Next Stop: New Zealand!

Filed Under: Travel

We spent New Year’s in the Maldives, which was just incredible. I liked the Park Hyatt even more this time than last. There’s something indescribably peaceful about being on a tiny island and walking around the beach for an hour at sunrise and not seeing a single human being. Not even any footsteps in the sand. It’s magical.


The plan was to fly back to the US using a fairly inexpensive paid business class fare on Qatar Airways out of Colombo. There are some great business class fares available out of Colombo, and it would also be a good way to get a jumpstart on 2016 elite status requalification.

While Male to Colombo to Doha to Los Angeles is a perfectly nice routing in business class, I decided to switch things up a bit.

Oceania is probably the continent I have the greatest desire to return to. I went with my mom to New Zealand right after I graduated high school, and remember it so fondly. Unfortunately I haven’t made it back to New Zealand since. I’m not sure why, exactly. I guess it’s the combination of a lack of award availability between the US and New Zealand, along with it just being so far out of the way from just about anywhere else.

So while I’ve returned to Sydney and Melbourne a few times, New Zealand is where I’m most excited about returning to. I recall Queenstown being one of my favorite places in the world, and I’m curious if that’s still the case, as it has been about eight years since I’ve visited.


Well, last week American opened up a bunch of first & business class award space between Sydney and Los Angeles for travel in January. That was sort of surprising, given that it’s peak season for travel between the US and Australia. For that matter, that was the first time I recall American opening up a single saver level premium cabin seat between the two cities, let alone opening up dozens of seats.


I placed two seats for mid-January on a courtesy hold, but didn’t put much thought into it at the time.

For fun I peeked at Etihad award availability to Sydney, given that they fly the A380 between Abu Dhabi and Sydney. Shockingly enough there were saver First Class Apartment award seats for exactly the date I was looking at. That’s pretty incredible, given that there’s not a busier time of year than this to travel to Australia.


Add in the fact that this award represents a spectacular value, at just 60,000 miles one-way in first class, and it was a no brainer. The cost of this award will be increasing to 100,000 miles one-way for bookings as of March 22, 2016. For A380 first class on a 14+ hour flight, that represents one of the best values out there.

To my surprise hotels also weren’t obscenely priced, and I’ll be able to put my new Hilton Diamond status to the test (will I be able to score a suite upgrade or not?) at some hotels in New Zealand.

I’m still trying to map out the exact itinerary. While I’d love to do a truly nature-focused New Zealand trip at some point, I realistically don’t have the time to do that over the coming weeks, as I still plan on working 8+ hours per day. As a result, I may stick more to the major cities, though am certainly open to any ideas for “must see” things.

I’m also really curious about whether I enjoy Queenstown as much this time as I did last time. I’ve come to realize that in many ways we tend to romanticize places based on special trips we took there. Queenstown was the first place I visited in New Zealand, and it was a really special trip with my mom which I’ll cherish forever. I wonder how much that factored into my love of the city.

Bottom line

It’s sort of incredible how award availability just comes together last minute. I managed to greatly improve on the outbound by switching our flights around shortly before departure. Then American opened award availability between Sydney and the US, which prompted me to look at space between the Middle East and Australia, where I lucked out as well.

I’m so happy to be able to burn some AAdvantage before the devaluation, especially given all the non-oneworld airlines I’ll be flying over the course of the year.

  1. Look forward to your NZ trip report. Looking to fly there later this year.

    I didn’t see a lot of chain hotels in the brief looking I did though.

  2. Can’t wait for your trip report! Heading to Queenstown for a week at beginning of April, really excited. I will be staying at the DoubleTree there. Let me know how your HH Diamond status works for you down there.

  3. You truly are lucky!!! I was in NZ this past September and loved it. If you go to Taupo, try to stay at the Hilton Lake Taupo. Loved it! Safe travels!

  4. There will be some pissed kiwis if you persist in calling the continent ‘Australia’; Australasia or Oceania are preferred.

