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 Le Moana
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!
I got quite a few emails!
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.
Award availability trends
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.
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.
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.
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.