Traveling to Tahiti may be more accessible with new Alaska Airlines partnership

Alaska Airlines struck a chord, it seems, when it partnered with a Tahitian airline last month.

Air Tahiti Nui flies a pair of Boeing 787 aircraft daily between its home base in Papeete, Tahiti and Paris. Currently, planes stop in Los Angeles en route. But starting Oct. 4, the carrier will land in Seattle, offering twice-weekly nonstop service to Papeete on Wednesdays and Sundays.

The airline also flies from Papeete to Auckland, New Zealand, and Tokyo.

As part of its launch in Seattle, Air Tahiti Nui has partnered with Alaska Airlines on its mileage plan. Currently, travelers can earn miles when traveling to Tahiti from Los Angeles.

But the big question is, how many frequent flyer miles will it take to get a ticket from Alaska to Tahiti?

“We are currently working on reimbursement levels,” said Alex Judson, head of alliances and partnerships at Alaska Airlines. “When this is completed, it will be posted on the website.”

That’s all Kirby Day needed to hear.

“I’m going to use every mile I have left to go to Tahiti and back,” he said.

Day has worked for Princess and Holland America cruises for years and is based in Juneau. But in the mid-1980s, he was living in Tahiti.

“I used to live there when I was in charge of operations for American Hawaii Cruises. We had a ship called the SS Libertée, based in Tahiti,” he said.

The Libertée, with a capacity of 714 passengers, is relatively small by today’s standards, compared to ships that can carry more than 3,000 passengers. “When we arrived in 1985, it was the largest ship to ever call at Tahiti,” Day said.

“We hosted Bob Hope’s winter special on the ship in 1985,” he said. “There was a long list of celebrities in attendance for the live stream, including Jonathan Winters and John Denver.”

Day spent a year and a half in Tahiti before his job ended. But when he left, he said “I’m going home”.

In 2013 Princess moved a few ships to Tahiti and they chose Day to oversee the operation, based on her previous experience.

“I have to go back and visit my children,” he said. Many locals he worked with in the 1980s were still there when he returned.

“Tahiti is the most expensive place I know,” he warned. “But it’s a one-of-a-kind place…a real must-do trip.”

Scott Laird is a travel writer who grew up in Alaska. Although he is now based in Bas 48, he is a frequent visitor to Tahiti.

“A common misconception about French Polynesia is that it is much more remote than Hawai’i,” writes Laird.

“A lot of people confuse it with Fiji, which is 11 a.m. from Los Angeles and across the International Date Line. French Polynesia is on the same time zone as Hawai’i, and only 8 hours from California (the flight from Seattle to Papeete is 9 hours 30 minutes). It’s basically a flight to Hawaii with time for a second movie. What I love about French Polynesia is that is that it looks like the less traveled version of Hawai’i (which receives more visitors each week than French Polynesia in a year) with a pleasant French connotation,” he wrote.

Day shares her favorite places to visit, including Moorea, which is only a 30-minute ferry ride from Papeete.

“Bora Bora is the most developed island – and it was the first island to develop overwater bungalows,” Day said. You have to fly to get there, it’s too far for the ferry from Papeete.

“I once flew to Bora Bora to meet the ship. It was a 20 minute walk from my hotel to Bloody Mary’s Restaurant. Around 10 p.m., Jimmy Buffett walked in, went behind the bar, and grabbed a guitar. Then he played for about two hours,” Day said. “That’s when I decided this job didn’t suck.”

It is difficult to target the best islands to visit.

“There are 118 islands in French Polynesia spread across five island groups covering an ocean area the size of mainland Europe,” writes Laird. “It’s hard to choose! I love Moorea’s dramatic profile and easy-to-reach sandy beaches (just a 30-minute ferry ride from Tahiti), the crystal-clear lagoon of Bora Bora, the lush, spooky mountains of Tahiti’s Papenoo Valley.

Although I have never been to Tahiti, most experts advise visiting the other islands, whichever one you choose. This means taking a flight from Papeete, unless you take the ferry to Moorea. Your Alaska Airlines miles will not work on Air Tahiti, the inter-island carrier with a fleet of turboprop carriers.

In addition to the beaches and warm water, visitors can learn about the history and culture of the islanders.

“(Tahiti’s cultural traditions) are ubiquitous,” writes Laird. “Unlike Hawai’i, Polynesians make up two-thirds of French Polynesia’s population, so there’s little cultural dilution.

“Polynesia has a long history of hospitality and not a long history of tourism, so the music and dancing offered to tourists at the resorts is much the same as at local celebrations and gatherings (and parties organized by stations are also popular in the presence of locals).

“A premier cultural experience in Tahiti is Heiva i Tahiti every July.

“Residents come to Tahiti from all over French Polynesia for a cultural festival of Ori Tahiti (dance), music, fire walking, stone lifting, canoeing and horse racing. This is the peculiarity of French Polynesia – it is a small country that is not saturated with tourism, so the cultural exhibits that tourists see are often entirely organic.

If you can’t wait to get to Tahiti before mileage tickets are available, flights from Los Angeles/LAX start at $860 round-trip.

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