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Air NZ's new Seat Select extra-legroom system explained

By John Walton     Filed under: Air New Zealand, seats, Airpoints, Velocity Frequent Flyer

Air New Zealand frequent flyers and business travellers across the Tasman have been trying to sort through the many-layered implications of the airline's new Seat Select scheme announced last week.

As we previously reported, Seat Select sees Air New Zealand now charging for the best seats on its planes – seats previously reserved for the airline's Gold and Gold Elite frequent flyers and Koru cardholders, as well as Virgin Australia Velocity Gold and Platinum tier passengers.

Update: Velocity Gold & Platinum frequent flyers lose online Air NZ premium seat selection until "early 2013". Read more...

All Air NZ would say publicly about the new scheme was that it would mean "minor location adjustments" to the seats you could choose as a frequent flyer.

But the impact on travellers is more than 'minor', and it's also more than just a location change.

Australian Business Traveller sat down with Alastair Rhodes, Air New Zealand's Manager of Direct Ancillary Revenue -- and the man in charge of rolling out Seat Select -- to detail exactly what's changed for you as a frequent flyer.

About those minor location adjustments...

On Air NZ's flagship Boeing 777-300, for example, the airline's top-tier frequent flyers lose ten of the prized Premium Economy Spaceseats -- almost half of the previously ear-marked allocation -- which have been put up for sale on a first come, first served basis.

These seats aren't sold as premium economy on the Tasman, which made them a great perk for business travellers crossing the ditch.

The 'complimentary premium seating' for the airline's most valuable customers is now restricted to fewer than three full rows of the premium economy Spaceseats.

Air NZ is adding fourteen ultra-narrow economy seats -- only two of which have any extra legroom at all -- to the 'premium' seating pool for frequent flyers.

By the way, that nimble bit of maths is how the airline can claim the frequent flyer 'allocation' of seats remains the same or even increases slightly -- the airline says that the number of 'premium' seats is rising by 9 percent overall. That may be true in quantity, but definitely not in quality.

It's a similar scene on the Boeing 777-200s often found on Melbourne and Brisbane flights to Auckland.

You lose the chance to pick from 15 extra-legroom premium economy seats, including two thirds of the exit rows -- those are now up for sale. You'll now be ushered into one of 18 regular old economy seats -- which aren't even exit rows, since those are also available for a fee.

What Seat Select means to Trans-Tasman frequent flyers

The specific impact of Seat Select will depend on the type of aircraft you're flying.

There's no change for Airbus A320 single-aisle planes, which comprise over fifty percent of Air New Zealand's trans-Tasman flights, including flights to all NZ airports other than Auckland.

However, Auckland flights frequently use larger Boeing jets due to the higher demand on the main business route, and that's where where Air NZ is selling the best of the seats that it previously handed out to elite frequent flyers.

These are the premium economy seats on its Boeing 777 planes, extra-legroom bulkhead seats, the exit row, and extra-elbow-room pairs of seats on its 777s and 767s.

Those choice seats can now be bought by any passenger. Only those seats remaining unsold from the last 48 hours before each flight will be allocated to Gold and Gold Elite frequent flyers and Koru cardholders.

In other words: top-tier frequent flyers eager to lock in a prime seat will now have to pay for it like everybody else.

Seat Select seatmaps show the complete picture

Air New Zealand's Rhodes supplied Australian Business Traveller with current seat maps illustrating exactly what's up for sale on each aircraft -- with the caveat that these could change as the airline finds the right balance for each route between earning extra money from sold seats and making its frequent flyers feel hard done by.

There are now three types of premium seating on sale: Preferred, Bassinet and Exit Row, all of which were previously available as part of the elite frequent flyer package. They (and other seats) are colour-coded on the seat maps:

  • green seats are the Preferred category
  • pink seats are the Bassinet bulkheads
  • orange seats are Exit Row seats
  • purple seats fall into the "middle-seat-free economy" Works Deluxe package
  • blue seats are what remains for top-tier frequent flyers

Airbus A320: no changes

There's no change to seats on the A320, which runs nearly two thirds of Air New Zealand's flights, including all destinations outside Auckland.

