How to Fly Business Class on an Economy Budget

If you’ve ever experienced business class envy, the key to scoring an upgrade on your next flight could actually be closer than you think.

Anyone who’s ever caught a flight has surely experienced the envy of standing at boarding time, waiting in line with a throng of other passengers, and watching those lucky few business class travellers breeze onto the plane via their own dedicated lane.

There’s no denying the perks of flying business class – your own big seats at the front of the cabin, with your own crew member to take care of you and, best of all, a swift exit when you arrive at your destination. Say goodbye to standing at an awkward angle, waiting shoulder-to-shoulder with the dozens of other passengers who also jumped up to get their bags the second the seatbelt sign switched off!

After you’ve flown business class, it’s hard to go back to economy. So here comes the question: if you want to fly business class on an economy budget, how can you make the upgrade? If used responsibly, your credit card may be able to help.

How can you score a business class upgrade with your credit card?

If you’re an avid traveller and are keen on snagging a business class upgrade but don’t want to pay business class prices, it may be worth investigating credit card rewards points. You may have heard of frequent flyer credit cards but, in fact, there is no one-size-fits-all flight rewards credit card, and there are a few ways you can go about earning points to put towards upgrades:

  • Earning points directly: there are rewards credit cards in New Zealand that will allow you to directly earn Airpoints based on your credit card spend.
  • Earning points as a sign-up bonus: some cards will award you with Airpoints as a sign-up bonus and, if you can find the right deal, potentially, you can score a lot of points in one go, although conditions will likely apply.

Compare Rewards Credit Cards

How do you convert points to upgrades?

If you have booked an economy seat on a flight and received your confirmation, you’ll be able to log into your Airpoints account, select your booking and see if an upgrade is available.

You may be able to upgrade immediately if you have enough Airpoints stored up. Alternatively, you may be able to request an upgrade using your points, and the airline will notify you if one becomes available before the flight leaves.

It’s worth noting that Elite, Gold and Silver Airpoints members receive Recognition Upgrades each membership year. These are valid for one year and can be used to upgrade one cabin class (for example, Premium Economy to Business Premier) for one part of a journey.

Allocation of Recognition Upgrades

  • Elite members get two full Recognition Upgrades and one Elite short haul Recognition Upgrade per membership year, plus the ability to gift these to anyone on their gifting register
  • Gold members receive two full Recognition Upgrades per membership year
  • Silver members receive one full Recognition Upgrade per membership year

However, the best way to guarantee an upgrade is to use Airpoints or by applying for an upgrade through OneUp in conjunction with a Recognition Upgrade request.

How many Airpoints does it take to upgrade to business class?

Elite Air New Zealand members may request one cabin class upgrade using Airpoints Dollars for Air New Zealand operated and ticketed flights.

At the time of writing, Air New Zealand says it costs a minimum of 95 Airpoints to upgrade from Premium Economy to Business Premier, on a one-way flight to Eastern Australia or the Pacific Islands (excl Honolulu and Tahiti).

The points cost goes up from there. If you were to take a longer international flight – from New Zealand to Perth, Honolulu, Tahiti or Bali – then Air New Zealand says that it would cost you 340 Airpoints to upgrade from Premium Economy.

All Airpoints members are able to request an upgrade through OneUp. Members must decide how much they are willing to spend on an upgrade (with Airpoints or via a debit or credit card). For members are, essentially, bidding against one another for an upgrade, with the best offers being selected by the airline.

However, if you’re a Silver, Gold or Elite Airpoints member, your OneUp offer gets increased by the following amounts:

  • Elite – 50%
  • Gold – 30%
  • Silver – 10%

Note that the cost of an OneUp upgrade will always be cheaper than purchasing a business class ticket.

How easy is it to earn Airpoints?

While it’s all well and good to think about how you’ll spend your Airpoints on upgrades, it’s worth keeping in mind how you can actually earn them in the first place.

One easy way to earn Airpoints is by signing up to a new flight rewards credit card. For example, new members will earn 300 Airpoints when they are approved for an American Express Airpoints Platinum Card and spend $1500 on their new Card within the first three months.

The number of Airpoints you earn for credit card use varies significantly depending on which flight rewards card you have. For example, the AMEX Airpoints Platinum Card rewards you with 1 Airpoint dollar for every $59 you spend with the card. However, Kiwibank’s Airpoints Low Fee Visa rewards you with one Airpoint for every $200 you spend.

At the time of writing, the AMEX Airpoints Platinum Card has an annual fee of $195, while the Kiwibank Airpoints Low Fee Visa has an annual fee of $50.

Compare Rewards Credit Cards

So … how does that translate to actual upgrades?

Say you sign up for the AMEX Rewards Card mentioned above and spend the required $1500 within the first three months, you’d have 300 Airpoints to spend on upgrades.

According to the Air New Zealand website, that number of points could get you three business class upgrades between New Zealand and Eastern Australia or the Pacific Islands.

Do Airpoints expire?

With selected Airpoints earning credit cards, your Airpoints Dollars will never expire as long as you hold a current card. Any unexpired Airpoints Dollars you earned before you became an Airpoints credit cardholder are also included.

What should you be wary of with Airpoints credit cards?

While it’s easy to assume that signing up for an Airpoints card is all you need to do to live it up in business class, the reality is, in order to earn any of the really juicy rewards with a credit card, you need to spend quite a decent chunk of money. And to get the full benefit, you need to pay off your credit card balance in full each month to avoid being slugged with high interest charges.

If this fits within your lifestyle and budget, and you are confident in your ability to manage a credit card and make your required repayments, then an Airpoints credit card can potentially be a way to earn a nice little bonus now and again.

If you infrequently use a credit card, though, or are unlikely to spend enough money to earn a meaningful number of reward points, or struggle to pay off your balance each month, then you may find that an Airpoints credit card is not worth the annual fee, or the higher rates that typically come with reward cards.

As seen from the example above, even if a credit card offers you a big haul of bonus sign-up points, a large spend may be required to get them, and going into unnecessary debt to earn Airpoints may not be a wise financial move.

About the reviewer of this page

This report was reviewed by Canstar Content Producer, Caitlin Bingham. Caitlin is an experienced writer whose passion for creativity led her to study communication and journalism. She began her career freelancing as a Search Engine Optimiser, before joining the Canstar team.

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