Category Archives: Air Tahiti Nui

Anatomy of an Award: Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia with SkyMiles

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I asked longtime award booker and occasional blog contributor JB to write about a very interesting Delta award he just booked.

A lot of people think Delta miles are worthless, but there are no other miles that could book a single convenient award with long stops in Tahiti and Sydney plus an overnight in Auckland.

A client contacted the MileValue Award Booking Service requesting a slightly modified version a MileValue classic: Tahiti, New Zealand & Australia on One Trip Using Delta Skymiles.

delta award ATL-SYD map

She had tried another award booking service that failed to convince Delta to book the award. Despite this ominous sign, I took it on.

Her routing is all one award. It is properly viewed as a round trip to Sydney (SYD) with a stopover in Papeete (PPT). There is an overnight in Auckland (AKL), but the time between flights is less than 24 hours, and on an international award ticket, that is a “layover” not a “stopover.” That means we are following the rule that you get one stopover plus one destination on a Delta award.

I’m sure you educated readers already know that. But, guess who didn’t. That’s right… the Delta agent.

  • How did I search for award space?
  • How did I out-maneuver the agent to get the award ticketed?
  • What is the go-to lie Delta agents are telling to try to shut down your award and how you do you beat it?

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Anatomy of an Award: Tahiti, New Zealand & Australia on One Trip Using Delta Skymiles

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Update 11/6/14: Here is an Anatomy of an Award post in which we book the theoretical award below for an actual client!

Two of the most frequent destination requests we receive at our Award Booking Service are Bora Bora and Australia/New Zealand. These are the aspirational trips that families want to take after diligently saving their frequent flyer miles. Luckily, both trips can be accomplished in a single award. Even better–Delta SkyMiles are the mileage currency to use. We recently had a couple with a sizable SkyMiles balance who wanted to visit both places. It wasn’t easy, but we were able to put the award together for them.

SkyMiles have received a terrible reputation for their redemption potential, and rightly so. The award search tool is a broken mess that doesn’t even display proper availability. Scott wrote about this in his post, A Major Problem with Delta.com and The Only Solution. The itineraries you are presented often have ludicrous domestic layovers. The mileage costs are astronomical.

Even with all of this deserved bad press, you can still book that dream Tahiti/New Zealand vacation using SkyMiles.

Delta charges 100k/150k miles per person for an economy/business roundtrip award ticket from North America to the South Pacific. You aren’t able to redeem SkyMiles for international first class awards.

Delta charges the same 100k/150k in economy/business roundtrip for travel from North America to Australia and New Zealand. All of these locations are lumped into the same Southwest Pacific region and priced the same by Delta. That’s not a sweet spot, but it does potentially allow us to include both on a single award and not be punished for it with higher mileage costs.

As Scott detailed in his post, Master Thread: Free Oneways on Delta Awards, Delta allows both a stopover and an open jaw on their award tickets. This dream trip won’t have a free oneway because we will need both the stopover and open jaw to construct the itinerary.

Luckily, the couple in question’s home airport was LAX. Both Air France and Air Tahiti Nui partner with Delta and fly nonstops from LAX to Papeete, Tahiti (airport code: PPT), the primary jumping off point to Bora Bora. To find business class availability, we searched Expert Flyer. For more information, check out Scott’s post, Free First Class Next Month: Using Expert Flyer to Redeem Delta Miles.

This couple wanted business class availability, so we avoided searching Air France’s flights. Why? Air France has excellent economy space on this route, but I’ve never seen more than one business award seat to PPT. As suspected, our search didn’t find two business class seats on the same flight.

With Air France out of the equation, it was time to search Air Tahiti Nui. Luckily, we found two business class seats on the same flight. I highlighted the space in red, so you can see what to look for in your searches.

The drawback to using SkyNiles on Air Tahiti Nui awards is the fuel charges Delta imposes. They aren’t as bad as flying to London on British Airways, but it’s still not pleasant! Expect to pay around $250/person for flying to Papeete oneway. Scott wrote about this extensively in his comprehensive post, Getting to Tahiti with Delta Miles.

