Goodbye Marquesas, Hello Papeete

After 3 fantastic days on Ua Huka, sadly it was time to go.  Our next destination would be Rimatara to see the spectacular Kuhl’s Lory.  Since Air Tahiti only flies there 3 times a week, we had a  day layover in Papeete which I will blog about soon.  In the meanwhile, let’s farewell the Marquesas with a few shots from the plane and while changing planes in other islands.  The Marquesas are stunning islands and if they weren’t so far from Tahiti (and Bora Bora much closer) they would be a top tourist destination, so maybe be glad they are remote!

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Brief layover at Ua Pou – stunning island!IMG_0482 IMG_0483

Friendly crew!IMG_0485 IMG_0486


Changing planes at Nuku HivaIMG_0487 IMG_0488 IMG_0489


Brief layover at Hiva Oa, they also have interesting endemic birds!IMG_0490 IMG_0491a IMG_0492

Back to Papeete, Tahiti!IMG_0494

First Impressions – Ua Huka

We arrived right on time, I was very impressed with Air Tahiti’s punctuality.  Since Ua Huka is a smaller island, we had to change planes in Nuku Hiva.  The airport is small but it was nice to stretch my legs after the long flight from Papeete.

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Always ready to watch birds, I spotted a Nuku Hiva pigeon near the airport.

IMG_9798The plane to Ua Huka was much smaller.  It turned out that the son of my guesthouse owner was on the plane so I was looking forward to a smooth transfer to our bungalow.

IMG_9801The rugged topography of Ua Huka soon came into view.

IMG_9802 IMG_9803 IMG_9805We touched down at the tiny airport and “surprise” no one was there to pick us up!  The son had taken off with his friends.  Everyone seemed to know everyone else and assured me that Maurice, the guesthouse owner would be along shortly.

IMG_9810 IMG_9806 IMG_9807 IMG_9808When everyone else had taken off, an airport employee took pity on us and gave us a lift to Hokatu.  The scenery along the way was amazing!  If these islands were as close to Papeete as Bora Bora, they would be over-run with tourists so I was starting to appreciate the long (albeit expensive) journey to get there!

IMG_9811 IMG_9812 IMG_9813 IMG_9814 IMG_9816 IMG_9817 IMG_9818 IMG_9819 IMG_9820We were dropped at Maurice & Delphine’s home where Maurice came out, apologized for not being at the airport and took us to our bungalow.  Review coming!

Air Tahiti Flight: Papeete – Ua Huka, Marquesas

You gotta love an airport where you can get lei’d first thing in the morning if you want!

IMG_9775 IMG_9776The airport is buzzing from 5am onwards as people are checking in for departures at 6am onwards.  The line is pretty long, no elite check-in so get there as early as you can!  Fares are not cheap as I already posted!

IMG_9777Flights boarded right on time.  People with children were called first, then all others walked to the plane and chose any open seat.  We went for the “poor people’s business class” in the front.  Not a great idea as seat arms don’t come up and we were last off the plane.

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Air Tahiti’s domestic service is probably one of the more pleasant one-class flights you can take.  On longer services to the Marquesas they aren’t able to sell every seat on the plane due to runway length and weight restrictions.  The odds are pretty good you will have an empty seat next to you!  Staff were very friendly but only coffee, tea or water were provided for free.  We had brought the breakfast from the Tahiti Airport Motel as we weren’t prepared to eat at 5:30am!  Snacks are available for purchase on board.

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Getting Around French Polynesia – Domestic Flights

Flights within French Polynesia are operated by Air Tahiti (not to be confused with Air Tahiti Nui, the international carrier). Flights are all one-cabin but they won’t be full as they can’t sell all the seats due to weight restrictions landing on the smaller islands.


The two biggest problems are:

1.  You can’t use miles to book these flights.  Air Tahiti doesn’t have any partnerships with any other airline.  You could use cash back type points such as Ultimate Rewards or Barclay’s Arrival points.

2.  The flights are VERY expensive!   Those of you who have been to Bora Bora ain’t seen nothing yet, but now you know why we had to resort to ramen noodles to at least make up a bit of the budget!  They accept most major credit cards so at least you will get a decent amount of miles from the bank!


Air Tahiti Destinations


You can download a timetable for all Air Tahiti flights.  They are updated twice a year, in March and September.  As you can see above, most flights to the outer islands go via Papeete but within each island group there are connecting flights.  You can’t go from one island group such as the Australes (where Rimatara is located) directly to another group such as the Marquesas (where Ua Huka is located).


In my case, I was targeting two specific bird species which are only found on two specific islands and I was limited by both time and money.  Therefore all we could do was buy two round-trip tickets from Papeete to Ua Huka and Rimatara.  For those who have more time and money, you can get island passes which give you several flights within an island group.  There are strict rules associated with these passes, you can see more here.


