Let’s face it, saying that a middle-class family of four can easily afford a 2-week trip to South Pacific is a bit ridiculous. So no, I’m not going to preach that YOU CAN DO IT TOO! Only you can determine that. In addition, I strongly recommend you don’t even attempt it unless you have an emergency fund in place. I’m talking about the $ kind, not miles.
Before getting into specific strategy, let me outline our out-of-pocket and mileage costs so far. As I’ve mentioned previously, our arrangement is a bit unusual because the children will be with my in-laws for majority of the time. That said, if you decide to bring the kids along, with the right planning, you can pull off this trip for the same price it costs to visit Disney World.
Here is how.
The recap of our costs
I will be taking opportunity cost into account when dealing with currency that can be converted to cash or valuable gift cards at a favorable rate. I’m also rounding up the tax to the nearest dollar amount. Without further ado:
1) Flight from Orlando to Los Angeles on American Airlines
Mileage cost: 12,500 Aalska miles, plus tax
Flexible points: 11,500 points from US Bank Altitude Reserve
Out-of-pocket cost: $134 (since US Bank points can be redeemed for cash back at one cent apiece)
2) Flight from Los Angeles to Tahiti
Mileage cost: 72,000 AA miles for two tickets in economy (after 10% rebate from AA credit card)
Out-of-pocket cost: $10 tax
3) Flights between the islands of Tahiti
Out-of-pocket cost: $1022 for two people (ouch!)
I’ll have more on this later on, so stay tuned.
4) Flight from Tahiti to Auckland
Mileage cost: 54,000 AA miles for two tickets in business class (after rebate)
Out-of-pocket cost: $120 tax+$300 for buying miles back in 2013
Related post (same as one above)
5) Flight from Auckland to Melbourne
Mileage cost: 20,000 Avios for two tickets in economy
Out-of-pocket cost: $80 tax
6) Flight from Melbourne to Sydney
Mileage cost: 9,000 Avios for two in economy
Out-of-pocket cost: $26 tax
7) Flight from Sydney to San Francisco
Mileage cost: 80,000 Avianca miles for two in economy
Out-of-pocket cost: $226 tax+$298 in annual fees on credit cards
8) Flight from San Francisco to Orlando
Mileage cost: 20,000 Rapid Rewards points for two people
Out-of-pocket cost: $200 because points can be redeemed towards Walmart gift cards when you have a co-branded Southwest credit card
1) Hyatt near MCO airport
Cost: 5,000 points
Out-of-pocket cost: $0
2) Hyatt near LAX airport
Cost: 12,000 points
Out-of-pocket cost: $0
3) Hotels in Tahiti
120,000 IHG points for overwater bungalow in Bora Bora for two nights ( I had to co-pay $125 because I was short on points)
80,000 Hilton points on hotel in Moorea for one night (plus $120 for an upgrade)
Annual IHG certificate that comes with credit card, used towards hotel on the main island of Tahiti
Out-of-pocket cost: $ 294, factoring in renewal fee for IHG credit card
4) Hotel in Auckland
Cost: 47,000 Hilton points+ weekend certificate from Surpass offer that is due to hit my account in March
Out-of-pocket cost: $95 renewal fee
5) Hotel in Sydney
Cost: 2 free night certificates that came with Hyatt credit card offer
Out-of-pocket cost: $75 annual fee
Related post (same as above)
6) Hotel in San Francisco
Cost: My husband’s annual IHG certificate that comes with credit card
Out-of-pocket cost: $49 annual fee
Total out-of-pocket cost so far: $2,929
Retail value: around $10,000
Do keep in mind that we also paid cash for two tickets on Fiji Airways, and those set us back almost $2,000. As I’ve said, the kids will be traveling separately with my in-laws and meet us in Australia for portion of the trip. So, in reality, our out-of-pocket cost is $4929 so far. Hmm, that’s not even close to free, y’all! Additionally, we did forego some cash back when meeting minimum spending requirements on most of these cards, so the number is actually even higher than that.
But in this post I wanted to focus mainly on expenses incurred in conjunction with redeeming miles and points, so you’ll have a rough idea on what to expect. I did choose to include opportunity cost on some currencies. Let’s face it, $200 Walmart gift card is almost as good as cash, so it wouldn’t be fair to call my Southwest redemption free. #keepingitreal
Strategy on how four people can pull off a similar trip
The first thing you have to realize is that when dealing with miles and points, there are no guarantees. Mileage levels quoted now may go up substantially next year. Plentiful availability on Air Tahiti Nui today may be nonexistent tomorrow. Please understand this fact before getting your heart set on that specific itinerary. As always, I recommend Plan B and C in place, especially when having inflexible travel schedule.
With that being said, your best bet for finding availability will probably be in the early summer. The good news is that it’s dry season in Tahiti. Bad news: it will be cold in Australia and New Zealand. You may get lucky in the spring, but finding award availability during last two weeks in December will be tough.
If someone with a family of four approached me and asked how they can make this trip happen, this is what I would suggest:
1) Decide ahead of time if visiting Bora Bora is optional.