Below is a map of our trip as presently constructed:

As mentioned above, Delta allows a stopover on their award tickets. In this Anatomy of an Award, PPT is your stopover city. Spend a week (or more) lounging in an overwater bungalow–it’s up to you. You will just need to connect to Air Tahiti Nui’s thrice-weekly service to Auckland, New Zealand. They fly this route every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday.

Business class space isn’t available every PPT-AKL flight, but you can usually find two seats if you plan far enough in advance. As luck would have it, we found two seats on the day our client wanted.

The trip now extends to New Zealand as you can see below. The green leg is the one we just included.

That’s a great outbound itinerary, but what about the inbound? We already used our stopover in PPT, but we can still utilize our open jaw. The inbound itinerary doesn’t have to originate in Auckland, it can start anywhere in New Zealand or Australia provided there is award space to connect you back to the United States.

Delta doesn’t fly anywhere intra-Oceania, and their premium availability on their Sydney -> Los Angeles nonstop is ridiculously scarce. We will need to use Delta’s partner, Virgin Australia to get our clients home.

Scott’s already written up how great Virgin Australia’s award space is relative to its peers in his post Sydney Harbor for New Year Fireworks.

Virgin Australia flies nonstop to Los Angeles from Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. Their premium cabin availability is fantastic, even during peak travel times like Christmas and New Years. You just have to search day by day for award seats because the Delta award calendar doesn’t display dates with Virgin Australia space.

Virgin Australia flies from these airports to LAX.

I plugged in Brisbane -> Los Angeles in late February and found the exact flight I wanted: Virgin Australia’s nonstop priced at the low mileage level.

The full trip is mapped below with the final leg in green.

Los Angeles to Tahiti //Stopover// Tahiti to Auckland (destination) //Open Jaw// Brisbane to Los Angeles

How do I connect from Auckland to Brisbane?

Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia, Qantas, Air China, and Emirates all fly the route. You can get on any of these airlines with miles or cash. Scott flew from New Zealand to Australia in Emirates first class. That looks like the most fun way to go.

I just checked Kayak and see multiple AKL-BNE flights on Virgin Australia. Why can’t I book any of those?

Three of the four nonstops you see are codeshares with Air New Zealand, which isn’t a SkyTeam partner. You can’t use SkyMiles to book those flights because they are actually operated by Air New Zealand.

What if that single Virgin Australia flight is sold out of award space?

I would use United miles to book a cheap oneway on Star Alliance partner Air New Zealand (for 17,500 miles in economy) or American Airlines miles to book with oneworld partner Qantas for a mere 10,000 miles in economy.

Don’t forget about British Airways Avios, either. You can use them to book Qantas flights as well, though they sometimes don’t display Qantas space properly.

If all else fails, you can purchase a cash ticket, as this route is relatively inexpensive when booked far enough in advance.

I want to use my open jaw and fly out of Sydney or Melbourne instead of Brisbane. Is that possible?

Yes! Finding award availability between AKL-SYD should be even easier using American or United miles. Virgin Australia only operates codeshares with Air New Zealand on this route, unfortunately.

Note that I’ve found it much easier to find award space on the Virgin Australia nonstops between Sydney/Brisbane -> Los Angeles than from Melbourne -> Los Angeles.

How much are the total taxes and fees on an award like this?

The award we priced for our client had total fees of approximately $364 per person, the majority of which came from the fuel surcharges on the LAX-PPT and PPT-AKL legs.

How do I book this award?

Though you can search for Virgin Australia space online, you need to call Delta directly to book this award. Calling is the only way to book Air Tahiti Nui space.

I’ve heard horror stories about Delta agents. How do I ensure my call to book goes smoothly?

You need to write down the flight numbers, dates, and times of all the flights you want and feed them to the agent. If they are still confused (some don’t even know that Air Tahiti Nui is a Delta partner), tell them to look for business class award space in the “I” fare bucket. That usually does the trick.

If you are still experiencing trouble, politely hang up and call back to get a more competent agent.

