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My Experience with Redeeming AAdvantage Miles on Air Tahiti Nui (Tips and Tricks)

Well, friends, it looks like my trip to South Pacific is a go. IT. IS. HAPPENING. I’ve reached a point of no return after redeeming my AA miles on Air Tahiti Nui. Lots of posts have been written about this award, yet I’ve learned some new things via trial and error. This is one of the better deals in AAdvantage program, a hidden gem, if you will. Let me share some tips and tricks on how to maximize your AA miles on this airline.

1) If you are traveling to Tahiti with two kids who are 11 and under, you *may* be better off paying cash. 

Let me explain. Air Tahiti Nui runs Tahiti Family special   that lets you bring two kids free with two paying adults. You can’t book it online, so using flexible points is not an option. Not surprisingly, adult airfare is quite expensive.

The real value lies in continuing on to Bora Bora after landing in Papeete. That’s because you can’t book PPT-BOB flight with miles (it’s sold by a separate airline called Air Tahiti), but here you are essentially getting it at half price. Let’s do the math. The roundtrip award from LAX to  PPT runs at 80k AA miles per person (plus around $67 tax). The flight from Papeete to Bora Bora will add around $400 per ticket.

Let’s say you are going during low season. The total for four people will be $4360 all-in. If you choose to redeem miles, you will spend 320k AA miles, plus $1,868 (tax plus flights to Bora Bora). So, you will be essentially getting $2,492 in value out of your 320k AA stash, or around 0.8 CPM.  It’s OK, but it’s not great. You’ll get a better return if you burn them on hotels if you happen to have a co-branded AA credit card.

Sure, if you have a huge pile of AA miles and don’t know what to do with it, burn it  and don’t look back. That said, if you fall into category I’ve described, it may be best to simply pay for your flights via this special (if you can afford it). It does depend on the season, because peak tickets are more expensive. I think redeeming AA miles is best for couples because this route rarely dips under $1,200 and is usually closer to $1,400 during peak season.

2) Many AAdvantage agents will not see Air Tahiti Nui awards even if they are available. 

I actually got  a tip on this one from one of my readers (thanks Seth!). He sent a link to an article on Liveandletsfly that described the situation as well as the workaround. You can’t see Air Tahiti Nui award availability on AA.com, so calling is the only option.

Interestingly, the first agent I’ve talked to refused to use the workaround and simply called Air Tahiti Nui. Alright then. I spent about 30 minutes on hold, but the flight from LAX-PPT was booked at last. I felt like dancing for joy and in fact, I think I did. This was the critical piece of the puzzle and we had zero flexibility on dates since my in-laws’ tickets on Air Fiji were already booked.

3) To avoid any doubt, subscribe to ExpertFlyer service.

It’s an incredibly helpful tool that will display award availability in most programs. It’s absolutely essential for Air Tahiti Nui flights since there is literally  no other way to search for award availability. You can try ExpertFlyer  free for five days, which may be all you need.

After that period ends, you can subscribe to basic plan that costs $4.99 per month. That’s what I did. As much as I hate paying for anything, it was helpful to see award availability in real time when AA rep was telling me nothing was available. There was no doubt in my mind that with some work, we would get it booked eventually. And we did.

Here is how you start the search process:

Here is the page with results:

 

The  code “W” stands for economy, and the number represents how many seats are available via miles. Easy as pie.

4) If you want to book business class from LAX to PPT, good luck!

We didn’t really have enough miles for this type of an award (80k AA miles one-way), but I checked it out of curiosity. And it ain’t pretty! It appears that most business class seats disappear before they become available to AAdvantage members. You can only book AA awards 331 days in advance, and Air Tahiti Nui schedule is up long before then. I’ve noticed that Air Tahiti Nui releases as many as 9 business seats per flight, but get used to seeing this the day after the awards are loaded:

This is a great mystery to me. The only thing I can figure is that Air Tahiti Nui members snap those up with Club Tiare miles. I thought perhaps buying miles may be a good deal, but they cost 3 cents  apiece. Business class in Club Tiare runs at 60k miles one-way, not exactly a bargain.  If anyone has a clue, let me know because I’m curious.

Honestly, I don’t think flying in Air Tahiti Nui business class (angled seat) for 8 hours is all that critical unless you have a medical condition. Not when it costs 40k extra AA miles. So, my advice to all of you  “upfront or bust” folks is to just suck it up and fly economy on this route. You are going to Tahiti, dude! Plus, sometimes, they will offer an upgrade at check-in for $350 or so one-way. I would never pay that much, but this is an option nonetheless.

