Our “How To” series explains the best way to get to various destinations using credit card points, and tells you what card(s) you should sign up for in order to accrue the necessary points. This week’s destination: Tahiti & Bora Bora.
Welcome to Part 2 of our Honeymoon/Romantic Getaways! This week we are talking about French Polynesia, including the loooovely Bora Bora. Since only 2 airlines fly direct to Tahiti’s PPT airport (you have to take a small biplane to connect to Bora Bora), it’s tough to find award space – meaning seats that are bookable with points. It is so worth it if you can find them though, so be prepared to use this guide to find and book your flights probably 8-11 months in advance! As a reminder, if you haven’t checked out our other “How To” posts, here are the links (or future dates) below!
- Part 1: Fiji, Australia, and New Zealand (Thursday, 4/13)
- Part 2: Tahiti & Bora Bora
- Part 3: Greek Islands / Europe (Thursday 5/4)
- Part 4: Cancun / Caribbean (Thursday 5/11)
- Part 5: Bali / SE Asia (Thursday 5/18)
Part 2: Tahiti & Bora Bora
French Polynesia (Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, etc.) is, without question, one of the most beautiful places on the planet. It’s been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember, and I’m sure it’s on many of yours as well. What’s more romantic than
beautiful jungles and crystal blue water? If you’re a nerd like me, booking the whole thing on points is almost as exciting and romantic as the trip itself. I’m probably alone in that sentiment…and that’s okay. Regardless, this guide will show you how to get round trip flights to French Polynesia, and a 6 night stay at a 5-star resort, using only credit card points.
To preface this, if you haven’t read our Beginner’s Guide or the FAQ posts, then I recommend starting there before you read further. It might answer some questions that arise while reading. Now let’s get started!
As mentioned above, only two airlines fly direct routes to PPT (Tahiti) from the mainland US: AirFrance and Air Tahiti Nui. The lowest I’ve seen flights is $1050, but most of the time they are in the $1400-$1700 range – crazy expensive, and a perfect time to use points! Since there are such limited routes, it also means that you need to book your seats early in order to get award seats. Since airlines that give up “miles” seats or “award” seats aren’t getting a paying customer, they usually only allow 2-10 people per flight to book seats with miles. As a result, booking far in advance ensures that you are one of the lucky ones!
AirFrance has more award space and is easier to book, so I’ll focus on that one first. AirFrance flies LAX – PPT 3x per week, so you’ll need to find those dates in your search tool.
How to Book: To search for space, you’ll need to head to AirFrance and sign in with your FlyingBlue account. If you don’t have a FlyingBlue frequent flyer account, sign up for one here. On the AirFrance website you select “Use Miles” and then type in LAX – PPT. To clarify, you can start from any destination in the U.S. (AirFrance partners with Delta, so you’ll connect to LAX via a Delta flight); however, since the LAX – PPT is the segment that is tough to find space on, we are going to search just that one first. Once you find that space, you can add in your other city (like SLC – LAX – PPT). AirFrance allows you to book award space ~10 months in advance, so the earlier the better. It looks like you have to call in now to add the SLC – LAX (or any other city to LAX) portion, so you can find the current AirFrance number here. Make sure you click “Looking for a flight around these dates” to see the whole availability calendar. Here’s my search for flights in early January 2018:
It looks like right around New Years has no availability, but the weeks following it are pretty much wide open. Since this is just the one-way, the other direction would cost you 30,000 miles as well for 60k miles total for a round trip ticket. The additional fees of ~$100 are airport taxes and fees, which you would pay on a normal cash booking as well. Not the end of the world, but still annoying.
Once you find space for the flights you want, you can either call AirFrance or just book it directly online with your FlyingBlue points. But….you’ll need points, won’t you? How can we get 60k AirFrance points (or 120k for a couple)?
How to Get the Points: AirFrance is a transfer partner of all of the major point currencies – Chase UR (Ultimate Rewards), Amex MR (Membership Rewards), and Citi TYP (ThankYou Points). So, if you have any of those points you can transfer them over to AirFrance easily. Since most of us are new and starting out, it’s unlikely that we just have these points sitting around waiting to be spent – so the better question is how can I earn these points?
If you head over to our Best Credit Cards page, you can see a more updated version of all the current available options for earning UR/MR points. If you want to go with a spouse or friend and both of you are willing to sign up for a card, I would do the following:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred #1: 50k point sign up bonus, with a 5k bonus after adding an authorized user. After you hit your required spending amount, you’ll be right at ~60k UR. To sign up, you can use our referral link here or ask a friend for their referral link.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred #2: Almost the same as above. For an extra bonus, you can wait 2-3 months after getting card #1 and Chase will likely give you the ability to “refer” other people for a 10k UR bonus offer. If you don’t have time to wait, do the same process as above to push you right to the 120k UR requirement.
If you’re doing this solo (i.e. spouse or friend doesn’t want to sign up for cards or doesn’t have the credit score for it), then you’ll want to do any combination of 2 of the following:
- Chase Ink Preferred: 80k point sign up bonus, but it’s a business card (harder to get approved for). Read full review here.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: 50k point sign up bonus. Read full review here.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred: 50k point sign up bonus. Read full review here.
