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Planning A Free Week in Bora Bora

bora boraEarlier this year, I wrote The Secrets of Getting Free Overwater Bungalows. Being such a popular post, and well, Bora Bora being such a beautiful location, not only am I planning out our trip next year but sharing why and what I’m planning.

Truthfully, I don’t often plan ahead. In fact, I’m back in Budapest and I booked the hotel yesterday and booked the train ticket this morning. But this is one trip that I want to plan in advance for the obvious expense reasons. Each night at the IC InterContinental could run over $1,000 a night. But we’re going to talk about getting these nights covered by the annual fee of a credit card.

Interestingly enough, the places I’ve wanted to go most are places I haven’t been. I found a big bucket list I made years ago, which is pretty neat. But I’ve now been to every place on my bucketlist except three places.

  1. The Serengiti Plains
  2. India – Can you believe I’ve never been and it’s been on my bucketlist since I first read Gandhi’s autobiography and the movie was a favorite of mine? And we love Sri Lanka.
  3. French Polynesia.

It seems that you want to over-plan to get your dream locations just right. Anyways, I think it’s absolutely necessary to do it now if you want to go to French Polynesia.

My Free Hotel Strategy

  • We both get the IHG card
  • We both get the Hilton Reserve Card
  • One of us upgrades to Ambassador with points

Okay, seriously, if you haven’t read our post on Free Overwater Bungalows, it’s a great resource. So I think I’ll end up repeating myself a few times.

Let me break down these steps.

We both get the IHG card

Truthfully, this is a no brainer anyways. The annual fee gives one free night every time you pay the annual fee. Understand this is not the sign up bonus, but instead for paying the $49 annual fee – meaning, you don’t get it your first year. So plan on at least 12 months out for this free night to show up.

Am I not mistaken that it would expire after 6 months? The Hyatt and Marriott free anniversary nights expire after 6 months, I think IHG does too.

Timing for application: 12 to 18 months before the trip.

Timing for use of free nights: It works whenever there is award availability. The sooner the better. You get 1 night.

It’s hard for me to use IHG points on anything but PointBreaks. But this is a once in a lifetime thing. 50,000 points for one night. I figure at most I’d pay $25 per 5,000 points – thus 50,000 points would cost $250. That’s rather on the high end and therefore <$250 for a $1,000 a night hotel, well… it’s a lot but could be worth it.

We both get the Hilton Reserve card

Actually, I just wrote about the Hilton Reserve credit card. The sign up bonus is two weekend nights. It takes a little bit to meet the spend and see them post, but once you get the free nights, they last one year.

Timing for application: Within 12 months. However, the further out the better in terms of availability.

Timing for use of free nights: Has to be used on a weekend with award availability. I would aim to start the trip on a Friday or Saturday and use two weekend nights. And then use the other two certs on the next weekend.

Our Schedule would look like this:

  • Saturday – Hilton Bora Bora with Drew’s free Hilton night cert from Reserve card (1/2).

    Deluxe Overwater Villas - Exterior View

    Hilton Bora Bora

  • Sunday – Hilton Bora Bora with Drew’s free Hilton night cert (2/2).
  • Monday – InterContinental Bora Bora with Drew’s free weekend cert (1/1).
  • Tuesday – InterContinental Bora Bora with Drew’s 50,000 points
  • Wednesday – InterContinental Bora Bora with Carrie’s free night cert (1/1).
  • Thursday –  InterContinental Bora Bora with Carrie’s 50,000 points
  • Friday – Hilton Bora Bora with Carrie’s free Hilton weekend cert from Reserve card (1/2).
  • Saturday – Hilton Bora Bora with Carrie’s free Hilton weekend cert (2/2).

That’s 8 nights in Bora Bora with free lodging right there folks.

Well, except this doesn’t get you the Overwater Bungalow.

Upgrade strategy

IC bora bora

It’s pretty simple. At the IC Bora Bora there is only one room category that is not an Overwater Bungalow and the InterContinental Ambassador Status guarantees at least one room category upgrade. And Ambassador status can be bought with cash or points on IHG.com. Pretty simple.

