We are very excited to share with you our fun travel experiences and all the tips and tricks for visiting New Zealand and French Polynesia (Bora Bora and Mo’orea) in this series
Upcoming: Our favorite places in North Island of New Zealand
Upcoming: Our favorite places in South Island of New Zealand
This post: Flights to New Zealand and French Polynesia (Bora Bora) using miles
Leg 1: US (New York City – JFK) to New Zealand (Auckland – AKL)
Air New Zealand, which is a Star alliance partner, is your best bet for flying to New Zealand using Miles. It costs 40,000 miles one way in economy to travel to NZ from North America using United miles. This is great value especially if you are located on the east coast. Also, there are no fuel surcharges for this option. It is rare to find a non-stop business award seat on this route. I cover business class options later in this post.
Note: You can also use any other Star alliance partner miles but the award chart will vary depending on the airline and some airlines have high fuel surcharges.
How to find availability and book using United Miles
The flight to Auckland originates from SFO, LAX, IAH and YVR. Go to United website and search for award flights to Auckland from one of the airports listed above. Shortlist the dates with open availability and work backwards to find availability from your home airport (E.g. JFK, EWR, etc.).
We had about 60k united miles from our previous travels. To make up the difference, we could’ve transferred Starwood points to United at 2:1 ratio. Since this is not a good redemption rate, we chose to transfer 20k Chase ultimate reward points at 1:1 ratio.
Other options in Economy:
It costs 40k miles one way if you fly on American Airlines (AA) from US to AKL (flight originated in SFO). If you have enough AA miles, this would be an equally good option. However, I found very little availability on this leg. AA is also a Qantas partner so you can use AA miles to book Qantas flights. You can also use AMEX membership rewards and transfer points to Air France Flying Blue miles to book on Virgin Australia.
Other options in Business:
It is very difficult to find Business class non-stop availability from West coast to NZ on Air New Zealand. Your best bet is to fly via Asia to AKL or Sydney in business class on ANA (using United miles – 60k miles one way + ~$500 in fuel surcharges) or on China Eastern via Shanghai (using Delta miles – 80k + ~$400 in fuel surcharges). I haven’t elaborated these options since they are a roundabout way of getting there. If you are looking for business class seats, the option listed below for leg 2 should work better.
Total cost for this leg: 80k miles + $63.40 taxes
Legs 2 and 3 – New Zealand (AKL) -> Tahiti (PPT)-> US (JFK)
If you don’t plan on stopping in Tahiti, you can use the same award redemption options listed in Leg 1 for your return flight. Wait, why would you do that and miss out on all the fun?! Tahiti is the gateway to other islands in French Polynesia (Bora Bora, Moorea, etc.) and is practically on the way between New Zealand and the US. This helps to break up the long 13 hr flight from Auckland to LAX quite nicely.
It was quite interesting to fly out of Auckland on Dec 24th at 6pm and arrive in Tahiti on Dec 23rd at 10 pm as we crossed the international date line and extended our vacation by one day.
Air Tahiti Nui is an AA partner and flies from AKL to Tahiti to NYC daily for the most part. It costs 55k miles total in economy (15k from Auckland to Tahiti and 40k from Tahiti to US). For just 15k more miles, you get a stopover in paradise!
How to find availability and book using AA miles:
The AA website does not display Air Tahiti Nui flight award availability. To find availability, create an account with Expertflyer which is an excellent website for finding economy and business class availability. Look for separate availability from AKL to PPT to LAX and LAX to home town airport. You can purchase an account or sign-up for a free trial if you need to test it out for a few days. Few things to keep in mind – select a date range instead of an exact date. Once you get the results, you can click on the code in “Available classes” to find award availability for specific class (E.g. 4 seats in business class, 7 seats in coach, etc.).
Once you find award availability, call AA to confirm and book the flight. You can also call and have the airline hold the seat for 7 days, which works great if you don’t want to lose the availability and just need extra time to transfer miles to AA before booking. We had enough AA miles to cover this trip. If you don’t, you can transfer Starwood points to cover the balance. Remember to call and confirm availability before transferring the miles or points.
You can also choose other stopovers such as Fiji or Hawaii instead of Tahiti. Seriously, you can’t go wrong in terms of the layover options
Other business class options:
Using Expert Flyer, you can also look for Business class seats. We were travelling during holiday time and unfortunately didn’t find any openings for dates that would work for us. I strongly suggest that you book at least 8 to 9 months in advance. It costs 92.5k AA miles + taxes per person to fly from AKL to PPT to US if you can find availability.
Total cost for legs 2 and 3: 110k miles + $144.92 taxes
Legs 4 and 5 – French Polynesia Inter-island flights
After booking the longer flight legs, we started looking into various islands within French Polynesia. There is quite a selection to choose from and for our first visit (we definitely plan on returning), we chose Bora Bora and Mo’orea. The only airline covering this route is Air Tahiti and you cannot book seats using any miles at this time.
Note – Air Tahiti is a completely different airline from the previously mentioned Air Tahiti Nui airline and is not a partner with any alliance.
I was quite shocked when I saw the cost of inter-island flights from Tahiti (PPT) to Bora Bora (BOB). They cost north of $600 per person! Travelling by boat to Bora Bora takes way too much time and it does not make sense.
It cost us 60,300 Citi ThankYou points to book a return flight from PPT to BOB. We then took a ferry from PPT to Mo’orea and back which is a short 40 min ride (Aremeti or Terevau) and gave us a chance to visit another island. We could’ve flown directly from Bora Bora to Mo’orea but that flight leg was prohibitively expensive on our travel dates so we decided to go the ferry route after returning to Tahiti.
Since miles are not an option for this leg, you can also use Chase Ultimate reward points to book this leg. If you are paying cash, use a credit card that gives 3x points on award travel (E.g. Chase Reserve, AMEX platinum) or use Chase reserve to get a portion of your expense reimbursed by travel credit.
Total cost for legs 4 and 5: 60,300 Citi ThankYou points + ~$60 ferry to Moorea
Legs 6 and 7: New Zealand Inter-island flights
After extensive research, we decided to fly to Queenstown and rent a car to explore the south island and fly back to Auckland to then continue exploring the North island. We will share more information on our favorite locations on both of these islands in an upcoming post.
There are plenty of flights daily on Air New Zealand to and from Auckland, Queenstown, Christchurch, Dunedin, etc. If you have more than 3 weeks, I recommend driving from Auckland to Queenstown and just taking a one-way flight back to Auckland. It costs 17,500 united miles to book a one way flight which is not a good redemption rate compared to the cash value, so we paid with cash and were able to get round-trip flights for two for 492 NZD ($354 USD)
Total cost for legs 6 and 7: $354 USD
In summary, it cost us 190k miles, 60k Thank you points and $623 for 9 flights that would’ve otherwise cost us over $10,000 during holiday time. Not a bad deal at all!
So, what are you waiting for? Start collecting miles and book your tickets for this trip of a lifetime!
Stay tuned for the next post in this series with our tips and tricks for booking over-water bungalows in Bora Bora.