Air New Zealand is now offering seats 4D, 4E, 4F, 5D, 5E, and 5F as part of its for-sale Preferred seating option -- those are the green-marked sections below. These were previously regular economy seats, not the extra-legroom Space+ section.

Elite seating (in blue) remains at the same 30 seats per plane as before: row 3 on the D/E/F seat right side of the plane, and rows 3-11 on the A/B/C seat left side of the plane.

But that's where the good news for frequent flyers ends.

Boeing 777-300: big cuts to the better seats

Air New Zealand's flagship is occasionally seen on flights from Australia to Auckland.

Like its smaller, older cousin the 777-200, the airline doesn't market its excellent premium economy Spaceseats on trans-Tasman routes, so these seats were part of the package for elites or Works Deluxe passengers.

The best of the Spaceseats formerly allocated to elites are now up for sale, with just rows 25 & 26, plus seats D & E in rows 24 and 27, available for frequent flyers. (Remember: green, pink and orange are for sale, purple is for the Works Deluxe package and blue is for frequent flyers.)

A total of ten Spaceseats are now for sale, including the extra-legroom bulkhead seats in row 23.

As with the 777-200, "replacement" seats for frequent flyers -- fourteen of them on this plane -- are in the ultra-tight 3-4-3 economy layout down the back for frequent flyers.

Let's be honest: to call this a "minor location adjustment" is quite a stretch.

But even there, the extra-legroom first rows of the economy cabins and the popular extra-elbow-room seat pairs in rows 57-59 down the back are kept back for sale.

Seats ABC and HJK in rows 26 and 27, plus 26D and 26E, are now all that elites get.

Boeing 777-200: big cuts to the better seats

Air NZ runs the 777-200s on high-demand trips from Melbourne, Brisbane, and occasionally Sydney to Auckland.

They're also used on Auckland-Perth flights, but these are sold as full long-haul flights with premium economy, so the "Seat Select" scheme doesn't apply.

The airline doesn't market its premium economy seats on this route, with 27 of them previously allocated to elite frequent flyers in regular economy, and a further nine to Works Deluxe "middle-seat-free economy" package.

Remember: green, pink and orange are for sale, purple is for the Works Deluxe package and blue is for frequent flyers.

Air NZ will now sell 15 of the 27 premium economy seats formerly allocated to elites as Bassinet or Preferred seating. You'll only be able to choose these 48 hours before your flight.

For elites, these premium economy seats are being replaced by 18 regular economy class seats, seats ABC and HJK in rows 35, 36 and 37. That's the maths behind Air New Zealand's "no reduction in seats" claim.

Regular economy seats further back in the plane are shifting up too, with bulkhead, exit row and extra-elbow room seats restricted for people who will pay up. They'll be available for elites 48 hours in advance.

That covers seats ABC and DEF in rows 34, 53 and 54, seats DEF in row 54, and seats A, B, J and K in rows 53 and 65.

Boeing 767: no more extra legroom seats for frequent flyers

These twin-aisle planes and their popular 2-3-2 seating layout are often seen on Auckland flights, especially from Sydney.

Seats newly up for sale -- and thus unavailable to elites until 48 hours before departure -- are row 7, 10A, 10B, row 18-19, and seats D, E and F in row 20.

While the overall number of elite seats increases from 24 to 28, frequent flyers are left without extra-legroom bulkhead or exit row seat options, and are relegated to the window pairs of seats: A and B in rows 11-16, J and K in rows 9-13, and seats 20A, 20B, 20K and 20K.

Domestic: no change to Boeing 737 and Airbus A320

It's better news in Air NZ's domestic market. 

The all-economy Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 planes jetting between New Zealand's cities will only lose six extra-legroom Space+ seats to the new system, and the intention is for those to only be available for purchase during off-peak hours, Air New Zealand's Rhodes confirmed to Australian Business Traveller.

That leaves a good chunk of the domestic extra-legroom seats reserved for frequent flyers.

Velocity Gold and Platinum benefits offline until early 2013

Virgin Australia's Velocity Gold and Platinum frequent flyers can't pick the extra-legroom premium seats at all, thanks to a glitch in the new system that Australian Business Traveller discovered this week. Air NZ isn't expecting to resolve the matter until January at the earliest -- but AusBT exclusively brings you a workaround so you're not squashed in a middle seat down the back. 

