Earlier 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.
- The Serengiti Plains
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
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.
On 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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
This may sound like a pain in the neck but this is what I would do.
- Scope out availability. Try to find a time that works with your hotel plans and airline availability.
- Call and put your airline tickets on hold.
- Book all your hotels.
- 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!