The best ways to get to Tahiti using points and miles
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Editor’s note: As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. We will be here to help you prepare, whether it is next month or next year. This post makes reference to a number of routes that are currently suspended but are expected to resume once the pandemic subsides.
Countries, states and cities around the world are currently weighing the economic impact of an extended shutdown against the risk of a resurgence in coronavirus cases if they reopen too soon. This decision is especially complicated for small nations that rely heavily on tourism, including French Polynesia. The country has handled the current pandemic incredibly well, having implemented a mandatory 14-day quarantine for arriving passengers back in March. No new cases have been reported since May 29, 2020.
Given this incredible progress, French Polynesia will be opening to tourists on July 15, 2020. Be sure to check out TPG’s guide for all the health and documentation requirements you’ll need before your visit. For now, let’s take a look at the best ways to get to Tahiti on points and miles.
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 U.S.-based travelers to consider; many of them are even operated by Boeing’s modern and comfortable 787 aircraft. Whether you’re staying in Tahiti 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).
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. Note that some of these routes are suspended or operating at reduced frequencies due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and associated travel restrictions.
- Air Tahiti Nui flies one or two daily flights between Los Angeles (LAX) and Tahiti using 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). This route will be resuming on Aug. 4.
- United Airlines flies a 787 nonstop between San Francisco (SFO) and Tahiti 3x weekly. This route will also resume on Aug. 4.
- 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 nonstop between SFO and PPT 2-3 times a week. While there’s no way to redeem miles with this airline (except for using Venture miles or Pay With Points on a card like the American Express® Business Gold Card), it does offer some pretty reasonable fares, including round-trip tickets for less than $600.
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 redeeming miles relatively easy. The first is with American Airlines, which charges 40,000 AAdvantage miles each way in economy, 65,000 miles in premium 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 dates you need.
Given how exclusive and expensive of a destination Tahiti is, these award rates are very reasonable. If you’re short on AAdvantage miles, there are plenty of great cards you can use to top up your account, including the following offers:
- CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®: Earn 65,000 miles after spending $4,000 in purchases in the first 4 months of account opening.
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 miles after spending $2,500 in purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.
The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card and CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
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. The good news is these flights are also operated by Air Tahiti Nui’s beautiful new 787-9’s after the carrier retired the last of its aging A340s last year.
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 Aug. 6, which AA shows as having availability in the screenshot above, Flying Blue gives me an error message that says no flights are available. You may have better luck calling Flying Blue and seeing if an agent can manually book the award.
Air France/KLM Flying Blue
Speaking of Flying Blue, the only award availability the program will currently show you between the U.S. and Tahiti is for Air France’s own nonstop flight from Los Angeles. Here we see the absurdity of variable pricing. On different dates in August, one-way economy awards ranged from 25,500 miles on the low end…
Up to a whopping 107,000 miles for an economy award on a different date.
During my many searches, here were the lowest one-way 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
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’ll have lots of options for acquiring miles, since Flying Blue partners with American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards. This means you can transfer points earned on popular cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or The Platinum Card® from American Express to book your trip.
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. 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 class is not 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 several different popular Star Alliance loyalty programs through which to book: United’s own MileagePlus program, Air Canada’s Aeroplan program, and Singapore KrisFlyer. Because United now uses dynamic award pricing for its own flights, the cost can vary day-to-day, though there’s plenty of low-level economy award space available for just 35,000 miles each way.
Meanwhile, the table below shows the one-way award costs in both economy and business class for Star Alliance partners.
|Class of Service||Aeroplan||Singapore KrisFlyer|
|Economy||45,000 miles||60,000 miles|
|Business||80,000 miles||130,000 miles|
United MileagePlus miles are easy to earn as they transfer at a 1:1 ratio from Chase Ultimate Rewards. Meanwhile, Singapore KrisFlyer miles are among the easiest to earn because Singapore partners with all five major transferable points currencies: Chase, Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou, Capital One Venture and Marriott Bonvoy. Aeroplan partners with Amex, Capital One and Marriott, giving you plenty of transfer options.
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. HawaiianMiles is a 1:1 transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards and a 3:1 transfer partner of Marriott Rewards (you’ll earn a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points you transfer). Here are the one-way award rates 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 through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal at 1.5 cents each, while The Business Platinum Card® from American Express‘s 35% rebate on bookings through amextravel.com gets you 1.54 cents per point. 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 United miles. Booking through American Express with the Business Platinum card would require 61,900 points. 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 options have improved in recent years. It’s nice to see two of the three major airlines offering options to redeem your miles between the U.S. and Tahiti; the carriers are even servicing the route on modern 787s and making some award space available. If Flying Blue can improve its online booking tool, that would really sweeten the deal. For now, your best options are to use AAdvantage or United miles miles for your next trip to French Polynesia.
Featured photo by TriggerPhoto/Getty Images.
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