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Air New Zealand eyes new Elite Plus Airpoints tier, luxe row in Business Premier section

Air New Zealand is moving towards making life sweeter for its top-end passengers.

The airline is surveying some of its Airpoints members, asking what they would like to see in a new loyalty scheme. In a separate survey, it is trying to find out what passengers want at the front end of its new business class cabin, which could include a row of ultra-luxe seats.

The work is going on ahead of anticipated intense competition when borders reopen and flying on international routes begins to return to normal.

Business travel will be fundamentally transformed as a result of the pandemic, with fewer work trips. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates today predicted that half of all business travel – the most lucrative end of the market for airlines – will disappear in the post-coronavirus world.

Air New Zealand is not as exposed to this as some other carriers, with more of a focus on high-end leisure travellers for its Business Premier cabin.

Building up the loyalty programme will be a key plank in the airline’s recovery from the impact of Covid-19 and is seen by analysts as one of the strongest parts of its business now.

The airline has declared that enhancing the benefits and experiences it offers ”will help attract, retain and reward our most loyal and high value customers”.

It is saying little about what the Airpoints scheme – which has more than 3 million members – might look like. But itsgeneral manager of loyalty, Kate O’Brien, says the research will help decide that.

She said “some of the questions we covered off in our survey were around the possibility of a new tier above Elite, preferred travel times during the week and weekend, how customers view benefits such as valet parking, upgrades and lounge access, how Airpoints are being used and the overall views of the programme.”

While Air NZ did not share a copy of the survey, Australia-based Executive Traveller was forwarded a copy by a member.

Besides the Elite Plus tier, the survey suggests there could be lifetime status at lower tiers.

The survey indicated that a target range between 2800 and 3200 status points a year would be required to pocket an Airpoints Elite Plus membership, compared to 1500 points to reach the Airpoints Elite tier now, and 900 for Airpoints Gold.

Executive Traveller said benefits of Elite Plus status gleaned from the survey included the possibility of free same-day flight changes for domestic, transtasman and Pacific flights, free parking at the member’s “home airport” and complimentary Elite status for the nominated partner of an Elite Plus member.

David Flynn, editor of ExecutiveTraveller.com, said the Elite Plus tier would be designed for people who are super-frequent flyers, who spend more time in an airport lounge than in their own lounge at home.

”Introducing Elite Plus should have no direct impact on the lower Airpoints tiers. In fact, Air New Zealand would probably have thousands of Airpoints Elite members who’d qualify for Elite Plus status right out of the gate,” he said.

Flynn said the potential benefits flagged for Elite Plus were very appealing and very practical, and in line with the perks of “plus” level tiers at other airlines such as Qantas Platinum One.

”It’s also exciting to see Air New Zealand contemplating lifetime status, which is already offered by many airlines. The bar for lifetime status would be set very high, but once a traveller clocks up enough status points over the course of their membership, they can potentially enjoy the benefits of Silver, Gold or even Elite status for life.”

Air NZ’s O’Brien said: ”We’re looking forward to reviewing the results and getting underway with some improvements to the programme that will have great outcomes for our members.”

Work on the cabin upgrade has been going on for more than two years in an Auckland building near Air NZ’s downtown headquarters, ”Hangar 22”.The existing herringbone configuration of the Business Premier cabin is 15 years old, with seats not offering much privacy.

The airline’s chief customer and sales officer, Leanne Geraghty, said a range of concepts had been tested.

”We know it’s going to be competitive when we emerge from Covid-19, so we’re getting on with shaping our business for the future.”

Air New Zealand last year announced that it would buy eight Boeing 787-10s that were scheduled to arrive in its fleet from 2022. Last month, chief executive Greg Foran told the Herald the airline had the option to push out the order and revert to smaller 787-9s.

A survey sent to some high-end customers says there would be differences between the first row of four seats and the rest of the cabin, which may include more legroom, more privacy and”a more premium blanket”.

Aviation website One Mile at a Time says this suggests what the non-premium business class seats will be like — they won’t have doors, they won’t have as much legroom, andwon’t feature a “buddy seat” for dining as is now the case in Air NZ’s Business Premier cabin.

The website says that while it’s possible that Air New Zealand is considering a brand new product that hasn’t yet hit the market, everything about this description points to a Vantage XL cabin, with one row of VantageFirst seats.

Thompson Aero Seating, based in Northern Ireland, makes the seats, which it markets as “first class for free”, as the cabin doesn’t have to be divided off.

The companysays its Vantage XL seat offers a generous 23-24 inch wide seat andflexible privacy options including suite doors. VantageFirst also has optional sliding suite doors and central adjustable privacy dividers.

Qantas has Vantage seats on its Airbus A330s and Boeing 787s. Air New Zealand is not commenting on specifics of the survey, which asks for feedback on a name for the front row of seats, providing the following options: Business Premier Retreat; Business Premier Plus: Business Premier Deluxe; or Business Premier Alcove.

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