Getting to French Polynesia Using Miles

Shirley Garcowski asks,

Trying to figure out how to get from Cleveland OH to Moorea and Bora Bora using United (or Star Alliance) miles. Can you help? Thanks

Bora Bora is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I spent part of my honeymoon there a decade ago, at Bora Bora Nui when it was still part of Starwood and before SPG had a redemption category 7.

I stayed there a couple of years after opening, and a couple of years after one of the more interesting mistake rates — they didn’t honor, but wound up having to compensate everyone when they sent the cancellation message to everyone in a single mass email using the cc: rather than bcc: line… violating Starwood’s privacy policy.

Moorea is special as well, especially for the snorkling. And especially when there’s a mistake rate there too.

The problem with getting there using United miles is that no Star Alliance airline flies between the US and French Polynesia. Years ago Air New Zealand used to, but now the only way to get to Moorea or Bora Bora from the US using United miles is to first fly to New Zealand (one of the toughest awards in its own right) and then connect to Air New Zealand’s twice a week service Auckland – Papeete.

Award tickets will only get you to Papeete, Tahiti. From there you’ll need to buy a domestic flight (or in the case of Moorea, your choice of a flight or ferry) on Air Tahiti. Note that Air Tahiti (“VT”) is the domestic carrier, and not related to Air Tahiti Nui (“TN”) which is the international airline. “Nui” means large.

There is no Air Tahiti frequent flyer partner. That means if you want to redeem points for the domestic flights (expect to pay $400 – $500 roundtrip for Papeete – Bora Bora) you’ll need to use credit card points which redeem as cash for airfare. Fortunately when I was shopping these fares there was a currency conversion issue on Travelocity pricing everything originating in Tahiti at 90% off…

Ultimately the challenge in getting to French Polynesia, the reason it’s one of the very toughest awards, is because there are simply very limited flights there. From the US there’s only:

  • Air Tahiti Nui from Los Angeles daily
  • Air France from Los Angeles four times a week
  • Hawaiian Airlines from Honolulu on Saturdays

Air France flies Los Angeles – Papeete four times a week. Economy awards for two passengers are pretty available using Air France KLM Flying Blue miles.

Business class awards on Air France are much harder to come by. And even getting the available Air France award seats using Delta miles can be tough.

You’ve already seen what Air France says is available using miles. Delta only shows a very small subset of that to their own members.

Similarly you’re limited using Alaska miles.

Of course with Air France’s Flying Blue miles (such as transferred in from American Express or Citibank) you’ll pay fuel surcharges on these awards.

Award availability on Hawaiian is generally good in economy, but it means a stop in Honolulu and of course the flight is only once a week.

Air Tahiti Nui’s award availability is best booked far in advance. It’s searchable using Expertflyer.

French Polynesia is a fantastic place to visit. It’s incredibly gorgeous. Note, though:

  • Tahiti itself isn’t what you think of as French Polynesia, most people want to get off of the main island as quickly as possible.

  • Once you do — and unlike the Maldives — you’re generally not trapped on an island with just the resort if you spend your time on Moorea or Bora Bora (although there’s not a ton to do, for instance, in the main Bora Bora town of Vaitape). Farther afield islands will be… more remote, with less going on off-resort.

  • I loved it, though there’s a reason folks who prefer more active vacations adopt the pejorative “Boring Boring.”

  • Everything there is expensive, I found it more expensive than the Maldives overall because not only is it a remote island but it’s French. Service wasn’t as good as in the Maldives either.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Great article, have you ever noticed saver level business class awards either through AF or Alaska searching? I’ve looked over 331 days out when the schedules open for dates April-June and haven’t seen a single award. Am I stuck paying full miles for business?

  2. I booked 2 business class tickets with American miles flying Air Tahiti Nui from LAX for 100k each. I got 10k back from Citi AA. 90k out of pocket for a $1600 ticket.

  3. I also booked 2 roundtrip Air Tahiti Nui business class tickets LAX-PPT using AA miles: 125k per person. As long as you book in advance, it wasn’t that tough–the first 2 dates I tried for departure and return worked! (You have to call AA for these awards, but there is no ticketing fee.)

    For the SAME flights using AF miles (from Amex MRs) on Air Tahiti Nui OR on AF, it would have been 275k miles per person. AF has locked down its reduced award availability for business class tix, so you won’t find them easily even in advance with AF miles…and certainly not easily with DL miles!

  4. I was there in Jan this year and booked 2 biz seats out on TN and back on AF with DL miles. Originally booked TN both ways then changed the return when an AF flight became available. I checked everyday for months for AF availability. DL charges YQ on TN but not on AF. For a bit of adventure rent a boat and sail the islands it’s probably the only place in the world where it’s cheaper than staying in an hotel.

  5. Bora bora was more expensive, Moorea less expensive than Maldives. Lot’s of local off hotel options on Moorea. On Bora Bora, if on some resorts, the boat transfer to dinner is expensive, taking away any savings from dining off property.

  6. I went to Moorea in 2006 back when Air Tahiti Nui had just started their JFK-PPT service. I booked the tickets with my girlfriend the previous fall as a special trip, but we broke up over the winter. I decided to go anyway, alone, and let me say, Tahiti is a depressing place to visit by yourself when you are newly single.

  7. @Shirley, Hawaiian Airlines is a partner of United Mileageplus so if you can find award space on the once-a-week HNL-PPT flight on Hawaiian Airlines, you should be able to book that using your United miles. I was surprised Gary didn’t explicitly mention that Hawaiian is a partner of United even though HA isn’t a member of Star Alliance. Good luck!

  8. @Joey have you been able to book HA flights to PPT using UA miles? UAs websites states “You can use miles toward any inter-island flight on Hawaiian Airlines”

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