Best Credit Cards

On Using Hotel Points in French Polynesia, Ramen Noodles and Beef Jerky

French Polynesia captures imagination of most travelers. Yes, it’s hard to get to, not to mention, super duper expensive. But how can you beat this view?

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. The author is tensaibuta AKA User Tensaibuta on English Wikipedia

Growing up in Belarus, I never thought I would see Tahiti with my own eyes. Heck, we didn’t even have indoor plumbing in my house till I turned 9, so visiting  Bora Bora was definitely not in the family budget. But it looks like I may get my chance after all (hopefully, without going bankrupt). So, my goal with this post is to highlight affordable points/cash strategies, so you can turn this dream into reality as well.

Is French Polynesia too expensive for a middle-class family?

It really depends on the island you plan on visiting. Bora Bora doesn’t have a lot of lodging options, so prices will be higher. Not to mention, it costs an additional $400-$500 roundtrip to get there, on top of your tickets from LAX to Papeete. And you can’t cover those with miles.

However, budget hotels and rentals do exist, it’s just that most won’t have A/C or any other “resort” type amenities. You should search AirBnB or Booking.com (both are referral links) to get an idea on what type of options are available. You can sometimes get away with paying $200 (or even less) per night, just don’t expect a whole lot in terms of facilities.

Bora Bora island is where using hotel points pays off big time, and I will address it later in the post. But if you are not picky, you may want to look into Bungalows Manuka rental. That’s the one we originally reserved. It has  A/C and is located across the street from a beautiful beach. The cost is a reasonable $172 per night.

Staying on Moorea island  is far more affordable. For one, you can get there by ferry from Papeete, and it costs only $15 one-way. There are many lodging options here, and some are quite decent. Hotel points can come in handy, but using them is not absolutely necessary.

Paying $250 per night can get you a decent (but not luxurious) room at a beachfront resort, so it’s comparable to Hawaii in this respect. Something to note is that most points options in Tahiti have double or triple occupancy limit, so booking a rental with cash may be preferable if you are a family of four or more.

Overall, I think French Polynesia is a perfect candidate for a special wedding anniversary celebration, and that’s the reason for our trip. I’m not going to lie, I would love for kids to come as well, but it just didn’t work out this time. If we enjoy the trip, our plan is to visit as a family one day. We may even take a Paul Gaugin cruise ( a gal can dream!).

For an idea on how to use miles for  flights, see this post. Just because you are a middle-class family, don’t automatically assume that visiting Tahiti is out of the question. With the right strategy and savings plan, it can be done. 

Strategy for using hotel points

First things first. I recommend you reserve the rooms one night at a  time, as they become available. You can always ask the hotel to connect your reservations later on. This strategy is especially important in Bora Bora.

1) Bora Bora

The most popular destination in French Polynesia and where using points will yield the best return. There are three options that are a good deal (I’m ignoring SPG):

INTERCONTINENTAL BORA BORA RESORT THALASSO SPA

The most coveted redemption in IHG program, period. The cost is 60k points, and award  books straight into overwater bungalow (fits 2 adults+2 kids). Paid rate is $1,200 per night. A too-good-to-be-true deal, right? Thousands of miles and points enthusiasts agree.

The secret is out and competition is fierce. It is hard, hard, hard to snag a bungalow here on points. That said, it is NOT impossible. After all, I was able to secure one night and recently found availability for the second one. Yipee!

Let me share what I know. Apparently, there is a cottage industry on Flyertalk.com thread where folks book speculatively and then trade with each other via private message. You see, as soon as you cancel, the free night goes back into inventory (usually), so if you know precisely when someone does it, you have an excellent shot at securing it yourself.

What about booking it as soon as it’s released? It’s an option, but like I said, you will have  lots of competition. I stayed up till midnight, and it wasn’t available at that point. Perhaps the award room is loaded during the night or maybe someone beat me to the punch. Also, on weekends, it’s relased at random times of the day, for some reason.

I do recommend you try if your dates are firm, just don’t get your hopes up too much. Be aware, IHG releases availability about two weeks before you are able to book your flight on Air Tahiti Nui via AAdvantage. So your award reservation will be speculative at that point.

In my experience, the best way to snag an award room is to simply check 3-4 times per day and hope that HotelHustle tool malfunctions and doesn’t trigger an alert. That’s what I did for about a month. I know it sounds like a nuisance, but it sure beats paying $1,200 per night. Plus, it doesn’t take that long once you get into a habit.

