Bora Bora is the stuff of glossy magazines, Kardashian episodes, fancy honeymoons, and of course overwater bungalows. It’s got dollar signs all over it so I’m sure if I told you that you could do it on a budget, you might not believe me. The thing is, it is actually possible to keep overwater bungalow and Bora Bora trip costs low if you plan strategically. This article is a no-BS breakdown of how to travel Bora Bora on a budget while still having the iconic experience of staying in a fancy resort like we did. It’s possible!
Read about French Polynesia
- 2 week French Polynesia itinerary
- The Islands of Tahiti travel guide
- The Islands of Tahiti Packing List
- How does Travelzoo work
- All about French Polynesia
Looking for other unbiased reviews of Le Meridien Bora Bora?
- Make sure to read the comprehensive Le Meridien Bora Bora overwater bungalow review to see what the property is like and insider tips.
Table of Contents
I’ve broken down this review into several sections to help you get to the information you’re looking for.
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What kind of budget?
First-off, it’s probably worth it to just define what I mean by “budget” because everyone has different definitions of it based on their travel styles and well, budget.
Sure, you’ll find guides out there that tell you how to travel to Bora Bora on a shoestring which means spending something like $20 a day. I know this is possible but it’s not realistic at all if you want to stay at somewhere like Le Meridien Bora Bora like we did. So by “budget”, I’m not talking about backpacker type of travel.
This guide on how to keep Bora Bora trip costs low are for those that still want to have that epic paradise vacation of a lifetime but not have to break the bank doing it.
It’s for those planning honeymoons, baby-moons, or any-other-kind-of-moons out there. It’s for those that have wanted to stay in an overwater bungalow for the first time. It’s for those that want to experience the South Pacific and The Islands of Tahiti. It’s for those that
Have your cake and eat it too is what I say!
BEFORE YOU CONTINUE
You need to read the companion French Polynesia travel guide that has literally everything that I learned from this trip. There are a lot of surprises that’ll hit you when you’re out there so you want to make sure you’re as prepared as possible.
Tips on how to travel Bora Bora on a budget
Let’s get down to the details of how you can save money to a place that is traditionally known as an expensive destination. Instead of blabbing on about these tips, I’ve tried my best to keep it as concise as possible and use bullet points to get to important information.
Flights and getting to Bora Bora
This will be one of your biggest expenses alongside the accommodations so let’s start with how you’re actually going to get to French Polynesia. The only way you’re getting into the country is by flying onto Tahiti and the Faa’a International Airport (PPT).
Simply put, there are two routes for how you’re going to get here:
- Paying for a flight
- Using points
Paying full fare
Paying cash for your flight isn’t going to be the cheapest but there are ways to keep the prices down. There’s no guarantees for getting the “best deal” but there are a few steps you can follow:
- Subscribe to flight deals such as Dollar Flight Club, Secret Flying, our own Weekly Flight Deals – This doesn’t work so well if you have specific dates in mind but if you’re just waiting for killer fare to jump on, you just need to be constantly on the look out
- Get price alerts from Skyscanner – If you have specific dates in mind, you can set up one or many price alerts to start tracking what the trend is on flights. This’ll send you regular emails whenever prices go up or down. This is a more automated way to follow what’s actually going on for all airlines instead of having to doing it manually.
- Break up your flights into segments – You don’t have to be locked into the round trip from your home airport to PPT especially since some low cost carriers don’t appear on aggregators like Skyscanner or Kayak. Depending on where you are, find a super cheap flight to a hub like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Paris, or Auckland, and then join it with a final flight to French Polynesia.
- Get creative – If you look at the general map above, you can see all the places that fly to PPT direct. Combining with all the tips above, see if it makes sense to build a bigger trip by including something like Hawaii or maybe even Easter Island.
- RTW flight tickets – There are fewer alliances that offer these nowadays but if you an opportunity is available, you can always fit French Polynesia as your way across the Pacific Ocean.
- Use corporate codes – Make sure to try out the Hilton corporate codes for the Conrad, Marriott corporate codes, or IHG codes for InterContinental to see if you can get a good discount.
The above are general tips but if you’re from a specific part of the world, there are a few more things to keep in mind.
- North America – All flights go through San Francisco and Los Angeles but the trick is that French low-cost carrier, French Bee from Paris flies through SFO. If you can find a cheap way to SFO, you can take French Bee to PPT for as low as $310 USD each way.
- Europe – French Bee can be the cheapest way to get to French Polynesia but also don’t forget that there are flight deals to North America all the time and as long as you can make it to SFO or LAX, you can combine your own little fare-hack deal.
- Asia-Pacific – If you’re in Asia or Australia/New Zealand, your best bet is to go find those super low-cost carriers such as Tigerair, Scoot, Air Asia, or Jetstar to get to Auckland and then just hope for a decent fare with Air New Zealand. Use Skyscanner to help find these as all of these carriers do show up.