As always, if you are like us and can’t hit the spending requirements on all these cards, feel free to check out the FAQ where we talk about different methods of reaching it!
I also feel obligated to say that sometimes you can save a lot of time and energy by just booking things through the Chase Travel Portal, where your points are worth 1.25 cents (if you don’t have the Sapphire Reserve) or 1.5 cents (if you do have the Reserve). So, if you happen upon a $1000 flight to Tahiti, it would only costs 67k UR points ($1000/.015). Since that’s only 7k more than the transfer ratio (60k points through AirFrance), and you don’t have to spend your time looking for AirFrance award seats or anything, it might be the best option. Definitely something to consider, especially if you can’t book 10 months ahead of time!
The other airline that flies to Tahiti is Air Tahiti Nui, which can be booked with AA (American Airlines) miles and supposedly Delta miles, but most Delta agents have no idea that it’s even their partner. AA doesn’t show ATN flights on their website, so you’ll have to call in and have an agent manually look up what dates would be available. Since this process is harder and less transparent, and I am not the biggest fan of AA miles lately, I won’t write a full guide about it – but email me if you happen to have a stash of AA miles and want to pursue this route!
Now, if you have decided that this 2-card route for the flights is enough for you and that you will use cash (BOOOO) or AirBnb to stay in any of the islands, feel free to stop here! If you want to get a 5-star Tahitian hotel stay covered with points as well, and don’t mind getting more cards, then please continue!
In order to figure out what hotels are options in Tahiti and Bora Bora, let’s head over to Award Mapper and search for Tahiti in order to see what chain hotels are in the area. We get the following:
- Le Meridien Tahiti (Starwood/Marriott)
- Intercontinental Resort Tahiti (IHG)
- Intercontinental Resort and Spa Moorea (IHG)
- Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa (Hilton)
- Le Meridien Bora Bora (Starwood/Marriott)
- St. Regis Bora Bora (Starwood/Marriott)
- Conrad Bora Bora Nui (Hilton)
- Intercontinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa (IHG)
- Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora (IHG)
Wow! Lots of options, huh? Turns out, it’s not as good as it seems. You see, even though these “can” be booked with points, the hotels know that they can sell them for $1000+ a night sometimes – so they often restrict the use of points on these properties. Lame, huh? As it turns out, from April 2017 to April 2018 only TWO properties had ANY availability for booking with points:
- Le Meridien Tahiti (for 12k SPG/night base room or 24k/night for a suite)
- Intercontinental Moorea (40k IHG/night for base room)
The Le Meridien Bora Bora had a few nights scattered, but you can only book a suite and it was around 60k SPG a night – which is just stupid and unrealistic. With that being the case, I would do one of the following:
Le Meridien Tahiti for 6 nights. 60k SPG for a base room. Since the Starwood Preferred Guest program has a 5th night free benefit, we can get 6 nights here with just two cards! Sign up for the Starwood Personal and/or Starwood Business card, which will give you ~30k SPG each after hitting the spending requirements. After meeting your spend requirements, you will have just enough for a 6 night stay. We always appreciate if you use our referral links, but definitely use someone‘s (or refer your spouse/friend for the second card) to ensure max points are reached! if you want to book up into a suite (or overwater) then you’ll have to pay more SPG points per night, or you can try and finagle your way into one at check-in!
Intercontinental Moorea for 6 nights. The IHG card has a sign up bonus of 80k IHG points, but the real kicker of this card is that every year (starting in year 2) for a $49 annual fee you get a free night at any IHG property in the world. Since the Intercontinental Moorea is 40k/night, if you and a spouse/SO both get it you’re looking at 4 free nights (160k points). If you wait over a year (so say get the cards now in April 2017 but visit in July 2018) then you would be able to do the two nights each from the sign-up bonus but ALSO one free night each from your card benefit, for a total of 6 combined nights. The card isn’t under the 5/24 rule explained in the FAQ, so you can get it as one of your later ones if you want. Definitely one to consider! If you can’t find an application link for the 80k sign up offer, sign up for the 60k offer and use the “secure message” feature on Chase.com to request a match to the better offer– tell them you know someone who just got an 80k offer (me!) and that you want to be matched to it. I’ve never known someone who has been denied the match for this particular card.
Book a hotel in the Chase portal with Chase UR points so you don’t have to stress about availability. See our Best Credit Cards post for other ways to earn UR points. There are some hotels that are in the $150-$250 range, but most overwater ones are going to be an unrealistic $1000/night. Remember that, when using the Chase portal, points are worth 1.5 cents each (if you have the Reserve) or 1.25 cents each (if you have the Sapphire Preferred or Ink Preferred), so you can choose as nice or casual of a hotel as fits your needs.
French Polynesia certainly isn’t an easy place to get to – it’s incredibly expensive, but also incredibly worth it. If you have always dreamed of getting here, you can either get 2 cards to get just your flights for free, or get 4 cards and have your flights AND your hotel taken care of as well. It may take some planning ahead of time, but we hope that this guide helps to make the process a little bit easier! If any of you book this trip, please let us know how it went and send us pictures!