin charging service fees for certain transactions. Of course, these fees will be waived for Gold Elite members, but others are looking at, for example, 2,500 points to get a statement on request.

It’s not all bad news, of course. There’s also a new 500-point incentive for online bookings; an introduction of a “top up” facility which allows members with 80 percent of the points required for an award to purchase blocks of Airpoints to reach the goal amount and free connections from anywhere in New Zealand for international reward flights. Redemption options have increased as well, especially in the non-flight award category. And beginning this month, Airpoints members can “gift” awards to other members living at the same address.

Clearly, the collapse of Ansett and the generally poor condition of the airline industry has Air New Zealand focused on sustainability. And the airline apparently thinks that an appeal to the lowest common denominator is the solution (the introduction of the no-frills “Express” class and simultaneous elimination of business class on domestic flights is one indication). Time will tell, of course, but with elite-level members shopping around for more generous programs, one wonders if the bargain-hunters will make up for their loss.