Update: Air Tahiti Nui award flights are now bookable on AA.com
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.
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…
Leana is the 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.