Is it worth upgrading to business class on United’s direct flight between San Francisco and Tahiti?


As a member, you now get better savings when you book direct.

United recently started direct service between San Francisco, California and Tahiti, French Polynesia (airport code: PPT).

Earlier this month, I took advantage of the flight, and was able to snag an incredible deal for both flight and 4 nights in an over-water bungalow.

I was able to fly economy over and business back, so wanted to share my experiences in case you’re considering taking the same flight, and don’t know whether the upgrade to business class is worth it. (Unfortunately, I lost some of the pictures I took, so you’ll have to rely on my account below!).

The verdict: It depends.

As a lawyer, “it depends” or “maybe” is perhaps my favorite response to any question. But it’s especially true here.

Economy service, particularly is you are in Economy Plus, is decent. The flight is roughly 8 hours each way, which can be difficult for a business class flight — practically speaking, it meant that after dinner service, there was about 3.5 hours to sleep before breakfast service started. While United offers you the opportunity to skip breakfast (you can tell them before you fall asleep), I’ve found that even with an eye mask and ear plus, I can’t sleep through the smell of cooked food.

On the flight over, you’ll leave SFO in the early afternoon and arrive in PPT at around 8pm, which means that you’ll be sleeping soon after you land, anyway. I did this leg in economy, and am glad I did.

On the way back, you’ll leave at night and land in SFO early in the morning, which means you may benefit more from a bed (particularly if you want to go into work the next morning).

I was a little nervous about the 2-2-2 business setup on the business flight, but the new Polaris seats were really comfortable, and I love the Saks Fifth Avenue products. While I haven’t confirmed this, I think the new SFO to PPT route is pretty coveted and that the flight attendants working it were assigned to the routes based on seniority, so you can expect some pretty great service on the flight.

If your only (reasonable) option for flying to Tahiti is on economy, don’t let that deter you. But if you have the means or found a great deal in business, it’s definitely a nice way to treat yo’ self.

How I scored 4 nights in an overwater bungalow at a 5-star resort in Tahiti for $319.87 total (including airfare)

It’s not enough that I travel to cool places — I need to get a great deal going there.

Growing up, I was obsessed with finding travel deals. As a kid, I would hang out at the local travel agency and read up on foreign destinations. I would also study the Sunday travel section and insist to my parents that we needed to go places when the airfare was obviously on sale (spoiler alert: they never gave in).

To quench my thirst for travel, for my 10th birthday, my parents got me a subscription to Condé Nast Traveler. While it took almost 15 years from that point for me to get a passport, reading the magazine gave me a ton of travel goals — and staying an overwater bungalow was always near the top.

Finally, after capitalizing on some amazing deals, in a few weeks I’ll be able to make that dream come true in Moorea, French Polynesia. While you can sometimes spend over $10,000 for a trip like this (including air and hotel), using a number of travel hacks, I was able to score the room and plane ticket for $319.87.

Airfare

Thanks to discount-carrier French Bee offering cheap, direct service between SFO and Tahiti (airport code: PPT), United has joined suit in offering the same direct flight at competitive prices.

The round-trip airfare for the flight was $618.57, but I used 49,665 Chase points which were obtained through a credit card sign-up to book it. This resulted in a total cost of $0 for the flights.

Total price paid so far: $0.

Hotel

After discovering a way to book Hilton hotels at 25% off, I decided to look into the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa, a beautiful property located a short boat ride away from the main airline in Tahiti. Using the tricks in the previous link, I was able to find a cheaper fare than what was listed on the Hilton.com website, which qualified me for the 25% discount. While the room would normally go for ~$600/night before taxes, I was able to score a room for $359/night before taxes. With taxes, this came out to a total of $1,454.29 for 4 nights, which is already a steal for this type of room.

But I wasn’t done yet — I’m far too cheap to spend that on a vacation myself (and, plus, what’s the fun in going to Tahiti alone?). So, I messaged a friend who previously joined me on another killer deal I got (that time, to the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne) to see if he’d be interested. Luckily, he was.

This cut my total price paid to $727.14. But it gets better.

Because of my Hilton business credit card, I have Gold status which means that for each dollar that I spent at a Hilton property, I get 18 points for every dollar that I spent at a Hilton property. Additionally, if I make the purchase on my Hilton business card, I receive an additional 12 points for every dollar spent at Hilton property. Because of this, I’ll receive 43,628 points for my stay (at a valuation of $0.006 per point, this comes out to $261.77 worth of points). Since Hilton points are pretty much redeemable at face-value (meaning that your redemption will almost always be at the $0.006/point rate, similar to Delta with their points being pegged at $0.01/point), this brought my total down to $465.37.

But it gets even better.

Hilton recently ran a promotion where for bookings between January 4, 2019 and May 5, 2019, you’ll receive an extra 2,000 points for each stay, which is a $12 value. Additionally, Hilton will be doing repairs on the pool during my stay and will be $66.75 property credit each day during that time, which comes out to $267 (but, for purposes of my calculations, I’m cutting that in half to $133.50, since I’ll be splitting the credit with my friend). I was aware of the pool closure when I booked and didn’t really care, since I plan on swimming in the ocean anyway.

Deducting the bonus points and resort credit, my total for the stay, including air and hotel, came out to a whopping $319.87.

Conclusion

This may be the best travel deal that I’ve ever snagged. While Moorea certainly won’t be cheap, as a Hilton Gold member I’ll get free breakfast (it’s actually served directly to my bungalow by a staff member in a boat!) and can use the resort credit towards a meal. So, I’m taking this concept of balling on a budget to a new level and can’t wait.

United announces San Francisco to Tahiti flight will be offered year-round

Earlier this year, in an attempt to compete with budget carrier French Bee, United Airlines announced a direct San Francisco (SFO) to Tahiti (PPT) flight, operating from October 2018 through March 2019.

The fares are actually quite decent (as far as trips to Tahiti go), and you can find direct flights on this route from United for as low as $618 round-trip.

According to the United Airlines California President Janet Lamkin:

“We are thrilled to extend this exciting flight to a year-round schedule… For Californians and our customers connecting through San Francisco, this route offers an escape to a little corner of paradise.”

While I’m personally excited for this route (and will be taking it in January!), the initial offer wasn’t ideal, as the hot, rainy season in Tahiti runs from December through March.

Because of this, I was thrilled when United announced this week that the route will now be offered year-round!

There’s no telling if this will be a permanent route yet, so my advice would be to take advantage of the flight while you can. For instance, when I lived on Guam, United announced yearly service to Fiji, and I was lucky enough to be able to take advantage of it before United eliminated it.

From Papeete (PPT), you can easily transfer to Moorea or, for around $400, fly to Bora Bora.