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Vodafone dumps NZ roaming fees, partners with Qantas

Vodafone is trialling free roaming to NZ for the next year, while international travellers to Australia are being offered duty-free Vodafone-locked smartphones and SIM cards thanks to a deal with Qantas.

Vodafone Hutchison Australia has announced that it will be providing free roaming to New Zealand for the next 12 months, with the telco also teaming up with Australian airline Qantas on frequent flyer points and traveller offerings.

In an effort to attract more customers, the free roaming option will see Vodafone waive its usual AU$5 a day fee for customers to use their normal monthly data, calls, and messages in NZ as part of a "pilot" until February 1, 2017.

According to Vodafone Australia chief marketing officer Loo Fun Chee, the telco will be considering adding other countries to its free roaming list in the coming year.

"That's the whole reason why we're doing this trial for 12 months: To really understand how the customers are actually taking it on and how the customers are using it, and we want to see how the traffic goes," Chee said.

"We'll definitely consider it, but this is really the first pilot for us."

With Vodafone the second most-used mobile network worldwide, it could potentially bring free roaming offerings to all countries in which it owns networks, including the United Kingdom, Germany, South Africa, India, Spain, Czech Republic, Greece, Albania, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, North Cyprus, Portugal, Romania, Turkey, Egypt, Lesotho, Tanzania, Mozambique, DR Congo, Qatar, and Ghana. It also has minority holdings and partner networks in more than 40 other countries.

"We'll keep doing more of that," said Stephen Smyth, Vodafone general manager of consumer products, referring to bringing free roaming to more regions.

Vodafone's Red post-paid plans offer AU$5 a day roaming to 52 countries, which allows customers to use their regular monthly allowances worldwide, and has been offering this to Australian travellers in NZ since 2013.

By comparison, Australia's incumbent telecommunications carrier Telstra in December faced criticism from customers after making the decision to hike its global roaming charges during the Christmas period.

Telstra had announced the decision to triple its excess data charges for many tourist destinations, but after hundreds of customers publicly slammed the decision, Telstra CEO Andrew Penn reversed the decision.

"Good leadership means recognising when it is right to change decisions because it is the right thing for our customers. Price increases are often necessary and I completely understand why the teams that look after our products made the changes they did," Penn said in a blog post.

"But they didn't sit well with me, customers clearly told us the same, so it's my responsibility to act on behalf of our customers."

As a result, Telstra scrapped the previously announced excess data fees -- which were to increase from 3c to 10c per 1MB -- while maintaining the 50 percent increase in data allowances on its Travel Passes to a greater pool of countries.

"Telstra has worked hard at removing the pain point of international roaming charges with the introduction of Travel Passes that make using a mobile overseas more affordable and predictable."

In regards to its partnership with Qantas, Vodafone will provide 15,000 Qantas frequent flyer points to Vodafone customers when they connect, renew, or upgrade their 24-month Red plan.

In what Smyth called an "overarching deep communications alliance", Vodafone's Qantas Red plan will see customers get the usual inclusions, but instead of choosing between a Spotify, Stan, or Fairfax subscription, they can opt to earn Qantas frequent flyer points.

"Vodafone is determined to ensure our plans offer the best value, and the inclusions that matter most to customers," said Vodafone director of Sales Ben McIntosh.

"The opportunity to earn Qantas points, which can be redeemed on travel, shopping, and a host of other exciting offerings, gives consumers another reason to choose Vodafone and rewards our existing customers for their loyalty."

Qantas will also offer prepaid phones and SIMs onboard some international flights flying into Australia through its duty-free in-flight magazine.

The SIM will set travellers back by AU$40, and provides 4GB of data; unlimited calls and messaging to Australian numbers; unlimited free international calls to China, NZ, Singapore, the US, the UK, India, South Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Thailand; and 90 minutes of international calls to other countries.

Travellers can also opt to pay AU$60 extra to add an Android 3G smartphone that's locked in Australia to the Vodafone network, as well as a portable charger, to the SIM offering.

The deal will also see Vodafone provide mobile services to Qantas staff members.

The telco has additionally updated its prepaid plans, now offering 3GB and 8GB of data on AU$30 and AU$40 recharges, respectively, with AU$50 recharges providing a bonus 3GB of data until May 1.

Unlimited international calling to 10 countries is also being offered, as well as the ability to roll over up to 15GB of unused data each month.

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