For those of you particular or antsy to know for sure, email ahead. Say here is my reservation number and I’m an Ambassador, what room will I get? After they tell you, not only will you know what room you’ll get, I imagine that they’ll go ahead and change the booking to that room in order to preallocate the rooms properly.

My Hilton strategy will be much frowned upon by many, I’m guessing.

I’d risk the upgrade as a Gold member (which you get from the credit card). I might opt for booking off-peak season to avoid the crowds and risk the rain. May to October is hotter and dryer, but prices rocket and availability will go down. To each his own. It’s probably bad advice depending on the rain, but I hear water temperature is very nice year round.

So anyhow, I’m not paying for an upgrade. If it’s available, they’ll give it I’m sure. But if you want to pay for an upgrade, it is very standard. Just email ahead and ask for an upgrade. They have a special deal for you, because it’s you.

The other islands too

Well, I might use the other Hilton nights in Moorea instead. I’ve always wanted to go there and knew about it before I ever heard of Bora Bora. So I need to go. Plus, the ferry is quick, easy and cheap from Tahiti. There is also an InterContinental and one on Tahiti as well.

raddisson tahitiOn Tahiti, there is also a “Radisson Plaza”. O_o
Not sure what the deal is there but it’s 38,000 points. Obviously you could get two nights for 38,000 points if you have the credit card. But, there are apparently no overwater bungalows.

There are SPG properties as well, but I could never justify the extra points. It’s very expensive.

International Flights

If I say something nice about Delta, will you hold it against me?

The fact is, SkyTeam has the best availability to Tahiti. LAX to PPT is wide open, while the other airlines struggle. Delta has availability on Air France but more so on Air Tahiti Nui. Both LAX-PPT.

American Airlines also partners with Air Tahiti Nui.

American Airlines or Hawaiian miles can book you Hawaiian Airlines flights from HNL. Availability isn’t great, but perhaps booking ahead you can get the dates you want. Well, if the date you want is Saturday, as that’s the only day the route is flown. But if you book in advance, 3 out of every 4 Saturdays are available. which is better than nothing.

United or Star Alliance is pretty much limited to Air New Zealand’s AKL to PPT flight. Good luck with that. I don’t mind flying on Air New Zealand business class. I’ve slept through 4 or 5 international Air New Zealand flights and from what little I remember, it was great. However, their availability is terrible.

This AKL to PPT flight is probably in high demand. Look at the availability for July/Aug of 2014! It’s terrible. Just for that direct flight!

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 11.26.13 PM

Okay, now try to book a flight getting into AKL with proper timing. It’s tough. US to Australia/New Zealand is already the weakest point in Star Alliance. Right now, it’s September 24th and I’m looking at May and June:

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 11.28.24 PM

From May sooner, there is pretty much nothing. So that’s sold out completely for the next 8 months. However, the far out is peak season.

For OneWorld and British Airways Avios particularly, people have done Easter Island to PPT. This is a fun idea. But it could be nearly as hard to pull off as Star Alliance. It seemed that people found this all the time back in the day. But I don’t see anything now. Anyone have working dates?

And as epic as Easter Island is… I’m not going back. It’s awesome for a day or two. You see the Moai and then you’re done. No beach, no real culture or town. Just fyi.

In conclusion, I’ll probably use AA miles with a stopover in Hawaii. Just so I can avoid admitting to myself that I need Delta SkyPesos ever.

Internal Flights

If you didn’t know, there’s another problem – local flights. Thankfully, Moorea is a cheap ferry ride from Tahiti (the PPT airport you fly into). However, Bora Bora is a short plane ride away, but still a plane ride. And the tickets are not cheap. Not as expensive as the Maldives, but they aren’t free! There are no frequent flyer options here.

What’s crazy is that flights are $447 each for a roundtrip. It’s a tiny flight. Someone needs to go start an airline down there. Heck, United or AA needs to break up this Air Tahiti monopoly. What is going on? I can’t find another flight. Please comment below if you have any other leads.

Booking

This may sound like a pain in the neck but this is what I would do.

  1. Scope out availability. Try to find a time that works with your hotel plans and airline availability.
  2. Call and put your airline tickets on hold.
  3. Book all your hotels.
  4. Then finalize the airline tickets.

Is this too paranoid? I really don’t know. No reason not to do it though. If availability is tight, it seems like a good idea. If not, if it’s just wide open with daily opportunities, don’t bother. But move quick.

