Let’s get in the Christmas spirit with Christmas Island, Kiribati.
Kiritimati as the locals call it, which doesn’t sound so Christmassy until you get your first lesson in I-Kiribati that Hawaiian missionaries transcribed from their own lacking s language, so used ti for the s sound. Say it with me: Ki-ri-ti-ma-ti = Ki-ri-s-ma-s.
When booking tickets, don’t confuse it with Christmas Island, Australia. In airport codes, Kiribati’s is CXI, Australia’s is XCH. Both islands are only served by one airline, Kiribati’s by Fiji Airways and Australia’s by Virgin Australia.
(sidebar: Australia’s Christmas Island now also has weekly charters operated by Garuda out of Jakarta. These are fixed fared and are bookable only through a handful of agents that run diving tours. No mileage redemptions.)
‘Best Fishing in the World’:
‘Best fishing in the world’ is fighting words. I am in no position to argue with the mustacheoed, retired Marine from Texas at Beer & Bullshit Bar in far away Tarawa Atoll, “Ain’t no fishin’ better than Christmas Island bonefishin’.”
Christmas Island is a dream destination for fisherman who pay many thousands of dollars for the experience of fly fishing for bonefish in the lagoon.
Christmas Island Flights:
There is one flight a week. It gets confusing by crossing the International Date Line:
- Late Tuesday night Fiji time, the flight departs Nadi, arriving Christmas island Wednesday morning (4 hour 40 minute flight)
- After a short stop Wednesday morning, it continues from Christmas Island to Honolulu, arriving Tuesday morning (3 hour 10 minute flight)
- Tuesday midday it departs Honolulu, arriving Christmas island Wednesday afternoon (3 hour 15 minute flight)
- After a short stop Wednesday afternoon, it continues from Christmas Island back to Fiji, arriving Wednesday night (5 hour 20 minute flight)
Here’s how it looks:
Christmas Island on Miles:
Fiji Airways award availability is unpredictable in both cabins of service. Avoid major Christian holidays and the seemingly endless parade of school holiday blocks in New Zealand and Australia, when people on holiday and island returnees pack the flights.
Coming from the Continental US, Fiji has year-round Los Angeles service and new, seasonal San Francisco service, both it is hub in Nadi, Fiji.
Honolulu has once weekly fights to each of Nadi (nonstop), Samoa (with continuation to Nadi), and the above Christmas Island route.
Alaska Airways and American Airlines both partner with Fiji for earning miles and redeeming for award flights.
American is the more straightforward:
- US 48 to South Pacific one-way is 40,000/80,000 miles in economy/business
- Hawaii to South Pacific one-way is 37,500/65,000 miles in economy/business
- Intra-South Pacific is 15,000/30,000 miles in economy/business which can be tremendous value given how expensive some of these flights are and much flying they require, this includes travel between Australia/New Zealand and the Pacific islands
- You can mix AA partners
- No stopovers
- You need to call American to book as aa.com does not show Fiji availability.
Alaska is more complex:
- US 48 to South Pacific one-way is 40,000/55,000 miles in economy/business
- Hawaii to South Pacific one-way is 37,500/45,000 miles in economy/business, EXCEPT Christmas Island to Honolu prices at 27,500/
- Intra-South Pacific is 17,500/32,500 miles in economy/business, like American this can be tremendous value since it includes travel between Australia/New Zealand and the Pacific islands
- No mixing with partners, except Alaska itself
- Stopovers are allowed, except it seems, not in Hawaii (readers, can you confirm?)
- There are certain routes that are problematic, such as Christmas Island and Tuvalu. It is not clear to me why some things work and others do not. It seems some combination of Fiji Airways award availability, Fiji airways published routings, and Alaska routing rules. This is not just for awards, but also revenue tickets can be difficult to issue going from some islands to others.
On the Alaska website for the Christmas Island route, flights are easily available one-way and not available at all the other way:
- Nadi t0 Christmas Island – available
- Christmas Island to Honolulu – available (and only prices at 27,500 instead of 37,500)
- Honolulu to Christmas Island – not available (Error Code: 1300 for the entire booking calendar)
- Christmas Island to Nadi – not available (Error Code: 1300 for the entire booking calendar)
I have battled Alaska a lot with Error Codes 1300 and 1580 on Fiji Airways routes. I can only recommend two approaches:
- Call Alaska in the hope it is a website error and not an Alaska rule
- Call American to see if can book the flight
Business or Economy:
The Christmas Island route is on a 737 with unglamorous business class. I can’t speak for other days, however on my flights the plane was empty and I had a row of three seats to myself each way.
If you are going from the Continental US via Fiji, those planes have solid business class and can be worth the premium if the space is available, especially with Alaska charging only a modest increase over economy.
My Christmas Island Award on using American Airlines:
Here is what I booked:
- Tonga-Nadi-Christmas Island (15,000 miles)
- Christmas Island-Nadi (15,000 miles)
- Nadi-Los Angeles (40,000 miles)
Why not 55,000? If I recall correctly, the issue was a problem with booking Tonga-Christmas Island. It is something that you cannot do on the Fiji Airways website though OTAs can put it together. Some of these trips I just have to accept the crazy stuff I do is not how the systems were designed. Alaska gets Error Code: 1580:
Theoretically if Alaska could have issued all of this it might have been as low as 40,000 miles. Even at that, I value American Airlines miles so little, and have so many, that I value 70,000 American Airlines miles less than 40,000 Alaska Airlines miles.
Fishing and Activities in Christmas Island:
Kiribati is an economically impoverished, overpopulated country that may soon be swallowed by the ocean. There is little infrastructure at all, let alone tourism infrastructure. Due to even more severe overpopulation on Tawara, over 2,000 miles away, many I-Kirbati are being relocated to Christmas Island, where conditions are somewhat better.
Do not expect luxury comfort but do expect luxury prices.
Much online information Christmas Island is out of date.
The only two tour operators/lodges I successfully established contact are:
- Ikari House (primarily focused on fishing)
- Lagoon View Resort (primarily focused on non-fishing activities)
I had only the day trip and Ikari House had an Australian fishing group they could add me, so I went with them. For a longer stay I would have been comfortable with either, and likely would have mixed their activities.
My First Bonefishing:
Casting is really hard!
I managed to catch one bonefish and lose many others along with the tackle. A manta ray sidled up to mock me for a bit.
Feisty fish! I can see why it is so popular.
Most of the fishing was standing shin-deep in the lagoon. I did not have proper boots and despite sun block, my feet were burned dark from the experience.
Much of the morning prior to fishing it rained heavily so I did not explore much on land. To go all the way around the crescent atoll by land takes several hours.
For more, listen to my Amateur Traveler episode on Nauru, Tuvalu and Kiribati.