In February we were lucky to spend 8 days in French Polynesia, a romantic island spot for honeymooners and a place that is seemingly on everyone’s bucket list. But one thing holds most people back from visiting this dream destination: it’s SUPER expensive.
When you look at this group of islands on a map, it’s almost frightening how out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere they are. Being so far away from any other major landmass, it’s easy to see why everything from airline tickets to a hamburger costs three times what you might think it should. Most one week Bora Bora itineraries suggest a budget of $10,000! Can it be possible that we visited this place for a fraction of the cost?! Our friends and family still don’t seem to believe it, but it’s true, and we have the pics to prove it.
As with all of our trips, the short answer is of course, credit card reward points. You are probably familiar with the concept, which is actually quite simple: sign up for a credit card and earn lots of bonus points by completing the minimum spend requirement. Just use the card for your normal spending, then reap the sign-up bonus rewards, which you can redeem for travel.
With the right strategy and mix of cards, virtually any trip is possible for a fraction of the actual cost, including a week in a paradise like French Polynesia. We’ll go into more details on that, but first we’ll outline exactly which cards we used to book this trip.
How we paid for the trip
We booked one way Air France flights from Los Angeles to Papeete, Tahiti in economy class, using 51,000 (25,500 per person) Flying Blue Miles transferred from American Express Membership Rewards, plus about $60 each in taxes. Since this was an overnight flight, we also spent $20 each to choose our seats so that we could select a row of two instead of being seated next to a stranger in a row of three.
American Express has several cards that earn Membership Rewards, and they frequently have transfer bonuses that give you up to an extra 30% when transferring your Membership Rewards points to Flying Blue points. Flying Blue also partners with Chase and Citi, so it’s easy to rack up points for this redemption.
For the flight from Papeete to Bora Bora, we booked roundtrip Air Tahiti flights that cost us $764 ($382 each). We were able to use 50,868 Wells Fargo GoFar rewards points to cover this as there are no alliance options for Air Tahiti. The GoFar rewards program isn’t as well known as some others, but it’s a great way to eliminate costs like this that other points simply can’t cover.
We flew home in economy using 70,000 (35,000 each) United miles, plus $60 in taxes each. These were transferred from Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program. United has one of the easiest programs to use and redeem rewards for, which is why we always recommend beginners start with Chase cards and make earning Ultimate Rewards the core part of their point strategy.
If we had been paying cash, we would have spent at least $2,200 to get to Bora Bora, and that’s in low season, in economy. If you’re honeymooning in the summertime and want to fly business class, you’re looking at $10,000+! 😱 OUR TOTAL FLIGHT COST: $280
Villa Rea Hanaa, Vaitepe, Bora Bora
We spent our first night in Bora Bora on the main island near the main village of Vaitepe, at an adorable bed and breakfast owned by a French artist. In fact, his mermaid statue is the first thing you see upon exiting the airport. We booked this propery through Hotels.com, for which we had a $65 certificate, so our cash cost was only $70. TOTAL COST: $70
Intercontinental Le Moana and Intercontinental Thalasso, Bora Bora
One of the main reasons we came on this trip was to make the best use of our stockpiled IHG Rewards Card free night certificates before they devalued. This trip was our last chance to use these certificates and we wanted to use them at one of the most expensive hotels we could think of, and that’s how we ended up in Bora Bora!
We used two certificates to stay two nights at Le Moana on the main island, then transferred to Intercontinental’s second property on Bora Bora, the Thalasso, which is on a motu, a short boat ride away. Also worth mentioning is that because the Thalasso is basically on an island by itself, you can’t eat cheaply at the nearest roadside cafe like you can at Le Moana—you HAVE to eat at the resort, or pay to take a boat to the mainland, both of which are very expensive.
Thankfully our Citi Prestige card gives us $250 worth of travel credit per year, which we used toward our meals at the Thalasso. If we had been paying cash, these 5 nights would have cost us about $4,000. TOTAL COST: $0
Manava Resort and Spa, Moorea
Because of award flight availability for the trip back home, we had to stay two more nights in the area. We chose to fly back to Tahiti and take the ferry to Moorea Island, as it was a bit cheaper than staying two more nights in Bora Bora. The ferry costs $11 per person, one way (so $44 total for us). For these two nights, we used 51,875 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points earned from our favorite trio of Chase cards: Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Freedom Unlimited, Chase Business Ink Plus. If we had been paying cash, these two nights would have cost us $648. TOTAL COST: $44
All told, this week long trip to Bora Bora would have cost us $6,983 (and that’s not even including meals, drinks and activities)! We booked the trip for $394, and spent about another $900 on meals, drinks, taxis, activities, and souvenirs. We saved more than $6,500 by using credit card reward points, which allowed us to visit a bucket list destination that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford.
How you can book this trip
Unfortunately, the free night certificates from the IHG Rewards Card have been devalued, so it’s no longer possible to book this exact itinerary the way we did. You can still use IHG points to stay at these properties but they cost a whopping 70,000 IHG points per night, and finding availability is very difficult. But here are a few ways you can still experience paradise using credit cards reward points:
This is a Hilton property and costs 80,000 Hilton Honors points a night. That’s pretty steep, but it’s not so bad when you factor in the 5th night free offer. Hilton points are pretty easy to acquire through American Express’ lineup of Hilton cards. Be advised, however, that an award booking is for a standard room, not an overwater bungalow. It might be possible to use Diamond status (obtained with the Hilton Aspire card) to upgrade to an overwater bungalow, or you may be able to pay cash for an upgrade. Not ideal, but still better than paying full price.
We loved our time at the Thalasso. Every room at the property is an overwater bungalow, so you’re guaranteed to have an awesome experience. The only trick is that award availability is slim, so it can be hard to piece together a multiple night itinerary even if you have the 70,000 IHG points per night required to book. We were very lucky to find three nights in a row available. You can accrue IHG points with the Chase IHG Premier card.
These two properties in the Marriott portfolio are good options if you have a stash of Marriott points. So if you’re a business traveler and Marriott is your brand of choice, these properties deserve a look, especially with their 5th night free options. The St. Regis will cost you 85,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night, and its for a garden villa, not an overwater bungalow. Le Meridien is 60,000 points per night, also for a garden villa. Upgrading to an overwater bungalow may be an option, or at the time of booking you may see the option to book an overwater bungalow for a Cash plus Points price. Both Chase and American Express offer Marriott cards, but earning the points needed will be slower than using Hilton’s cards.
Of these options we think the Conrad Bora Bora Nui is the best option to pursue. In terms of acquiring the points and finding availability, it is most accessible. We haven’t been there, so we can’t speak to the property, but really anywhere on Bora Bora should be exceptional. If we were planning a return trip, that would be the route we’d pursue.
The one rule you have to follow
Don’t carry a balance when playing the credit card rewards game. Any value you get from points gained is wiped out by interest charges. This isn’t always the case with the large sign up bonuses, but still, it’s best to avoid carrying a balance and potentially getting trapped into an interest fee spiral. You’ll end up paying more on interest than you would have for the vacation! Be responsible, treat your credit card like a debit card and keep it payed off at the end of each billing cycle.