This is a great itinerary! Can my family of four travel in business class on a similar itinerary?

Highly unlikely. I’ve never seen more than two business class award seats on the LAX-PPT or PPT-AKL legs on Air Tahiti Nui. Air France is even stingier with business class seats on their own LAX-PPT flights. This award is best flown by couples.

What if I don’t live in Los Angeles? Can I still book this award?

Delta is the worst of the legacy carriers in releasing low level domestic award space: economy or business. If you live elsewhere in the country (e.g. St. Louis), you may not be able to find low-miles-price award space to get to Los Angeles. In that case, you would have to purchase a separate ticket on another carrier to connect to Los Angeles.

Just make sure to leave yourself PLENTY of time before the LAX-PPT flight (at least four hours, more if you can swing it), as Delta is under no obligation to accommodate you if you miss the beginning of your award itinerary because your connecting flight was delayed or cancelled.

Recap

Delta SkyMiles are tough to redeem, but you can spend 150k per person and book an award ticket that includes stops in Papeete, Tahiti; Auckland, New Zealand; and Australia. These two locations are two of the toughest spots to find premium award space, and you can include both on the same itinerary with SkyMiles, an incredible deal.

This award is primarily for couples. I’ve never seen more than two business class seats on the two Air Tahiti Nui legs above.

If you don’t live in Los Angeles, you may need to buy a ticket to connect there. Delta is tightfisted with their low-level domestic award space, and you don’t want to miss out booking a dream vacation because you couldn’t link your home city to Los Angeles to start.

 

Getting to Tahiti with Delta Miles

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See last week’s post on getting to French Polynesia with American miles.

This post will be about getting to French Polynesia–Tahiti, Bora Bora, and more–with Delta SkyMiles. This is an award I get asked to book frequently through my Award Booking Service, and I wanted to share some free tips.

French Polynesia is a French-speaking “overseas country” controlled by France. It is south of Hawaii and east of Australia. The main tourist spots are Tahiti, Bora Bora, and Mo’orea. People go to French Polynesia for the absolutely stunning beach-and-island landscape. File:Bora-Bora.png

French Polynesia has only one international airport, F’a’a’a Airport serving Pape’ete, Tahiti, airport code PPT. Other islands have airports with flights within the islands, but to get to French Polynesia, you must fly to Tahiti. Here’s a complete list of flights to and from PPT, according to wikipedia:

I’ve highlighted the best options for most of my readers, and I’ll go through the easiest ways to get to Tahiti with the types of miles you are likely to have.

Delta SkyMiles

Delta SkyMiles are the second best way to get to Tahiti behind American Arilines miles. Delta considers Tahiti to be a part of the Southwest Pacific, so it charges 100k/150k miles roundtrip for economy/business. SkyMiles can never be redeemed for three-cabin first class.

I’ve boxed the each way cost of a SkyMiles ticket in economy and business, assuming you book a roundtrip. Partner awards always price at the low-level (boxed) prices, so you can ignore the other prices.

Air Tahiti Nui

One way to get to Tahiti with SkyMiles is on non-SkyTeam partner Air Tahiti Nui, French Polynesia’s international carrier.

The humungous drawback with Delta SkyMiles redemptions for Air Tahiti Nui flights is the nasty fuel surcharge! Los Angeles to Pape’ete roundtrip costs in business class costs 150k SkyMiles and $522. On American, for the exact same flights, it costs almost $400 less out of pocket, meaning Delta is collecting a $400 roundtrip fuel surcharge.

But if you are willing to pay the surcharge, you can search for Air Tahiti Nui space for free by calling Delta at 800-323-2323. I do my research before calling on Expert Flyer. See Free First Class Next Month: Using expertflyer.com.

On Expert Flyer, search for LAX-PPT and PPT-LAX, using delta.com to search for your domestic segments. The fare classes to check are I and W for business and economy. If you check A, you can see first class space. But you can’t book first class space with Delta miles, so why torture yourself?