    You’ll probably be back stateside by the time they start but we have the tennis and Midsumma festival coming up in Melbourne this month.

  5. Hi Ben,

    I first learned about Queenstown from your blog. It looked beautiful and I knew I had to make a trip. I went this past March and it was definitely well worth it. I would definitely recommend mixing it up and try jumping out of a plane there! That was a lot of fun. Fergburger is a local burger place that is great as well as all the meat pies that they have next door at their bakery. Milford Sound is a great day trip. I’ve already started looking at going back because I didn’t have enough time to check out everything.

    I was also in Auckland and the Hilton in the viaduct is a great location. Danny Doolans is a great bar near by that has excellent live music at night. I did a nature day trip with Terry over at Absolute Tours. He was a great guide (just a group of 3 of us) and it was great to have a local show you around in the beautiful outdoors close to the city.

  6. I was in NZ in January for the first time. It was a great trip. I especially loved Queenstown. So much to do, or not – just sitting on the beach with a beer watching the sunset was incredible. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. I stayed at the Hilton in Auckland and the Crowne Plaza in Queenstown. Both were solid properties in great locations. Not sure there was any place to use points in Christchurch, but it was interesting to see. The botanical gardens were really lovely.

  7. I spent a week on the South island this past summer, partially based on the fact you said Queenstown was one of your “favorite places in the world”. I flew into Christchurch, and drove to Queenstown and back. I agree with Queenstown being beautiful however I strongly recommend driving to see other places. The landscape and scenery is truly incredible. If you are staying in Queenstown again ( I stayed at the Hilton for two nights) definitely drive the Crown Range road, and for a half day scenic flight and cruise, fly over to Milford Sound and back. I used Glenorchy Air and recommend them highly, you won’t regret it !!
    Have Fun…Charlie

  8. I love New Zealand. I would say I don’t like you anymore, but I am going in April and Sept, so I don’t have a leg to stand on. Have fun!

  9. Great to hear, Lucky! I am headed to NZ on Jan 24th. And, my swu on LAX to SYD just cleared last week, so the start of the trip just got better!

    Road tripping the majority of the South Island. I have stays booked at the Hilton Auckland and Hilton Queenstown. Due to the lack of megachain properties on the South Island, I am taking my first stab at airbnb this trip. Would love to hear your thoughts on visiting the South Island, where aside from two Hiltons and a handful of IHG properties, there are not many superchains.

  10. @Ricky – the lack of major hotels is something I found refreshing! I spent a few weeks in the South Island last year and had a blast. Traveling solo with a rental car and tons of camera gear while sleeping at motels larger than many suites every night. Waking up at sunrise snd driving across the island was one of my most memorable travel experiences in a very long time. Here’s a quick video to hopefully give you some ideas – 🙂

    @Lucky – definitely make sure you drive around a bit. The drive up to Glenorchy from Queenstown is absolutely breathtaking.

  11. Potential way to burn through your AA miles and get in two reviews that I know many of the aussies on here would like to see.

    Book a paid trans-con from SYD-PER on VAs new J product (credit miles to SQ). Then burn through your AA miles on QF in their new J that flies PER-AKL twice weekly (Sat/Sun) during Jan/Feb due to it being a seasonal destination. From memory, its maybe 17.5 or 20K AA points and theres two reviews 😉

  12. DO choose the small-plane roundtrip option from Queenstown to Milford Sound over too-long ground transportation. It’s unforgettable scenery, even to seasoned travelers & well worth the inexpensive cost.

  13. You should stop in Napier for a day or two. It’s a beautiful small town that’s a short flight from AKL. While your there you need to go to the NZ national aquarium, tour a local winery, and drive/rent bikes through Te Mata Peak. It’s well worth it!