In the end, it’s simple… hopefully!

Apply for the IHG card now. Apply for Hilton Reservein 6 months. Book the trip when the Hilton points post for as far out as a year.

I book flights with AA miles. And pay $400+ for our tickets, but hopefully not. Or just go to Moorea. Which is fine with me, but working in the travel industry, I feel obligated to go to Bora Bora. Poor me.

When the time comes, upgrade to IC Ambassador status.

After all this planning, it better be nicer than Bali for all the trouble and points!

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43 Comments

  1. The IHG annual free night certificate is good for one year.

    Reply
    • Thanks. Good to know for sure.

      Reply
  2. You need to trade your bucket in for a bigger one!

    Reply
    • lol, I used to have a big bucket list. But I’ve been crossing them off. Good problem to have. :-p

      Reply
  3. The IHG free night is not free, it does cost you $49. Just saying :-)

    I do not know of a way to soften the pain for the flights to/from Bora Bora. Let us know if you find a way.

    Done Moorea and the Hilton (when it was a Sheraton). Very nice. But make sure you bring mucho dinero, everything is so expensive.

    Good luck with the upgrade to the overwater bungalow at the Hilton, you will likely need it.

    Hey, I am not out on a trip yet and you started already 😉
    It’s okay, see you at the next TBB post!

    Reply
    • Actually, the Hilton nights aren’t either, right?
      So you’re right George. It should be “Annual fees = a week of hotels in Bora Bora.”

      But in terms of food, I’m packing a bag of food. I’m not joking, I’m too cheap to fall into that trap. I’m sure on Tahiti there are local joints. Maybe the other islands too if you look. But my mom would bring giant bags of food to the Caribbean. I should have her write an article and packing your own food to an expensive island. :-p

      Reply
    • If you stay at the IHG property on Point Matira (Bora Bora), there is a small grocery store within fair walking distance which can save money on your food costs. Also, Air Tahiti doesn’t give breaks on flights unless you are a travel agent with the proper ID. If you are hitting multiple islands, they do have zone/multiple stop tickets which helps some on cost. Moorea is worth the trip (of course so is Bora Bora!)

      Reply
    • Thanks. Great info. I bet there are local restaurants then too…?
      That’s a bummer. I’d rather ferry to Moorea if it means more flight costs.

      Reply
    • I would totally read that article re: food packing!
      Or any article about saving money in the Caribbean (especially the Bahamas)..

      Reply
    • Seriously, I would get such a kick out if it, that it might be worth it. :-p
      I have no idea what she’d say though, but I imagine she wouldn’t be without words.

      Reply
  4. Are you planning to do LAX->PPT in economy or business? AF or TN? It is really a bummer that Air TahitiNui and Air Tahiti are totally separate airlines. BTW, the fare from Honolulu on HA is not too bad at certain times of the year. Since the number of SkyMiles required is quite high, I’ve been wondering if it is a bit smarter (from CPM perspective) to use miles to get to Hawaii, stay there a week, then go onwards to Tahiti for another week using a paid ticket? I also wonder if there are local discount bundle arrangements with Air Tahiti that can lower the overall cost (i.e. HNL->PPT->BOB might be cheaper through a Tahitian travel agency).

    Reply
    • That’s an interesting thought. Flights coded as one ticket to BOB. But some alliance needs to snatch up air tahiti!
      But I was planning on flying AA via Hawaii. Surely in economy. 😀

      Reply
  5. Delta is wide open? What am I doing wrong here? Help me out. I would LOVE to go to Bora Bora and have several hundred thousand DL miles to burn. I have put in several dates and always get “flights are not offered or not available”. I have put in dates in Nov, Apr, July…I always get the same error message. Now, when I put in for a paid ticket, it of course shows me $2,000 tickets I could buy. But never any award tickets.

    I checked AF web page and it says LAX-PPT is Tue/Thu/Sat and PPT-LAX is Wed/Fri/Sat …. but nothing ever comes up.

    Reply
    • I hate Deltas site. I have several hundred thousand DL miles too. When I decide to use them I’m going to pay someone to find flights for me because I get so stressed out!