If you are planning a honeymoon and your able-bodied bride-to-be refuses to fly in coach, well, maybe you should view it as a warning sign. Just saying.

5) The greatest bargain on Air Tahiti Nui via AAdvantage is business class award from Papeete to Auckland.

This is a sweet spot in the program. So sweet in fact, that even I have decided to splurge. The route costs 15k AA miles one-way in economy, and 30k in business. The craziest thing? The upfront award is super easy to get, with most flights having 9 seats in business class. Apparently, Club Tiare members don’t care for it.

You can search availability on ExpertFlyer as well. It appears that Air Tahiti Nui flies this route three times per week: Monday, Wednesday and Saturday (subject to schedule change). Personally, I think paying extra 15k miles for a 6-hour flight in business is a pretty good deal.

My husband is a large man, and he will surely appreciate it. I had some miles leftover, so figured why not. The revenue fare runs at $950 or more, so paying 30k miles +$60 tax is a pretty good deal. This is our only business class flight during the entire trip. Interestingly, AA rep was able to see this award  without an issue, so maybe the glitch is route-specific.

6) Even if you find sAAver space to LAX from your home airport, tacking it on to your Tahiti award may be problematic. 

Drew at Travelisfree has mentioned this issue in his post Complete List of Flyer Miles and Routes to Tahiti so I’ll let you read it. Basically, you will have a better chance if you live in AA hub. New York is a good candidate, apparently. Otherwise, you are probably sunk. But it’s a moot point because domestic sAAver availability on AA is horrendous these days. Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to try.

I actually put my LAX-PPT AA award on hold for five days (a nice perk), hoping sAAver economy space from MCO to LAX would open up. I love a good challenge and was going to attempt to sweet-talk my way into adding it to Tahiti itinerary for free. Alas, it was not meant to be. I recommend you focus on LAX-PPT portion and worry about domestic flights later.

7) If you only have enough AA miles for one-way tickets, consider using other currency for return flight.

Paying cash will most likely be cost-prohibitive. Fortunately, there are other mileage options at your disposal. Delta program is actually a good one because it partners with both Air Tahiti Nui and Air France (your only two choices for Tahiti). The cost is 50k miles per person in economy if you can find the seats. Air France should be bookable online, but availability is scarce when you use Delta miles. There are no fuel surcharges.

Air Tahiti Nui is also bookable with Delta miles, but you will pay fuel surcharges (AAdvantage doesn’t add those). Still, it could be a better deal than paying cash. You will have to call Delta and apparently, many agents don’t even know about this option. ExpertFlyer Air Tahiti Nui space should match what is available via Delta SkyMiles.

Air France Flying Blue program  is probably the best deal, even with fuel surcharges (around $190 roundtrip in economy). The cost is 30k miles one-way from LAX-PPT, and more seats are released to Flying Blue members. Sadly, they only load awards 10 months in advance. So, all of you early birds will have to wait in agony long after your AA award on Air Tahiti Nui is already booked. Fortunately, AAdvantage allows free date changes as long as itinerary stays the same.

I recommend you check out a post How to Fly to Tahiti (and Bora Bora) with Miles on Milecards website for more information on programs and routings.

8) Don’t bother staying up all night to book your Air Tahiti Nui award with AAdvantage.

I did and it was a total waste of time. Not to mention, it messed up my sleep routine for a week afterwards. I’m just getting too old for this crap! AAdvantage doesn’t load Air Tahiti Nui awards till around 5 AM Eastern. So go to sleep. Chances are, if there are 9 awards in economy available on your preferred date, few of them will still be there by morning. Not too many people are willing to deal with this sort of rigamarole, which works to your advantage.

9) Right now is an excellent time to stock up on AAdvantage miles.

While I recommend you try to focus on Chase  first if at all possible, if you want to go to Tahiti, applying for co-branded AAdvantage cards now makes a lot of sense. You have two options: Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard (60k miles) and AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite MasterCard (50k miles). 

Neither one pays us commission and you can read about them on this page Let’s say both spouses apply for Aviator card and one adds Citi product into the mix. You would have enough miles for a couple’s getaway to Tahiti. Here is how it would work. One person will get 113k AA miles total after minimum spending via two credit cards, and the other one 50k miles. You redeem miles on 2 one-way tickets from the first account, while getting a 10% rebate (instant). You would then redeem miles on return tickets from two separate AA accounts. Done.

