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.

 

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