I set an alert on HotelHustle for both nights, but found availability by simply obsessively checking the website myself. Neither award night triggered an alert, which I believe was instrumental in me getting both of them. Before this happened, I actually found award availability on a different night, but it would cause me to skip New Zealand.

I decided that visiting the latter was more important than staying in an overwater bungalow. So, I canceled it and saw it go back into inventory right away. Out of curiosity, I checked  just five minutes later and it was already gone. I’m guessing someone has received HotelHustle alert.

So, my point is, if you find award availability in Thalasso, book it immediately. Short on points? Copay with cash. That’s what I did for one of my nights. If you fail to secure an award, don’t lose hope. Availability sometimes (but not always) opens up within 7-14 days. You will have a better chance during off-season, as in October-May. In the meantime, it could make sense to reserve another place that has a generous cancellation policy.

Joe at Asthejoeflies blog has an excellent series of posts on Thalasso, which I recommend reading if you want to stay there.

INTERCONTINENTAL LE MOANA BORA BORA

Another decent IHG option, though not as good of a deal as Thalasso. For 60k points you are able to book a beachfront hut that goes for $800 per night. You can request an upgrade to an overwater bungalow  for around $150-$250 per night, depending on the season.

I suggest you book it if you see availability because you can always take a cheap shuttle to Thalasso and enjoy the facilities there. This hotel releases availability at midnight Eastern time (usually two rooms), sometimes earlier in the day on the weekends. La Moana is an older/less fancy property, but I would have no problem staying there if Thalasso option didn’t work out. See this Travelisfree post with comparison between the two resorts, highlighting pros and cons of each one.

IHG Ambassador status 

If you are not able to use points and don’t mind spending cash, you may want to consider getting Ambassador status. It costs $200 per year or 32,000 IHG points. If your stay falls on the weekend, you can get the second night free at either property. You have to reserve your bungalow via flexible rate.

A nice perk is that you also get a free (guaranteed) one category upgrade. So, in La Moana it means that you reserve the beach hut, but end up getting an overwater bungalow. The cost works out to be around $900 for two nights  in the summer, less during off season. This may be a better strategy than using points, actually.

Think about it. You can burn 120k points and pay $400 for guaranteed upgrade to overwater bungalow on both nights. Or you can just use 32k points to get status and pay $900, getting a free upgrade and other Ambassador perks in the process. It will depend, of course, on how you value your IHG points.

Securing a bungalow in Thalasso will cost $1,300 for both nights, plus the cost of status. Expensive? You bet. But it’s actually a bargain in Bora Bora (though not for me). When using free night certificate, you have to reserve it via special link and pay for Friday or Saturday stay when you check in. You have to bring your physical certificate with you, which can take a few months to arrive. So, getting Ambassador status at the last minute won’t work.

CONRAD BORA BORA NUI

This is a luxury Hilton resort that costs 80k points per night or $700 via paid rate. Standard award will get you a huge “garden view” room (fits 2 adults+2 kids). Note that the website indicates triple occupancy, but they will make an exception if your kids are young. Email them to inquire about your specific situation.

When I asked about an upgrade to an overwater bungalow, I was quoted a rate of $500 per night. Ouch! This is definitely not as good of a deal as Thalasso, but if you are swimming in Hilton points and don’t care about an overwater bungalow, it’s something to consider. Plus, you can always upgrade on your last night, as a special treat.

Hilton Bora Bora Nui is a very popular redemption and  usually disappears the day it is loaded. Heads up! You can not cancel the award online if your plans change. I actually made one-night reservation speculatively and my dates didn’t work out. I had to call Bora Bora and  they didn’t redeposit the points like they were supposed to. I had to contact Hilton to straighten it all out. Definitely a hassle.

2) Moorea

Redeeming points here is a lot easier than it is on Bora Bora, but I still recommend you do it as soon as you have a good idea on your dates.

INTERCONTINENTAL RESORT AND SPA MOOREA

The cost is 40k IHG points per night or $350, so it’s a very good redemption when it comes to value. Standard award books into a garden room in the main building. It looks like a family-friendly resort with several pools and various activities nearby. Moorea, in general, strikes me as a more family-friendly island than Bora Bora. Availability is decent if you book ahead.

HILTON MOOREA LAGOON RESORT AND SPA

The cost is 80k Hilton points or $480 per night. Availability is decent as long as you book far ahead. On surface, it looks like IHG option is a no-brainer when choosing between the two resorts, right? That said, I actually used points on Hilton. Why? Three reasons: better snorkeling, more romantic atmosphere and  free breakfast  due to Gold Hilton Status ($70 value). I may even pay cash for an upgrade to an overwater bungalow (extra $290) or lagoon bungalow ($120).

