To Middle Earth, Part I: Part One

Welcome back, to another trip report from Andy’s Travel Blog. This one is sure to be the absolutely best trip report I’ve ever written since the one about my round the world trip in April.

If you read my post about my next trip, then you’re missing out on a bit of the surprise, but I went to: New Zealand! Home of Middle Earth, and…ummm…well, that’s what I was going to find out.

So, how would I get there? Let’s start out with some philosophical banter on how I like to use miles. You need some objective way of determining how good of a deal you get when redeeming miles. A frequently used metric is cents per mile. This is found, unsurprisingly, by taking the number of cents a trip would cost and dividing it by the number of miles it would take for an award ticket. Lots of credit cards will let you use their points to purchase airline tickets at 1 cent per mile (cpm), so that’s the absolute minimum I’d want to use for an award ticket. In other words, if it’s less than 1cpm, it makes more sense (to me) to just buy the ticket.

Now, I live in Dallas, and American never really has any reason to discount fares out of DFW, so there are times I’ve had to spend a bunch of miles on an award ticket when I didn’t want to drop a ton of money on a ticket, so it happens. It’s really what makes sense for you: I know I will use my miles to fly somewhere with a champagne glass in my hand and airline pajamas on my back, so I want to hold on to them. If you want to use them and end up getting .00034523cpm, then that’s your call, and neither of us are wrong. I would say, though, to get the Capital One Venture card so you get at least 1cpm.

So, what’s the point of all that? I forgot. OH YEAH. So, I was planning on using United miles (transferred from my Chase Ultimate Rewards account) to get to New Zealand. I didn’t have enough for a nicer flight, so I resigned myself to an economy flight. When I was about to spend 40,000 miles for an economy flight, I randomly stumbled upon a really cheap one-way ticket to New Zealand from Dallas (sub-$500). This was a cheap ticket, and meant I’d only be getting 1.25cpm for miles, so I made the call: I’d buy this ticket and actually earn about 7800 miles, which would get me closer to another First Class Star Alliance flight in the future. Air New Zealand has a reputation for a great and unique coach experience, so surely it couldn’t be that bad, I thought.

The entire reason for the trip was the fact that I found a particularly scant award: First Class availability on the Qantas A380. For 72,500 AAdvantage miles and about $40 in fees, I booked flights from Christchurch to Sydney, a night in Sydney, then Sydney to LAX, then on home to Dallas.

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I didn’t really know what I was going to do in New Zealand, as I was on a work trip to Connecticut the two weeks preceding the trip, but cobbled together an itinerary in my head, decided to use a lot of Hilton points, and left for the airport.

It felt weird going to DFW’s Terminal E. I’m a pretty loyal American flyer, despite their continued efforts to lose my business, so going to the “enemy” terminal felt weird. There were no lounges to which I had access (the Priority Pass lounge access I have is through my Amex Platinum card, so I couldn’t use the United Club), so I walked for a bit back and forth until my boarding call on, surprisingly, a United regional jet to LAX.

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I would’ve thought, with the intense competition from Virgin and American, United would have used a larger jet, as our regional jet was packed. It was a largely forgettable flight, but there were some great views on a sunny day that was great for flying.

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We landed on time at LAX, and I prepared to deal with the (albeit remodeled) dredges of Tom Bradley International Terminal. Turns out I’m a dummy, as you Air New Zealand folks are thinking right now, because Air New Zealand departs from Terminal 2 at LAX. Thankfully I realized this before I spent more than 20 minutes walking around Tom Bradley looking for the Air New Zealand check-in desk. Feeling like a moron, I sheepishly walked to Terminal 2 to start what I hoped was a great Coach experience.

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Air New Zealand has two nonstop flights from LAX-Auckland departing about 40 minutes apart, so I was expecting a long line, but was surprised at how quickly everything moved. Aside from a bit of extra questioning since my outbound flight from New Zealand was on a different ticket, my bag was checked through and I made my way through a relatively short security line.

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Through my Priority Pass membership I was granted access to the Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge before my flight. There’s also an Air France/KLM lounge, but the friendly check-in agent for Air New Zealand recommended the Air Canada lounge and even politely laughed at my “so that’s the better lounge EH?” joke.

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It was a simple, yet adequate lounge. Air Canada’s flight had just finished boarding, so it was mostly empty during my stay. It had the usual self-serve booze, and a nice soup and salad bar.

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I like to move around before a flight, especially one as long as this, so I left with about 30 minutes before boarding for a walk around the terminal and found my gate, which was in Extra People Mode.

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I snuck behind the Virgin Atlantic desk to take a picture of our 777-300ER and was lectured by Virgin gate agents (great name for a rock band btw) on how what I was doing was illegal and blah blah security blah ok I’ll leave. Time slowed to a crawl, but the first Auckland flight left, followed by a quick boarding process onto our 777-300ER for our “quick” flight to New Zealand.

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I was incredibly impressed with Air New Zealand’s economy cabin. They, like most airlines who fly the 777-300ER, annoyingly put ten seats across the plane in a 3-4-3 combination, but compensate by giving you another inch or two of legroom, which really does make a difference. As we had a short taxi and smooth takeoff, I oriented myself with seat 45A and the in-flight entertainment system, which featured an impressive lineup of movies and TV shows, all on-demand. You can even order a snack between meals, all from your screen. There were plugs and USB ports galore, so I made sure everything was charged up for when I landed.

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The food was good, for economy, and had a bit of New Zealand flare, they said. Having never had New Zealish food before, I didn’t really know for sure, but who was I to argue.

I used to have a technique for sleeping on airplanes, called: drinking booze. It was remarkably ineffective, but I always enjoyed another shot at it (pun intended). This time, I tried some new tactics, namely: juuuuust a little booze and sleep meds. I know I know, you’re not supposed to mix the two, but look at the people who say that: doctors and pharmacologists and whatnot, what do they know?

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My combo worked this time, and I slept for about 7.5 hours of our 11.5 hour flight. I awoke to the soothing red mood lighting, wondering a) if I was in hell and b) why people say red lights to wake people up are soothing. I was a little groggy from the sleep meds, and noticed the seats next to me were empty, so I took advantage and headed towards the lavatory. A random Kiwi gentleman very nicely asked what I was going to do in New Zealand, but, due to my grogginess and his accent, I very confusedly replied “about 7.5 hours”. I realized, while in the lavatory, what the guy had actually asked, and felt stupid again. Turns out this guy was sitting next to me, so I apologized and ended up having a wonderful conversation with him about my plans. He set a standard that nearly every Kiwi lived up to: some of the friendliest people in the world.

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The breakfast was, well, eggs and three tator tots. Classic New Zealand food.

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A rainy landing was announced, and we touched down in Auckland, the beginning of a Fellowship of Two Towers before the King Returns kind of trip.

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This is the point where a lot of people would say that the flight was over “much too soon”, but I was ready for it to be over. It was a good flight, don’t get me wrong, but I began to slowly go insane towards the end of it. That said, Air New Zealand was impressive. Their staff were friendly, and I particularly liked how every hour or so the flight attendants would walk down the aisles with a jug of water and stack of cups for anyone who was thirsty. This cut down on the need for a full drink cart service. I’d definitely fly them again, even in coach.

1 Comment

  1. Air New Zealand business class was incredible. Sorry you missed it, but glad to hear that Economy is good. I would like to visit again on my own. Looking forward to rest of story!

    Reply

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