I have just got back from the ultimate vacation of a lifetime – Bora Bora; and let me tell you – it is nothing short of breath-taking. Unfortunately, the beauty, seclusion and isolation of this island is reflected in the price to visit this piece of paradise. Scrolling Pinterest and Instagram, you will be inundated with pictures of exquisite over the water bungalows beautifully positioned over crystal clear turquoise water, some of which costing thousands of dollars a night. But I’m going to let you in on the biggest travel hacking secret I’ve achieved to date – we didn’t pay a penny to stay in an overwater bungalow in Bora Bora – and I’m going to tell you how we did it.
Step 1 – Apply For Hotel Credit Card
Travel Hacking and booking award travel in Bora Bora requires a bit of clever planning, but it is all worth it! There is no way we would have been able to afford our previous itinerary in French Polynesia had it not been from strategically using hotel points. This blog article will specifically target the Intercontinental Resorts in French Polynesia, under the umbrella of IHG hotels group. However, there are various other ways to gain free stays in Bora Bora through other hotel chains that you can use a similar strategy with.
The first thing we did while planning our French Polynesia trip was to open up a hotel credit card with a decent SUB (sign up bonus). We settled for the IHG credit card based on the wide variety of hotel destinations, not to mention three of which were situated in the French Polynesian islands. When we opened up our card, it gave a bonus of 120,000 points, Platinum Elite status and an anniversary free night at hotels under 40,000 points. The annual fee was $79 a year, however I believe it has gone up to $99, but if you are wise with the anniversary free night, it more than pays for itself. If you fancy checking out the card, here is a link to the current promotion which as of the time of writing offers a whopping 140,000 points sign up bonus.
Over the next 18 months we put everything through that credit card, and combined with a few work trips at IHG hotels in the United States, we easily racked up a few hundred thousand points without really changing any of our spending habits. It is also worth checking out any current offers through the Chase website, as we have quite often gained bonuses for adding the card to sites like Amazon or using them for various subscriptions like Netflix.
IHG has three hotels in French Polynesia – two in Bora Bora and one in Tahiti. Before the pandemic hit, there was also one in Moorea but it has now unfortunately shut down indefinitely. During our last trip, I had the pleasure of staying at all three and I can assure you, you will not be disappointed by any of them. They are all exceptional and some of the best resort experiences I have ever encountered.
As you accumulate points, it’s time to start preparing to book your award nights – and, as a PSO, the hotels in Bora Bora are notoriously hard to book with points, and when the time comes to book, it’s every man for themselves.
Step 2: Plan Your Points and Itinerary
As you start accruing points, it’s worth setting out a plan of how many nights you want to do and when you want to travel. If you go on to the IHG website, and search for hotels in French Polynesia, and select “Reward Nights” under Special Rates you will likely see scarce availability for the next few months – with only a couple of rooms available to be booked with points for any given night, they get snapped up fast.
IHG has now shifted to more dynamic pricing when it comes to the points cost of award nights, which will vary based on demand, season and day of the week, making it a little harder to plan how many points you might need. It’s worth carrying a few extra points than you need, just in case there’s a shift in points – you’d hate to miss out on a free night because you were short a few points. About the only time I will recommend purchasing points from the IHG website is when you have a goal in mind and are a little short – often it is not worth the points to cash ratio to purchase hundreds of thousands out right, but a few hundred or thousand here and there to get you to the threshold is definitely worth it. Reward nights are released 120 days in advance, so aim to have enough points 4 months in advance of your proposed travel dates. There is never really a bad time to visit, but you are more likely to find award space outside of the high season which typically runs May to October. The low and shoulder seasons between November and April can see a bit more rain but you can get some fantastic flight deals during this time of year. We travelled in April, and while most days it rained, it was usually only for about 5 minutes, and most of the time at night.
The Intercontinental Tahiti is the lowest point redemption out of the three, hovering around 50,000 – 75,000 points per night. We stayed here on our first night of our trip as our flight landed in the evening and there were no other internal domestic flights to the other islands after our flight arrived. The Intercontinental is conveniently located just 5 minutes from the airport and it is undoubtedly the best hotel on the island of Tahiti. Most visitors to the islands only spend one night on Tahiti at most, before heading to the other islands, and while Tahiti is a beautiful island with many things to see and do, once you see the other islands you will understand why it’s not the top tourist destination.
The Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora is actually on the mainland of Bora Bora, which is a unique benefit that most of the high end resorts do not have. Most of the hotels in Bora Bora – The St Regis, Four Seasons, Conrad, Le Bora Bora are situated on motus (or tiny islands), and while this is a dreamy isolated spot to have a hotel, it also makes coordinating excursions and dinners on the islands more complicated (and expensive!) – you obviously have to travel by boat every time you visit the mainland, and depending on the time of day, can set you back up to $300 each way! This is one of the reasons I loved staying at the Intercontinental Le Moana – it is within a five minutes walk to a mini supermarket, and at least 5 local restaurants. Bora Bora is not cheap, and having the ability to purchase our own alcohol, snacks and drinks drastically reduced the cost of our trip. Not being forced to eat at the hotel every night was also greatly beneficial, and I always enjoy trying all the local cuisines from some of the less touristy spots.
The Intercontinental Thalasso Resort and Spa on the other hand, is on its own private motu – and it is beyond breathtaking. It is more isolated than Le Moana, and so transport to and from the island must be taken into account, but without a doubt, this is the best hotel I have ever stayed at. We were beyond ecstatic to be upgraded three room categories upon arrival to an Overwater Villa Suite Otemanu View, which when I looked online, retailed at over $2300 a night; something that we paid zero out of pocket for! I hope you can appreciate here, how incredibly valuable it is have a strategy when booking these reward nights!
It is also worth mentioning that when you are booking IHG hotels with points, you can only book the lowest category room. At the Intercontinental Le Moana this was a Beach Bungalow (which are absolutely beautiful, and you can’t go wrong with being literally steps from the beach to your bedroom). With Platinum Elite status, one of the perks is room category upgrade, upon availability at check in. We were incredibly lucky to be upgraded two room categories to the Overwater Villa with Mountain View during our stay. Upgrades are not always guaranteed, however you can contact the hotel beforehand and pay with cash to upgrade if you do not want to take the risk upon arrival. On the other hand, the lowest room category at the Intercontinental Thalasso is “King Bed Overwater Villa Beach View”, so if you manage to nab an award night here you are guaranteed an overwater bungalow! From a quick look at the current rates, reward nights at Intercontinental Le Moana and Thalasso were hovering around the 120,000 points per night, but will ultimately vary by season and day of the week.
Step 3 – Booking Your Free Nights
Once you have accrued enough points for your desired itinerary, it’s time to book the free nights. As mentioned earlier, reward nights for French Polynesia are released 120 days in advance at midnight Tahiti time. You will have to do a bit of Maths to figure out what day your desired date will become available – and make a note so you don’t miss it. Then, you will need to calculate what time locally it is for you when it is midnight in Tahiti, likely a very early wake up. You make think this is overkill to wake up early to secure a reward night, but I’m warning you, these rooms get snatched up in minutes, if not seconds. It is 100% worth getting up early to secure a free night at a bucket list hotel.
To aid in the preparation, make sure you have your credit card details saved to your IHG account (you will not be charged anything, they just use it to guarantee the room), and of course, enough points to purchase the room. You can use points plus cash to book reward nights however it is longer checkout process and you may risk losing your night to someone who checked out faster.
In the ten minutes before the award nights were released I always made sure I had the IHG site loaded on more than one device, just in case of the page crashed (unfortunately happened on more than one occasion). It turned out to be beneficial to be logged in on a computer or laptop and on the IHG app on a phone or ipad. As the demand for these nights is so high, you will likely only be able to book one night at a time. But, as IHG members, you can get your fourth night free when booking with points.
The method I used to secure a free night in Bora Bora was to book three consecutive nights, all booked separately each day the reward nights were released. Five minutes before the release of the award night for the fourth day, I cancelled all previous bookings, on one device, while inputting the four consecutive dates into the search bar of the IHG site on another device. The moment the fourth night was released, the previous nights would be back into the rewards night pool, and I was able to book four nights for the price of three. My heart was in my mouth the entire time, but it worked. This also left us enough points to book an additional night, which we used to stay at the Thalasso for our last night in Bora Bora.
During the booking process, it is worth keeping a bit of flexibility in case you are unable to secure a reward night on a certain day. If you are visiting other islands, you could visit Bora Bora at the beginning or end of your trip, and if you are unable to secure desired nights at the Thalasso, you can always stay at Le Moana on those days and add on Thalasso at the end (which we did).
Our final itinerary for French Polynesia included our first night at the Intercontinental Tahiti (54,000 points), 4 nights at the Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora (3 x 100,000 points + 1 night free) Overwater Villa Mountain View (upgraded from Beach Bungalow) and 1 night at the Intercontinental Thalasso (100,000 points) Overwater Villa Otemanu View (upgraded from Beach View).
If this has motivated you to follow suit and try your hand at a free vacation to Bora Bora, here is the link for the IHG card.
Please let me know if you have any questions, and if you manage to secure some reward nights in the beautiful islands of French Polynesia I’d love to hear about it! All of our experiences in French Polynesia are on my highlights reels on Instagram @chase.the.rainbows.
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