We are only staying on Moorea for one night, so I want to get the best of the best. This is a special trip, so I’m forcing myself to let go of points and get what I actually want, not what’s the most amazing value on surface. If you are staying on Moorea longer and want to conserve points, you will probably  be better off sticking with IHG.

3) Main island of Tahiti

There is only one game in town when it comes to using points: INTERCONTINENTAL TAHITI RESORT AND SPA  

So, that’s the one we reserved. The cost is 40k IHG points per night or $350. It’s close to the airport, which is what I needed for my early morning flight to New Zealand. Be aware, it appears that hotel will be renovating standard rooms starting January 2018, so award availability is blocked off till next summer.

Credit card strategy

If you are looking to visit French Polynesia, I highly recommend you sign up for IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card, Hilton Honors Surpass Credit Card from American Express and possibly Hilton Honors Credit Card from American Express. Find more info on all three offers on this page 

If you are fortunate, you may be able to use your free weekend certificate from Surpass card at either Bora Bora or Moorea property. A reminder: the current 100k offer on Hilton Honors Surpass Credit Card from American Express  will expire on 10/4/2017. If you wish, you can apply  via my personal referral link   Thanks in advance! Nancy has a personal referral link as well, so feel free to email her at nancy@milesforfamily.com and request it. You can generate your own referral link here As always, depending on your plans, you may choose to prioritize other offers

If both spouses each apply for IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card and Hilton Honors Surpass Credit Card from American Express, it should give them enough points for a vacation in French Polynesia, assuming there is award availability. I can’t think of a better value that paying 60k IHG points for an overwater bungalow. Can you?

Bringing ramen noodles and beef jerky with us

Dining in French Polynesia is expensive. That’s why many people try to save money by bringing snacks in their suitcase. I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of eating ramen noodles while on vacation or at home, and my husband will simply refuse  to do it. I will probably pack a few snacks and maybe some alcohol (since it costs a fortune in Bora Bora), but I don’t plan to go overboard. This whole trip is a splurge, and we are already getting our hotels  dirt cheap.

That being said, I absolutely intend to do a  post with nothing but photos of my snacks strewn about our overwater bungalow. Hear my out. Flyertalk has a whole section devoted to bashing miles and points bloggers. I’ve even seen my name being mentioned there a few times, which was super exciting. It’s a discussion section where grown  men (with busy careers and families) spend hours each day complaining about bloggers they don’t like. The most prominent authors even get their own bashing thread. #Jealous

And nothing triggers Flyertalk brethren more than someone eating ramen noodles and beef jerky in Bora Bora. They seriously go berserk. You would think that  who eats what where is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but these guys (yes, they are mostly guys) clearly disagree. So, I figured, it would be an excellent bait to finally get my own bashing thread. Come on, Flyertalkers, I know some of you read my blog!

On a serious note, I still can’t believe that I have a 2-night award reservation in an overwater bungalow in Bora Bora. I don’t even care if I have to eat beef jerky and ramen noodles while I’m there. It’s a dream come true, all thanks to miles and points hobby. And yes, you can do it too.

If you’ve found this content beneficial, please look at Support the Site page for ways you can help keep the blog running. Also, subscribe to receive free updates through email and recommend the site to your family and friends. You can follow us on Twitter and Pinterest, like us on Facebook and download  free e-book

 

 

 

Author: Leana

Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.

It's only fair to share...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on LinkedIn

19 thoughts on “On Using Hotel Points in French Polynesia, Ramen Noodles and Beef Jerky

  1. hubby and i went to Bora Bora and Moorea for our HM. it was 10 nights, two direct flights from JFK to Pappette and we paid about 10K for flights, accomodations and transports. We did stay at the INtercontinental in Papetee on our night of arrival! it was truly the trip of a lifetime and we splurged on meals for sure. BUT we also bought some alchol in the duty free shop at JFK – i remember some champagne and a bottle of jack daniels. we brought protein bars and snacks with us and a small cooler I remember my mom gave it to me, i still have it. Food at the resorts were pricy. i remember a greek salad was $22 and this was in 2007. In Moorea, we were able to walk to a store where we could buy bottles of water and there was a little french cafe that had a reasonably priced and delicious breakfast (we stayed at the Pearl in both Moorea and Bora Bora i think they have since changed ownership). In Bora Bora though since you are on a motu, there is no choice but to shell out for resort prices. We would order a room service breakfast (for one) and it was plenty of food for two. cant wait to read more abut your adventures!

