Tips for planning and booking your domestic flights in French Polynesia
That's it, you've decided to fly to French Polynesia and you now want to plan your trip to these islands that make you dream so much?
The first thing to do is to determine the archipelagos and islands you want to discover throughout your trip, then define the number of days you want to spend on each island. Once you have decided, the puzzle can start!
Because yes, let's be frank, you are about to start the stage that will probably be the most complex and painful of all the preparations for your stay in Polynesia. Why? Because not all islands are connected on a daily basis and some only have connections to 1 or 2 other islands, which requires an itinerary to be planned taking into account these constraints, as well as the fact that some flights may already be full at the time of your reservation.
You will have understood it: finding the ideal sequence between the islands and to respect as closely as possible the time you wish to spend on each island will not be an easy task and you will probably have to make some compromises.
1Identify the connections between each island and archipelago
As a first step, we recommend that you first identify the different transport options that you can use to reach the islands you have selected. This will allow you to evaluate other alternatives in the event that you are unable to achieve the ideal trip.
Air connections are the most convenient because they allow you to move quickly between the islands. Most direct flights between the islands of the Society Islands archipelago last only 15 to 20 minutes and are therefore extremely fast. The plane is also sometimes the only way to travel if you want to quickly reach a more distant archipelago such as the Southern Islands, the Gambier or the Marquesas. The disadvantage is the price of flights, because unfortunately Air Tahiti has a virtual monopoly (alongside private aircraft companies) on all the islands of French Polynesia and offers really prohibitive prices, especially when considering the very short duration of some flights.
Nevertheless, Air Tahiti offers 7 inter-island passes that can be combined with 2 extensions to reduce the bill. However, the price of the passes remains quite high (it is a very expensive budget not to be neglected when travelling to French Polynesia), and it also requires to respect some very annoying conditions that I will talk about later, at the risk of not getting into the price of the pass and thus see your bill go up.
The boat is a good alternative, especially for certain routes such as between Tahiti and Moorea, and will allow you to travel at very reasonable rates if you have time.
Some companies make trips once or twice a week between the islands of the Society Archipelago, but also between the Tuamotu atolls. The boat is the only way to reach certain atolls that are not very frequented, or even uninhabited. However, there are not always meals or cabins on board and you can expect a very long sailing time (several hours to several days).
Finally, it should be noted that tour companies may offer to connect the Society's islands by boat or catamaran. However, the price will be much higher than a ferry since it will be more of an organized excursion than a simple transfer.
Daily rotations between Tahiti and Moorea
The only really worthwhile connection by boat is the trip between Tahiti and Moorea, which is operated daily by two ferry companies: Terevau and Aremiti. Allow between 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on the type of boat chosen. You will find more information about the logistics of the ferry crossing in our article dedicated to Moorea: Preparing for your stay in Moorea: practical guide, activities and points of interest: Moorea: the guide to prepare your trip to the neighbouring island of Tahiti
2Create your itinerary using Air Tahiti's inter-island passes
Now that you know the different ways to reach the islands, it's time to start creating your itinerary. If you wish to opt for a large majority of flights, the most advantageous way is to use one or more of the 7 inter-island passes offered by Air Tahiti.
The different Air Tahiti inter-island passes
Below is a list of the passes available with the islands served and the price per adult/child (from 2 to 11 years old) for the high season 2019 (low season prices drop by a few dozen euros). If you are travelling with a baby under 2 years of age, the price of the ticket will be 10% of the adult fare without any baggage allowance.
- PASS Découverte - 333€ / 269€ : Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea
- PASS Bora Bora - 439€ / 351€ : Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Bora Bora, Maupiti
- PASS Lagons - 464€ / 368€ : Moorea, Rangiroa, Tikehau, Fakarava
- PASS Corail - 389€ / 308€ : Ahe, Manihi
- PASS Bora Bora - Tuamotu - 571€ / 456€ : Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Maupiti, Bora Bora, Rangiroa, Tikehau, Fakarava
- PASS Australes - 612€ / 486€ : Rurutu, Tubuai, Raivavae, Rimatara
- PASS Marquises - 931€ / 745€ : Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa, Ua Huka, Ua Pou
It is also possible to combine a pass with one or two of the following extensions:
- EXTENSION Australes - 372€ / 295€ : Rurutu, Tubuai, Raivavae, Rimatara
- EXTENSION Marquises - 716€ / 582€ : Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa
Be careful because all the passes offered will not necessarily be interesting according to your itinerary. If you have only a few trips planned, it will probably be more advantageous not to use a pass. In any case, the booking tool will tell you the best rate, which may be lower than the pass rate if you do not reach its selling price. I explain below how the pass system works.
Finally, if you reach the price of a pass, it will not change regardless of the number of islands you choose. For example, if you are interested in the Bora Bora - Tuamotu pass, which is the most popular, you will pay the same price as you decided to stop on 5 or 8 islands. There is therefore no reduction possible for small tours.
How to buy and use an Air Tahiti inter-island pass
I had a lot of trouble understanding the pass buying system. For me, when we talk about "Pass", I visualize a ticket or a kind of ticket to buy and then use. But that is not the case! The notion of "Pass" is rather associated with a combination of flights to be operated within a specific framework and under conditions in the Air Tahiti booking form. If all the conditions are met, the price of the pass will automatically be displayed instead of the unit price of each of your flights.
If the price of your flights does not reach the price of a pass, you will only pay the standard price.
For example, you want to make the following trip: Tahiti - Raiatea - Huahine - Tahiti. Although these islands are all included in the Bora Bora pass, you will only pay 334€, which is below the pass price. However, if you wish to make the trip: Tahiti - Raiatea - Huahine - Bora Bora - Moorea - Tahiti, the price of the Bora Bora pass at 439€ will automatically apply.
Here, there is therefore no real notion of a physical pass. This is only a "maximum" rate that will automatically apply to your reservation if you make it under the right conditions.
If this is the case, you will have to find your error and redo the simulation in the correct way.
Conditions and constraints for the use of the passes
The proposed passes are subject to many conditions that will not facilitate the creation of your itinerary. Let's review them together.
Your itinerary must start and end in Tahiti or Moorea
If you wish to book online, it is essential that your departure and arrival destination be Tahiti, otherwise the price of the pass will not be displayed. It is also possible to start and end with Moorea (the ferry solution between Tahiti and Moorea may be more advantageous for you) but in this case you will have to call Air Tahiti's reservation service directly to get the tickets (the simulation in this case will not give you the right price online).
You can only stop on each island once
This is probably the most restrictive condition. This means finding a route that does not return to an island already visited, even for a stopover of a few hours! This will not be complicated if your itinerary only passes through islands with many connections, but if, on the other hand, you wish to visit a less-well-served island (Maupiti for example), you will see that the possibilities of routes will be very limited and may force you to revise your schedule, or to make some sacrifices like reducing the time spent on an island because the sequence of flights does not allow you to stay as many days as hoped.
The funny thing about this system is that flights between islands in the same archipelago are usually circuit flights. That is to say, the same plane will fly to the islands with a short stopover of about 20 minutes on each island before returning to its base. Sometimes your journey may include a stopover without this being mentioned on the Air Tahiti website. If this is the case, you will only have to stay on the plane during the stopover. You will be able to deduct this information based on the duration of the flight. If it exceeds 20-30 minutes when the two islands are close, there is probably a stopover.
Note that if you start your itinerary in Tahiti, you will also not be able to make a stopover in Tahiti during your itinerary unless you have two distinct passes (purchased separately), one pass and one extension or, in the specific case of the Lagons pass, you must return to Tahiti between Moorea and the Tuamotu Archipelago.
However, there is an exception if you are travelling to Tikehau, Manihi or Fakarava from Bora Bora with a short stopover of less than 2 hours in Rangiroa. In this exceptional case, the stopover in Rangiroa does not count as such and you can come back to stop later in Rangiroa. Normally your flight will be split into two parts directly visible in the booking form.
