For the most part, things have gone pretty smoothly with my elaborate “South Pacific sampler” plan. I was pleasantly surprised when we were able to utilize miles and points for majority of our flights.
But there was one route that I simply couldn’t work out to my advantage. And I’ve tried. I’m talking about Air Tahiti inter-island flights. Air Tahiti (not to be confused with Air Tahiti Nui) does not partner with any airlines, so using miles is not an option.
I was hoping to utilize Merrill+ program (the card has been recently discontinued) where you can redeem 25,000 points on a flight valued at up to $500. No dice. Air Tahiti flights don’t show up in online search and calling is apparently pointless. I’ve tried applying for US Bank Altitude Reserve card in my husband’s name. Denied (twice).
I don’t currently have any flexible points or travel credits, and getting approved for Chase or Citi cards is not a possibility at the moment. Booking Air Tahiti flights now was not really critical since out trip is scheduled for next summer. But I just didn’t want it hanging over my head.
Summer is high season in Tahiti, and there is only one flight from Bora Bora to Moorea per day. In addition, air traffic to Tahiti islands is about to surge, with French carrier French Blue introducing Paris-San Francisco-Papeete route next May. United is also starting flights from San Francisco in the fall of 2018 (thanks to Wandering Aramean, Onemileatatime and other bloggers for reporting this news item). That means an extra 1,000-1,500 new tourists per week. Many of them will want to fly to Bora Bora and Moorea. So, I went ahead and booked the flights so I wouldn’t drive myself crazy.
The cost was $1,022 for two tickets on Papeete-Bora Bora, Bora Bora-Moorea, Moorea-Papeete flights. The cancellation policy is fairly generous. As long as you do it before your arrival to Tahiti, it’s $20 per leg of the trip, or $60 per person total. The really annoying part about the whole thing is that I saw these tickets for $900 back in September. The sale only lasted one day, and was probably a fluke. I held off buying them because I was hoping to get that darn Altitude Reserve card. Oh well.
So, I did what 99% of population does. I simply charged the tickets to my credit card. Let me walk you through the process and give some tips on how to make the purchase less painful for your wallet.
Tips on booking airfare
1) Before going through companies like Orbitz or Expedia, check airline’s own site.
The same tickets were running at $575 apiece when I checked Kayak (travel sites aggregator). AirTahiti.com offers passes that bring down the cost somewhat. Originally, I was planning to take a ferry from Moorea to Papeete ($15), but the flight would only add a total of $18 per person. Since I wasn’t using flexible currency, it made sense to just get the pass.
Sometimes if you switch to a different country, the price will go down. I got that tip from one of my readers. My sister-in-law was able to get a flight from Wellington to Queenstown, NZ for only $60 per person, compared to $140 charged on US-based Air New Zealand site. So, always shop around and compare prices.
2) When purchasing tickets from a foreign airline, make sure your credit card doesn’t charge Forex fees.
It sounds simple enough, but I actually forgot to check! Fortunately, my card happened to have no foreign exchange fees built in. Let’s say your card earns 3% cash back on airfare, but charges 3% Forex fees. In this case, the fees will wipe out your rewards completely.
3) If you have a travel credit benefit and are purchasing from airline directly, this is a good chance to utilize it.
The most obvious cards are Chase Sapphire Reserve, US Bank Altitude Reserve and Citi Prestige. This perk is especially useful when your credit is about to expire and you are debating on how to spend it.
4) Pick a card that earns the most rewards on airfare.
You have to be careful because some products specify that you have to make a purchase directly from airline. So make sure to read the fine print. Few good options: Chase Sapphire Reserve and US Bank Altitude Reserve (both earn 3 points per dollar on airfare).
5) Check what travel insurance (if any) the card offers.
Different cards have different policies, and I’ll address it further in a future post. CSR has a very good travel insurance built-in, so does Citi Prestige. I’ve already bought a stand-alone travel insurance policy, so it wasn’t a factor in my decision.
6) If you have to meet minimum spending requirements, it could make sense to use that card, regardless of the earning rate.
If you are struggling with having enough organic spending in order to get a sign-up bonus, this could be your ticket. Even if your new card earns only 1% cash back on airfare, the bonus will probably more than make up for it. Look at foregone rewards as a fee of sorts.
7) If you have some dormant points, consider topping off your account by buying airfare with that card.
I had 1,100 points in my Wells Fargo Propel World account. Minimum redemption starts at 5,000 points (equals $50). I was originally planning on letting the rewards go and canceling the card in February before the annual fee hits. However, I went ahead and purchased my Air Tahiti tickets with the thought of cashing out the points.
The card earns 3% cash back on airfare and there are no Forex fees. So, I would get 3,066 points total. I will have to charge $840 by the end of February in order to reach 5,000 points threshold, but it shouldn’t be a huge issue.
I absolutely hate paying cash for airfare and try to use points or miles whenever possible. A nice thing about flexible currencies like Ultimate Rewards and Thank You (issued by Citi) is that they give you an uplift on flights via premium cards.
So in a way, flexible points give you permission to travel. Not many people in the hobby will want to redeem UR currency at 1 cent apiece when they can get as much as 1.5 cents towards airfare or hotels instead. It’s even easier to rationalize burning miles, especiallly if you’ve acquired them via sign-up bonus.
It is so much harder to part with cold hard cash, but it has to be done at times. It really is an insane amount to pay for few flights that are less than 45 minutes each, but what can you do? We can’t just swim from island to island. If I decided to skip Bora Bora, I would probably regret it for the rest of my life. We can always make an extra $1,000, but it’s not that easy to fly back to Tahiti from Florida.
And who knows, maybe my husband will get approved for US Bank Altitude Reserve card and we’ll be able to rebook our Air Tahiti flights in the eleventh hour. Even factoring in penalty, it would still be worth it to get that $900 back in my pocket.
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.