      Reply
    • I don’t think Delta shows Air Tahiti Nui on their site and thus, you must check expert flyer.
      But I agree, they are a pain on many levels.

      Reply
    • But I’m only looking for Delta/Air France to PPT and that’s what’s not coming up.

      Reply
    • Then perhaps there is no availability. But I hear ATN has better availability, as you have to call or use expertflyer.

      Reply
  6. Before you go to Tahiti, read the chapters related to it in the book about Captain Cook’s journeys, Blue Latitudes.

    The best line in there , which I agree with completely, is “Tahiti is a swindle”.

    Reply
    • See… this is why I haven’t gone. Everyone tells me how expensive it is and people who are normally very frugal are paying hundreds of dollars for upgrades PER NIGHT.

      Is there something in the water? So, hopefully, I’ll do the best I can. Maybe 1 week is enough then. :-p

      Reply
    • I’ll let you be the judge if it’s a “swindle” or not, but, with their marketing BS’ve that has brainwashed us all into thinking this is a “paradise on earth”, it’s hard for the thinking person to not feel disappointed when they actually get there.

      Overwater bungalows are overrated–how artificial can you get ? Do Tahitians live that way? The food is not going to be French quality. The people are going to be jaded, there are going to be ticky – tacky souvenir shops with crap from China, the sand flies will be biting, the Eurotrash is also there, etc. And the women will be pretty but not sex kittens. Of course, everything is way overpriced.

      Hopefully, I lowered your expectations enough that maybe you will be set up for being pleasantly surprised now. :-)

      Reply
    • Tahiti itself is a dump. The Oakland of the South Pacific.

      I didn’t find prices unusually expensive for tiny islands in the middle of nowhere. Overwater bungalows are must-haves – no point in going all that way and miss the experience. That said, 25 years ago, overwater bungalows were special. Now, even second tier properties have them and it’s a bit of a yawn.

      But to say they are overrated because Tahitians don’t live in them, is outrageously silly. Tahitians dont live in hotels either, and with your “logic”, they are too “artificial”? Give us a break.

      Reply
    • Overwater bungalows remind me of zip lining in Costa Rica—it’s just one of those things you feel you need to do when there. But, heck, I don’t care as much about where I rest my head as I do about the surroundings.

      Reply
  7. For AA, you can also fly direct from LAX via Air Tahiti Nui, right?

    I was thinking that AA would be the most straight forward to book, BA through IPC would be the most interesting as I haven’t been, or Avianca Tata + United would be the longest but cheapest.

    Still trying to decide which method to use.

    Also can’t decide on the Moorea/Bora Bora split or straight Bora Bora.

    I guess I could go for the Barclay Arrival Card to cover most of the flight cost from PPT to BOB. I also hear they have an island hopper type flight that costs a similar amount, but I haven’t looked into it.

    Reply
    • Yea, so AA has LAX to PPT. Need to use ExpertFlyer to find.
      I’m for sure going to Moorea. In fact, I could get away without spending any money on flights or hotels (other than taxes and annual fees on ccs) if I just did Moorea. I could do the ferry. It would probably be a splendid trip. But I’d fear later kicking myself for not doing it.
      Someone just emailed me and said that the Wells Fargo card can book it for 32k. And they give 5x at gas, groceries and drugstores. So that person is doing the manu spends on the wellsfargo.
      But yea, the Barclay Arrival card makes a lot of since. You knock it out with the sign up bonus and call it a day.
      At that point your expenses are down to food. And I’m packing lunch. :-p

      Reply
  8. Drew, this is an epic post. As someone who is looking to do exactly what you’re doing, I really appreciate the nice, simple breakdown.

    Only difference is, I’ve acquired a TON of Hilton points and was planning on using them. Any suggestions on how to get upgraded for them?

    Reply
    • Thanks Trav!
      Unfortunately the options to upgrade aren’t as generous as Hyatt.
      First, the Premium room options, which is price based and often a rip off. But less of a rip off since the deval?
      Then, there are room upgrades, which are added on to confirmed reservations. They vary hotel to hotel and room to room, so you have to ask. It’s kin to Premium rooms but often better prices.
      You can find the better of the two. Might take a booking and canceling just to find out?
      And obviously you can book and email about a cash upgrade.

