Let’s face it, a trip to exotic Tahiti and a middle-class family usually don’t go hand in hand. And yet, with some planning, it’s something many of you can probably pull off. I say “probably” because I obviously don’t know your circumstances. But I do know that we are an average middle-class family, and I have my 2017 tax return to prove it (though I won’t share it here).
My point is, we make an average income, we have a car payment and a plethora of other monthly bills. And yet, this year my husband and I were able to pull off an elaborate adventure around South Pacific. Sure, we only spent 4 nights in French Polynesia, and we did travel as a couple. That said, I paid cash for my kids’ plane tickets and gave in-laws $1k towards their food and incidental expenses. If I instead used the money (around $3k) on a family trip to Tahiti, it would more than cover the extra costs.
Let me be clear: French Polynesia is not a budget destination. However, if you can afford a trip to Hawaii as well as Disney World during the same year, you can afford a trip to Tahiti. But you will have to give up Disney. It’s all about priorities.
I realize that Hawaii is a safer choice. People there speak English, and everything is oh so familiar. Don’t get me wrong, I actually love Hawaii and hope to take my kids there in 2020. I think every American family should try to visit this amazing state at least once.
But if you’ve been to Hawaii a few times already, and especially if you live on the west coast, I encourage you to look into French Polynesia. Yes, it will cost more than Hawaii. But it’s worth it, and the flight is only two hours longer. Here are just a few reasons to consider French Polynesia over Hawaii:
1) Fewer tourists and less development.
According to statistics, French Polynesia gets as many visitors per year as Hawaii gets on a weekend. Sure, it means there will be less stuff to do on most of the islands. But the scenery will more than make up for it. Speaking of…
2) French Polynesian islands have gorgeous lagoons, fringed by coral reefs. They also have overwater bungalows!
This isn’t something you can find in Hawaii. It’s hard to describe the color of the lagoon in Bora Bora, but it’s what dreams are made of. Yes, I know it sounds corny.
Staying in an overwater bungalow is not a must, but I recommend you try to do it at least one or two nights. Hopefully you can use points, but paying cash can make sense too. More on that later.
3) A unique blend of Polynesian and French cultures.
Enjoy fresh baguettes? You are in luck. Want to practice your rusty French? This is your chance. To be clear, this isn’t some sort of utopia, and it never was. French Polynesia was colonized by French, and colonization is never pretty. Paul Gauguin and other artists romanticized Tahiti and presented the idealized version of local life. The reality was somewhat different.
But there is no denying that French have brought some positive influences as well. For example, Tahiti has much better infrastructure than many of its South Pacific neighbors. My in-laws visited Fiji and mentioned how poor the island was. The locals were super friendly, but most said they barely get by due to low wages. In contrast, residents of Tahiti enjoy a decent standard of living, which partially explains high prices and occasional sour attitude from hotel staff.
Rest assured, Tahiti tourism board wants you and your money. Why else would they hire a band to greet tourists arriving to Papeete airport at 5 AM in the morning?
Using points on flights
This is the most challenging part, as there are only a few options to get to Tahiti. I won’t focus on business class because it’s similar to spotting a unicorn. Plus, the flight is only 8 hours, quite doable in economy. In the past, using AAdvantage miles on Air Tahiti Nui was extremely easy. However, in the last few months it appears that award availability has dried up for some reason.
Several of my readers reported not being able to find any seats in economy, even when booking far in advance. It might be a temporary glitch and I definitely suggest you check, especially if you are swimming in AA miles. See this post for more details.
You can also redeem Star Alliance miles (United, Singapore, Avianca etc.) on United flight from San Francisco to Papeete, but low-level availability is very scarce. Check United.com and look for flights that cost 37,500 miles one-way. Those should also be bookable via partners.
Currently, these are probably your best options, aside from rock-bottom fare sales:
1) Air France Flying Blue program
You can search availability online after getting a free account with Flying Blue. Do it by clicking this link:
After putting in info and dates, check this box:
The rate via miles will vary, but I found many dates in June of 2019 where tickets run at 25k miles per person, and availability is plentiful. July is high season when many French mainlanders fly to Tahiti, which means high hotel occupancy rates and scarce award availability.
In many ways this is a better deal than AAdvantage which will run you 40k miles+$5 on Air Tahiti Nui operated flights. Speaking of, I saw an interesting article on Pointmetotheplane blog. Apparently, you can now redeem Flying Blue miles on Air Tahiti Nui due to recent codeshare agreement.
Availability appears to be scarce when I looked at next year, but having more options is always a good thing. Note that unlike AAdvantage, Flying Blue program does pass along fuel surcharges on Air Tahiti Nui.
Flying Blue partners with Ultimate Rewards (currently transfer can take several days), Membership Rewards and Citi Thank You program (both instant). Transfer rate is 1:1. You can also use Marriott points, though transfer can take a week or longer. Before transferring points to Air France program, make sure to call and ask to put your award tickets on hold.
If you are relatively new to miles and points hobby, don’t forget to check CardMatch tool to see if you are targeted for 100k points offer on Amex Platinum or 50k points on Amex Gold Premier Rewards cards.
