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How we did 2 weeks in Bora Bora, Moorea, & Tahiti hotels for FREE

I’ve been anxious to share our trip with 7 nights in Bora Bora (6 of which were in Overwater Bungalows), 6 nights in Moorea and 1 night in Tahiti, and all the hotels were using free night certificates.

This is the first of posts about how to visit these places- the points hotels, award flights, and visiting these places for super cheap. Including eating, and tips like how we took the free shuttle from Bora Bora airport to Bora Bora.

However, this post is entirely about the hotels we stayed at, and how we got these hotels for free with points.

The first hotel in Bora Bora is over $1,000 a night after tax, and we stayed there 5 nights! Easily $10,000 worth of hotel rooms for our trip, not including the value of our upgrades, and we spent $0 on these hotels.

 

We stayed at 5 hotels.

  • InterContinental Bora Bora Thalasso
  • InterContinental Bora Bora Le Moana
  • InterContinental Moorea
  • Hilton Moorea
  • InterContinental Tahiti

Why did we pick these hotels?

Well, it’s pretty simple, as it’s based entirely on free nights.

Also, the Thalasso in Bora Bora is the only hotel to book straight into an overwater bungalow on points! Which was totally awesome. Plus, the Le Moana only has two room categories and will sometimes upgrade top tier elites to overwater rooms based on availability. Maybe. Or maybe they’re just fickle.

 

(Let me first show a couple of pictures of the properties)

InterContinental Bora Bora & Thalasso

InterContinental Bora Bora Thalasso

InterContinental Bora Bora Le Moana 

InterContinental Bora Bora Le Moana

InterContinental Moorea

InterContinental Moorea

Hilton Moorea

Hilton Moorea

How did I get these free nights?

IHG Free night certificates

With the InterContinental hotels, I used IHG free night certificates. You can get these one of two ways.

 

1) You get them from the annual fee on the credit card, which is $49.

Which, now I’m realizing that the “free” night did cost me $49, and I used 3 certs from the credit cards (I’ll explain how in a sec). So my bill was totally covered by the free nights, but I should explain that I essentially got three of these free nights from a $49 fee. Call it $147 for three nights. However, I would likely keep the card for the 10% points rebate anyways. Count it how you like I guess.

The point is, that the credit card normally gives a 70,000 to 80,000 point signup bonus (often seen while booking a hotel on their site) and for the first year, the annual fee is waived.

But every year you keep the card and pay the $49 annual fee, you get a free night.

 

How did I get 3 from two cards?

We used two free nights from Carrie’s credit card because the expiration time is essentially 13 months, and we used it in that one month gap where we’d have two free nights.

Her first night was going to expire in our first week, so we used it on our stay in Bora Bora. However, a month before the stay, her other free night posted.

 

2) Free nights from IHG promotions

We definitely both completed our “Into The Nights” promotions (which ran early 2015) that gave points plus two free night certificates that work just like the credit card free night cert.

Since then they have had promotions giving free nights only on specific accounts. Each promotion is customized and targeted, and some people in the latest “Accelerate” promotion were being given a free night after two paid stays, which you could do twice to get two free nights. Potentially two free nights from four paid nights.

Anyways, these are the kinds of promotions that could give you two free nights.

For those of you who have travel coming up, it’s a no brainer to do the same thing and get to the free nights (if that’s what this quarter’s promotion offers).

For us, we would have booked the nights either way. For example, we were in Europe during a sale that offered many hotels in cities we were going to (Salzburg, Vienna, etc…) that were €39 a night. I would’ve booked those hotels either way.

But many of you wouldn’t need the paid nights and therefore it isn’t recreatable or it would be an actual expense to get the free nights… which would totally be worth it to get two free nights for three separate €39 stays even if we didn’t need it.

 

Hilton free night certificates

This is a little simpler, as the two free Hilton nights are simply a sign up bonus for the Hilton Reserve credit card. Actually, they are two weekend night certificates. And you can get another on your anniversary every year, like the IHG card, except you have to have spent $10,000 that year on the card to get the anniversary night.

 

How did we find award availability?