Yes, you will still have to pay $99 X 2 in annual fees, plus taxes on tickets. But you’ll be getting your flights to paradise destination dirt cheap.  If you happen to have SPG points, you can transfer them to AAdvantage in order to top up your account (takes 2-3 days).

10) Now is the best time to redeem AA miles to Tahiti.

Award availability is excellent because many simply don’t know about this partnership. And even if they do, they may give up after calling and being told by AA rep (incorrectly) that there are no seats. You can’t search availability on AA.com, so all the barriers to entry assure the fact that  if you plan early, you too can get to Tahiti on the cheap. If you are frustrated by the lack of  sAAver availability to Hawaii, think outside the box. According to many, Tahiti is Hawaii on steroids.

Bottom line 

Booking Air Tahiti Nui award flights with AA miles does involve some hassle. But it’s not terrible, especially if you do your homework ahead of time. That’s why I put together this post which hopefully contains some useful tips on how to do it. And believe me, this process is nothing compared to booking via Avianca LifeMiles. But that’s a post/rant for another day…

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Author: Leana

Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.

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19 thoughts on “My Experience with Redeeming AAdvantage Miles on Air Tahiti Nui (Tips and Tricks)

  1. We leave for Tahiti then Bora Bora later today. First, we fly 4 hours into LAX, then then 8 hours into Tahiti and so on. I cannot wait to get into my OWB at the Four Seasons!

    We didn’t really have enough time to work out the miles for this since we just booked a few months ago. My flight was paid, but I paid for part of my hubby’s flight with miles (IND-LAX and LAX-IND). That brought the grand total down quite a bit for him, but we still had to pay for his LAX-PPT and PPT-BOB routes. It hurt!

    • @Holly Yeah, I saw the photo of your suitcase on Twitter. It was epic! We are actually doing something similar. We plan to fly from Orlando to LAX and continue on to PPT the same day, followed by flight to BOB. It will be a killer, but that’s the only way I could get more than 2 nights in Tahiti islands and have time for the rest of my adventure. We will be dead when we get home. My husband asked to have some relaxing trips for the next few years. Done!
      As far as using miles, booking two months ahead would have been tough anyway. Availability is scarce the longer you wait. It looks like you got a fantastic deal.

  2. You’ll love Tahiti! Moorea and Bora Bora are must see also. Just a “dreamy” experience. Already looking forward to your trip reviews.

    • @Russ It will be awhile till we actually go on this trip and I just hope nothing goes wrong. You never know with these things. We plan to spend 2 nights in Bora Bora, 1 night in Moorea and 1 night in Tahiti before the flight to Auckland next morning. It’s a short stopover, but I’ll take it.

      • Hi Leana, I would love to know how your trip went, my daughter and I are planning the same thing for January 2018 – a week in Tahiti and then onto Aukland. How was it jumping around from island to island and was Bora Bora worth the expensive flight and hotel? Hope you had a great time!

      • @Sarah It looks like you’ll get to Tahiti before us! My trip is not until July of 2018. Let me know how it goes for you. I’m sure Bora Bora will be worth it, just look at the photos!

  3. We booked the same tickets early last year, and I second the Expert Flyer membership for it. When I called the agent wasn’t seeing the availability, but I HUCAd the next day and the new agent was able to book it easily with the flight/date info I had. Not sure if it still is the case, but I was able to book tickets on Air Tahiti with TY points at 1.33 cpp with my prestige through their portal. If you want to experience a little more of “authentic” Tahiti, it’s worth taking a cab or bus down to the roulottes in Papeete for dinner. Cheaper than hotel food and way better. The market in Papeete is also worth a trip. There are tons souvenirs, but it’s fun to see all the fresh fish and fruits, etc. Just FYI–the prices for the touristy stuff (monoi oil, soap, lotion, etc.) is fixed so it’s the same at all the booths. So excited to hear about your trip!

    • @Cynthia Thanks! Yeah, I don’t know what’s going on with AA agents and Air Tahiti Nui awards. It’s weird that some are able to see them right away, and others can’t. HUCA to the rescue. I guess it assures plentiful award availability, so that’s the only plus.
      I don’t have Citi Thank You points, but I imagine that you can book PPT-BOB flights with any flexible currency. I probably shouldn’t have used the word “cash.”
      I haven’t attempted it yet, but I hope to use Merrill+ points. It costs 25,000 points to book a $500 flight, and that’s the exact cost of my PPT-BOB, BOB-MOZ routing. The flights are not displayed online, so I need to call and check. I plan to wait on booking that one, but will write a post on it once it’s done.
      I hope to take a ferry back to Papeete and yes, we may try the roulottes before going to hotel. It does depend on my husband’s mood at the moment. I have to be careful because he likes to take it easy, and this trip will be non-stop as is.
      Thanks for your tips, as always!