      If you have a ton of points and the difference between the overwater and non is 115k vs 80k and sometimes 90k (like at Moorea), I’d go for the Premium award night.
      Although there’s a lot more to consider, like AXON and 5th night free.

      Reply
  9. There is an overnight ferry from Papeete to Bora Bora and I have used it in the mid 90’s (pre-marriage backpacker days). It was OK and saves the cost of the flights. If your time is limited, I wouldn’t waste a day in transit though.

    Reply
    • I would totally do that. I have all the time in the world. Do you know if it’s still around?

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  10. The ferry to Moorea from PPT is great. We had a great ride…with a bunch of French high school students. Wanted to sens some over board but I controlled myself :-)

    Ramen noodles worked great back then to lower the costs. We really enjoyed the public market in PPT, very authentic. I may post a pic tonight.

    Will I ever go back there again? Nope. Unless I won a contest again, way too Maldives-like lol.

    It will be tough to avoid paying cash for OW bungalows upgrade! Luck and charm —-> need to pour it on.

    Thanks for the civil interactions in my blog. I always said responding nicely can gain as readers even the toughest critics.

    Reply
    • You’re a gentleman and a scholar George.

      Reply
  11. I have to agree with Bluecat. I crossed Bora Bora and Moorea off my list a while ago after reading countless trip reports from bloggers. There are so many gorgeous destinations in the world. I would rather try and find a place lesser known than supposed “paradise on earth”, and I don’t want to spend so many miles and points just to go somewhere that’s crazy expensive. One of my main reasons to travel is to eat local cuisine, not to pack food in suitcases or spend $25 on a horrible hamburger from the hotel restaurant. And I want culture. But I haven’t been there, so maybe I am wrong?? Regardless, I will look for someplace else.

    Reply
    • I also agree with Andrew, that Bora Bora is largely about seeing the natural beauty. I love snorkeling, islands, mountains, and all that as much as I live local culture and food. But, only one way to find out. I’ll find out in a year. :-p

      Reply
  12. Great follow up to your post on over-water bungalows, very helpful stuff in here. We have AA award tickets on TN to PPT (from AKL because we’ll be there as part of an epic but not RTW trip) and although I’ve checked availability for IHG award nights, I haven’t booked them yet. Does it matter when to get Ambassador status? Do we do it now when we make the award reservation or can we wait until closer to the trip (it’s in April)? For what it’s worth, my research indicates that the overnight cargo boat option PPT-BOB sometimes exists and sometimes doesn’t but we too are hoping to take it. I might have to brush up on my written French and start emailing the company to get a clear answer. At any rate, thanks for this post.

    Reply
    • Regarding Ambassador status, it only lasts a year, so you might as well wait.
      However, I have had trouble when I make a reservation while not having status and then checking in with status. As they got the reservation from a no status person, they just don’t know. Easy solution, I tell them and they check. So what I would do is wait until the beginning of the calendar month (or the one before if it’s too close) and then once it’s posted email. Email and ask about you’re upgrade. I assume that this is the best thing to do anyways. They will check for your status and likely manually change the reservation then and there.
      Also, at that point, if the answer isn’t what you expected, you can call IHG and refund or something. my $.02

      Reply
  13. Short version: yes, it sucks, come on! Look, it’s crazy, overpriced, don’t go there! Hopefully it will stay relatively unknown as it still is…

    Longer version: if you like to discover new cultures, eat local crazy food, explore a jungle – don’t go.
    But if you like waking up early to see and photograph the most beautiful sunrise you will ever see, if you love to admire what mother nature decided to create for the desert, if you simply love pure nature beauty – there is no place like that anywhere else. Yes, it is expensive, but there are ways to make it much more affordable and Drew here made a great effort to explain it. We don’t exactly agree how “easy” it it etc, but for sure there are ways.
    For my who simply loves pretty pictures and amazing memories, Bora Bora is magical. Where else can you see this:

    http://lenticulartravel.com/bora-bora-parasailing-helicopter/

    Reply
  14. if you had a lot of time, you might be better off planning a trip to Tokyo, and then doing a r/t from there to PPT. AKL – PPT is 17,500 each way on *A but it is only 12,500 each way (economy) from Tokyo, even though it routes through AKL, and there is a lot more availability, though not a ton.