Your results will be returned in the normal way that Expert Flyer returns them.

This result means that TN 1 has one award seat in coach and none in business. TN 7, departing half an hour later, has one business class seat.

The pattern I see is that when the award calendar opens up 330 days out, most flights have 1/2/4 seats or 1/1/6 seats in first/business/economy on Expert Flyer. Those are picked over, and not replaced. I have never seen more two business class seats, or seven economy class seats on a flight.

When booking 11 months in advance, you can pretty much have any flight you want. The more time you wait, the more space deteriorates. By a few months out, there will be some seats left on some flights, but most business class will have been taken, never to reappear again.

So far I’ve been talking about LAX-PPT, but I see the exact same patterns of availability PPT-LAX.

Air Tahiti Nui operates afternoon flights and redeyes from LAX to Tahiti. Returns to the US are all redeyes. All flights are operated by Airbus A340s configured with standard economy seats, recliner business seats, and angled lie flat seats in first class.

I haven’t flown the product, but frankly it doesn’t impress me. I’m not sure whether I would pay the 50k mile premium for business class over economy roundtrip. Air Tahiti Nui’s business class is an underwhelming recliner, but it does have 15″ more legroom than domestic first class and 22″ more than Air Tahiti Nui economy class. And 50k Delta miles isn’t 50k American miles, it is much less valuable!

Air France

Delta’s partner Air France also flies from Los Angeles to Pape’ete, Tahiti. Air France award space does display on delta.com, but searching on delta.com is a pain because you can’t pull up the calendar view.

Because of that, I search on Expert Flyer. Fill out the form like I have, changing the dates to your preferred dates. O and X are the correct fare codes for business and economy class.

I tend to see good economy availability and bad business availability. When I do find flights with availability, the flight tends to have nine economy seats or one business seat. And I don’t know many people headed to Tahiti alone.

 

 

 

 

The 777-200 and A340-300 that Air France uses to operate the flights to Tahiti both feature standard economy seats and angled lie flat business class seats.

777-200

A340-300

Once you find the award space on Expert Flyer, head to delta.com to input your flights. The award space you found should be the only search result. A roundtrip economy ticket from Los Angeles to Tahiti costs 100k SkyMiles and $52.90 in government taxes.

For economy class tickets with SkyMiles, Air France makes way more sense than Air Tahiti Nui since the lack of surcharges saves more than $400 per person.

Getting to Los Angeles

To get to Tahiti with Delta miles you have to route through Los Angeles. To keep your award at 100k/150k in economy/business, you need to find low level award space domestically. This can be a major challenge with Delta miles even though you can use Delta metal and Alaska domestic award space–both searchable on delta.com. Here are a list of direct AA and Alaska flights to/from LAX, though you don’t need to route to LAX on a direct flight:

One tip is that you can use domestic economy space on business class awards. There may be economy space available on your domestic flight, but not business space. In that case, if you can handle a slightly smaller seat for a few hours, you can save a boat load of miles or dollars.

If you can’t find any domestic award space, you may have to book a separate award or cash ticket to Los Angeles. This is not only costly, but annoying because you have to worry about a misconnect spanning two separate tickets.

It is this major drawback–the difficulty in getting to Los Angeles–combined with Delta’s surcharges on Air Tahiti Nui awards that leads me to say that American Airlines miles are the best way to get to French Polynesia.

Free Stopovers and Free Oneways

Standard Delta award rules apply to awards to Tahiti. On Delta awards, you can get one stopover and one open jaw. If you save both of those, and routing permits, you can use the two in combination to get a free oneway. See Free Oneways on Delta Awards.

Or you can use the stopover to stop for free en route, possibly making it easier to find domestic award space.

Getting to Bora Bora, Moorea, and other islands

Air Tahiti–not Air Tahiti Nui, the AA partner–runs regular flights to other islands that you can purchase with cash. Or you can take a ferry to some islands.

Recap

Delta SkyMiles can be used to get to Tahiti, and from there, you can connect throughout French Polynesia. Roundtrip awards costs 100k miles in economy class and 150k miles in business class on either Air France or Air Tahiti Nui.