    • @Mommatogo That sounds like a fantastic way to spend a honeymoon! I’ve dreamed of Tahiti for literally decades.
      I definitely plan to save where I can, without going overboard. Like I said, my husband is not a fan of eating cheap snacks while on vacation. To him, food is part of the experience. We may never go back to Tahiti, and it’s our big anniversary.
      Plus, we will only spend 4 nights total before flying to New Zealand. I don’t want to have any memories of fighting about the cost of food. So, I plan to let my husband have whatever he wants, and I’ll eat the darn beef jerky! Between that and alcohol, I’ll be one happy camper, I’m sure. 🙂

  2. I brought a box of wine and a 12-pack of Miller Lite to Bora Bora. I also brought trail mix, granola bars, and dried fruit. The box of wine held 35 glasses and probably saved us a few hundred bucks. The 12-pack of beer saved us $120 exactly because each beer was $10 at the Four Seasons Bora Bora. #winning

    • @Holly I was definitely encouraged by the fact that your box of Franzia wine made it! Well done. I plan to smuggle some Sangria (my favorite) if I can find it in boxed form. There is no way I’m paying $20 for a glass of wine. Ridiculous. Snacks will be helpful too, for sure. I just bought some cups of instant grits from Walmart, so I’m thinking those may be a good candidate as well. I know Thalasso sometimes offers “half off” special on breakfast buffet, so this would be something to consider. Tahiti stop will still cost us a fortune, I’m sure, but I plan to save where I can.

  3. This is truly the trip of a life time!!! ENJOY!

    Aldis has a some great snack options for cheep. We loaded up on snacks for about $35 and they lasted us a 4 day vacation at Disney. Probably saved us over $200!

    • @Emily Thanks! I definitely think this trip is doable for most regular folks. Obviously, it does require some planning and a healthy amount of cash/miles, but it’s not out of reach for those who don’t make six figures. If you plan on having kids in a near future, I recommend you try to go soon if you can pull it off.
      That’s my only regret: not having my kids with us in Tahiti. But it’s our anniversary getaway, so I made my peace with it.

  4. Just curious…where are you seeing that Conrad Bora Bora has a standard garden view room that accommodates 2 adults and 2 kids? I’ve been searching on their site under paid rates and it looks like the only rooms that allow 2+2 are the villas which are also premium rewards. The pictures of that standard garden view room only show a king bed, usually that means max. occupancy of 3.

    Honestly… while I’d love to visit French Polynesia with my family, I’m not convinced that the juice is worth the squeeze. There are places in SE Asia that have similar beauty and style of accommodations, are easier to get to, and better on the budget. http://www.elnidoresorts.com in English-speaking Palawan, Philippines is one example but there are many less expensive resorts amongst that country’s 7000+ islands. Flights inside PH are pretty cheap. Cambodia and Thailand are also good options, with the latter having properties that are bookable on points.

    I’m looking forward to your honest review, hopefully you can pull off this trip!

    • @Erik Thanks, and I hear you on SE Asia! I’ve seen other folks say the same exact thing. I have no doubt that the scenery is fantastic and the cost is way less compared to French Polynesia. I definitely hope to go to Thailand one of these days. However, there is something about Tahiti that I find incredibly appealing. I can’t really explain it, but I wanted to go there since I was a teenager. I’ve even had a magazine page with a photo of an overwater bungalow on my fridge for years. Maybe I will end up disappointed, who knows?
      As far as Conrad Bora Bora Nui goes, I should have given more details. The website indicates triple occupancy, but apparently, they make an exception if you have young kids. Originally, I was planning to take my children with us, so I emailed them about it. Here is the response:
      “Dear Leana,

      We thank you for your queries, and for considering a stay at the Conrad Bora Bora Nui.

      The hotel management team informed us that your whole family of 4 persons will be able to stay together in the same room.
      They will be able to accommodate your 2 children aged 8 & 10 years old with the necessary bedding. You won’t have to bring your own bedding for your youngest one.

      The room category that’s bookable via Hilton HH points is the standard room called King Guestroom Garden View.”

    • @Jennifer Eh, don’t be jealous. We are still paying dearly for this trip, I assure you. Plus, it’s a long way off, lots can happen. But even dreaming about it is fun for me! Honestly, I think it is doable for most people with a good credit score. Whether it’s worth the hassle or expense is debatable. I’ll let you know next year.
      Yeah, I couldn’t believe the second night in Thalasso showed up. I thought it was fantom availability, but nope. Someone must have cancelled. I was jumping up and down after booking it, my husband thought I went completely nuts!