How to get to Bora Bora from Tahiti
Once you’re on the main island of Tahiti, you then need a way to get to Bora Bora itself. The options here are pretty limited since the routes are monopolized by Air Tahiti. With Air Tahiti, the fares are pretty constant and it’ll be more about snatching the tickets before they sell out.
That said, to save money, what you can leverage are their multi-island passes with the most common ones including Bora Bora being the Bora Bora Pass and Bora Bora-Tuamotus Pass. The idea of these passes is that you can hop to all the islands that are included for a fixed rate which can get you savings of up to 50-70%.
Of course, the passes don’t help if you’re looking to just visit Bora Bora on your trip but I highly recommend that you hop around for a more complete experience which you can see in our 16 day Tahiti itinerary.
Convert points to savings
Since you’re spending full fare on flight tickets, you can leverage fancy credit cards and their points to apply against that spend. For instance, Chase Ultimate Rewards for those in the US or Scotia Rewards if you have the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite for those in Canada can effectively convert points to money on travel spend.
Depending on what you have available in your country, build up points in these specialized credit card reward programs to get direct savings.
Using airline points
If you’re serious about keep your Bora Bora trip costs as low as possible, you want to make this as close to free as possible. How you do this is with airline points.
I know for some, this’ll sound like voodoo magic but trust me, it’s actually not that hard. To give you some background, I’ve been doing travel hacking with Aeroplan for awhile now and managed to do some pretty complex routes like my trip to South Africa for my honeymoon. More importantly, I detail how I use Aeroplan to put together epic reward tickets.
In contrast to South Africa, getting reward tickets to Tahiti is a breeze. The key for you will be about building up those points. Hopefully most people already have points somewhere but even if you don’t, why don’t I lay out a dummies guide on how to get started.
Pick a program
Based on where you live, pick an airline that flies through your closest airport. If you live in a rural area, focus on a big international airport hub. In Canada, this is easy because we pretty much only have one national carrier (Air Canada) but in the US, you have United, Delta, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, etc. I say this because it helps to build up points for an airline that you’re likely to fly with often. That said, this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule.
If you have many choices, it helps to have an understanding of the alliance the airline belongs to. For the purposes of points, alliances are a collectives that programs belong to. Points you have for one airline can be used towards any airline that belong to the alliance. As an example, Air Canada and the Aeroplan loyalty program belongs to Star Alliance and so in theory I can use Aeroplan points for United, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, ANA, EVA Air, etc. Other major airline alliances are SkyTeam and One World.
For French Polynesia specifically, let’s narrow down international airlines that fly to PPT and their associated alliances:
- United Airlines – Star Alliance
- Air Tahiti Nui – none but has its own program and partners with American Airlines
- Air France – SkyTeam
- French Bee – none
- Air New Zealand – Star Alliance
- Hawaiian Airlines – none but has its own program and partners with JAL, JetBlue, Korean Air, Virgin Atlantic, and Virgin Australia
- Air Calin – none
- LATAM Airlines – One World
With all this said though, my recommendation is to stick with a program that’s either Star Alliance or SkyTeam because of the options that are available to get to Tahiti (PPT).
Build up your points
The next step is to build up sufficient amount of points to redeem for flights. This is a whole topic on its own with a ton if complexity, nuances, and hacks but it really comes down to a few things:
- Fly with your native airline for the loyalty program you picked OR an airline in the alliance to accrue points
- Get a credit card that directly builds up points to your loyalty program. You’ll get points for signing up as a welcome bonus and as you spend money on the card.
- Get a credit card that builds up points to their own program which you can then convert over to the airline loyalty program. The best example of this is with American Express. Using cards such as American Express Gold Rewards Card, American Express Business Gold Rewards Card, The Platinum Card, and the American Express Cobalt Card in Canada, you build up Membership Rewards points which then convert to Aeroplan 1:1.
- Participate in survey platforms like AskingCanadians that reward Aeroplan points for participation.
Basically, focus all of your energy on building up your airline loyalty program points and in a matter of 1-2 years, you’ll have enough to go to French Polynesia.
Another tip is to not just think about yourself. Get your travel partner involved so you can simultaneously build up that cache of points.
Redeem your points for flight rewards
The key to all that work to build up points is to not be tempted to redeem it for products in their associated store or turn it into short-haul flight tickets. Save up enough so that you can take you, your partner, or whole family to French Polynesia.
I know if you take a look at other travel hacking websites, they’re going to make it crazy complicated by talking about which programs have the best taxes and fees and eluding to a game of shifting your points around to a program that’s most optimal but for most people, you’re going to have a set amount of points in a program you’ve committed to. In my case, that’s always been Aeroplan.