Everyone wants to use their points in Bora Bora. The place is super expensive and now the InterContinental Thalasso books straight into an overwater Bungalow. These are on serious demand, and because of that, sometimes you look for available dates and can’t find any for months.

Seriously, when I first started planning the trip, there wasn’t a single day open for months! And definitely not on the dates that worked for us.

But we hoped for the best, and I thought we could just do Moorea (which had plenty of availability) if the Bora Bora hotels didn’t open up.

 

Hotel-Hustle alerts to the rescue

Perhaps you read my post recently on setting hotel award alerts with Hotel-Hustle

Still, this tool saved my butt by emailing (and texting) me when rooms became available for points. All the dates I had hoped for became available. All of them!

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 3.50.19 PM

I got quite a few emails!

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 3.54.45 PM

Although I wasn’t always near a computer when the alert would be emailed, I was always able to get the booking made.

Truly Hotel-Hustle was solely responsible for getting my entire week in Bora Bora, and just how I wanted it to be arranged. I wanted the first and last night to be at the Le Moana (closer to the free shuttle) and the other five to be at the Thalasso, in an overwater bungalow.

I can’t think of a better endorsement than being responsible for getting me a week in Bora Bora when there was ZERO award availability when I started planning the trip and setting alerts.

Read this post if you would like to read about how to use Hotel Hustle (which is quite simple). Here’s a link to Hotel Hustle.

 

Award availability trends

Hilton

First, the Hilton hotels are very difficult to find award availability for unless it’s super far out or in low season. I really find it fishy that the only rates available with Hilton are the jacked up price based rates for the entire next year. It actually makes sense for the InterContinental Thalasso to have similar award availability because you book straight into a $1,000+ overwater bungalow. But with the Hilton hotels you book into a basic room that’s $400 or less.

At the Hilton Bora Bora, I really only see standard award availability 9 to 10 months out… which is the last month bookable. It’s just super odd, and a little absurd not to find a single room?

But then, a couple months before, it starts opening up.

And then again a couple weeks out.

However it is super inconsistent. You really can’t rely on Hilton for having award space at this hotel, unlike the IC. Plus, you need weekend nights.

The Hilton Moorea is worse for last minute openings. Only scattered dates more than 2 months out. It’s worse because it’s just up to luck wether or not your date is chosen.

However, the further you go out the more they open dates. So in thise case they just sell out.

 

InterContinental 

I got emails on different dates throughout the 2 months leading up to the hotel stay.

As I stated in the post on Hotel Hustle, I think there are two main reasons for the stays opening up.

1) People canceling before their cancelation deadline.

and 2) The hotel opening more award space last minute when it can’t sell the rooms.

I checked randomly on IHG a few weeks before the stay, because I was hoping something at the Le Moana would open up on our first day. I checked and saw that there were basic rooms for sale, but there weren’t any award rooms! What’s up with that?

Then, two days later I get another email alert for that date. Same number of rooms were available, but this time there were award nights available.

 

It’s really still amazing to me that I was able to get 5 nights in a row at the Thalasso and I didn’t do any looking, I just got alerts. But I can’t exaggerate enough how little award availability there was when I started booking the trip. It was months of nothing.

Therefore…

 

Planning last minute for flights

A few notes about making these last minute changes and our bookings in regards to flights. I have an entire post on finding flights to Tahiti: Complete List of Flyer Miles and Routes to Tahiti. That post explains that you have to go to Tahiti first and how to do it on miles.

Then you need a flight on Air Tahiti (which has no partners), and the flights are $220 each way.

One note, is that if you’re hoping for award space in Bora Bora, you can make your reservation at the hotel in Moorea and cancel if the Bora Bora hotel opens up.

Or similarly, even in Bora Bora, you could book at the Le Moana and then cancel when the Thalasso opens up.

However, know that you need to cancel one week out at the IC Le Moana Bora Bora, and 3 days out at the IC Moorea!

 

For us, we actually had the hotels before we had the flights. We were willing to change our plans knowing Moorea had tons of availability.

Here’s what we did:

 

1) We booked our flight to Tahiti using Alaska Miles.

Even though it was last minute, we used Alaska Miles which has no close-in fees.

2) Once it was getting pretty close, we made our booking on Air Tahiti from Tahiti to Bora Bora on Orbitz, and had a few days to cancel for free.

