TL;DR. By applying for the right credit cards, eating your meals off property, and doing a little prep work beforehand, a trip to Bora Bora can be surprisingly affordable–especially if you bank miles with the Star Alliance for Australia or New Zealand.
Bora Bora is absolutely the most stunning island destination I’ve ever laid eyes on–more beautiful than the Maldives, Seychelles, Tasmania or any white sand beach in Southeast Asia. Our trip took us to three islands in French Polynesia (posts on Moorea & Tahiti to come), but Bora Bora was the unquestionable jewel. It’s far from a budget destination, but perhaps more affordable than you might expect–just because you can blow thousands of dollars, doesn’t mean that you should. Here are my tips for getting the most bang out of your buck and still keep it classy.
Getting to French Polynesia (35,000 miles + $177 in taxes + $500 for two inter-island flights)
One of my first housekeeping items was to study the Star Alliance network in Oceania. It was a good thing that I did because that was how I learned that flights within Oceania are a paltry 35k miles (on United, only 25k on US Airways), which includes Sydney – Tahiti, and a number of other equally enticing and remote islands in the South Pacific. To put this into context, an award booking from LA to Hawaii would cost you 40k miles, but then again, not all of us live in Sydney. I searched for award flights and booked the only two seats available within a six month period. And not only did I book the roundtrip for 35,000 miles, I also added a segment from SYD – Queenstown to take advantage of United’s award rules, which allow you to add a free stopover (SYD – PPT // PPT – SYD – ZQN). The inter-island flights between Moorea – Bora Bora and Bora Bora – Tahiti netted us another $500.
Booking & Upgrading at the Hilton Bora Bora (50,000 miles + $100 to upgrade to Standard Overwater Bungalow, per night)
A long time ago, I came into a massive surplus of Hilton miles and went through the exercise of singling out the most aspirational properties in the Hilton portfolio. My shortlist included the Conrad Maldives, Hilton Seychelles, Conrad Koh Samui and Hilton Bora Bora. So when Hilton announced its massive devaluation (top tier redemptions were previously 50k, compared to 95k), I knew it was time to offload the points. I initially booked an AXON award for four nights at 140,000 points, but opted to use my free night certificates from my credit card instead. Upgrading the award ended up costing just $300 for three nights, compared to the $3,600 rack rate we could’ve paid instead.
- Accumulate hundreds of thousands of Hilton points at virtually zero cost by applying for these credit cards . With the current devaluation of Hilton points, you’ll get the best bang by applying for the Citi HHonors Reserve, which gets you two free nights at any Hilton property, these top-tier redemptions included. My cousins signed up for the credit cards and were able to join us with just five months notice
- My cousins guaranteed their upgrade to a Deluxe Overwater Bungalow by paying $200 p.n. in advance–request 106 if you go with this option. We opted to bet on the slim chance that they’d give us a complimentary upgrade as a HHonors Gold member–that, of course, didn’t happen. But we were offered a $100 p.n. upgrade to a Standard Overwater Bungalow, which only differed from the Deluxe in its location.
Skip the $130 Hilton Shuttle Boat & Load Up in Vaitape
Bora Bora’s airport is set on a separate island, meaning that you have to take a boat to get to your hotel. It may be romantic, but it also gives the hotels an opportunity to captively price you into a $130 boat shuttle, for what really should be an included service. Following the tips on FlyerTalk, we took the free Air Tahiti Nui shuttle into Vaitape (the main port) and the Hilton shuttle for $8 from there. The Hilton took our bags directly to the hotel, which made it easy to enjoy a leisurely lunch and ride into town. Since the Air Tahiti Nui shuttle runs in accordance with flight schedules and the Hilton picks up from Vaitape on the half hour, you’re never left waiting too long. The return trip is equally convenient with the Hilton sorting out all of the logistics for you.
- In case you’re feeling extra classy (or just plain practical), pick up water and beers at the Chin Chin Supermarket in Vaitape. Not only will this save you from the exorbitant prices charged by the resort, it’ll also make you look really elegant when you arrive at the Hilton with empty beer bottles, asking if they recycle.
Resort Overview of the Hilton Bora Bora
Of all of the resorts in Bora Bora, I reckon that the Hilton Bora Bora has the most secluded location. The Hilton occupies a large motu of its own and is one of only three resorts on the west side. The east side of the island is home to all of the other luxury properties, meaning that the water has to be a little more polluted, which is a relative term in this untouched corner of the world.
The staff neglected to inform us about any of the amenities and with service so lackadaisical, make sure to educate yourself and ask questions to get the most out of your stay. Complimentary amenities on offer include a host of daily activities (sign-up a day in advance at the pool hut), DVD rentals, board games, kayaks, paddle boats, and stand-up paddleboards.
We hardly spent any time on the beach, since our OWB afforded us all the luxuries of a beach vacation from our back deck. After breakfast, we grabbed kayaks and SUPs, paddled them to our bungalows, and spent the rest of the morning jumping off our docks. The weather is perfect at this time, so take advantage of the lighting to take photos.
You’ll sink right into the king-sized beds, which are too soft for my comfort; while the bathrooms are massive, making for a comfortable bath for two.
Avoid Eating at the Hilton at All Costs
As HHonors Gold members, we enjoyed free continental breakfasts, which were sufficient, but certainly didn’t go the extra mile. We had lunch at the resort a few times and ordered room service once–the food was passable most of the time. That being said, the best meals we had were in Vaitape, where excellent roulotte food carts parked along the side of the road served up hefty portions at reasonable prices–just take the Hilton shuttle to town, walk to the main road, and turn left. There are a number of poulet roti (rotisserie chicken) roulottes at lunch, with dinnertime options ranging from steak frites to grilled fish and pizza. We ate at nearly all of the roulottes and you really can’t go wrong. Out of all of the roulottes in French Polynesia, we were surprised to find the ones in Bora Bora not only to be the cheapest, but also the best.
Diving and the Pursuit of Leisure
For a three-day stay, we were contet to leave the Hilton only for meals. Time flies when you’re snorkeling, stand up paddleboarding and swimming the day away. That said, the diving was pretty spectacular, even just in the lagoon waters. We booked a 2-tank dive with Dive N’ Smile for $130 (diveNsmile@mail.pf) and had a great time sneaking up on stingrays, morays and fishes galore. Dive N Smile and Bora Diving are the two smaller operations on the island, meaning that the four of us enjoyed a private charter, compared to the cattle diving at shops like Top Dive.
Other classy ways to pass the time: