Getting to Tahiti using your points (and in general) is not the easiest prospect. Two carriers fly from the continental US non-stop to Papeete–both from Los Angeles: Air France and Air Tahiti Nui (Hawaiian Airlines also offers once-weekly service from Honolulu). Securing award seats on either carrier in a premium cabin, while not impossible, is an arduous undertaking. With news today that Air Tahiti Nui will be rolling out an expanded business class cabin with new seats starting in April, the prospect of getting to Tahiti using your miles just got a little better.
Air Tahiti Nui will be phasing out first class on its five A340 jets and replace the current first and business class cabins with a larger business class cabin and new seats. Curiously, the carrier has opted for an angled lie-flat variant, bucking the industry trend, but I cannot blame Air Tahiti Nui for this move. The carrier has a rather captive crowd and as the only carrier with daily service to French Polynesia, it can get away with not having industry-leading seats. But these seats are an improvement to the curent non-lie-flat recliner seats and many will value the 2-2-2 layout more than (for example) United’s 180° horizontal lie-flat, but arguably claustrophobic seats (which would have been laid out 2-3-2 or even 2-4-2 on an A340).
With a 33% increase in seats (from 24 to 32 in business class) will we see increased award availability? Ostensibly yes, but it is still too early to tell. Logically, it would make sense but we’ve seen what has happened to many carriers who have a glut of business class seats (ahem Air France + KLM) yet have decided–as a policy–to heavily restrict their release to partners.
Air Tahiti Nui business and economy class tickets can be booked through both American Airlines and Delta Air Lines. Delta imposes a fuel surcharge while American does not. On the flipside, Delta does allow a complimentary stopover on an award so you could theoretically use Air Tahit Nui to fly from Los Angeles to Auckland with a stopover or layover in Tahiti.
Finally, we see another tri-cabin first class product bite the dust. With competition fierce and business class seats getting better each year, we will continue to see the scaling back of first class going forward.