Air France has good availability in economy class, and there will be no surcharges, meaning a low out-of-pocket cost. Air Tahiti Nui has good business class space, but bad business class seats, and a $400 surcharge per person.

Both fly from Los Angeles to Pape’ete, Tahiti. Getting to Los Angeles on the same award with Delta miles can be quite difficult.

Getting to Tahiti with American Airlines Miles

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Look for a post tomorrow on getting to French Polynesia with Delta miles, Hawaiian miles, and AMEX Membership Rewards.

This post will be about getting to French Polynesia–Tahiti, Bora Bora, and more–with frequent flier miles. This is an award I get asked to book frequently through my Award Booking Service, and I wanted to share some free tips.

French Polynesia is a French-speaking “overseas country” controlled by France. It is south of Hawaii and east of Australia. The main tourist spots are Tahiti, Bora Bora, and Mo’orea. People go to French Polynesia for the absolutely stunning beach-and-island landscape. I’ve never been, but the pictures make me jealous.

File:Bora-Bora.png

French Polynesia has only one international airport, F’a’a’a Airport serving Pape’ete, Tahiti, airport code PPT. Other islands have airports with flights within the islands, but to get to French Polynesia, you must fly to Tahiti. Here’s a complete list of flights to and from PPT, according to wikipedia:

I’ve highlighted the best options for most of my readers, and I’ll go through the easiest ways to get to Tahiti with the types of miles you are likely to have.

American Airlines Miles

American Airlines miles are the best way to get to Tahiti and the rest of French Polynesia from the United States. American considers Tahiti to be a part of the South Pacific, so it charges 37.5k/62.5k/72.5k miles each way for economy/business/first class though there is no way to use American miles to get to Tahiti in three-cabin first class. American doesn’t charge surcharges on either of its two partners that fly to Tahiti–Air Tahiti Nui and Hawaiian.

Air Tahiti Nui

One way to get to Tahiti with American miles is on non-oneworld partner Air Tahiti Nui, French Polynesia’s international carrier. For getting to French Polynesia, Air Tahiti Nui’s only route of interest to us is Los Angeles to Tahiti. Air Tahiti Nui also flies to/from Tokyo, but you can’t route to the South Pacific via Asia on one AA award. See The Five Cardinal Rules of American Airlines Awards.

You can search for Air Tahiti Nui space for free by calling American at 800-882-8880. I do my research before calling on Expert Flyer. See Free First Class Next Month: Using expertflyer.com.

On Expert Flyer, search for LAX-PPT and PPT-LAX, using aa.com to search for your domestic segments. The fare classes to check are I and W for business and economy. If you check A, you can see first class space. Unfortunately Air Tahiti Nui doesn’t release first class space to AA, or AA blocks the space, so adding class A to the search is not necessary.

Your results will be returned in the normal way that Expert Flyer returns them.

This result means that TN 1 has one award seat in coach and none in business. TN 7, departing half an hour later, has one business class seat.

The pattern I see is that when the award calendar opens up 330 days out, most flights have 1/2/4 seats or 1/1/6 seats in first/business/economy on Expert Flyer. Those are picked over, and not replaced. I have never seen more two business class seats, or seven economy class seats on a flight.

When booking 11 months in advance, you can pretty much have any flight you want. The more time you wait, the more space deteriorates. By a few months out, there will be some seats left on some flights, but most business class will have been taken, never to reappear again.

So far I’ve been talking about LAX-PPT, but I see the exact same patterns of availability PPT-LAX.

Two months out: no business class space left

Air Tahiti Nui operates afternoon flights and redeyes from LAX to Tahiti. Returns to the US are all redeyes. All flights are operated by Airbus A340s configured with standard economy seats, recliner business seats, and angled lie flat seats in first class.

I haven’t flown the product, but frankly it doesn’t impress me. I would pay the extra 10k mile premium for first class over business class because I hardly consider a recliner seat to be a premium experience–unfortunately first class is not available to AAdvantage members. I would not pay the 25k premium per direction for a recliner business seat over a recliner economy seat. I value AA miles too highly.