  14. Been reading your posts for a while but first time commenting on one!

    Really like New Zealand as well – a country of contrasts. I fell in love with Queenstown the first time I visited and I went again with my parents and a family friend in 2014 (using a mixture of Avios, Amex 2-4-1 for BA F and paid…Air China economy SYD-PVG never ever again but I digress…) – in fact it was the last trip I did with my mum who was diagnosed with lung cancer just 7 months later and died last year so it still is a special place for me as she really loved it too! It’s funny how certain places mean different things – the magic of travel, I guess. You can get some spectacular snow-capped peaks coming in to land in ZQN and the lake etc are all magical. No idea about Hilton properties over there but there is a decent enough Crowne Plaza.

    Then there is ‘little San Francisco’, Wellington, which is another great city – I’ve never been to a capital city quite like it. Some really excellent places to eat there. Again no idea about Hilton offerings; I don’t really rate the InterCon. I do rate Charley Noble which is just across from the IC for its very urban design and good wines!

    If you get the chance, do be sure to go to the other end of the country and check out the Bay of Islands. If you do venture up there then do get the ferry (only takes about 10 mins) from Paiha to Russell. Sitting outside the Duke of Marlborough hotel, on the terrace, looking out at the Islands whilst sipping a glass of wine is my #1 travel memory, ever, I think! You can also check out the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, which as well as being interesting, also boast some great sea views too from the extensive grounds!

    Enjoy! Very jealous!

  15. Loved Milford sound, but my favorite was the SSR, i.e., Southern Scenic Route. You’d need a car and a few days, so it might not work for you. New Zealand is the most beautifully scenic place with wonderful people!

  16. We’re in Queenstown right now and the weather is beautiful…hope it lasts for you. We’ll be back home in Christchurch by the time you get here…perhaps you could do a visit there…there has even been some progress with the post-2010/11 earthquake rebuild!

  17. Just came back from Queenstown 2 weeks ago. If you really want to have some fun, lookup NZONE at and do a tandem jump from 15,000 in one of the most beautiful places on earth! They have their own private airport between the lake and The Remarkables.

  18. I lived in Wellington for a while and got a chance to travel around quite a bit. We did several of the “great walks”—mostly multi-day hikes, but several can be done as day hikes. Highlights from our time there were a day hiking the Abel Tasman trail (can get water taxis to drop off and pick up so that you don’t have to do the whole trail and stay in Nelson), an overnight cruise on Milford and Doubtful sounds (not free, but incredibly beautiful), and touring wineries in Marlborough and Hawkes bay. We got a kick out of flying domestic in NZ which, unless you’re going to/through Auckland, they don’t necessarily even check your ID. More like catching a greyhound than an airplane. Have a wonderful trip! We were sad to move and can’t wait to return.

  19. You will never get tired of Queenstown. January is summertime so be sure to do the jet boats and/or rapids. I guess the challenge will now be getting back to LAX from New Zealand or Australia. Maybe go via HKG, and CX F back to LAX.

  20. If you find that you are in Auckland for any time over 5 hours, there are several great sights to see close to the city…wild surf beaches (think Cannon Beach, OR) on the west coast rolling in from Australia; warmer ocean and stunning beaches on the east coast (Pacific), north of Auckland – next stop across that pond is LAX. If you want ideas for a beach/nature trail walk, write me.

  21. Lucky, as Ed said, I think you’re getting the continent of Australia confused with the region of Australasia.

    As a Kiwi, I find this a bit offensive. If you find the time, please amend the typo above.

  22. @Malc As an Australian, I’m offended at the implication that New Zealand is part of Australia 😉

  23. This born and bred Wellingtonian is very excited to hear this news!! Feel free to fire any questions my way, I’d be more than happy to try and help!

  24. Ben

    Happy New Year. I want to take my daughter to Australia/NZ via HKG in August/Sept 2016. I need PE (premium economy) from LAX – HKG (CX) and then HKG – SYD (CX). I called AA and they can’t book PE award seats. They only offer economy, business, first. SQ, likewise, doesn’t have any PE awards online from HKG – SYD. I’m going to call CX and confirm their online PE mileage is really PE and not just economy.

