Air New Zealand business class SFO-AKL

Like most of the nonstop routes to Oceania, New Zealand is one of the most difficult destinations to find premium award availability for.  Air New Zealand is notoriously protective of its biz award space, dubbed as Business Premier.  When I discovered that a slew of biz awards suddenly opened up in July, I immediately jumped on the opportunity.  Surprisingly, the best mileage redemption option for Air New Zealand biz is Virgin Atlantic, which charges 125k roundtrip compared to United at 180k.

Virgin Atlantic is a transfer partner for all 3 of the Big 3 (Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points), and both Amex and Citi happened to be running 30% transfer bonuses at the time to Virgin Atlantic.  So I was able to book SFO-AKL roundtrip in biz for <97k TYP, which is an absolute steal.

Pre-flight Workout

Yes, this is technically a fitness blog, so I couldn't resist this and neither should you.  Since the SFO-AKL is an evening flight, I hit the gym in the late morning.  Many of the New Zealand small towns that I would be visiting don't have amped up gyms, so there was a good possibility that this would be my final legit workout for the next 2 weeks.  So my pre-flight workout consisted of maxing out on squats and deadlifts followed by HIIT.  I normally reserve deadlifts for back day since squatting and deadlifting heavy on the same day is extremely taxiing on the legs, but I figured that I wouldn't be hitting either exercise for a while so I went for it and almost died.  That's the price you pay for going on vacation.

SFO United Polaris Lounge

I arrived at SFO a few hours early knowing that the United Polaris Lounge is one of the best U.S.-based lounges for dining with an a la carte menu and plenty of space as only international long-haul Star Alliance business and first class passengers have access.

The salmon was pretty good, and an excellent post workout protein and fat source.  The beet tartare was so awful that I ditched it after downing half a teaspoon.  But the highlight was the stuffed napa cabbage, which the waitress even discouraged order stating that it was not delectable.  But not only did it taste great, it was an excellent mix of protein and vegetables.  The rest of the lounge consists of dining/seating space, a buffet, and bar.  Since Star Alliance Gold members and short-haul biz class flyers don't get access, the lounge doesn't suffer from overcrowding the way many United Clubs and Amex Centurion Lounges are notorious for.

Pre-flight cheater meal??  I think I'll be cheating enough in NZ....

Air New Zealand Business Premier

Air New Zealand was recently ranked as the #2 carrier worldwide by's misguided ratings, behind perennial and deservedly winner Singapore Airlines.  Boarding begin 45 minutes before scheduled departure, and was quick and efficient just like the Japanese carriers.

Air New Zealand uses a herringbone configuration, which is similar to Air Canada and Cathay Pacific's old layout.  All seats do have direct aisle access, but storage space is definitely limited.  Since you face away from your neighbors, this configuration isn't the most conducive for couples and families traveling together.  But perhaps the biggest surprise is that adjusting the seat to lieflat mode actually requires you to stand up out of the way as the seatback cushion and headrest fold downwards.  In other words, you're either in upright, recliner, or lieflat mode and nothing really in between.

But if there is one saving glory to these outdated seats, it's that the flight attendants make your bed for you, and they utilize memory foam futons and pillows.  The attendants, who were friendly and always carried smiles on their faces, took meal and drink orders right after the fasten seat belt sign went off, which was no more than 15 minutes after takeoff.

I opted for the herb-roasted cod since fish is my go-to protein as it tends to be leaner than most meats (especially cod) and typically carries more essential omega-3.  The drink menu looked less than amusing compared to the other carriers, so I just went with my favorite in-flight alcoholic beverage: champagne.  I enjoy the taste of champagne and a serving contains much less calories than most beers with only 1.5 g net carbs.  Of course, and we all hate to admit this, water is the best, but screw that when I'm flying in biz.

Protein duck breast appetizer.  Yes, I removed the fat.  No, I did not drink the Sprite.  No comment on the bread...

Herb-roasted cod

Dinner tasted as good as it looked: nothing special.  After pounding down some fruit and cheese for dessert, I attempted to hit the sack.  One common myth of biz is that you'll always get good in-flight sleep, but we all know how that turns out, so tell me that when I land.  2 hours before landing, the flight attendants went around for breakfast orders.

They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but I say it's the least appealing meal of the day and I normally skip it with intermittent fasting.  But I knew I had a long day ahead as my flight lands at 5:30 am, so I went for the poached eggs, which surprisingly tasted better than they looked.  Egg whites are my second go-to protein since they're essentially fat free and 100% protein.  I've never liked the taste of high-cholesterol yolk, though it does carry a lot of nutritional value that I miss out on.  Dark rye bread is 100% whole wheat with a good source of fiber, and it has a glycemic index lower than most other wheat breads.  After downing breakfast, it was time for some in-flight exercises.

Unfortunately, Air New Zealand doesn't offer dumbbells in biz.  Maybe I'll need to bring my own next time.  We landed shortly after I finished my curls.

Air New Zealand Business Premier Bottom Line

I hate to say it, but this has got to be most overrated business class product that I've ever flown in.  From the seat comfort to the storage space and the dining menu, nothing stood out and was all reminiscent of the Asian carrier's old products.  Service was good though, and the free in-flight WiFi and texting did make 12 1/2 hours go by in a heartbeat.  If you're ranked as the #2 carrier on the planet ahead of heavyweights like ANA, Eva, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, etc., then you better excel in every category.  Although United's soft product is far below Air New Zealand, United's Polaris hard product is far ahead, and I would have probably taken that just for the comfort.


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