Danny’s planning his honeymoon! He’s getting married on December 27th and wants to travel from Louisville to Bora Bora on December 28th or 29th. He’s amassed an exceptional warchest of points and miles in preparation for this trip:
- 170,000 American AAdvantage Miles
- 150,000 Ultimate Rewards Points
- 36,000 United Miles
- 44,000 Delta Miles
- 33,000 Starwood Preferred Group Points
- 6,000 Hilton HHonors Points
His fiancé only has 4,000 United miles at the moment but is interested in finding a travel credit card or two that can jumpstart her mileage account.
They’d like to fly Business Class at least one way if possible, and have their eyes on one of the overwater bungalows that Bora Bora and other exotic locales have made famous.
Whenever specific dates are involved, finding the right award can be more challenging. Add on top of that the fact that many folks are flying home from Christmas with families at this time and things get worse. Compound it further by requesting a destination serviced by only one airline that’s a veritable black hole for award travel, and we begin to near the impossible.
Of course, that won’t stop us.
What follows is one of the more inventive hacks of an itinerary we’ve pulled to date. Let’s jump right in!
The Problem With Bora Bora
Take a look at the Bora Bora airport:
A fair-sized strip of Tarmac, some sand and maybe a tiny little terminal building are all that we can see. It shouldn’t be a complete shock, then, that Bora Bora is serviced by only one airline: Air Tahiti. Not to be confused with Air Tahiti Nui, this airline exclusively provides intra-island service in French Polynesia with its fleet of 12 prop-based airplanes. The largest plane in their fleet, the ATR 72-600, fits just 89 passengers.
Problematically, Air Tahiti partners with no other airline, nor does it offer a frequent flyer program of its own. That means getting to Bora Bora on a traditional award ticket is truly impossible. Instead, we’re shooting for Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia. A town of about 135,000 people, it is home to Fa’a’ā International Airport, the only international airport in the island chain. The airport is serviced by Air France, Air New Zealand, Air Tahiti Nui, Hawaiian Airlines and LAN Airlines. Only Air France and Air Tahiti Nui offer service from the US Mainland, both from Los Angeles.
Air Tahiti provides service from Papeete to Bora Bora; we’ll address the cash price of that segment and how to reduce it later on. First, let’s get to Papeete!
Louisville to Papeete
First Things First: Los Angeles to Papeete
As the only Mainland US city with service to Papeete, Los Angeles is our obvious starting point. As a member of SkyTeam, we could apply Delta miles toward the Air France flight, but the typical issues with Delta apply. First, award trips must be booked as roundtrips. Second, Saver availability is typically poor, especially when specific dates are required. The best case scenario is 100,000 miles roundtrip per person in Economy. At 44,000 SkyMiles, Danny’s just too far away to make that a feasible option for two passengers.
Thankfully, Air Tahiti Nui is a member of Oneworld, meaning American miles can be used on its flights. Danny has a stockpile of those, and American’s rates to the South Pacific are reasonable: 37,500 miles each way per passenger in Economy, and 62,500 miles each in Business Class.
With 170,000 miles in hand, Danny could spend the 150,000 miles necessary for two Economy tickets with what he has on hand. 200,000 miles would allow for one-way travel in Business and the other in Economy. If Danny’s fiancé could earn the 37,500 miles necessary to cover her own Economy ticket in one direction, Danny could front both Business Class tickets and his own Economy segment using his miles on hand. One of the Citi AAdvantage cards found on our sign-up links page could help her get the job, with bonuses of 50,000 miles available for several of them.
Of course, we need to ensure the flights are actually available to put this theory into practice. When going to AA.com to search for flights from LAX to PPT, we find cash flights available but award inventory only brings up an error!
It turns out that Air Tahiti Nui award inventory isn’t available to search through AA’s website. That works in our favor insofar as fewer people are likely to use American miles to book these flights, simply assuming it must not be bookable. To the contrary, by calling American’s AAdvantage booking desk at 800.882.8880, Air Tahiti Nui flights can be booked with miles. A phone booking fee might apply, but if you explain to the agent you were unable to book the award online and request the fee be waived, they’ll often oblige.
Before calling AAdvantage, it’s possible to check Air Tahiti Nui award inventory using ExpertFlyer.com, a premium service that starts at $4.99 a month. The site also provides access to other difficult-to-search programs like Aer Lingus, making it a useful tool on many of the reader trips we feature.
As it turns out, two Economy seats are available on the evening of December 28th; just what we were hoping to see!
W fare codes indicate Economy seats, while I fares represent Business Class seats.
If they’d rather fly this segment Business Class, two seats are available the next day, December 29th:
If Saver-level flights are available from Louisville to Los Angeles, we could cover the entire outbound trip (at least to Papeete) on one award. As you might have guessed, it won’t be quite that easy.
Hacking Our Way to LA
While it might be possible to book a seat from LAX to Papeete at the Saver Economy or Saver Business level, we’re not lucky enough for there to be open Saver seats from Louisville to Los Angeles that day on American. It seems folks heading home after visiting family for Christmas have already taken up too many seats. It would always be possible to simply book a cash fare from Louisville to Los Angeles. Delta’s currently offering the cheapest fare, at $344 per person:
It’s likely Southwest will offer this flight for $302, but their booking window presently extends only through October, making it impossible to know for sure.