If we had more time and money to spend, we definitely would have gone for a Marquesas Pass.  Even just flying over the various islands, I could see they were stunningly beautiful, would put Bora Bora to shame!


Terms & Conditions for Passes

Pass fares are offered to adults (over 12 years old) and children (2 to 11 years). There are no Pass fares for infants.

As a general rule, all Passes start and finish in Tahiti or Moorea.

You do not have to visit all of the islands included in your chosen Pass, but at least two islands must be visited.

Each island may be visited only once (a single stopover per island); returning to Tahiti while using the Pass is not permitted.

All of your flights must be confirmed at the time of issuing your ticket.

The length of your trip may not exceed 28 days from the start date, including for Passes with one or more Extensions.

These fares may not be used in conjunction with other fares offered by Air Tahiti and are applicable for payment by cheque, credit/debit card or cash only.

Transits or stopovers in Tahiti while using the Pass

Transits or stopovers in Tahiti while using your Pass are not permitted, except:

  • for the Lagoons Pass, between Moorea and the islands of the Tuamotu Archipelago
  • for a Pass with Extension, between Pass and Extension

For these exceptions, a maximum transit of 24 hours in Tahiti is permitted.

Stopover (stop lasting more than 24hrs) on an island other than Tahiti

A single stopover is permitted per island.

A transit (stop lasting less than 24 hours) with a change of flight number is considered a stopover except for flights from Bora Bora via Rangiroa to Tikehau, Manihi or Fakarava. For these flights, when there is a flight number change with a stop of less than 2 hours in Rangiroa, such a stop may be considered a transit rather than a stopover.

Passes including more than one group of islands.

All of the islands from a given archipelago must be visited before moving on to the next archipelago (e.g. for the Bora Bora-Tuamotu Pass, all of the islands from the Society Islands archipelago must be visited before moving on to those of the Tuamotu Archipelago).

Within a given archipelago, the islands may be visited in any order, subject to feasibility with regard to Air Tahiti’s flight schedule.


An Extension may not be purchased on its own; it must be combined with one of the Passes.

Extensions must be used before or after the Pass.

It is permitted to purchase both Extensions.

A 24-hour stop in Tahiti between Pass and Extension is permitted.


New Birding Guides In French Polynesia

While gathering information for a future “bucket list” trip to the Marquesas to see the spectacular Ultramarine Lorikeet, and possibly also to Rimatara for Rimatara Lorikeets, I found this article in a pdf version of Air Tahiti’s magazine.  Also see the MANU website.


This is excellent news as the birds could otherwise be difficult to find given the lush mountainous topography of these islands.  The local guides would know where to find them.

There are very few airlines that get you to Tahiti on miles, only Air New Zealand (Star Alliance) and Air Tahiti Nui (non-alliance partner with American Airlines & Delta).  You need a South Pacific award which falls into the same region as Australia in most cases.

Once you are there, you need to pay full price for the Air Tahiti flight as they don’t have any mileage options…………..and the flights are not cheap!

Getting To The Cook Islands Using Frequent Flier Miles


The Cook Islands has only one international airport (RAR) and only 3 airlines that serve this airport.  Air New Zealand, a member of the Star Alliance has the most flights, most of which originate in Auckland (AKL) and a few flights to LAX and SYD (Sydney).  You can use any of the Star Alliance partners to book these flights but depending on where you live and what your profile is, some programs will be better than others.

If you live in Australia or New Zealand, your best bet is probably going to be the Singapore Airline’s Krisflyer.  As you can see by the chart below, Australia, New Zealand and the Cook Islands are all in the South-West Pacific category.  Round trip awards are only 25,000 miles in economy and 35,000 in business class.  Air New Zealand does not have a first class cabin.  This is the ONLY award I use SQ miles for and I keep my Amex points in Amex and transfer them just when I am ready to redeem because SQ miles expire after 3 years whether you have any activity or not.  I don’t use SQ for any other routings than Pacific awards because they have tremendous fuel surcharges on just about all their other routes.SQ RAR

If you are traveling from North America, Asia, Europe or South America, you will find much easier awards using one of 3 Star Alliance partners:  US Airways Dividend Miles, United Airlines Mileage Plus or Avianca Taca Lifemiles.  There are pros and cons to each program and from the USA especially business class is hard to get so you will most likely end up in economy.  Air New Zealand does release business class within a couple months of departure but by that time, the economy seats will be gone so if you like to plan in advance, I wouldn’t risk it.  On the other hand, it can be good news for more spontaneous travelers who have more flexibility.

