Trip Planning: The long way to New Zealand


It’s been quite a while since my last Trip Planning article.

I have actually completed this trip to New Zealand, but because of the lack of chain hotels, I thought it would be a good idea to share how else to travel hack in this beautiful country.

How it started: THAT Qatar Airways Business Class re-routing trick

To allow travel flexibility during the pandemic, in May 2020, Qatar Airways allowed customers to change their departing city and destination up to 5,000 miles away.

With this rule, I managed to switch a 50-minute Business Class flight to a 24 hours journey at the same price of just S$944 (US$688).

And it’s round trip, with a total flying time of over 50 hours! This includes a very short technical stop in Adelaide, Australia.

Changing a 50-min flight to a 24 hours journey

Miles earned

As a Qatar Airways Gold member, I earned about 64,000 Avios (worth US$900) with these flights.

My partner, who doesn’t have a frequent flyer status, earned about 45,000 Avios (worth US$630) with these flights.

Frequent Flyer status re-qualification

With these flights, I earned 266 Qpoints (for status qualification), just 4 Qpoints shy of the 270 Qpoints required for me to re-qualify for Gold status.

I plan to earn the remaining 4 Qpoints either with a one-way Business Class flight between Johor Bahru and Kuala Lumpur for US$112, or by purchasing Qpoints at US$25 each, for a total of US$100.

Key Qatar Airways Gold status benefits include:

  • Lounge access (+1 guest)
  • 5% award discount
  • 75% mileage bonus
  • Change/Cancel awards for free
  • Priority check-in, boarding
  • Meet & Greet at Doha

My partner also earned 266 Qpoints and Silver status with these flights.

Qatar Airways Silver status is pretty awesome as it gets you lounge access in Doha and also in some airports like Singapore, as shared in Suitesmile Chat recently. You’ll also get priority boarding and priority onboard meals when flying in Economy Class!

Qatar Airways Qsuite
Qatar Airways Qsuites in bed mode

Long layovers in Doha

These amazing itinerary came with a price: ultra-long layovers in Doha. Both the outbound and inbound layovers were about 19 hours each!

I had the option of leaving the airport to stay in a Doha hotel but at that time, it required COVID-19 testing and we just did not want to risk having a positive test result that would disrupt the entire trip. So, we decided to “fight through” the long layover. I know, first world problem. *cries in champagne*

I’ll be sharing the best and worst visit times at Al Mourjan Business Lounge, the best sleeping areas, as well as the complimentary Priority Pass sleep pods in the airport.

Al Mourjan Business Lounge (read my review)

Flagged by border control

Because of our “strange” routing from Singapore to Auckland, we were flagged my Australian Border Force (ABF) during boarding in Doha.

The officers brought us aside for some questioning and I had that little time to explain travel hacking to them!

In short, they agreed that it was an amazing deal and shared that strange routings like these are commonly used by drug mules and traffickers.

Best ways to fly to New Zealand

Of course, the opportunity to have a flight route like mine, at that price, will probably never happen again.

However, redeeming Singapore Airlines Krisflyer miles for flights to/from Auckland or Christchurch gives you great value and I view it as one of the program’s sweet spots.

You’ll need 30.5k miles for Economy Class, 51k miles for Premium Economy and 68.5k miles for Business Class for each one-way flight.

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Planning my New Zealand itinerary

I booked flights that allowed 18 days in New Zealand. And because the flights arrived and departed in Auckland, that was our start and end point.

We decided to fly elsewhere on the day of arrival in Auckland, and make Auckland the last city to visit before our flight out of the country.

Positioning in Auckland 3 to 4 days before our long-haul Qatar flight helps to drastically minimize the risk of a really unpleasant domino effect of missed flights, if the domestic flight got cancelled or if our rented car breaks down.

Decide key areas to visit

This was my third visit to New Zealand, but my partner’s first. So, we planned a mix of places to visit that are new to me, as well as amazing places that I’ve been and would like her to experience.

We decided on the following key areas to visit:

South Island
– Queenstown (4 nights)*
– Wanaka
– Mount Cook (3 nights in Twizel)
– Tekapo (3 nights)

North Island
– Taranaki (2 nights)
– Auckland (4 nights)

*We took a separate domestic flight from Auckland to Queenstown, 3 hours after arriving in Auckland.

Allow flexibility

We had a rough idea of how many days we wanted to spend in each area but allowed +- 1 day flexibility in case there is bad weather, as well as to save on flights and/or accommodations.

While some travellers prefer a jam-packed itinerary to strike off as much as possible from their bucket list, I personally prefer my trips to be more easy-going.

Minimize long, tiring drives

For a more relaxing trip, we decided to fly between some cities, instead of driving all the way from Queenstown to Auckland in just 18 days.