  5. I have been there and done that. Yes, it is possible to do this but it is very time consuming and the travel gods must throw a ton of luck on you. I had to laugh at this story because I am the beef jerky and ramen noodle guy. Check out my story from a couple of years ago and read the comments to see that people do get upset when you dare to save money at high end places. https://millionmilesecrets.com/2016/09/25/success-12-nights-in-bora-bora-with-airline-miles-hotel-points/

    • @Sigs99 Thanks for the link! What an amazing trip you had. You are so right, getting those award rooms is time-consuming and some luck is definitely required. It has gotten progressively worse as more folks have discovered miles and points hobby, but that’s how the cookie crumbles. I don’t resent the newbies. Why do I deserve to stay there more than someone else? I don’t.
      There is a method to the madness as far as booking Thalasso right when the award is released, but I wasn’t able to figure it out. I don’t think it’s loaded at midnight anymore, though. La Moana is tough to book too, but not as tough as Thalasso.
      On people bashing those who eat beef jerky in Bora Bora, who cares? I can’t understand the strong sentiments of telling someone how they should spend their vacation. Heck, I may take photos of me eating jerky and ramen noodles and post them on Instagram just to irritate them! 🙂

  6. I’m so happy that you were able to get two nights in an overwater bungalow! You’ve been talking about doing that since I first “met” you several years ago!

    I always bring snacks and sometimes breakfast food on vacation. The kids and I are happy to eat cereal bars and muffins, but my husband always has to go out and bring himself back a “real” breakfast.

    • @Nancy Thanks! It will be great not to have to switch hotels every single night. Yeah, I’ve been talking about those Tahiti bungalows for a very long time. I sure hope the reality lives up to the hype. We’ll see.
      My husband is like Brian, and has to have “real” food no matter the cost. Breakfast at those resorts is something like $36 per person. Not a fan of paying that much! Maybe we can split one each morning or something. I don’t mind packing some snacks because no breakfast is worth that much to me. I don’t care if it has lobster omelets.

  7. For those who might be curious, here is the upgrade info I just got from Hilton Moorea:

    “Upgrade to Garden Bungalow with pool Complimentary*
    Deluxe Garden Bungalow 9 000 XPF
    Lagoon Bungalow 12 000 XPF
    Overwater Bungalow 29 000 XPF
    Panoramic Overwater Bungalow 43 000 XPF
    Premium Panoramic Overwater Bungalow 53 000 XPF
    Garden Pool Suite 39 000 XPF”

    1,000 XPF= approximately $100
    I will probably upgrade to Lagoon bungalow (partially overwater) for extra $120.

  8. We did this trip two and a half years ago. We stayed 3 nights at Thalasso and 3 nights at Hilton Moorea using points. Our timing was perfect as the ‘secret’ didn’t seem as generally known then and wasn’t quite so difficult to secure.

    It is truly the trip of a lifetime and I can’t wait to follow your trip!

    We brought protein bars, pop tarts, oatmeal and cup o noodles.
    I have the best pic on FB with my cup o noodles on the patio with the gorgeous water in the background. We bought vodka at a duty free store, and then took the water shuttle and walked to a store on the main island and bought lemonade and Diet Coke for mixers. (In hindsight, I would not recommend this to others as there are many wild dogs in French Polynesia and we encountered one that seemed particularly vicious but thankfully did not attack us.) We only went for dinner each night. Two nights at the resort, and once we took the water shuttle and then the bus to Bloody Mary’s.

    Bora Bora and Thalasso were amazing. The overwater bungalows are beautiful and huge. Honestly, though we preferred the resort on Bora Bora, we preferred Moorea as an island. It’s a personal preference, but we are pretty active people and simply found we had more to do in Moorea. Both are stunningly beautiful, and you will love both. Enjoy!

    • @Fawnn Thanks for sharing your experience! You are so right when you say that your timing was perfect. It is super hard to get award nights in Bora Bora these days. Hilton is a bit easier, but then it costs an extra $500 per night to upgrade to overwater bungalow. No thanks. I still can’t believe we were able to secure two nights at Thalasso. Thanks to whoever cancelled their reservation and to Hotel Hustle tool for not working properly in this particular case! It’s weird, I have the nights I need, but I’m still curious how these folks get award nights at Thalasso when they are first released. I will crack the code, darn it!
      I’m really looking forward to this trip and glad to hear that people find Tahiti to be amazing. I wish we had more than one night in Moorea, but one night is better than nothing, I suppose. I’ve heard folks rave about this island, so I simply had to add it to our already insane itinerary.

Leave a Reply