Get the latest news for business travellers and frequent flyers, and be the first to read in-depth analysis like this! Follow @AusBT on Twitter.

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About John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

 

Have something to say? Post a comment now!

1 on 28/11/12 by willvill

Who cares if Air NZ want to act like a LCC. They are no different to Jetstar when it comes to booking a flight. Too many options, too many add ons driven by revenue   not customer satisfaction. Too hard by half with much better choice and value on other airlines flying across the Tasman than to worry about Air NZ. 

1 on 28/11/12 by John

You're more right than you realise with that second sentence. NZ has added the ability for people on its very cheapest fares -- the Seat/Seat+Bag options where it competes with Jetstar -- to pick a standard seat, or risk getting stuck in a middle down the back.

I also share your frustration about the difficulty figuring out the options. Hopefully a new management team will take a look at the boggling amount of options and whittle things down to something manageable and consistent, which travellers can actually understand.

2 on 28/11/12 by KG

Thanks for the very comprehensive review! They have not made it easy and I wonder how they will be able to implement this and how fast, it will need to be in their IT reservation system which automatically blocks seats, as I doubt any ground staff will be able to memorise (obviously, most of seating allocation will be done when you book and/or online).

I guess this is good news for DJ and QF (and EK), as the only incentive to fly NZ was because of the premium seats at no extra cost. I'd now rather fly QF or DJ as they have some of the perks still available (DJ does fly with all economy config across the tasman I think so no benefit there). Even EK might be better as prices are competitive and the upcoming partnership with QF will give priority check in and lounge benefits as well as earning and burning of miles.

Sad to see NZ going down the low cost path really, wonder if it will backfire for them.

1 on 28/11/12 by John

It's a new IT implementation, NZ told me -- which, as I discovered this week, has completely broken reciprocal priority seats recognition for Velocity members, and possibly others (I was only testing with Velocity).

I still think that NZ has a better product in A320 economy than Qantas or Virgin does on their 737s -- wider seats and decent entertainment, with extra legroom for frequent flyers. Shame about the lounges, mind.

But to have failed so spectacularly at testing the implementation that a passing journalist trying to select seats (i.e., me) was the first person to tell their head of direct ancillary revenue that they broke recognition of partner elites is impressively poor.

And I have to say that I'm giving a bit of side-eye to them for (a) scheduling it for the week of The Hobbit, where all the local media is going Tolkien crazy, and (b) trying to suggest that swapping Spaceseats for 3-4-3 super-tight economy is no reduction of benefits.

1 on 28/11/12 by KG

To call it impressively poor is an understatement!  Agreed on the timing and manner they announce it, very disappointing.

Perhaps the NZ product is slightly better on A320, but as QF Plat I can always get an exiit row or seat behind business and as you point out, the NZ lounge is crap, whereas if you take a QF evening flight nothing beats dining in the QF First lounge. The AKL F lounge is also not half bad.

1 on 28/11/12 by John

You raise an interesting point, KG, about the segmentation of customers on Qantas vs Air NZ (and indeed Virgin Australia).

There's a marked difference in on-the-plane benefits and lounges between Qantas/Virgin Platinum and Gold, whereas with Air NZ Gold and Gold Elite are lumped together with Koru Club, which is the NZ version of Qantas Club (and, slightly less directly, Virgin's lounge program).

I wouldn't be surprised to see further level changes on Air NZ, and I actually think that could be a real benefit for the airline's own frequent flyers -- but, of course, alliance partner frequent flyers are usually the losers in that kind of situation.

3 on 28/11/12 by mitchimus

so it's not just QF looking to upset its customers....although at least it looks like QF may listen and try and fix its A330 J class.

1 on 28/11/12 by John

I really don't think Air NZ (or any airline other than Ryanair and Spirit, who use that as a brand positioning strategy) is looking to upset its customers.

I think Air NZ sees US airlines making ancillary revenue and wants some of it, and extra-legroom seating -- especially the premium economy seating is the first place to look.

I also think that the problem with trying to transfer a US model to Air NZ's trans-Tasman product is the fact that there's no premium cabin.

