Since my wife is from New Zealand, I pay particular attention to points/miles trends there, especially considering that the flight from SFO in economy on Air New Zealand totally sucks. Once the safety video is over, the fun stops as you contemplate 12 hours in a 17" wide seat on a flight that's almost always completely full. A couple other things about Air New Zealand that make me hate them: they NEVER release business class award space, and until very recently, the had a monopoly on nonstop routes to NZ, so no one could do anything about it. Lucky us, then, when United and American both started offering nonstop flights there, finally providing some downward price pressure on Air NZ, leading to some awesome fare sales earlier this year. Some business class availability on United started to trickle out as well, although you had to book really far in advance to get it. Still, a promising sign.
Anyway, Justine has a trip home in a couple weeks, and I originally booked her a round trip in economy (half through United and the other half through Aeroplan) - not a great use of points, but we didn't have $1000 laying around when she planned the trip, so we used the rest of my United miles and some Amex points. This was back in April, shortly after the route was announced, and all the flights were scheduled on a 787-8. However, I checked recently and noticed that United has subbed a 777-200 on that route for the indefinite future, which had me wondering... what about Global First? If they originally announced the flights on 787s, then the flight was on sale for a long time without any first class seats being offered. I figured there was a chance those GF seats would become distressed inventory, and I set an ExpertFlyer alert for both her outbound and return legs.
Today, I got a notification that there were available Global First on her return leg, so I scrambled to change the flight. Because that leg was originally booked through Aeroplan, I didn't want to just upgrade the ticket, since Aeroplan charges 110,000 miles vs only 80,000 on United. Instead, I canceled the ticket for ~$135 (luckily this happened before they raise their fees). Turns out: you CAN cancel an Aeroplan ticket inside 22 days, even though the website says you can't. Just ask the rep to move your ticket to a date more than 22 days away, and then have them cancel that ticket. You have to pay the fee twice, but it's still less than a single change/cancellation on United or Delta (though again, that's unfortunately changing soon). I then transferred most of my Sapphire Reserve bonus to United and booked the first class award from there.
After the dust settled, I looked on ExpertFlyer some more, and gadzooks there is some insane availability right now, as long as you can swallow the $75 close-in booking fee. (And, of course, assuming you plan to be in New Zealand in the near future.) Thing is, I don't know how long this has been going on, or whether it will continue. Looking out into the future yields no hits, so it seems like this really is a last-minute dump of inventory that went unsold. I'll keep checking back to see if they keep putting new seats up, or if it's only a one-time bonanza. Anyway, here's a sample of what I saw when I looked for FIVE first class saver seats:
My screen shot got cut off, but basically - I searched 11/12/16 +/- 3 days and saw at least one seat available every day, and up to 5 seats available most days. That's nuts! Anyway, if you can book travel on short notice and have a good way to get out to New Zealand, this could present a nice opportunity for you to get back home.
Let me know in the comments if you end up taking advantage of this - I'm curious if it's useful. When I found that Hyatt thing, I figured no one would care, and it blew up big time, so I can't really tell in advance.