Anyone from anywhere in the world can join these 3 programs.  Americans will usually be better off with United if they plan on using any of the Chase Ultimate Reward cards to acquire miles with both personal and business cards available and gift card churning.  This is way too complicated to go into here but if anyone is interested, start with Flyer Talk or ask me to personally recommend a blogger who specializes in this sort of thing in the comment section below.

No matter which Star Alliance partner I am booking on, I find the UA award search tool is the easiest to use because of the colour-coded calendar.  Obviously the miles needed for the redemption are valid only on UA.  If you are after business class awards, beware of the Mixed Class warning as shown in the second screenshot.UA RAR1UA RAR2

You are probably wondering why they are routing you through Sydney instead of the direct flight LAX-AKL, then AKL RAR.   Let’s see if there is any availability.  Scroll down to the bottom, do a LAX AKL search, choose your date and tick the Nonstop flights only box.UA RAR3

There are no non-stop flights available so it gives a warning and shows connecting flights.UA RAR4

At this point, depending on how much flexibility you have, you can keep plugging in dates hoping for the non-stop LAX-AKL (I did a few random dates and couldn’t find anything) or just take what they offer.

Bear in mind that this availability display will be much the same for any of the Star Alliance airlines but not all airlines have the facility to search partner awards.  The ANA tool can also be used.  It’s complicated but I will do a more comprehensive post on how to use it later.

For people who can’t get the Chase credit cards from the USA, your best bets will be either US Dividend Miles or Avianca Taca Lifemiles.  Both these airlines have frequent 100% bonuses on purchase miles throughout the year.  I’ll go into more detail later, because both programs have their pros and cons so I will just show you how many miles it takes to go from LAX to RAR.

Let’s start with US Airways Dividend Miles.  From the USA and the rest of North America, you will need 80k in economy, 110k in business.  From UK and Europe, you will need 100k economy, 120k business and from Australia or New Zealand you will need 25k economy and 30k business-all round trip and no one-way options available.

Using a 100% bonus on purchase miles, an American would pay $1505 USD including tax for 40k miles purchased and 40k given free with the promo.USDM RAR

Avianca Taca Lifemiles offers one-way awards and online booking of partner awards, but people on Flyertalk report it is difficult to deal with the call centres for non-Spanish speakers and you can’t mix classes (economy and business/first) on an award.  I’ll post their award chart and do a more comprehensive post on them later.  Sorry this is going to post very small so I would suggest clicking on the link on their website to see it better.   All the Pacific countries:  Australia, New Zealand, Cook Islands, Tahiti and others fall into the “Others” category.  Don’t ask me why they didn’t just call it “South Pacific” like all the other airlines!  From the USA and the rest of North America, you will need 90k economy and 130k business.  From Europe, you will need 110k economy, 175k business and from Australia/New Zealand you will need 35k economy, 55k business.

Using the 100% bonus purchase miles promo, an American would have to buy 45k for $1350 and get 45k free from the promo.  The website states that there is a tax payable but when I bought a smaller amount of miles earlier, I was not charged a tax.  AviancaTaca RAR


Using the examples above, an American would spend $1505 to use USDM, $1350 to use Avianca Taca Lifemiles (need to add tax on top of that) or a quick look at Expedia shows tickets available for $1313 and you will EARN miles!   So in this case, only use miles if you got them free from a credit card or earned while flying on other paid Star Alliance flights.  Don’t buy miles in this case when the paid ticket is cheaper!!!  Expedia RAR

An Australian would pay $490 to get 13k USDM plus 13k free.  On Avianca Taca Lifemiles, it would cost $540 to get 18k miles plus 18k free.  A quick look at Air New Zealand’s site shows a fare of $1276 NZD which is around $1056 USD so for the Aussie, the better option is to buy the US Airways miles after making sure there is availability on the desired dates.




Virgin Australia serves RAR from AKL with onward connections to Australia.  This program is likely to be useful only to Australians who are using credit cards or every day life techniques to get Velocity points so here is a sample of award levels.   See their website for more information.  Aussies who are using Amex Membership Rewards would be better off transferring to Singapore’s Krisflyer where 50k Amex = 50k SQ which can be redeemed for 2 x Australia to RAR in Y as noted above.

Velocity RAR


Air Raro and Air Tahiti share the route between RAR and PPT (Papeete, Tahiti).  There are no frequent flyer options here, you will have to pay cash for this flight but it could be a useful option if you want to redeem a Star Alliance open jaw award Australia-Raro /- Tahiti-Australia and need to get between Raro and Tahiti.  The flight only operates once a week but does save a lot of backtracking.Air RaroPPT

WHEW, that was confusing!  If you have any questions, please ask in the comments below and I will be happy to clarify anything.  Once you get to the Cook Islands, you will want to organize your neighbor island visits to Aitutaki and Atiu so please check those posts too!