Dismay at end to airfare scheme

Long-time air commuter Paul Bell says Air New Zealand's decision to dump its Starfish discount card programme is "very disappointing" and will affect a lot of Nelson business people.

The national airline launched Starfish to stimulate regional air travel, aiming it mainly at small to medium-sized businesses.

A $200 card gave customers an automatic 15 per cent discount on all regional airfare types, but those who bought an $800 card would qualify for a 30 per cent discount.

In a letter to customers, Air New Zealand's commercial group general manager, Jeff McDowall, said Starfish had been "less effective than we expected".

"The viability of the programme relied on the membership base increasing travel frequency but unfortunately this has not occurred in a material way over the 3 years it has run and the result has been a $14 million cost to Air New Zealand."

Effective from this month, the airline would no longer renew Starfish cards, although card-holders could continue to use their cards until the expiry.

Mr McDowall said Air New Zealand was committed to ensuring there were more cheap fares than ever for regional travel. It had offered 28 per cent more seats for under $100 into and out of regional centres over the past five years, he said, and had plans to offer "more deals every day" to regional destinations, and an improved Air Points scheme.

The managing director of Nelson-based human resources company Intepeople, Mr Bell, was Westpac's manager of retail banking and commuted to Wellington for 15 years.

He said Starfish had been "incredibly good" and he was disappointed that it was being shut down.

"The reason they brought it in was to give a little bit of relief to the regional travellers, in response to quite a bit of considered feedback from that that they were paying quite hefty airfares."

Air New Zealand had been using regional airfares to subsidise international fares for a long time, Mr Bell said, and it was equally disappointing to see standby fares for students removed.

"Particularly for Nelson-based parents, it's a big expense getting your kids to and from places like Wellington."

He said the first flight to Wellington on most weekdays was always full of business travellers.

He left the scheme because he no longer commuted or travelled so often on business, but knew a lot of business people who would be affected by the pullout, he said.

"It gave me an opportunity to change my airfare without cost - that was a big thing for me, because I never knew when things were going to change. It wasn't hugely cheaper, but it just gave me that little bit of flexibility."