All you have to do at this point is go to your program’s portal and basically put in the flight that you want from your home airport to Tahiti. Whether in economy or business, you’ll find out how many points it’ll cost for everyone in your group or just yourself. What you want to pay attention to are the taxes and fees it’ll cost you. This calculation relies on so many different variables but this can make or break how good the value of these reward tickets are. You also want to look at the routing they offer and airline it’s on.
If the price in taxes and fees is close to how much it would cost to pay for a flight in full or the routing is too whacky, you might want to consider another option.
Think of your reward ticket as fixed so think about your dates wisely
Keep in mind that is that ideally you never have to change your reward ticket. Yes, you can change them for a fee but ideally you don’t have to do this. Think about how this flight to Tahiti works with your whole itinerary. Key areas to pay attention to are how it pairs with your internal Air Tahiti flights and also availability of the properties you want to stay at.
How early to look for reward tickets
Lastly, you also want to plan when you start looking for these reward tickets. Each airline opens up award availability at different times but if you are super keen, I would recommend starting to look for tickets as early as 12 months ahead. If they’re not available, set reminders for you to check every week until they pop up.
The last tip is to not be afraid to call into the airline loyalty program hotline. Sometimes they have access to more than what you can see online or the website could be glitched. They could also have more insight into seat availability for a particular leg you’re looking for.
Example with Aeroplan
Lastly, here’s a look at my reward booking with Aeroplan. This is for two round trip tickets between Toronto and Bora Bora which cost 180,000 Aeroplan points. The below is a breakdown of the taxes per passenger.
This means that we paid a total of $315.92 CAD for our flight.
Overwater bungalow in Bora Bora for cheap
So how do you stay at an epic resort in Bora Bora for next to nothing? It’s actually possible but you just need to know where to look. Get ready to be blown away!
Which resorts have overwater bungalows?
Almost all the big hotel chains have a property here and smaller ones as well but not all of them have overwater bungalows. Here is a list of Bora Bora hotels with overwater bungalows and their associated loyalty programs if they have any:
- Le Meridien Bora Bora – Marriott Bonvoy
- St. Regis Bora Bora – Marriott Bonvoy
- Conrad Bora Bora – Hilton Honors
- InterContinental Bora Bora Resort Thalasso Spa – IHG Rewards Club
- InterContinental Le Moana Bora Bora – IHG Rewards Club
- Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora – None
- Sofitel Bora Bora Private Island – Accor Live Limitless
- Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort – None
Evaluating loyalty programs
Based on the above, there are really only 4 hotel loyalty programs that are relevant. Out of these, only 4 of them are worth it because of the factors of:
- How easy is it to collect points
- How long it takes to get enough points for a stay?
- How easy is it to redeem points?
- Are there benefits of having status?
Here’s a simple breakdown of the programs:
- How easy is it to collect points? Large portfolio of hotels means earning points through stays and building status is easier. There are also a multitude of credit cards available especially for Canadians including the Marriott Bonvoy American Express which offers a 50,000 welcome bonus or the Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express. American Express Membership Rewards also convert 5:6. You can also buy points easily if you’re just shy of your goal.
- How long it takes to get enough points for a stay? If you’re looking at a 6 night stay, you’ll need 300,000 points for Le Meridien Bora Bora and 425,000 points for St. Regis Bora Bora (keep in mind 5th night free). Let’s say you sign up for all the American Express cards available (American Express Gold Rewards Card, American Express Business Gold Rewards Card, The Platinum Card, The Platinum Business Card, and the American Express Cobalt Card), the welcome bonuses if eligible would amount to 185,000 Membership Rewards points. This converts to 222,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. Add that up to the Marriott Bonvoy credit card(s) and you’ll either have enough points are be pretty darn close. Don’t forget you’re making points by spending money on these credit cards as well so you’ll be earning points quickly.
- How easy is it to redeem points? When it comes to availability, depending on the season, they get booked out quickly so I always recommend looking at least 9-12 months in advance. That said, availability for base reward bookings at Le Meridien Bora Bora and the St. Regis Bora Bora are available and can be easily secured.
- Are there benefits of having status? If you have Platinum status or above, you’re eligible for free breakfast.
- How easy is it to collect points? Similar to Marriott, Hilton has a massive portfolio of properties and what gives them an edge is that they have a much larger footprint of budget brands such as Hilton Garden Inn and Hampton Inn. The challenge in Canada is that there aren’t any Hilton-specific credit cards but that’s a different case in the US. That said, there are the portfolio of American Express cards where the Membership Rewards program converts to Hilton Honors 1:1. You can also buy points easily if you’re just shy of your goal.
