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.
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:
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.