    • @Natasha Thanks for following along! I hope to inspire some of you guys to do it as well. Warning! Tahiti isn’t cheap, unfortunately.

  4. Heading out for our dream trip to the South Pacific on Sept 1st. 10 Year Anniversary!! First a flight on JetBlue, booked on points to Long Beach. Then a two night stay at the Long Beach Hilton, on points. Flights out of LAX on Air France on the 2nd…no points. ? Paid cash for Premium Economy. Three nights free at IC Tahiti via SPG points. (Really wanted to go to Moorea pre-cruise, but could not convince my hubby.) Using BofA Travel points for drinks and food while in Papeete. Boarding the Paul Gauguin on the 6th. (No points used for booking that cruise, but we did earn 3 X points for booking with the CSR, plus we didn’t buy travel insurance, since the CSR trip insurance is awesome!) Planning on using our Barclay’s Arrival + credits onboard to pay for excursions. The PG is all-inclusive so we are good to go on that. Staying at the LeMeridien for one night post cruise, on points. One night, after returning to LAX, at the Embassy Suites before flying home on the 18th. Using our Uber points to get from LAX to Long Beach.
    I am so grateful for all of the travel and points information you share. Love your blog!! You just seem to have fun writing it! ?

    • @Tricia Wow, how exciting! I always thought that Paul Gauguin Tahiti cruise looks incredible. What a way to celebrate an anniversary. Maybe someday we can do one of those too! I think even my husband would approve because he loves cruises. If you feel like writing a short trip report, I will be happy to publish it.
      Don’t feel bad about paying cash for flights. In this hobby you win some, you lose some. And look how much you have saved! We may end up paying cash for one ticket from Sydney to LAX. I’m not sure yet, but I can’t seem to find any award availability for my dates. But it’s OK because I have been able to use miles for other flights. I’ll take what I can get.
      Thank you for your kind words about the blog! I really do have fun writing posts. Obviously, I’m human and sometimes say stuff that may sound a bit obnoxious. I’m pretty opinionated, so it’s a tough balance. But I’m glad you are sticking around!

  5. We have been to French Polynesia 3 times but haven’t been in over a decade. Sigh. Back in ’05 & ’06 Air Tahiti Nui regularly ran specials for $550 R/T from LAX.
    I second the suggestion to eat dinner at the roulettes if at all possible. It’s a great atmosphere and the food is cheap and really delicious.
    I really found this article interesting and look forward to reading all about this trip. It’s a place that most bloggers ignore, instead opting to travel and write about the Maldives (which I find BORING) perhaps because it’s a lot easier to get there using miles and points.
    FP is a special place and you’re going to love it. I can’t wait to go back but I am waiting until my toddlers get old enough to snorkel.
    I also love the way you insert your personality into your posts! Yes, if your able-bodied bride-to-be is insisting on flying up-front, then RUN, RUN, RUN! LOL!

    • @Lindy Going to French Polynesia has been a dream of mine for literally decades. I kept planning to visit it and then we had kids. So, I put my dream on hold for the last ten years. But no more! I feel bad that the kids won’t be there with us, but it just wasn’t going to work out. We kept trying to come up with a plan, even getting me to fly alone with them to Auckland to meet up with my in laws. But that would leave my husband without his entire family, and the thought of it was depressing to him. This was the most complicated trip I’ve ever put together, mostly due to coordinating schedule with extended family. But we were able to book everything aside from domestic flights. Phew! Stay tuned for follow up posts.
      And I agree, I never understood the appeal of Maldives. I mean, it looks nice and all, but not mind blowing in the way Tahiti is. Obviously, I don’t have an issue with those who travel there, but I just don’t have the itch to fly that far to stay on a flat island. Recently there was a mistake fare to Maldives and I wasn’t tempted, not even a little. But to each his own. It’s nice to have options thanks to miles and points.

  6. I feel guilty for not telling you about the Air Tahiti – AA thing. Somehow I always assume you know more than me so it didn’t occur to me to mention. If I remember correctly AA also partners with Hawaiian. I have learned over years to always call when booking a big important flight. a) to make sure you are paying a fair rate (you know how they track your cookies and boost up rates and change availability); and b) to make sure there’s nothing I’m missing on the website. (Like Hawaiian and Tahiti airlines). It’s not work but often it pays off!

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