We didn’t need to cancel, but we were actually still waiting on an award night.

 

In case you’re wondering, Air Tahiti flights only went up $20 even though we booked a very last minute flight to Bora Bora and then from there to Moorea. We weren’t even quite a week out.

$20 isn’t a lot, however, flights did sell out. I checked back before our cancelation date (a couple days later) and there was 1 flight left on one of the days. And checking for the Moorea to Tahiti flights I only saw one flight 5 days out for my mom, and the next day it was gone.

Also, I want to say that everything was sold out on our dates. Hotels were all completely sold out too for every stay. And for Tahiti to Bora Bora, there are a number of flights. There were always plenty of flights on that route. It’s the Bora Bora to Moorea flight I’d be worried about selling out on. But it’s not too big of a deal because you can always fly back to Tahiti and take the ferry.

And even with my last minute planning during a crazy busy couple of weeks, we got the flight we wanted.

 

Conclusion

I’ve yet to talk about the hotels themselves at all, but I will… and they were awesome.

I also will talk later about how Moorea is just as awesome, if not more awesome, than Bora Bora. The main reason to go to Bora Bora is the hotel experience. Really, the overwater bungalow experience.

But you have to pay $400 per person to get there on Air Tahiti… so it’s a give and take.

 

Definitely IHG is the best option for French Polynesia. Two hotels in Bora Bora, and one in both Moorea and Tahiti. Plus, they have the best award availability (by a long shot). Plus, they are the easiest points/free nights to earn. Plus, the IC Thalasso books straight into a $1,000 a night overwater bungalow!

Hilton has all kinds of issues, but the fact that the free nights only work on weekends is a major bummer. That’s 3 of the 7 nights. You would need something else to complete a week. Plus, the lack of availability and the fact you are 4 or 5 upgrades away from an overwater bungalow.

If you want to make Bora Bora a reality on the cheap, you need to get on the IHG train.

Read the Complete Guide to IHG Rewards.

Then just pay attention when I write posts on IHG promotions! Because often they are really good… and that’s normally the only reason I’d write about a promotion.

For general cheap tips on the islands, and reviews… keep reading.

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32 Comments

  1. Was this a recent stay?

    Reply
    • Yep. First two weeks of November.

      Reply
  2. Did you prefer the Thalasso or the Moana? I know the Thalasso has the wow factor but having to take a boat to the mainland drove me nuts. There are a couple cheap cafes within walking distance from the Moana. We ended up living on fruit and ramen noodles at Thalasso except for one splurge on the island night.

    Another way of getting out of the mandatory boat airport transfer fee is to book a snorkeling tour (if you were planning to do one anyway) for the last day. We just took our backpacks with us and the boat dropped us at the airport after the tour.

    Reply
    • I prefer the Thalasso hotel, and we ate groceries.
      Le Moana had more coral, but still NOTHING compared to any other island. Moorea is a better island, Thalasso was a better hotel experience… if that matter.

      We didn’t pay any boat fees ever. 😀 I’ll write a post on it. But basically there’s a free ferry.

      Reply
  3. You are my hero! Living the life…

    Reply
    • Hah, thanks! 😀

      Reply
  4. Just a data point for those reserving Le Moana and Thalasso award availability opens up within the cancellation window. I was able to change it by calling IHG customer service with no cancellation fee.

    Reply
    • Nice. Great tip!
      Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
  5. Oh, crap. Another great opportunity that will soon die a public death thanks to the blog-fed swarms of locusts…

    Reply
    • Is this satire?

      If not, then perhaps you’re unaware that these are already incredibly popular hotels to redeem points in…
      And over the years about 1 billion blog posts have been done on these hotels across 1 million miles/points blogs. This is about as old as news gets.

      Reply
    • ^I love that kind of stuff…. “I’m all for information that helps ME book a better hotel… But I HATE when it helps other people do the same!”

      Reply
    • Drew is right. Where have you been? Nothing secret here. LOL.

      Reply
  6. Hilton bora bora has been under massive construction for a while. That’s probably why availability was scarce. It was wide open in high season last (2014) summer.

