Intro Part 1: Planning a Trip to Middle Earth and Visa Shenanigans

Background

So my uncle, cousin, and I have wanted to do a guys camping trip for the longest time. Our initial plan was to hit up Iceland back in July, but I was completed roughed up by my already busy travel schedule and my uncle was completely booked with work trips. So that didn’t happen.

My cousin (the other blog writer aka Sasidhar) hasn’t been on a trip in over 5 months since we came back from Venice and Slovenia back in May. If you are a wanderlust junkie like us you can imagine the withdrawal symptoms 🙂 Anyway he was quite disappointed that I had to cancel the July trip so I gave him a rain check and a bit of a blank check regarding our next trip.

Well an opportunity finally arose for him to plot our adventure in October, when my uncle had to make a work trip to Sydney. And since one of us would already be making the long journey to the lands down under, it made sense for all of us to do it. It worked out quite well in the end because we got to mix in a bit of work with the leisure time.

Buying the Tickets

As soon as our plans were set in stone, I got on the United website and booked myself an award ticket from DFW to Sydney for 40k miles (in economy of course). I spent $180 for the Sydney to Christchurch leg on Qantas and booked myself a return flight on American and Jetstar from Christchurch to DFW for $300 (which was a steal of a deal for such a long flight). So all in I paid 40k miles and $480 for my travel to/from New Zealand. 

Visa Policy for Americans Visiting Australia & New Zealand

As American citizens the most my uncle or I had to do was apply for an ETA (electronic travel authority) online. The application takes minutes to fill out and approval is instantaneous. Each ETA is actually valid for exactly a year from when you apply so mine was still valid from last year’s trip.  Here’s how it looks:

The rest is history as far as I am concerned. Though it was not the case for my cousin…. (This is really where it gets interesting)

Sasidhar:

Since I haven’t bothered to fill out my US citizenship application as of yet, I had to apply for both an Australian transit visa and a New Zealand tourist visa. On both their websites they state that the processing time for the visa is well within a month (about the time I had before our trip).

New Zealand Visa Processing Times

Australia Visa Processing Times

Anyway everything seemed to be going well when I got a notification saying my passport was on its way back to me about 2 weeks before the trip. However just as I was about to book my ticket, I noticed that the Fedex envelope had my passport, but there was no visa in it. Apparently the visa (an evisa) was still processing and it would take another 6-8 business days. Here’s the message I got:

Fast forward to just a few days before the trip, I still hadn’t gotten my visa. I was beyond frustrated by my predicament because I hadn’t heard back from Australia either. I was sure, I wouldn’t be going on this trip. 

In a last ditch effort, I called the New Zealand Immigration Office in Auckland. This office is manned 24/7 (even on holidays, I don’t know how) and when I explained my situation, they said that my visa would be expedited. Even then the best case scenario for me to get the visa was just a day before the start of our camping trip. I honestly had given up all hope, but just the day before my intended departure to New Zealand, the visa finally came in:

Even after getting the visa, getting to New Zealand was a completely different issue. Tickets to New Zealand without a stopover in Australia were costing well over $1800 (more than I wanted to spend originally). And award tickets are unheard of in the off season because most services from the U.S to New Zealand (outside of the ones operated by Air New Zealand) are seasonal services starting in early November. And when was the last time Air New Zealand released award seats consistently?

The worst part about the entire ordeal was that since I was booking so close to departure that all the available seats were middle ones. I guess beggars can’t be choosers. I finally got the price down to around $1500 and my itinerary ended up being (all in a middle seat):

On another note flying Air New Zealand was perhaps the most pleasant middle seat experience ever. I’m sorry for the lack of images, but seat comfort, service, and food were all far better than that of their rivals. 




Best Options for Booking Award Flights to New Zealand

  • 40,000 miles in Economy redeeming UA/DL/AA or Lifemiles directly to New Zealand
  • 40,000 miles in Economy using UA/DL/AA miles or Lifemiles to Australia + 10,000 BA Avios for Australia –> New Zealand
  • 80,000 miles in Business on United/Delta/AA/Aeroplan/Lifemiles directly to New Zealand
  • 80,000 miles in Business using UA/DL/AA/AC miles to Australia + 10,000 BA Avios for Australia –> New Zealand

So the first blog post in the Australia/New Zealand series is now up. You can check it out on the vlog below:

As always I would very much appreciate it if you could subscribe. YouTube doesn’t even allow me to link back to this blog unless I get to 1000 followers. Anyway just enjoy the video and please provide your feedback!

Bottom Line:

Planning a trip to Australia and New Zealand is not the easiest thing to do within a short span of time. We were lucky that this trip was in October in a sense because my uncle and I didn’t have any problem finding a reasonable flight to Australia. Flying directly to New Zealand just before the summer peak season though is quite the challenge because seasonal services to the island nation don’t start until November often times. 

If you do have to deal with visas for any reason, it goes without saying that you should confirm your reservation only after having the visa in your hand. 

Trip Report: Wild Camping in New Zealand

Introduction Part 1: Planning a Trip to Middle Earth and Visa Shenanigans