US airlines upgrade their well-segmented best frequent flyers to "domestic first class", which is like business or international premium economy.

NZ pulled theirs out in favour of Eurobusiness middle-seat-free-economy "Works Deluxe" as the top offering, which is a reasonable call if you have extra-legroom economy available for your frequent flyers.

But start messing with that -- especially if you start with the "minor location adjustments" language -- and even if you're not looking to upset your customers you'll end up doing so.

4 on 28/11/12 by Libertyscott

I'd just like to thank you John for this impressive piece of work.

You're a serious step above the reporters in New Zealand who don't do research and tend to parrot what Air NZ tells them, rather than probing and having some knowledge.

You've supplied far more about this programme than has been available from any other source, well done!

1 on 28/11/12 by John

You're welcome -- and thank you for your kind words. It's taken a fair bit of time to get the details, but we thought it important to let people know what the situation is and how our readers' flights will be affected. 

5 on 29/11/12 by Koru17

We will have to start paying for the armrest next...

$10 for Gold Elite, Gold and Koru$20 For everyone else

You can get a preferred armrest which offers priority boarding  armresting compared to the other person beside you

NB: Armrests are only available on selected flights operated by a first in first in basis, once 20 have been sold you are out of luck. No airpoints earned unless your armrest is booked under a 'a' 'b' or 'c' fare

6 on 29/11/12 by rafrench

Thanks so much for this. AirNZ has seriously miscalculated on this I fear and the IT glitches plaguing the roll out are doing double damage.

7 on 30/11/12 by Lindsay

I can't believe the comments I'm reading here. I'm a Qantas frequent flyer Gold and a Gold velocity member. I have flown two flights melbourne to auckland in the past 3 months, my first on Air New Zealand for 15 years. I travel frequently around the world to Europe & Asia and I rate Air New Zealand as the BEST airline to fly with. Granted I choose the 777 flights and pay Works deluxe price which gets me into the premium economy section. This section of seating and service would rival business class in many airlines. I just got sick and tired of flying across the Tasman in domestic 737 planes with Qantas....poor service...uncomfortable planes.This is no contest...Air New Zealand first, daylight second. I would like to know if some of the folks commenting to this article have actually flown with Air New Zealand. They are now my first choice airline across the Tasman & next time I fly to the USA I will seriously consider using them, even thought the flight stops over in Auckland on the way from Melbourne.

1 on 30/11/12 by willvill

Hey Lindsay,

You have just answered your own question. You picked the 777 and took top tier 'works'. Try a 737 and seat only and it will reinforce that Air NZ is a lottery for the metal and the seat. Try the new Emirates A380 servce in any class from Mel to Akl and tell me where the  daylight really is!!

1 on 30/11/12 by Brian

You beat me to it willvill. Emirates A380 from Melbourne is magic, although I loved their 777-300ER almost as much. It's my first choice each and every time, but I'll take the works deluxe on the Air NZ 777 if Emirates is full (almost never)

Just booked my next Mel to Akl on EK last night and when I went to do the internal bookings on Air NZ I came across Seat Select for the first time. Couldn't believe their cheek, especially for those aging 737-300s that are still their workhorse.

1 on 30/11/12 by Lindsay

Brian & Willvill,

I'm not certain , but I don't think Air New Zealand flies 737s across the Tasman from Melbourne....Qantas & Virgin do but not Air New Zealand. Think they are 777,767 or A320s. I think the way Air New Zealand structures their fares across the Tasman makes sense.You pick, Budget v service v full service. I'm not sure what your experience has been, but I find Emirates an average service....I'm fairly tall and find the leg room in economy to be uncomfortable for me. As I have said IMHO Air New Zealand rates up their with the best which I consider to be Singapore Airlines followed by Cathay Pacific.

2 on 30/11/12 by John

Ah, don't forget that Air NZ uses A320s, not 737s, across the ditch. Credit where credit is due: their A320 economy seating is an inch wider than the Qantas/Virgin 737s, and as the article says, the premium space on these isn't being cut.