The last special case: sometimes certain routes will appear offering you a short stopover of less than 2 hours on an island other than Rangiroa, for example in Papeete. Note that if you select one of these flights, the price of the pass will not apply because you are out of the conditions of use (return by Tahiti even for less than 2 hours!). However, if you have no other solution, please note that you can call Air Tahiti Customer Service on 006 89 40 86 42 42 who can apply a "flexibility" option to you. This option is not free of charge (around 70€ per ticket) and will allow you to validate this type of itinerary.
In any case, if you are unable to obtain the price of the pass when you think you are in the conditions of use, call Air Tahiti customer service who can give you the reasons and perhaps find a solution.
You can also use the Air Tahiti contact form to send them your wishes so that they can help you to make the most coherent itinerary.
3Our advice before you buy your inter-island flight ticket
Book as soon as possible
This advice is especially valid if you are travelling in the high season or if you wish to make a stopover on the island of Maupiti, which is only poorly served.
Air Tahiti aircrafts are small planes with only a few seats and can therefore be filled very quickly. When there is only one flight per day, or even per week, if that flight is already full, you can probably forget about this island, or reduce your number of nights on the island, which would be a pity.
This happened to us by booking 6 months in advance for a stay at the end of August - beginning of September where several flights to Maupiti and Fakarava were already full.
So don't wait until the last minute to book your flights. You can also change a flight time or day free of charge if this does not affect your itinerary.
Check the availability of hotels/pension on each island
This second advice may seem simple, but it can save you a lot of trouble, especially if you have chosen to stop off on islands or atolls that have few accommodations and you are traveling during the high season.
I take as an example our experience, for a trip from August 22 to September 7 that we booked at the end of February, 6 months before. We first bought the flights we booked online on the Air Tahiti website and then started looking for and booking our accommodation in the order of our itinerary. We had no worries about finding hotels/pension in our budget on the islands with a high accommodation capacity, but this was not the case everywhere, especially on Fakarava where all the pensions we had selected were already either full or partially full (one or two nights out of three were missing) or only had bungalows at prices that were considerably over our budget. As a result, we had to decide between paying more (about 290€/night), shortening our stay in Fakarava by one night or changing our itinerary with all the consequences that this would have on the modification of our plane tickets. In the end we decided to shorten our stay by one night.
It should be noted that many pensions do not make a reservation for a single night, or will refuse you a reservation if it leaves a day vacant between your dates and those of previous hosts (this has happened to us in Fakarava).
We had also very afraid on Maupiti where the island's capacity is extremely limited (less than 100 beds). The same goes for Bora Bora, but for a question of price only because there is a large capacity on the island but there are few small pensions/hotels on a reasonable budget.
In short, if you travel in high season (especially from July to the end of September), or if you have a very limited budget, or special constraints (accessibility, baby, specific location, one-night stay...), we recommend you to start your accommodation searches in parallel with your itinerary, so that you do not have to manage a complex situation once your tickets have been issued.
4Modify an Air Tahiti ticket purchased with an inter-island pass
If, like us, you find yourself in a situation that requires a change in your flights, please note that it is possible to change the tickets issued by Air Tahiti. The conditions for modification and cancellation are clearly stated on the Air Tahiti website at this link.
The good news is that if the change does not impact your itinerary, you will not have to pay any fees. This applies if, for example, you just change a schedule by taking a flight earlier or later on the same day, but also if you change days, while keeping the same route. You can completely postpone your itinerary if you want.
We made two changes to our ticket (once for the hour, the other once to change the day) and this was done very quickly by phone.
On the other hand, if you change your itinerary, for example by adding another island or replacing one island with another or changing the order of the islands, a modification fee of around €17 (around $20) per modified trip will apply (this amount was flat-rate per booking before 31 March 2019, it is now applied for each trip, which can quickly increase the bill). Finally, it will be necessary to ensure that your modifications remain under the conditions of your pass.
To make a change, simply call Air Tahiti customer service on +689 40 86 42 42 42 and give them your reservation number. The modification will be done directly by phone and you will receive by email your new itinerary in the meantime.
- The essentials for a trip in French Polynesia