It wasn’t for me, but I had to cover only two tickets. Still, it cost a whopping $1022 for few short flights between the islands! Now multiply if two times, and you are staring at over $2,000. That’s a lot. I’ve heard Moorea is almost as beautiful, except for the lagoon. If you can be happy with visiting just that one island, it will cost you $15 one-way to get there from Papeete via ferry. Paying $120 vs. $2,000 is a big difference.
2) Apply for AAdvantage co-branded cards first if at all possible.
Citi and Barclay issue those, and right now the bonus is increased to 60k miles on each version. Let’s say both of the spouses get approved. They will have 123k miles each. This amount will cover two tickets from LAX to PPT, plus two economy flights from PPT to AKL. In fact, you could even splurge on one seat in business class if you wish.
3) Focus on Chase cards next.
Normally, I would tell you to start with them, but have to make an exception when planning a trip to Tahiti. The card to get first: Chase Sapphire Preferred. Each of the spouses can apply as long as they are not subject to Chase 5/24 rule. You will be earning flexible points which can be transferred to a number of airlines or redeemed on revenue tickets. If you are subject to 5/24 restriction, apply for Chase British Airways Visa Signature Card instead.
The bonus will cover 4 tickets from Auckland to Melbourne (10,000 Avios each) and you will have miles leftover for few tickets from Melbourne to Sydney (4,500 Avios each). If you happen to have flexible points in UR, Membership Rewards or SPG programs, you can always use those to top off your account.
4) If you can’t get approved for Chase UR cards, look for other flexible points bonuses to cover your flights from Sydney to USA.
This will depend on how long you’ve been around this hobby, of course. If you’ve helped yourself to most cards by now, you may be out of luck. One-way tickets from Australia to US are expensive, so using miles is the way to go (most of the time). I recommend Citi Thank You Premier, Amex Premier Rewards Gold (with 50k points bonus or higher), Amex SPG and similar offers. If you can’t get your hands on flexible currency, see my next point.
5) Consider applying for Avianca Vuela Visa and other obscure offers.
In my experience, United has the best economy availability on Sydney-USA routes. So, you will want to look for partner credit card offers where miles can be redeemed on United. Few examples: Avianca Vuela Visa and Barclaycard Lufthansa Miles and More. It’s not the easiest or most certain route, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Avianca charges 40k miles for Sydney-LAX (or SFO) route. So, one credit card can potentially cover your flight as long as you are willing to pay the annual fee of $149. Ditto for Lufthansa co-branded card. When you redeem miles on United flights, there are no fuel surcharges.
6) Worry about domestic US flights later.
Those should be the least of your concerns until you secure all international legs. Look into cards like US Bank Altitude Reserve because it allows you to redeem points towards revenue fares at 1.5 cents apiece.
Focus on the most difficult part first. Personally, I would secure flights to Tahiti and New Zealand and leave Australia-USA portion for later. United, American, Virgin Australia and Qantas fly to USA from Sydney, so in all likelihood, you’ll be able to come up with something, even when booking close to departure. Tahiti is much tougher because only Air Tahiti Nui and Air France fly there. The latter will go revenue based soon, so there is some uncertainty in that area.
7) Hotel points can reduce your overall cost, but paying cash may be a better option (sometimes).
You should search AirBnB or Booking.com (both are my referral links) to get an idea on what type of options are available. Many chain properties outside of US have double or triple occupancy limit. If you end up having to redeem points on two rooms, it will probably kill the deal. One exception is Bora Bora, where lodging cost is very high and both Conrad and Thalasso properties will let you have 2 adults+2 kids in one room when redeeming points.
I emailed Conrad in Bora Bora to double check on this one because their website shows triple occupancy for basic garden unit. They said they make an exception when you bring young children. So always contact property directly and see if you can come up with an arrangement, either by paying extra points or cash for an upgrade. Whatever you decide, consider splurging on at least one night in an overwater bungalow in Tahiti. How often does this opportunity present itself, right?
8) Follow @airfarewatchdog, @theflightdeal, and @secretflying on Twitter and enable notifications for these accounts on your device.
You may come across a mistake fare to Tahiti, Australia or New Zealand which will make mileage redemption option obsolete. Even if you end up throwing away one leg of the ticket, it could be worth taking advantage of. I can never make mistake fares work with my schedule, but you might.
See more details on all the mentioned cards in my Hot Deals page. I hope you consider supporting the site if you choose to apply. Thanks in advance! If you have any questions on the timing of applications, bonus eligibility etc, feel free to email me at email@example.com
Getting four people to Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia is not easy or cheap. Even with miles and points, you are looking at substantial out-of-pocket expense. Obviously, we will be spending a heck of a lot more on food, tours and ground transportation. The above breakdown is just a “skeleton” cost of the trip. A mighty yuuge skeleton, for sure!
But I truly believe that if you implement the strategies I’ve highlighted, forego Bora Bora and expensive organized tours, you can get away with spending around $5k all-in on a family of four. I assume that you will watch your food and lodging budget, of course. Many middle-class families drop $5k on a 2-week visit to Disney World and don’t think twice. I happen to believe this is way cooler than Disney. But then again, I’m not that much of a Disney fan!
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.