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Winter is rapidly approaching for many parts of the country, but if you’ve been carefully building your credit card and points strategy, there’s nothing stopping you from a tropical beach vacation to escape the impending cold weather. While there’s still a surprising amount of Marriott award availability in the Maldives over the winter months, many people aren’t willing to travel quite that far for just a few days. If you’re looking for a happy medium between the relatively accessible beaches in Hawaii and the Caribbean and the remote paradise of the Maldives, Tahiti can be a happy middle ground.
While it’s still an eight and a half hour flight from the west coast to Tahiti, there are now more options than ever for US-based travelers to consider; many of them are even operated by Boeing’s modern and comfortable 787 aircraft. Whether you’re staying on Tahiti itself or a nearby island like Bora Bora or Mo’orea, you’ll need to fly into the nation’s main airport: Faa’a International Airport (PPT). Today we’ll take a look at the best ways to get to Tahiti using points and miles.
Airlines That Fly to Tahiti
Of the 10 or so airlines that serve PPT, there are only a few that are useful for American travelers to consider:
- Air Tahiti Nui flies daily between Los Angeles (LAX) and Tahiti, alternating between an older A340 and a brand new 787. This flight also continues on to Paris (CDG) as part of its fifth freedom route.
- Air France flies a 777 nonstop between Los Angeles and Tahiti 3x weekly, also as part of its fifth-freedom route from Paris (CDG).
- United Airlines flies a 787 nonstop between San Francisco (SFO) and Tahiti 3x weekly.
- Hawaiian Airlines flies an A330 1-2x weekly between Honolulu (HNL) and Tahiti depending on the season.
Low cost carrier French Bee also flies an A350 non-stop between SFO and PPT 2-3x a week. While there’s no way to redeem miles with this airline (except for using a pay with points feature on a card like The Business Platinum® Card from American Express), it does offer some pretty reasonable fares, including round trip tickets for less than $700:
If you’re interested in building some more creative itineraries, you could also route through Santiago (SCL) on LATAM or Tokyo-Narita (NRT) on Air Tahiti Nui.
Air Tahiti Nui
Air Tahiti Nui is not a member of one of the three major airline alliances, but it does have two individual partnerships that should make booking relatively easy. The first is with American Airlines, which charges 40,000 AAdvantage miles each way in economy, and 80,000 in business class. You can search and book these awards directly on AA.com. Economy award space is sporadic but available if you’re flexible (although rarely for more than one passenger):
Business class award space is much rarer, with only a few days out of the entire schedule showing availability. Thankfully the taxes and fees on these tickets will be minimal, topping out at around $50 no matter which direction you’re flying. Air Tahiti Nui also makes award space available through ExpertFlyer, so that’s another avenue for finding seats on the date(s) you need.
If you’re looking to burn your AA miles and work in another stop on your vacation, there’s an incredible sweet spot you can take advantage of to get to Tahiti. Flights from Tokyo only require 30,000 miles in economy and 40,000 miles in business class. Just keep an eye on the aircraft operating your flight; while Air Tahiti Nui’s new 787-9’s look beautiful, the A340s that sometimes fly to Los Angeles are certainly showing their age.
In theory it should now be possible to book Air Tahiti Nui awards through the joint Air France/KLM Flying Blue program as well. Unfortunately, this program recently underwent a major overhaul — not only did it switch from a fixed award chart to variable “dynamic” pricing. The tech changes that were implemented also left the website incredibly glitchy.
When Flying Blue first announced the partnership with Air Tahiti Nui, TPG Senior Strategist Darren Murph was able to price out business class awards starting at 73,500 miles and economy awards starting at 25,500 miles. However, the Flying Blue website is no longer consistently showing Air Tahiti Nui availability. When I search for flights from LAX to PPT on April 3rd, which AA shows as having availability (the last date in the screenshot above), Flying Blue gives me this error message:
Hopefully this is a temporary glitch and full functionality will be restored soon.