    I need your thoughts on this. Can you tell me how to book PE award seats on AA, CX, SQ either online or by phoning the airline?

    Thanks. Please provide your trip report on NZ when u return. We will spend a month there.


  25. Hey Bobbieddie,

    AA doesnt have a ticket class for PE yet so you wont be able to book other OW carriers PE.

    My recommendation is book LAX-HKG-PER-SYD, reason being SYD is really hard to land on SQ/CX as they keep the award seats pretty tight there where as PER is open door all the time generally outside of July and then theres almost always a couple of award seats on QF J connection to SYD.

    However… If you can spot J on the HKG-SYD, you should go buy a lotto ticket and perhaps try and find a unicorn 😛

  26. Hilton Auckland is a fantastic property, despite having no executive lounge, they treat Diamond members very well. Good to hear that a Park Hyatt is also opening in AKL in the next 2 years. Let us know if you decide to do any group events in Australia, its a great time here over Summer.

  27. New Zealand is not, nor in past geological history has it ever been, a part of the continent of Australia (Gondwanaland, as our original owners called it). Australians AND New Zealanders will both be VERY pissed off at this – please amend. More common is to refer to the region as Australasia or better yet, Oceania.

  28. Lucky, some of your followers could meet you for a drink, meal or day / half day tour in New Zealand.
    This would be a win/win for all, as you know we are a friendly nation !

  29. @Luck. Auckland is also home to Phitek Systems Ltd., designers and manufacturers of a significant portion of the in-seat/in-screen connectivity units for global passenger fleets (as well as designers of industry-leading noise-cancellation headphones used in the premium cabins of many of your currently featured ultra-premium airline experiences!). You could drop by….

  30. Dear Ben:

    I spent five weeks backpacking around both islands in ’07. Not sure what you did the first time you’ve visited, but I’d highly recommend checking out Doubtful Sound–it’s less well known than Milford Sound (which you might well have done on your first trip) but vastly larger and just staggeringly gorgeous. If you’ve never been on a glacier before the Franz Josef glacier is also quite impressive. Another reader suggested hiking part of the Abel Tasman track which I also did and quite enjoyed. Visiting Aoraki (aka Mt Cook) was also a highlight IMHO.

    On the North Island the Bay of Islands and the far north of the country are both quite gorgeous (though maybe not quite so mind boggling as the Fiordland region of the south island). Unfortunately I did the Tongariro crossing in relatively bad weather, but it was still quite impressive (if murder on one’s legs).


  31. Ben,

    We returned last month from on our honeymoon in which we spent 3 weeks in NZ & Fiji (Courtesy of AA miles).

    We stayed at the Pounamu Apartments in Queenstown ( and loved it. They were about a 10 min walk from the main part of town but were very nice! The rest of the island we roadtripped and rented a Maui RV. Basically adventured the island clockwise from Queenstown to Christchurch, absolutely amazing!

    Given your short time in NZ I’d recommend the following:
    – Scenic flight to/from Milford Sound, weather permitting (do the BBQ bus tour there then flight back if you have time to burn, Nigel is the man)
    – Jetboating
    – Queenstown Bay Beach sunset (byob)
    – Skyline Luge
    – Fergburger
    – Roys Peak Hike
    – The activities are endless

    Anyways looking forward to your trip report and message me if you need any additional information as we have an endless Google doc file of our NZ research. Enjoy!

  32. I love New Zealand. My sister lives there and I’ve been a couple of times now. The country is heartbreakingly beautiful and the people are awesome.

  33. @Geonat

    Unfortunately for you, you’re both wrong and mistaken. Australia is the seventh continent of the world and the largest country by land mass; a cursory five minutes paying attention in grade one geography would have taught you this. I suggest in future that, if you are unable to get your facts straight, the best option is to always remain silent.

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