Getting to Los Angeles

To get to Tahiti with AA miles you have to route through Los Angeles. Luckily it’s not tough to get to LAX with AA miles. I find AA to have incredible domestic availability, and you can also use Alaska domestic award space. Both AA and Alaska space are searchable on aa.com. Here are a list of direct AA and Alaska flights to/from LAX, though you don’t need to route to LAX on a direct flight:

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian operates a six-hour flight to Tahiti once a week from Honolulu on a two-cabin 767.

“First class,” which AA will price at the business class price of 62.5k miles each way, is a recliner seat with 42″ of pitch. For perspective, that 4″ more leg room than domestic first class. I would not pay the premium to fly business class over economy class on this flight.

Hawaiian Flight 481 flies HNL-PPT 4:35 PM – 10:30 PM on Saturdays

Hawaiian Flight 482 flies PPT-HNL 12:30 AM – 6:15 AM on Sundays

This flight can be booked with AA miles on aa.com.

Searching for two award seats–I’ve only ever booked two for Tahiti–I found no business class availability on the Hawaiian flight, but economy class space about 2/3 of available Saturdays.

Getting to Hawaii

American, Alaska, and Hawaiian all have great space to Hawaii. They are also all bookable with AA miles and on aa.com.

Free Stopovers in Honolulu or Los Angeles

You can get a free stopover each direction on international AA awards at your international gateway city. In this case, that would be Honolulu if flying Hawaiian and Los Angeles if flying Air Tahiti Nui. Los Angeles and Honolulu are certainly attractive cities for a few days. See How to Book Free Stopovers Online: American Airlines for more information on the topic. It should be a snap.

Keep in mind that you can mix-and-match carriers and cabins. For instance you could fly to Tahiti on Hawaiian in economy with a free stopover in Honolulu. You could return on Air Tahiti Nui in business class with a free stopover in LA. This would cost 100k AA miles total, 37.5k + 62.5k.

What about AA’s “published fare” rule?

Expert readers know that for an AA award to be valid, there must be a published fare from your origin to your destination on the overwater carrier. There is no analogous rule when using other types of miles.

I have had trouble with this rule when routing to Tahiti. A business class roundtrip from Raleigh, North Carolina (RDU) to Tahiti was priced at 175k miles by the AA computer. The explanation was that there was no published fare from RDU-PPT on Air Tahiti Nui. This is not true. I count three.

A supervisor, confronted with this fact, told me that these fares require flying US Airways or Delta on the domestic legs. I don’t believe that to be true, but either way, I’ve never heard or read that as a disqualifier for a paid fare. My email to American on this subject has gone unanswered since I sent it weeks ago.

The bottom line is that we had to buy a cash ticket for a domestic positioning flight.

Taxes and Fees

American doesn’t charge surcharges on Air Tahiti Nui or Hawaiian flights. A recent San Diego to Tahiti roundtrip award I booked in Air Tahiti Nui business class had $57 in taxes per person and a $25 phone-ticketing fee per person for $82 total.

Honolulu to Tahiti on Hawaiian in economy class would incur $53 in taxes with no ticketing fee if booked online.

Getting to Bora Bora, Moorea, and other islands

Air Tahiti–not Air Tahiti Nui, the AA partner–runs regular flights to other islands that you can purchase with cash. Or you can take a ferry to some islands.

Recap

American Airlines miles are the best currency to get to French Polynesia. AA partners, Air Tahiti Nui (Los Angeles) and Hawaiian (Honolulu), both fly to Tahiti, where easy connections to the other islands are possible.

American Airlines doesn’t charge surcharges on either partner, so total cash outlay should be under $100 per person to get to Tahiti. Stopovers are possible in Los Angeles or Honolulu, and free oneways are possible if you live in one of those cities.

This post was edited to reflect a comment by Gary Leff that AA miles can’t be used for Air Tahiti Nui first. I have confirmed that with American.