2 on 30/11/12 by KG

Hi Lindsay,

I think that if you fly longhaul and pay for Works Deluxe there is nothing to complain about (esp compared to other carriers flying long haul). We here commenting on this article are all cheap skates and like to fly accross the Tasman on the lowest fare but sit in business :) It used to be ok with NZ as they would give you free upgrades to better seating, however,a s this is gone the offering is not too good as an elite member of their or an affiliate FF program. That is what the article is basically pointing out / aiming at.

1 on 30/11/12 by John

Just a note, KG: Works Deluxe (and that whole package of Air NZ seating options) is only on their Tasman/Pacific Islands routes, not long-haul.

Long-haul flights don't see the "premium economy seat, economy service" situation -- but frequent flyers are still hard done by because Air NZ uses the complicated and impenetrable OneUp system for upgrades, with reports from frequent flyers of shenanigans around frequent flyer points upgrades not clearing when they should be, in favour of OneUp paid upgrades clearing.

(I'll also add to your point: yes, this is a blow to frequent flyers, and a blow that was announced two days before it came into effect, swept under the rug while the local media was going Hobbit-crazy. But what's worse is the "actually, frequent flyer benefits have increased!" line from Air NZ. It's a colossal fib, as Air NZ's own seatmaps show.)

3 on 30/11/12 by John

Hi Lindsay, and welcome to AusBT!

You're right -- Works Deluxe is a good deal across the Tasman if you can snag one of the Premium Economy seats on the 777-200 with a blocked middle seat. And you're not wrong that it's superior to Qantas' 737 business class in that "middle seat free" config.

(Mind you: only six of the fourteen 777-200 Works Deluxe seats are in premium economy -- the rest are bog-standard seats.) 

Of course, with your Velocity Gold card, you have access to those seats anyway. The issue is that your Velocity card (and all other frequent flyer cards) now have access to under half the premium economy seats that you used to.

And if Air New Zealand thinks that they can get away calling cutting half those premium economy seats and replacing them with regular economy seats an improvement...

1 on 1/12/12 by Lindsay

Thanks John !

I'm pleased to be contributing, have had many years of air travel and I find this site a great place to not only find information, but also to try and air my views and experience.  The 777-200 flights I have flown across the Tasman with Air New Zealand have a full Premium Economy section of around 28-30 seats. I understood these were all reserved for Works Deluxe passengers, first and foremost. I flew (as a Gold frequent flyer) on Qantas for 20 years usually 6 or more International flights per year and maybe 8 - 10 or more domestically and NEVER received anything other than what I paid for. Never received an upgrade, on Air New Zealand I have had 2 flights in the last 3 months(not even a member of their air points program) but have been ungraded to Business Class once and ALWAYS greeted by name by the chief steward during the flight. Maybe they are trying to 'woo' me, but this is real service to what I have ever had on Qantas.

1 on 2/12/12 by John

That's absolutely what we're about here at AusBT -- and we're always interested in hearing our readers' experience and adding those data points to what we know.

In terms of Air NZ's Boeing 777-200s, I think you might be mistaken. As you'll see from the seatmap in the article, only one full row of the four is dedicated to Works Deluxe. That was the case leading up to the changeover, unless I'm misinformed, and has been the case previously. The rest were part of the Air NZ frequent flyer package for its best flyers.

I do agree with you that Air NZ's staff are very cheery sorts and do a lot for the airline's brand image. (Although, as a counter data point, my Sydney-Wellington flight yesterday was crewed by the most sullen, don't-care crew I've ever seen outside of an airline in the middle of strike action.)

8 on 3/12/12 by worldflyer

Excellent and comprehensive article.

I find it abhorrent that airlines create a structure where they try to create loyalty with rewards like "premium seats" which are important to regular flyers, and then sell it off for a nominal fee to just anyone. Air NZ is not the first arline to do this, and you dont feel so valued. I'm migrating away from Singapore Airlines for the same reason.

It would seem that $50 now buys that elderly person who may or maynot be willing and able to help in case of an emergy that coveted exit row seat, you feel you have earned as a Gold frequent flyer.

Furthermore, what happens when you do pay a premium for an exit row seat, are you entitled to exclusive use of that leg room? Can you ask people waiting for the toilet or stretching in your "paid" space to leave?

 

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