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It’s been my wife Katie‘s dream since childhood to visit French Polynesia. Although we’ve traveled the world extensively over the past few years, we’ve still yet to take the opportunity to head down to the South Pacific. But, with IHG capping the free anniversary nights earned after May 1, 2019 through the IHG Rewards Club Select Card, we’re making this dream a reality by flying to French Polynesia to use our free IHG nights at a couple of awesome properties there.
We figured that the hardest part of booking our trip would be that the flights would either cost too much to buy outright, or we’d have trouble finding award availability. Turns out, the flights ended up being pretty cheap and fairly easy to get using American AAdvantage miles. Yes, AAdvantage miles.
Air Tahiti Nui has three long-haul routes to Tahiti that can be booked with AAdvantage miles:
1. Los Angeles (LAX) to Faa’a International Airport, Tahiti (PPT): This is going to be the most relevant flight for US-based readers. But that also means that it’s the most expensive of the three to book with AAdvantage miles.
- Cost: 40,000 miles one-way in economy, 80,000 miles one-way in business
- Flight schedule: 1-2x daily
- Aircraft: Airbus A340 only until November 7, when a Boeing 787-9 will start operating 3x weekly flights, increasing to 4x weekly in February 2019
2. Tokyo’s Narita (NRT) to Faa’a International Airport, Tahiti (PPT): There’s an incredible sweet spot here on the 11 to 13-hour flight between Japan (Asia Region 1) and Tahiti (South Pacific), costing as little as 3,000 award miles per hour in business class. You’d only save 10,000 miles by choosing economy, making it an easy decision to splurge for business.
- Cost: 30,000 miles one-way in economy, 40,000 miles one-way in business
- Flight schedule: 2x weekly flights until February 20, 2019, then 3x weekly
- Aircraft: Airbus A340 until February 4, 2019, when this route switches to a Boeing 787-9
3. Auckland (AKL) to Faa’a International Airport, Tahiti (PPT): If you’re interested in making a combined trip to both Tahiti and New Zealand, you can connect between these two South Pacific region destinations for fairly cheap.
- Cost: 15,000 miles one-way in economy, 30,000 miles one-way in business
- Flight schedule: 3x weekly flights
- Aircraft: Airbus A340 until November 7, when this route switches to a Boeing 787-9
Japan-Tahiti Two-in-One Trip
One option for an awesome getaway is combining a trip to Japan with a trip to Tahiti. This routing takes advantage of two high-value spots on the AAdvantage award chart: business class flights between the US and Japan (and Korea) cost 60,000 miles one-way, and business class flights between Japan and Tahiti cost 40,000 miles one-way. Finish the triangle with a one-way business class flight between the US and Tahiti for 80,000 miles one-way.
If you can’t swing the 180,000 mile business class itinerary, the same US-Japan-Tahiti-US trip costs 105,000 miles in the economy cabin. If you want to compromise, you can fly the shortest leg (US-Tahiti) in economy and the rest in business class for 140,000 miles total.
Award availability between the US and Tahiti can be tough to find. However, there’s more availability from the US to Japan, and seemingly plenty of award availability between Japan and Tahiti. So you only need to find one US-Tahiti option in either direction to make this two-destination trip work.
Hong Kong-Japan-Tahiti Three-in-One Trip
I’d be remiss if I didn’t say how we decided to personally book this trip. Currently, we are booked on an Alaska Mileage Plan business class award from Washington, DC (IAD) to Hong Kong (HKG) to Tokyo (NRT) on Cathay Pacific. Thanks to Mileage Plan’s free stopover on a one-way ticket, we’re stopping in Hong Kong for a couple of weeks before continuing on to Tokyo. The total cost of these 20 hours in Cathay Pacific business class: just 50,000 Alaska miles per person.
Then, we’re flying from Tokyo to Tahiti on a business class AAdvantage award costing just 40,000 miles per person. We haven’t booked the final leg back to the US quite yet — we’re waffling between waiting for award availability to open, or just booking a flight on Air France from Tahiti to Los Angeles on Air France (currently just $499 one-way in economy).
But, if you’re looking for an epic business class journey from the US to Hong Kong, Tokyo and Tahiti, here’s a potential game plan:
- US-Hong Kong-Tokyo: 50,000 Alaska miles one-way with a stopover
- Tokyo-Tahiti: 40,000 American Airlines miles one-way
- Tahiti-US: 80,000 American Airlines miles one-way
If you need AAdvantage miles, you’re in luck. The Citi co-branded credit cards have increased sign-up bonuses: 40,000 miles for the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard after $2,000 in spend in the first 3 months and 10,000 bonus miles after spending $6,000 total in the first 12 months; 70,000 miles for the CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard after $4,000 in spend in first 4 months. Even better, these cards now have new bonus categories, making them more competitive for restaurant and gas station purchases.
Meanwhile, the Barclay Aviator Red has a 60,000-mile sign-up bonus after making just one purchase and paying the annual fee within the first 90 days, making it a top choice among credit card bonuses that only require one purchase.
How to Book It
First, you’re going to want to search ExpertFlyer for award availability. Unfortunately, American Airlines’ website doesn’t show Air Tahiti Nui award availability, and AA phone agents seem to need coaching to find it. So, it’s best to go into your AA phone call knowing what award space is actually there.
When you call, make sure to explain that you’ve found award availability on Air Tahiti Nui. If the agent says there’s no availability, you might have to gently remind the agent to search code “F” (like Foxtrot) award availability for business class awards, and “U” (like Uniform) award availability for economy class awards.
When I called to book my flight, the agent incorrectly insisted that “U” was the business class award code, and thus there was no award availability for my date. After finally giving into my request for him to search his resources, he searched for “F” availability and found the business class award space.
Featured image by Air Tahiti Nui.