American airline United is returning to New Zealand with flights between Auckland and San Francisco as it deepens its partnership with Air New Zealand.

From next July, United will use Dreamliners to fly as often as daily across the Pacific in a deal between the Star Alliance partners that will boost capacity on the route and open the way for cheaper fares.

The deal could also deter American Airlines - from the rival Oneworld alliance and a potential threat to Air New Zealand - from entering the transpacific market.

Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon said his airline would work with United to promote each other's services on the San Francisco route. The airlines have anti-trust immunity to work closely with each other.

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"Some provisions will move it forward to a structure around revenue-sharing and expand it geographically if we want to," Luxon said.

Air New Zealand is building a range of partnerships including with Virgin Australia, which it part owns, Japan's ANA, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Air China and now deepening the 20-year alliance it has with United.

United Airlines is the world's biggest carrier by the number of cities served with 226 US cities and 136 international destinations on its network. It has around 84,000 staff.

"They are a massive organisation and have massive sales and distribution, which is what we are wanting to access," Luxon said.

Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon.
Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon.

United had hubs in San Francisco and Houston, where Air New Zealand would start flying to later this year.

"They've been very supportive of us coming in to Houston and getting them coming out of San Francisco is great because it gives us more connectivity through their network into domestic America."

Luxon said there was still strong and growing demand for flights to and from the United States.

"Our model of building market demand is working exceptionally well and we are finding new richer seams of gold and customers to tap into.

"This is a big way for us to be able to do this."

United will begin operating a three times weekly 787-8 service between San Francisco and Auckland from July, moving to daily services with a larger 787-9 aircraft from November 2016.

United pulled out of flying to New Zealand in 2003 after it was forced into what was then the airline industry's biggest bankruptcy.

Air New Zealand operates a daily service from Auckland to San Francisco, 18 return services per week from Auckland to Los Angeles, four services per week to Vancouver and four services per week to Honolulu, Hawaii.

From December 15 the airline will also commence direct services from Auckland to Houston five times per week.