Flying between Australia and New Zealand is a competitive business for airlines. Millions of passengers cross the Tasman Sea each year. The big players on the Tasman routes, Air New Zealand and Qantas, handle the bulk of the traffic. But there are options, including some very interesting fifth freedom flights. They open up some great aircraft options and a chance to travel in the premium seats for a great price.
In this story, we are going to focus on flights between the three large east coast Australian cities of Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, and the New Zealand cities of Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. That’s where the bulk of the services fly to and from and it’s also where the fifth freedom flights operate.
Flying out of Sydney
The busiest routes across the Tasman either originate or go to Sydney. Air New Zealand, Qantas, Virgin Australia, and Jetstar all frequently criss-cross the 2000+ kilometers to Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
Jetstar and Virgin Australia flights tend to be once or twice daily. Jetstar uses A320s and Virgin Australia uses 737-800s. Qantas and Air New Zealand step up the frequencies, particularly to Auckland.
Qantas flies out of Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane to Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Most days out of Sydney, it offers four flights a day to Auckland. Qantas operates the workhorse of its fleet, the 737-800, on the route, although there are some exceptions. Every Monday, QF143 flies to Auckland using the far nicer A330-300.
Air New Zealand offers a similar number of flights and uses a more eclectic range of aircraft. On flights to Auckland they mostly use Boeing 777-200s but on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays the 787-9 makes an appearance. You’ll also see the A320 and A321neo crop up during quieter times.
There are two interesting fifth freedom flights between Sydney and New Zealand. LATAM flies between Sydney and Auckland daily (and vice versa) using their rather nice 787-9 Dreamliners. The flight originates out of Santiago.
Emirates operates a daily A380 fifth freedom flight between Sydney and Christchurch. EK412 pushes back from Sydney at breakfast time and reaches Christchurch in time for lunch. The return flight leaves Christchurch in the early evening and arrives in Sydney an hour or so later.
As to the best flights between Sydney and New Zealand, if I was flying to Auckland I’d be looking at the LATAM flight or one of the wide-bodied Air New Zealand flights. If I was flying to Wellington, I’d veer towards Virgin Australia because I think they offer the best business class product on that route. For Christchurch, it’s a no brainer. I’d be relaxing on the Emirates A380.
You can check out our review of the LATAM fifth freedom flight here.
Flying out of Melbourne
The Melbourne to New Zealand routes are also busy ones and serviced by Qantas, Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia, and Jetstar. Frequencies drop somewhat compared to the Sydney routes.
Qantas almost exclusively uses 737-800s from Melbourne to New Zealand, although on Tuesdays, QF153 is operated by an A330-300. Air New Zealand operates a combination of 777-200s and A321neos to Auckland, with the majority being operated by the 777s. Air New Zealand’s flights to other cities use their smaller Airbuses.
Virgin and Jetstar use 737-800s and A320s respectively.
The fifth freedom flight out of Melbourne is Singapore Airlines’ four times weekly 777-200 service between Melbourne and Wellington. It departs Melbourne at breakfast time on Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, arriving in Wellington at lunchtime and heading back the same afternoon.
Best flights between Melbourne and New Zealand? If I was flying to Auckland I’d be choosing one of Air New Zealand’s 777-200 services. If I was flying to Wellington, I’d be making myself comfortable on Singapore Airlines. And if I was flying to Christchurch, I’d probably lean towards Virgin Australia’s business class onboard their 737-800s.
Flying out of Brisbane
Finally, let’s look at the Queensland capital of Brisbane. Jetstar doesn’t fly to New Zealand out of Brisbane, preferring to use Coolangatta Airport on the Gold Coast, ninety minutes drive south. But Qantas, Air New Zealand, and Virgin Australia all send planes across the Tasman from Brisbane.
Qantas uses 737-800s to New Zealand out of Brisbane, except for their weekly A330-300 oddity. QF119 to Auckland every Tuesday morning is an A330-300.
Air New Zealand also uses single-aisle Airbus planes out of Brisbane. The exception is one of their daily Auckland-Brisbane-Auckland services which utilizes a 777-200.
Virgin Australia, as you’d expect, flies 737-800s on their Brisbane-New Zealand routes.
The fifth freedom flight out of Brisbane is offered by China Airlines which flies between Brisbane and Auckland daily using an A350-900. Their fares are super competitive.
Flying between Brisbane and New Zealand? The tough choice is the Auckland route. That Air New Zealand 777-200 is a nice plane, but I would be mightly tempted to try the China Airlines A350-900.
Having concentrated on the larger cities, it’s worth noting that flights across the Tasman Sea are also available from Cairns, Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast, Newcastle, Adelaide, and Perth. Air New Zealand has a really tidy coverage of Australian cities. Plus there are some real bargains to be found when flying the thinner routes across the Tasman, such as on Virgin Australia’s seasonal Newcastle-Auckland flights.
But I keep getting drawn back to those fifth freedom flights. Wide bodied planes, premium cabins, and some super competitive fares. In my mind, they are the best way to cross the Tasman.
What have I missed? What’s your opinion? Post a comment.