Places we covered by car and plane

To connect from Tekapo (South Island) to Taranaki (North Island), we drove 2 hrs 45 mins from Tekapo to Christchurch, returned the rented car, then fly to Taranaki, North Island. The 1 hr 20 mins Air New Zealand flight, which costed just NZ$120 (US$75) each, saved us 15 hours of driving time.

To connect from Taranaki to Auckland, we flew 45 mins and paid NZ$100 (US$62) each. This saved us 5 hours of driving time.



New Zealand does not have many chain hotels, especially in the (more beautiful) South Island. This does not mean that you can’t receive great value from your accommodation bookings!

In Queenstown and Auckland, I stayed in GHA Discovery hotels to completely use up all Discovery Dollars that I’ve earned from last year’s program refresh. I still ended up with D$100 more because of the recent generous offers.

I stayed in an Accor hotel in Christchurch for 1 night, just to catch a flight on the next day. For this stay, I redeemed points that I earned from the great offer earlier this year.

For other apartments/motels, I booked through one of Agoda’s amazing bank offers for up to 25% discount.

If you are making Airbnb bookings, remember that you can earn additional miles from them.

View from my balcony at Oaks Queenstown Shores Resort (read my review)

Driving in New Zealand

The driving experience in New Zealand, especially in South Island, is more relaxed than in city roads like Singapore. Take your time, enjoy the amazing views and overtake safely when needed.

Car rental

When it comes to car rental, I usually start from aggregators like and to have a rough idea of the prices that I should expect.

Then, I would do a search on local car rental companies. In NZ, the popular ones are Ezi, Ace and Apex.

Even though I have elite membership statuses with popular international companies like Avis, Hertz and SIXT, their rates are usually much higher than those of the local companies.

I have used all 3 local companies mentioned above and never had problems with any of them. Look out for any promo codes that you can apply at each company!

With the first rented car, we drove from Queenstown to Christchurch in 10 days with a total of about 8 hours driving time.

First rented car route
Our rented car near Lake Pukaki

With the second rented car, we explored the Taranaki area.

Second rented car route
Mount Taranaki
Paritutu Beach

Petrol hacks and discounts

To save money on petrol, I signed up for free memberships at Mobil and Challenge stations to save about 6 to 10 cents per litre.

Mobil Smiles membership card

On top of that, I also used the Gaspy mobile app to search for the best petrol prices near me!

Cheapest petrol stations near Christchurch, as shown on Gaspy mobile app

Free one-way rental

Car rental companies sometimes require their cars to be located at certain locations on certain dates. Instead of paying for a truck to transport them, they offer people like you and me to do it for them at no charge!

Yes, you can even find campervans and luxury vehicles.

Locations and dates are usually fixed, so, it requires a bit of flexibility on your part.

Head over to to check if there’s anything that works for you.

Book activities at a huge discount

Know how Klook is generally the best platform to book activities in Asia?

In New Zealand, is the better option. You will find better prices and more activities to choose from!

In my experience, bookme is still cheaper than Klook, even with Klook’s promo codes applied.

Alpaca farm visit booked on bookme

Despite staying 6 nights near Mount Cook (Twizel/Tekapo), we did not get to experience our scenic helicopter activity booked through bookme as there were high winds on some days and no availability on others.

Instead, we did other activities like visiting Hooker Glacier through the Hooker Valley Track (~3 hours roundtrip) and visiting The Hobbit film location right by Lake Pukaki.

Hooker Valley track
Hooker Glacier
Remnant of The Hobbit film set

Best cards for spending in New Zealand

While in New Zealand, I used the Amaze card for all of my spending, while linking them to the Citi Rewards card and Citi Prestige card.

This gives me up to 4 miles per dollar while avoiding foreign currency charges.

Related: Best Singapore Cards for Foreign Currency & Overseas spending in 2022

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Public transport

I have only taken public transport in Auckland, to get around the city and to/from the airport.

Fares are fairly low but the system is still not as advanced as what you may be used to in some countries like Singapore and the UK, where you can simply tap a credit/debit card to pay for a ride.

In Auckland, you will need to do it the old school way with an AT HOP card (similar to Singapore’s EZ-Link). The problem is, it may not be convenient to buy an AT HOP card where you are.

I landed in Auckland Domestic airport in the evening and found that the only shop selling the card is closed and there were no machines to purchase the card from. My only other option was to head over to the International terminal where a shop was still open.

Click here to check where you can purchase an AT HOP card.

Bottom line

Despite the lack of chain hotels, there are still many ways to travel-hack in New Zealand. My favourite time of year to visit is in Spring (September/October), when the weather is not too cold and the mountains are still beautifully snow-capped.

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