United’s New Zealand Flight Gets a Big Business-Class Upgrade

Sep 4, 2017

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United launched its brand-new Polaris business-class seat back in February, on the Newark-San Francisco route. Since then, the carrier’s been adding its 777-300ER to existing routes on a regular basis, beginning with San Francisco-Hong Kong in March. United currently operates this aircraft on the following routes:

Now, as per Routes Online and confirmed on United’s website and with an airline representative, United’s latest 777-300ER destination will be Auckland, New Zealand, with seasonal service from San Francisco operating six days per week from October 29 through December 17 and then daily through March 22, 2018. United explains: “We have seen strong demand during the New Zealand summer season and are excited to offer the larger Boeing 777-300ER aircraft and the all-new United Polaris business class seat for our customers traveling to Auckland.”

With direct aisle access from every seat, United’s Polaris business class is a big step up.

The 777-300ER replaces a 787-9 Dreamliner that had previously been scheduled for this route — the larger 777 offers 60 1-2-1 Polaris seats, 102 3-4-3 Economy Plus seats and 204 regular coach seats (366 in total), while the 787-9 offers offers 48 2-2-2 business-class seats, 88 3-3-3 Economy Plus seats and 116 regular coach seats (252 in total). While that seems like an increase in capacity on the surface, the 787-9 had been scheduled to operate daily service through December 17 and then 10 flights per week through March 22, so ultimately the change in aircraft won’t significantly impact capacity.

With 3-4-3 seating, United’s 777-300ER is a tight squeeze in coach.

Also, it’s important to note that while the 777-300ER offers a much improved experience in business class, economy is quite tight, with a 3-4-3 configuration throughout Economy Plus and regular coach. That matches Air New Zealand’s 777-300ER configuration, so unfortunately you won’t necessarily find ANZ to be an appealing alternative for economy travel. Meanwhile, in business class, United’s 777 offers a clear advantage.

United’s fares on this route are steep, starting at $1,353 in economy and $6,739 in biz. Fortunately, economy award availability is very good, and there are even a couple of days with award space in business class — with more opening up closer to departure, I’m sure.

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Searching for four travelers, I found two dates with 4+ business-class award seats open, for 70,000 miles + $31.60 each way (departing from the US). Economy awards will run you 40,000 miles, so if you’re able to find business-class space, I’d suggest spending the extra 30k miles for United’s best seat. (Note that business class jumps to 80,000 miles each way if booked on or after November 1, 2017.)

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You can also use this new 777-300ER flight to connect to Australia (or elsewhere in the region) for the same number of miles. For example, you can book business class on United’s 777 to Auckland, and a business seat on Air New Zealand’s flight from Auckland to Sydney for the same number of miles (plus an extra $40 in tax).

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Bottom Line

Ultimately, this addition is great news for business-class passengers, but economy flyers may be disappointed to find their 3-3-3 787-9 Dreamliner swapped for a tight 3-4-3 777-300ER. If you’re a coach passenger you should opt for the Dreamliner, which offers a more comfortable layout, but you’ll find the best business-class experience on United’s 777-300ER, which is the only plane to (currently) offer the new Polaris seat.

Will you be flying United’s latest 777-300ER route?

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