2) Paying cash for San Francisco-Papeete flights operated by French Bee
French Bee is a new player in the market, and reviews have been mixed so far. Folks have reported dealing with delays and occasional cancellations. Hopefully, it’s just growing pains. French Bee is a discount airline that has no interline agreements with other carriers. Basically, it’s a Spirit Air of South Pacific Based on stats, seats are very narrow, and leg room is pathetic.
Still, if you are willing to take a chance, prices can be dirt cheap, as low as $200 all-in per person one-way. We saw French Bee planes in PPT airport, and they appeared to be brand new. At $200 per person I would be tempted to give it a try, especially for the return flight. I would definitely buy travel insurance, which I always do anyway.
A quick note on flights to Bora Bora, which you can not book with miles Fortunately, you can use flexible points.The best option is Ultimate Rewards program via Chase Sapphire Reserve, where you can get 1.5 cents per point.
Citi Thank You program via Citi Thank You Premier card is also a decent option, where you will get 1.25 cents per point toward flights. You should also look into US Bank Altitude Reserve, an excellent choice for this type of purchase. Read more on all of these cards and corresponding sign-up bonuses here
Yes, flexible points are extremely valuable as well as versatile. But if you’ve been hoarding them for something special, this is it, folks! Definitely don’t skip Bora Bora, especially if this is your once-in-a-lifetime trip. It’s tempting, I know, but don’t make that mistake. As far as I’m concerned, when going to French Polynesia, it’s Bora Bora or bust.
Though Moorea isn’t too shabby either, especially when it comes to snorkeling.
Redeeming points on hotels
I wrote a detailed post on this topic, which I’ve recently updated. If you have an unrestricted annual certificate from old IHG credit card, this is your last chance to burn it at the most aspirational resort in the chain:INTERCONTINENTAL BORA BORA RESORT THALASSO SPA
My husband and I travelled as a couple, which obviously made things easier when it came to room occupancy limits. That said, if your kids are under 15 (in some cases under 13), exceptions can usually be made. I recommend you always reach out to general manager and ask about possible bedding arrangements for kids.
For example, standard award at CONRAD BORA BORA NUI officially has triple occupancy. However, I’ve emailed the property with an inquiry, and the manager wrote back stating that they will accommodate a family of four, as long as the kids are under 13.
Overwater bungalow in INTERCONTINENTAL BORA BORA RESORT THALASSO SPA will fit four, but only if the kids are under 15 years of age. Honestly, I don’t think a 15-year old will fit on the pull-out trundle or couch anyway. Even younger kids may feel cramped. But there is always an option of bringing an air mattress with you, of course. Definitely cheaper than reserving a second bungalow.
After redeeming points on standard double-occupancy rooms, you can reach out to the hotel and upgrade to a unit that will fit four. Take for example INTERCONTINENTAL RESORT AND SPA MOOREA For 50k IHG points per night you can reserve a regular room, and then ask to arrange to pay extra for an overwater bungalow:
Not too long ago, I saw that Nick at Frequent Miler was successful in booking a pool villa at St. Regis Bora Bora for only 48k Marriott points per night. This will be tough to replicate, but it’s certainly not impossible. Personally, I think that even if you can find award availability for two nights when using hotel points, it would be worth it to fly all the way to Bora Bora. I did.
Last note on hotels. I do recommend you try to use points, but don’t forget to check other locally-owned options. In many cases, you might be better off paying cash for a two-bedroom vacation rental that will afford more privacy. Staying at a fancy resort in Bora Bora for peanuts… err hotel points is very nice, but I don’t believe it’s a must. You see the island from the plane, and you can book a lagoon snorkeling tour to enjoy the same exact views.
The cruise option
Cruises in French Polynesia tend to be quite expensive, starting at $2,200 per person for 7-night sailing, and usually a lot more. But occasionally, you can snag a last-minute deal like this one on Cruise.com:
Yes, that’s $1500 (plus port charges) for a 14-night sailing, with lodging, transportation and food included. Obviously, this is only an option for homeschooling families and those with a ton of time off. Still, this is quite a bargain, no? Made me think of my reader Audrey who sailed RMS St. Helena awhile back.
As you’ve probably guessed, I’m a big fan of French Polynesia. In fact, I challenge anyone to find a more spectacular setting than lagoon in Bora Bora. Can any family afford to vacation there? Absolutely not. However, if you have a decent stash of flexible as well as hotel points, I believe you can pull it off for less than $4k out-of-pocket for a week-long trip.
If you are just starting out in the miles and points hobby, you are not late to the party. Consider going after Chase Ultimate Rewards cards first so you can lock in your Air France redemption to Tahiti ASAP. After that, focus on covering inter-island flights via points.
When your airline tickets are all set, consider getting IHG and Hilton co-branded credit cards for hotels. Right now is a good time to apply for increased Amex Hilton offers if you’ve never had them before. A word of warning. This one may or may not work out due to crazy popularity of properties in Tahiti among fellow hobbyists. If that happens, just use your hotel points for something else, and pay cash for reasonably priced local hotels.Yes, they do exist.
Rest assured, Tahiti family trip on a budget can be done. It’s not just for one-percenters or Instagram models who are there on a sponsored vacation.
More posts on the topic:
- Our two magical nights in Bora Bora
- Hilton Moorea resort and spa: spectacular setting, not a 5-star property
- Making the most of our one night in Moorea
- InterContinental Resort Tahiti: Lovely Property with Freezing Pools and Hot Bellhops
Leana is the 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.