    Reply
    • Yea, ultimately it’s the same chances across akl to ppt, but you took away the other hard part of getting across the pacific on *A.

      Reply
  15. It is not true that eating in Tahiti or Bora Bora is outrageous. I have been to French Polynesia 6 or 7 times and I have never taken food with me. If you eat like the locals, it is really quite cheap – get baguette or french sandwiches at many local places or all the fixings at a local market- under $10 per person. Local fresh fruit is reasonable and delicious. Dine at the “roulottes” (Tahitian food trucks) every night (or at local restaurants) and spend $10 to $20 per person for a fresh and tasty dinner (ahi, swordfish, steak or chicken, fries, rice or potatoes, vegetables, noodles, always with a side of cut up french baguette) – these can be found in Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora. If I were to dine at hotel restaurants and overpriced tourist places for every meal in any major city in the U.S., prices would be the same as what people think Tahitian meals cost. It’s a myth that you have no choice than to dine at these overpriced establishments while in Tahiti.

    Also – if you are going to go to French Polynesia at all, please do go to Bora Bora – there is nowhere on earth like it and it is very different from Moorea. I love both places but you will never see so many shades of blue and aqua than what you will see in Bora Bora. So worth the extra $450 for airfare. Waverunners around Bora Bora are a must, as is a snorkeling tour there. We have seen giant Manta Rays and swam with, touched, and rode the sharks as well (believe it or not!)…

    Reply
    • CJ, A big thanks for your comment. Very great to hear. I’ve always been able to find local food. And you’re right, I’m at the IC Kiev. Dinners here costs like $100 pp. But I’m in freaking Ukraine. You can get a meal for dirt cheap. So I really can’t imagine paying hotel prices.

      I suppose the problem from the IC Bora Bora is getting to mainland.

      Wait.

      Wait.

      What? RODE the sharks? Are these teethless tourist sharks?

      Reply
    • Most of the hotels away from the mainland in Bora Bora will have a free or reasonably priced shuttle boat, so you should find out about that. You may have to take a taxi from the boat dock to where the market or roulottes are but that shouldn’t be more than about $10. Still cheaper than eating at hotel restaurants.

      We went on a snorkeling tour where the guide told us not to get near or touch the 6-8 ft lemon sharks, but then he proceeded to touch them, hug them, and ride them – when he saw how comfortable my teenage boys were in the water, he allowed them to do the same under his supervision. He said that he usually never allows that but he felt it was ok with us – then he laughed and called us “crazy people”. lol. We did not go near the black and white tip reef sharks but they were fun to watch. I have an underwater photo of one of my son’s riding a lemon shark (which are supposed to be pretty docile) – if you’d like to see it i can send it to you via email.

      Reply
  16. I heard the Ambassador status guaranteed upgrade does not count on award bookings and that the IHG Thalasso enforces this policy so they can up charge your room.

    Reply
    • I know someone did this, but maybe the policy has changed or maybe they had a YMMV.

      Reply
  17. We are getting ready to go to Tahiti Sept 25, 2015. We are going for 2 weeks. I booked the flights with American miles on Air Tahiri Nui last November. We are taking a 10 day cruise which we had to pay for, but $1700 for 10 days, 6 islands including an overnight in Bora Bora, all your food and accommodations is not terrible.Our flight into Papeete arrives late so I booked 1 night at ICH Tahiti. Then the next morning we will take the ferry to Moorea and stay 2 nights at ICH Moorea. All three nights cost 90,000 points and $210 using points and cash. My partner does not do credit cards due to a history of credit problems so I am trying to make it work for both of us.I inquired about Ambassador status and they said it will not guarantee an upgrade on awards, only paid stays. They sent me the rates to upgrade and it was 44909 cfp plus 14% room tax for a premium overwater bungalow. I didn’t think it was worth another $500/night. I’ll take my chances at checkin. I have read that you get automatically upgraded to an OWB in BoraBora.

    Reply

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We have spent the majority of our marriage traveling full time, living out of hotels.   All the while, we list our expenses publicly, budgeting $25,000 a year for our nomadic life while still staying in mostly 4 or 5 star hotels across ~20 countries a year.
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