Air France/KLM Flying Blue
Speaking of Flying Blue, the only award availability the program will currently show you between the US and Tahiti is for Air France’s own nonstop flight from Los Angeles. Here we see the absurdity of variable pricing. While premium economy and business class awards are outrageously expensive (yes, that’s 343,000 miles for a one-way flight), economy prices can sometimes be reasonable:
And sometimes it’s the exact opposite:
During my many searches, here were the lowest-priced flights I found across the three cabins:
- Economy: 25,500 miles + $63.10
- Premium economy: 51,000 miles + $63.10
- Business: 64,000 miles + $112.40
However, the dates with low-level pricing in premium economy and business class were few and far between, so you should truly consider Flying Blue as a backup plan (if anything) and comparison shop multiple dates before pulling the trigger. If you do decide to book through the program, you have many options, as Flying Blue partners with American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards.
NOTE: In theory, you should be able to use Delta SkyMiles to book Air France flights at the saver level. However, I wasn’t able to get Delta.com to price out any of the dates with low-level pricing through Flying Blue.
United’s thrice weekly flights between San Francisco and Tahiti are a nice alternative for Star Alliance travelers looking to experience French Polynesia, and the carrier recently announced that the service will now operate year-round. The 787s that fly the route feature a 2-2-2 business class configuration. These seats are a huge step below the new Polaris design but hardly the worst in United’s fleet.
Depending on when you plan on traveling, award space in economy is not all that hard to find. Saver level business class awards, meanwhile, are nearly impossible. If you’re getting tired of searching for them day by day, you can always use ExpertFlyer to set an alert in case a seat opens up.
Once you find the award space you need, you have your pick of three popular Star Alliance loyalty programs through which to book: United’s own MileagePlus program, Air Canada’s (spun-off) Aeroplan program, and Singapore’s KrisFlyer program. The table below shows the one-way award costs in both economy and business class.
|Class of Service||United MileagePlus||Aeroplan||Singapore KrisFlyer|
|Economy||35,000 miles||45,000 miles||60,000 miles|
|Business||70,000 miles||80,000 miles||117,000 miles|
Whether you’re lucky enough to live in Hawaii or are simply trying to combine two different beach destinations on your vacation, it is possible to fly non-stop from Honolulu (HNL) to Tahiti on Hawaiian airlines. At just under six hours, this flight is much more manageable than the eight and a half from the west coast and can be a great way to break up your journey. Hawaiian Airlines is a 1:1 transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, and a 3:1 transfer partner of Marriott Rewards (plus you’ll earn a 5,000 mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points you transfer). Here are the one way award costs on Hawaiian Airlines:
- Economy: 27,500-42,500 miles (super saver vs. saver)
- First: 47,500 miles
Pay With Points
Depending on what type of points you’ve accumulated, you might find that none of the options here work well for you. Don’t give up hope yet, as there’s one last thing to consider. Certain cards allow you to redeem your points directly for travel, so if you find affordable cash fares, that may be a better option (especially given the somewhat minimal award availability). For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve allows you to use your points for flights at a rate of 1.5 cents apiece through the issuer’s travel portal, while the 35% rebate on the Amex Business Platinum equates to using Membership Rewards points to book at a rate of 1.54 cents apiece. If you use either of those cards on an inexpensive ticket, it might be a better deal than transferring your points to a partner airline to book.
Take this $619 round-trip economy ticket with United. If you have the Sapphire Reserve, you could book this ticket for ~41,200 Ultimate Rewards points instead of 70,000 or more if you transferred to United. Booking through American Express with the Business Platinum card would require 61,900 points but then you’d receive a rebate of 21,665 points, bringing your total redemption cost to just 40,235 points.
And to sweeten the deal, you’d actually earn redeemable miles (and Premier-Qualifying Miles/Dollars) on this flight as well!
Tahiti may remain a niche leisure destination with limited flight options and heavy competition for award space for years to come, but the alternatives have improved in recent years. It’s nice to see two of the three major airlines offering options to redeem your points and miles between the US and Tahiti; the carriers are even servicing the route on on modern 787s and making some award space available. If Flying Blue can get its act together, that would really sweeten the deal, but for now your best options are to use AA or Star Alliance miles for your next trip to French Polynesia.
Know before you go.
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