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Air New Zealand frequent flyers struggling to redeem free perks

Brook Sabin is a travel reporter for Stuff.

I was queued up ready to board my flight with a knot in my stomach. All I wanted to see was a big red light when I scanned my boarding pass.

That red light would be an indication to staff that my seat had changed, and I’d need to be issued a new boarding pass. In other words, the upgrade gods had come to the party, and I’d be heading all the way from Economy to Business Premier. It didn’t happen, as many others are experiencing.

If you’re lucky enough to be a Silver, Gold or Gold Elite Airpoints member you probably know what I’m talking about. These members get a pretty impressive perk: free upgrades. The higher your tier, the more upgrades you get.

However, there’s a big ‘but’. It’s only available if seats are free. Before Covid-19 hit, it was generally easy to get upgrades – there would often be free seats in the premium classes.

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However, in the post Covid-19 travel boom, everything has changed. The planes are packed, and flyers are having trouble redeeming their free upgrades.

Air New Zealand is struggling to reward its frequent flyers with free upgrades.

Sungmi Kim/Stuff

Air New Zealand is struggling to reward its frequent flyers with free upgrades.

I know of one executive who tried to use six upgrades in six months – but none of them came through.

In an interview with Stuff Travel, Air NZ acknowledged the problem, caused largely by huge demand.

On top of that, Air NZ also has fewer premium seats because it permanently grounded its 777-200 fleet during the pandemic, and is still in the process of bringing back its fleet of 777-300s, which are its largest aircraft.

“We are getting feedback from members around the ability to get access to the upgrades,” explains Air NZ’s General Manager of Loyalty Georgie Borowczyk.

“We do expect this to normalise as we continue to bring back our 777-300s, but right now, it is an issue for some of our members.”

Air New Zealand is still in the process of bringing back its fleet of 777-300s.


Air New Zealand is still in the process of bringing back its fleet of 777-300s.

The airline has given members three ‘tier extensions’ during the pandemic, so they can hold onto their perks for longer – normally, unused upgrades expire after a year if they haven’t been used.

The airline will also be gifting Silver, Gold and Gold Elite members free status points over the next year to help them keep their current membership level.

“We are also exploring new ways to improve the loyalty experience for our members, and this actually includes recognition upgrades as part of a broader review,” explained Borowczyk.

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Stuff Travel has previously reported on a major shakeup of the Airpoints programme being worked on, which will deliver more perks to customers.

Some benefits being considered include free flights for family members or friends of top travellers, free parking and even separate lounges for Elite members.

Air New Zealand’s ‘data book’ – a source of information for investors – also reveals “improved upgrades, greater personalised service and a greater ability to share benefits among family and friends” is being worked on.

Borowczyk wouldn’t reveal details yet, or a timeline of when changes will be introduced.

“My advice to all customers is, obviously, if you want to ensure you get one of our premium cabins, then you’ve always got the option to buy a seat.

“But we do recognise that we want to be able to deliver on the benefits that we also give our members, and so we expect to see some improvements in the near future as we continue to bring back capacity and explore ways in which we can continue to improve the experience for members,” Borowczyk said.

Have you had trouble using your recognition upgrade? Email us at or let us know in the comments.

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