    Reply
  7. Hey Drew,

    Awesome to hear you were successfully able to book all of these hotels! My girlfriend and I are actually headed to Bora Bora this Friday for 1 night at the IC Le Moana and then 6 nights at the IC Thalasso. Of course flights and hotels booked with points/free night certificates. As you mentioned a few posts up this has been blogged about a million times but was wondering if you have any additional tips for saving money on food based on your recent experience?

    Reply
    • Well, this is summary of a number of posts, but I definitely want to share it now if it helps you.

      Free ferry bora bora. First of all we took the free air tahiti shuttle to the island, and then took a taxi to the le moana. We paid $20 total instead of $60 per person. Each way!
      When you get your bags you’ll see everyone getting on a boat. It will be super obvious. On the return show up 1.5 hours before your flight at the dock. But island time means that it will be really late, but remember it is Air Tahiti’s boat, and they won’t fly without you.

      I just told them I wasn’t taking shuttle as I’d be coming from elsewhere. He said it was mandatory and I just didn’t deal with it. It’s obviously not mandatory, and it wasn’t listed as something related to fees when booking. That’s huge.

      Food we packed.
      We checked an entire bag of groceries and it lasted us less than a week.
      We packed instant oatmeal, which was awesome. I discovered how much I don’t like ramen, but we packed some. We also did couscous and canned chicken with cheese we got at the store. That was good too.

      Groceries.
      There’s a free shuttle to Le Moana, as you likely know, which is how we go too the Thalasso. We loaded up on the cheap local bread and water and stuff and the grocery store near the le Moana. Walk right out of the hotel, right on the main road, and it’s on the left. 3 minute walk.
      Things are same price to double.

      Cheap food nearby.
      The grocery store has sandwiches for $3, and an entire rotisserie chicken for like $13.
      The Le Moana has a pretty big pizza for like $12! None of the pizzas are really good, but it totally is enough for two people. We ordered from the room and picked up at the bar to avoid the $12 “fee”. You can probably order from the bar area, idk.

      Across from the grocery store is a restaurant, that also has pizza. You’re looking at $20 a person, or $20 for a pizza.
      Some shops on the public beach if you had turned left too.

      Bonus freebies.
      If you get the event list at the Thalasso they have a number of cocktail hours and things. They advertise snacks on some of them. I stuck to our sandwiches and things we made in the room anyways.

      So yea, zero dollars in ferries, just $40 in taxis (the le moana called one for us after check out). And we only got one meal at each hotel. So we were super cheap. Honestly, the hotel food at the Thalasso was okay, but not what I would get paying that money back home. The raw fish dishes are unique at least.

      They may offer you breakfast for $20 a day per person. We declined and had instant oatmeal, maybe fruit and stuff too. But you can look up the breakfasts… didn’t look worth it to me. But was less hassle.

      Also, the ferry ride is kinda long, so shop up before you leave le moana.

      Reply
  8. I bet if you took a look at a grocery store in Papeete probably you could score some nice grub. At any rate if you go to Noumea in New Caledonia (another French-associated island group) that’s the case. Venison sausage, foie gras, tinned salads, and of course French wines, yum! All for reasonable prices to super cheap.

    My question I had though is how are you guys doing with $20k/year budget? I ask since $10k/person is going to be similar to my budget I think. Hopefully less (right now guessing it will be around $8k for year’s travel abroad). It’s awesome and cheap even if you guys are over that.

    Reply
  9. Good post as always Drew. We stayed at the IC Moorea on our honeymoon and loved it!

    Reply
    • Thanks. IC Moorea might have been my favorite experience over all. Would love to go back.

      Reply
  10. Hi Drew,
    I have a question about the free ferry between Thalasso and Moana. The first part of our stay will be at Thalasso and then to Moana. Do you think we could use the ferry to get to Thalasso from Moana?

    And how long is the ferry between the two hotels?

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • It’s totally normal. It’s for Thalasso guest to go back and forth as they wish. Just tell the hotel.
      It’s 20 minutes I’m guessing. Depends on the day/driver. We had a fast boat once… but the main one is pretty slow.

      Reply
  11. Hi Drew,

    Awesome post!! Thanks for all the tips. I can’t wait to do this trip!