We might recommend simply paying for the positioning flight under other circumstances, but given that we have no choice but to fork over cash for the final flight from Papeete to Bora Bora, I wanted to offer an option that relies as much on points and miles as possible without offering poor value. For example, Danny could book two domestic AAnytime tickets on American or Standard Economy on United to go from Kentucky to California, but at 25,000 miles each, this would be a tragic waste.
If Danny’s up for the adventure, I’d travel from Louisville to Dallas-Fort Worth on American using British Airways Avios, which he can obtain by converting some of his Ultimate Rewards points. This flight would take a total of 15,000 Avios + $5 in taxes/fees combined for both passengers.
At that point, I’d take a taxi from DFW to Love Field, a roughly 15 mile, 20 minute trip that should cost about $50, according to Taxi Fare Finder.
From there, they could catch a Southwest or Virgin America flight on to Los Angeles. As mentioned earlier, Southwest’s booking window hasn’t opened up to December yet, but flights from LUV to LAX in October can be had for a paltry 3,776 Rapid Rewards Points per person, which Danny can also obtain by converting Ultimate Rewards points.
This is a vastly better deal than the more than 18,000 points that would be required to book transit from Louisville to Los Angeles completely on Southwest, or the more than $600 two cash fares would cost at the moment.
The other reason I’d be willing to go through this hassle is that the return trip is far smoother. Some hassle up front can save hundreds of dollars, and won’t be necessary a second time.
Papeete to Bora Bora
As I mentioned earlier, there’s no way getting around our last segment: only Air Tahiti offers service to Bora Bora, and the airline is a dead zone for points and miles travel. Here’s a list of flights available on December 29th, the day Danny and his bride would arrive in Papeete:
As you can see, Air Tahiti’s website lists its rates in the local currency. They offer a currency converter for the final booking total:
At $276 per passenger for this final hop to Bora Bora, the flight isn’t a deal-breaker, but we still have one trick up our sleeves to wipe out most of the cost. As I discuss in Chapter 7 of the PointsAway book, travel redemption cards like Barclaycard Arrival can step in where points and miles can’t cover costs.
Typically, that applies to things like taxes and fees related to an award ticket, cruises, stays at bed and breakfasts and nights at boutique hotels. In this case, there’s no reason the $460 in travel credit offered by the card can’t be applied to this flight. Our review of the card covers its benefits and sign-up bonus in more detail. If Danny and his fiancé both applied for Arrival, they could use the sign-up bonus from one to cover most of the trip from Papeete to Bora Bora and most of the trip back.
While in Bora Bora
Danny’s hoping to secure an overwater bungalow for their time in Bora Bora. To keep from getting too crazy, we’re focusing just on the flights today, but our friends at Million Mile Secrets have a good summary of how it’s possible to stay at the overwater villas at the InterContinental Bora Bora for less than you’d think. It’s worth a read!
Back to Louisville
After a little more than a week in Bora Bora, Danny and his newlywed will need a way back to Louisville! On January 8th, flights on Air Tahiti from Bora Bora back to Papeete are similarly available and a bit cheaper than the outbound flight:
Four Economy seats are open that day for a return flight on Air Tahiti Nui from Papeete to Los Angeles:
As you can see, the flight arrives in Los Angeles at 8:15AM on January 9th. Happily, Saver Economy space all the way back to Louisville is also available that day, departing LA around noon!
Pay no attention to the 12,500 mile label on this flight: American’s award rates from the South Pacific are good to anywhere in North America, whether the final destination be Los Angeles or Kentucky. Danny would simply need to make the reservation by phone, since Air Tahiti Nui flights can’t be booked through American’s website, and let the rep know he’d need to connect onto the American flights as shown here after arriving in Los Angeles.
That means the entire return – at least from Papeete – is covered by one award ticket, at just 37,500 miles each, which is a great bargain.
Some places are more difficult to get to than others. Bora Bora – much like some islands in the Maldives – is not easy to reach. However, with some flexibility and elbow grease, there’s a way to get there just days after Christmas while still saving thousands. I’d definitely recommend Danny and his fiancé take a good look at the Arrival card in order to take the sting out of the final hop between Papeete and Bora Bora.
With a bit of extra points magic, it would certainly be possible to secure the overwater villa, as well. Even if they paid for one with cash, there’s no doubt the thousands of dollars saved on the flights compared to the cheapest cash rates available on any airline can help ensure a great honeymoon!
|Trip Component||Cash Price||Points + Cash||Savings|
|Mixed Award Flight: Louisville to Papeete via Dallas & Los Angeles • Economy 2 Passengers||$913 per person||37,500 American Miles + 7,500 Avios + 3,776 Rapid Rewards Points + $15 Taxes/Fees Per Person||$1,796|
|Air Tahiti Flight: Papeete to Bora Bora • Economy 2 Passengers||$276 per person||$552 Cash for 2 Passengers – $430 in Arrival Credit||$430|
|Air Tahiti Flight: Bora Bora to Papeete • Economy 2 Passengers||$268 per person||$536 Cash for 2 Passengers – $430 in Arrival Credit||$430|
|American Award Flight: Papeete to Louisville via Los Angeles, Tulsa & Dallas • Economy 2 Passengers||$2,016 per person||37,500 American Miles + ~$50 Taxes/Fees Per Person||$3,932|
|Total:||$6,946||150,000 American Miles + 15,000 Avios + 7,552 Rapid Rewards Points + $860 of Arrival Credit + $228 Remaining Air Tahiti Costs + ~$130 Taxes/Fees||$6,588(94.8% Off)|