It takes just three hours to make the hop across the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand’s biggest cities. Sydney-Auckland-Sydney is the region’s busiest international route with over one and a half million people making the flight in the past year. Five carriers fly between the two cities and there are usually around a dozen return flights each day. Which carrier is the best?
Your choices are Jetstar, Virgin Australia, Qantas, Air New Zealand, and LATAM. We’ll take a look at each of the options.
Jetstar offers a daily mid-morning departure from Sydney on JQ201 utilising a single class A320-200. The exception to this is Thursday when the departure is a mid-evening on JQ203.
The daily departure from Auckland is JQ202 which pushes back at breakfast time arriving in Sydney mid-morning.
As a rule, Jetstar is cheap and cheerful on short sectors like this. The aircraft are well maintained and clean. Cabin crew are usually pretty personable. Food, seat selection, and checked in luggage cost more.
Qantas Club members, Qantas Gold frequent flyers (and above), and Oneworld Sapphire members all have lounge access at both airports prior to departure – which is a significant benefit although the Qantas Lounge in Auckland is not much chop.
Qantas Platinum and Oneworld Emerald members are known to take a cheap Jetstar flight just to score access to the outstanding Qantas First Lounge in Sydney.
Virgin Australia has 17 return services a week between Sydney and Auckland. On Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays there are three services a day. On the remaining days, there are two return services.
Flights are on a single-aisle 737-800. Like Jetstar, these aircraft are well maintained, clean, and the crew are generally good. Food, drinks, seats, and checked in luggage are included in the ticket price. Virgin Australia is making a special pitch towards families at the moment. On my last flight with them, the crew were all over an immaculately behaved infant in business class.
There is an eight-seat business class cabin. Generally, Virgin Australia offers a better short-haul business product than Qantas onboard the 737s. Business-class passengers, Virgin Lounge members and Velocity Gold (and above) frequent flyers have access to the very good House Lounge in Sydney and the Strata Lounge in Auckland.
Virgin Australia often has sale fares to Auckland (check out the weekly Thursday Happy Hour fares on their website). Business-class fares start at around AUD$500 but upgrade me bids can make them cheaper and they are usually readily available for points.
Qantas is a big player on this route with five return services a day, evenly spread from breakfast to early evening departures.
The flights are split between 737-800s and A330s. The Qantas 737 service is nothing special. If I was travelling economy, I’d probably look to Jetstar. If I was in business, I would prefer Virgin’s 737 business class product. All just a personal preference of course.
But the Qantas A330 product is good, particularly their A330 business class. The flights to look for is the daily QF143 ex Sydney at 09:30, the Sunday QF145 service which departs at 11:45, and the Friday and Sunday QF149 service which leave around 19:00.
There are two daily A330 Qantas flights from Auckland: QF140 which pushes back from Auckland at 06:20 and QF146 which heads off at 15:50. On Sunday nights there is also QF148 which leaves at 19:05. All are operated by A330 aircraft
Food, drinks, checked-in luggage, and seat selection are all free on Qantas. Cabin crew are generally cheerful and helpful. Being a Oneworld member, there are points and status earning opportunities on Qantas, not to mention the lounge access in both cities.
Air New Zealand
If Qantas is the big Oneworld player on this route, Air New Zealand is the Star Alliance opposite.
Air New Zealand offers over 25 return services a week on the route, ranging from three return services a day on Saturdays and Tuesdays to five return services on Fridays. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday all have four return services.
The routes use a mix of A320s, Boeing 777-200s and Boeing 787-9s. However, there is a strong skew towards the wide-bodied Boeings. On the days were four or five services operate, one flight a day is on the A320, everything else is on the widebodies.
Air New Zealand A320 economy is nothing to write home about. The economy product on the widebodies is better, and I like Air New Zealand’s business class product on both the 777-200 and the 787-9. In fact, I would probably pick it over the Qantas A330 business class product. I also like the fact that Air New Zealand operate far more big planes on the route than Qantas.
The Air New Zealand lounges in both Sydney and Auckland are both good. As a Star Alliance airline, passengers with the requisite status can lounge hop at either airport.
LATAM operates a daily fifth freedom Auckland-Sydney-Auckland flight as an extension of its Santiago service. It is soon to start flying direct to Sydney and reduce these daily flights out of Auckland down to several a week.
LATAM has a breakfast departure from Auckland on LA801, a Boeing 787-9. It lands in Sydney and turns around, heading back to Auckland as LA800, at 11:20. Being a fifth freedom flight and a Oneworld member there are usually some bargain point redemption opportunities here – which is why I like this particular service. If you are a cash person, this route is often on sale and there’s some very good pricing. Plus, the operating hours are civilized.
The LATAM business class cabin in this sector isn’t the greatest in the world. It has a 2-2-2 configuration but it does convert into a lie flat bed. Still, the food and service are good, there’s good lounge access via the Oneworld partnership, and the LATAM business class product is usually the best-priced business class product on the route. It beats the 737 business class product on Qantas and Virgin Australia hands down.
If I needed a bargain-basement bare-bones fare, I’d have a look at Jetstar. Their Friday afternoon Fare Frenzy sales on their website can see some real bargains on this route.
If I was a paying economy passenger stuck on one of the single-aisle planes, I’d probably veer towards Qantas., or maybe not bother and go Jetstar. On a wide body, I’d probably be interested in LATAM.
If I was travelling with children, I’d probably soak up the goodwill towards kids at Virgin Australia.
As a paying business class passenger, Virgin Australia wins the 737 battle. On a wide body, I’d lean towards Air New Zealand.
If I was a Qantas Plat, I’d stick to Qantas just so I could attack the pavlova in the First Lounge.
If I wanted a business class bargain, I’d be looking at LATAM.
Having said that, my airline choices are usually dictated by where my current pools of points lie and on what airline they can be redeemed on.
Have a favourite (or least favourite) airline on this route? Let us know and tell us why.