    You & I allllmost met at the IC Kiev, when I was there for a month on PointBreaks nights.

    I’m still hoping to meet you in person one of these days, and thank you for all the great info.

    Chris

    Reply
    • I remember that. Sounds like if you travel all over it’s possible to run into each other sometime soon. Or in the US… We bounce around there too a bit.

      Reply
  12. Hi Drew,

    Great trip report.

    What’s your suggestion on booking IC hotels.

    If I find availability in one IC hotel just book the whole one week as one reservation or 7 reservations (one reservation per day)? so if the availability opens up in other hotels I can just cancel the particular reservation?

    Reply
  13. great site. generally speaking, approx how many different CCs do you have and how much do you spend in CC per month? I ask because you are able to travel the world on points, but my experience w earning points is card sign-up bonuses but they still require a certain amount to be spent in the first few months to claim the reward. Should i be applying for a new CC each time i claim a bonus offer? Otherwise i’ll earn, say 50k-70k, chase ultimate rewards each year.

    Reply
    • Tony – I can’t speak for Drew, but THEY Probably Manufacture Spend (MS) a lot of the Sign Up bonus requirements.
      Normal people will/should get a new credit card every time you have $2 or $3,000 worth of spending within 3 months coming up.

      If you want to be safe/modest and still save/make 2 grand+, you can get 4 cards a year spending just $1,000 a month on CCs. ($400-500 bonus per each new card)

      Reply
  14. Curious on Hotel Hustle why some hotels don’t show to even allow for alerts? Example: Lawrence, Kansas for January 29-31 (2 nights) in 2016. Many of the hotels I want to target such as a Marriott Towneplace Suites or Springhill Suites do not show unless I remove the dates. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, those are the ones I want alerts from. Thanks for any help!

    Reply
    • Devon, I know this is incredibly delayed, but if you have any issues with Hotel Hustle, tweet or email Seth at @WanderngAramean / wanderingaramean@millerworks.net. Hotel Hustle is his project, and he’s very responsive (and is always looking for people to tell him about bugs on his sites).

      Reply
  15. Awesome information! I’m brand new to travel hacking and am trying to plan my wife and I’s first trip. We never got to take a honeymoon when we married, and are looking to take our 10 year anniversary/honeymoon to French Polynesia. This article is perfect. We have plenty of time to collect points, as we aren’t taking the trip until June 2018, but I figured I’d start planning my cards out now. Any other tips any one else could provide that weren’t mentioned here would be greatly appreciated. I’ve had so much fun researching this newfound world, can’t wait to see where it takes us. I’ve got the CSP and Freedom cards right now, working towards the bonus, with my wife as an authorized user.

    Reply
  16. Doing this right now for next August. Got 4 nights at the Hilton Bora Bora Nui with free weekend certificate and points…but as you said only to the standard rooms (no overwater). I am looking to +$290 a night to upgrade to overwater. Have 2 certificates for IHG and like 150k points…there is no availability….EVER!!! Going for 8 days so I have more days to use the certificates. I was thinking about booking the IC Tahiti just to have something confirmed and change to the Thalasso if it ever opens up. Any words about the IC Tahiti? Thank you for all your info…I decided to make the trip after your post.

    Reply
  17. Thanks again for all this REAL information Drew! I Love that you live a frugal life like the ‘average Joe’ and show people how to get the most out of their valuable Vacation time. The stuff you post is a lot more relevant than the regurgitated ‘best offers’ most bloggers post.

    Reply
  18. Hi Drew, very nice post, I had the opportunity to go there, by that time I used 2 great flight deals..
    – Flew LAX-PPT with GOL miles (20k at that time to fly Air France).
    – And to get around the expensive flights from Air Tahiti (when we saw it online was $450 usd roundtrip/person, since there are so many flights to Bora Bora, I bought my tickets at the local agency in the airport once I arrived, then they charge us as local people, obviously the 1st flight was already full but the next one 2h later was available, after converting it, it saved us $120/each, we paid $330 usd. It’s not ideal, but in our case we were on budget because we were travelling for a month, maybe it’s useful to someone :)

    Keep up the great work, I’m a big fan!

    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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