Fast-forward and today I’m trying to book a similar ticket but to Tahiti and the problems are more numerous than last time I tried this route. First I’ll talk about the problems that I’m facing, and then I’ll go over the solutions and work around… when there is one.
1) Technically you need to change regions to use a stopover
With both United and US Airways (and others actually) you need to have a roundtrip that changes regions in order to use a stopover at all. The problem with this is the sweet spot in the pricing is to go from Micronesia to Polynesia, which are both considered “Oceania” on an award chart, via Asia and Australia/New Zealand.
I guess the way we got away with it before is a combination of the fact that we had a stopover in New Zealand and manual pricing. It doesn’t make any sense really, but it worked.
2) Air New Zealand availability is bad
The biggest problem for most people will be the simple fact that Air New Zealand has terrible award availability released to their partners. Getting a seat to any island in the Pacific nowadays is mostly a matter of luck.
This is a problem for not only fitting one’s schedule but simply getting in your roundtrip.
3) Terrible connections with Air New Zealand
Again, to get the stopover, it has to be a roundtrip. However, getting a roundtrip is hard simply when it comes to connecting in Australia or New Zealand.
The solution for one of the directions is to stopover in either Sydney or New Zealand. The connections from their are fine. But coming back you’ve already used your one stopover and are out of luck if you can’t get a connection under 24 hours. The ticket just won’t work.
Solution: use the stopover on the direction with worst availability.
4) United has priced Australia/New Zealand more powerful than Oceania-Oceania
The Oceania to Oceania not changing regions almost doesn’t really matter anymore with United because they’ve wised up enough to change the price for a ticket that’s “Oceania – New Zealand – Oceania – Oceania” to price at the higher price of Oceania to New Zealand and back… like it should be I suppose.
At least I think this is what’s happening. I haven’t tested this route in a while.
5) Japan to Oceania via Australia/New Zealand now isn’t a legal route with United
This was the pride and joy of “4 variations of the Pacific hopper“. 12,500 miles from Japan to Oceania, and ideally with a stopover in Sydney or New Zealand.
However, after hours and hours of play on United… I can’t get this to ever get to any screen other than the error screen.
Please see my chart: United Error Message Decision Making Tree.
This chart shows you how you can know whether or not your route is legal. One way to determine if it is a legal route is if you ever don’t get an error screen. An error screen on the second or third leg surely means that there’s an availability problem. But the fact that it never even shows me the first leg… is a bad sign.
At this point I’m willing to say it’s not a legal routing “officially”. This is true for both Japan and North Asia, in my experience.
6) The non Air New Zealand options are bad
When I think about trying to use US Airways miles or even AA miles (which doesn’t allow stopovers), I realize that there aren’t a ton of options out there. Basically nothing with SkyTeam and little else.
The only route to a Polynesian island that Qantas operates is one to Noumea, New Caledonia, which I certainly wouldn’t mind going to, but it doesn’t leave a ton of options.
For Tahiti there’s only Air Tahiti Nui which doesn’t have a real business class. But the big problem is that AA doesn’t let you continue on from an Air Tahiti Nui flight to a different partner (like JAL or Qantas) unless they sell a ticket together on Air Tahiti Nui. Unfortunately this is just tough. Even a ticket to Perth I could get it to sell a codeshare as Qantas but not Air Tahiti Nui. *sigh*
1) Book in advance
This is terrible advice but it’s the only solution to solving poor award availability. I’m finding plenty of award space on United to Tahiti booking way ahead. Within 6 months… it’s nothing.
2) South Pacific could include Australia/New Zealand
Problem: Only island Qantas flies to is New Caledonia.
True. But however, some award charts consider New Zealand, Australia and Pacific islands all in one region. Like US Airways which calls it the “South Pacific”. If they let you book Guam to Sydney it should still be 25k/30k roundtrip. Great price. However, you don’t have long to use US Airways miles.
Problem: Starting from Japan is no longer legal & it needs to change regions
I have solved this and other problems simply because the agents manually do something. Now with United, a manual override is a big deal and involves a manager and possibly a manual deposit of miles. It is not something I recommend unless you’re desperate or stubborn. Remember to be nice, polite. And remember that they are actually doing you a favor and don’t know it. You can always hang up and call again later. But really be nice.
4) Use stopover in the direction of least availability
This may be obvious, but you don’t have to use your stopover
5) Open-Jaw and fill in with another airline
Problem: Can’t get good connection in AKL, and I already used my stopover on the way.
It’s really hard for me to get award availability from Asia all the way to Tahiti and back. I can use a stopover one of the directions but I only have 1 to use, with United at least.
But what I would do if necessary, is open-jaw and fill-in with AA miles. I’ll stopover in Sydney on the way to Tahiti. And instead of my Untied ticket continuing from Tahiti back to New Zealand, I’ll continue the ticket much later from New Zealand. Then I’ll use AA miles to go from Tahiti to New Zealand. This gives me a second stopover in New Zealand at the cost of using AA miles for a oneway.
For example AA partners with both Air Tahiti Nui and Fiji Airways, and you could use British Airways Avios for Qantas.
My idea ticket is as follows:
- start in Japan
- stopover in Sydney
- Destination in Tahiti
- Open-jaw so I have to fill in a ticket from Tahiti to New Zealand using AA miles
- Continue from New Zealand to South Korea
I could get off the plane in Bangkok or something, last time we just got off the plane in Japan instead of returning to Guam.
However, this is going to be a tough ticket to actually book. I’m not sure if I’ll actually book it like this. The problem is that I don’t have any miles that would get me from the US to Tahiti easily, which is why I started looking at this route again.
I could do 25k off-peak to and from Japan and South Korea with AA miles and Alaska miles.
In all, my Pacific Hopper would cost me 25,000 United miles, plus 20,000 AA miles. And my roundtrip to Asia would be 50,000 miles. That’s 95,000 miles to see South Korea, Sydney, Tahiti, New Zealand, and Japan. I’d probably squeeze more in while in Asia, but have just begun the planning.