- How long it takes to get enough points for a stay? If you’re looking at a 6 night stay, you’ll need 445,000 points for Conrad Bora Bora (keep in mind 5th night free). Let’s say you sign up for all the American Express cards available (American Express Gold Rewards Card, American Express Business Gold Rewards Card, The Platinum Card, The Platinum Business Card, and the American Express Cobalt Card), the welcome bonuses if eligible would amount to 185,000 Membership Rewards points. This converts to 185,000 Hilton Honors points. However, American Express Canada does have 50% bonus promotions and that’s the best time to do this conversion which brings this up to 277,500 Hilton Honors points.
- How easy is it to redeem points? Currently the cost of Conrad Bora Bora in points is fluctuating wildly between different dates because of COVID-19 which means attaining it at the 89,000 points/night value will be difficult. Availability is quite open however.
- Are there benefits of having status? If you have Gold status or above, you’re eligible for free breakfast.
IHG Rewards Club
- How easy is it to collect points? IHG also has a large portfolio of properties although granted not as good. They do have many recognizable budget properties such as Holiday Inn, Staybridge, and Crowne Plaza. The challenge in Canada is that there aren’t any IHG-specific credit cards which makes it difficult to accrue points other than through actual stays at their properties. In the US there’s one MasterCard by Chase.
- How long it takes to get enough points for a stay? If you’re looking at a 6 night stay, you’ll need 420,000 points for the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort Thalasso Spa and also Le Moana.
- How easy is it to redeem points? Both properties are notoriously impossible to find award availability.
- Are there benefits of having status? None of the statuses in the program offer free breakfast, only the possibility of upgrades, late check-out, early check-in and some priority. This is certainly the worst out of all the programs however you can purchase something called the Ambassador Membership which costs $200 USD which gets you a guaranteed upgrade, late check-out, welcome fruits, and invitation to the Ambassador cocktail hour. This essentially allows you to buy status which isn’t something the other programs allow.
Accor Live Limitless
- How easy is it to collect points? Accor may not be as recognizable if you’re from North America but they have a large footprint globally with the likes of ibis, Novotel, Mercure, Mövenpick, and more. This is a new iteration of their rewards program with no supporting credit cards. Sufficed to say, it is difficult to accrue points with this program unless you stay with them often.
- How long it takes to get enough points for a stay? Their program works on a conversion basis to cash. 2,000 points is equivalent to 40 Euros. As an example, 4,009 EUR for a 6 night stay means 200,450 points. In a best case scenario with Platinum status or above, you earn 44 points per 10 EUR. At this rate, you’d need to spend 4,556 EUR at Accor properties to enough points.
- How easy is it to redeem points? Since their reward system works differently than the others as it’s cash-based, they do not have an inventory set aside for reward redemptions.
- Are there benefits of having status? With Platinum status, you are eligible for free breakfast.
Verdict? – Marriott Bonvoy is the clear winner here with a solid blend of being able to earn and redeem for properties. But of course as with all programs, it comes down to your personal situation. Have you been collecting points with Hilton Honors for years and can use that as a foundation or do you prefer the InterContinental Bora Bora properties? Whatever you decide, you need to put all your eggs into that basket and start building up your points.
Accruing points and status
Once you’ve decided on your property and you have that goal in mind, you need to spend the next couple of years concentrated on accruing points in the associated loyalty program. Again, this means signing up for the credit cards that will help, spending on these cards, and focusing all of your hotel stays for the next little while at the particular chain. With these stays, don’t forget to accelerate this by taking advantage of quarterly promotions they always have such as these with Marriott.
Alongside this, you will need to come up with a strategy to get status as well and this is often. Your physical stays at hotels will get you there but sometimes it won’t be enough. This is when you need to look at alternative strategies to get to the status you need for free breakfast and upgrades. Without getting into details, you will basically need to engage in something called “Mattress Runs”. Since most loyalty program status is based on nights and stays, you need to basically find sweet spots in cheap hotels near you or perhaps close to other friends and families to get these stays/nights.
You will need to pull out all the stops. Trust me, it’s worth it!
How overwater bungalows can be free
I’m going to use Le Meridien Bora Bora as my example here just because it’s probably the best value and easiest to attain.
Yes, this means that all you have to pay for your stay is 1,200 XPF. This is equivalent to $11 USD. Wild, I know!
Keeping Bora Bora trip expenses low
So far you’ve spent money on taxes/fees for your flight to Tahiti and overwater bungalow. You’ve also spent money for your inter-island flight with Air Tahiti. The other major expenses you’ll incur during your trip are the ones when you get to Bora Bora.
Since you’ll be staying at a resort, many things will be out of your control to a certain extent because most of them are on their own motu’s (small islands that make up Bora Bora) and not on the main island with the exception of InterContinental Le Moana Bora Bora. You’ll be eating at the resort restaurants and booking their activities for convenience but there are a few hidden tricks that you can follow to keep your costs manageable.
The resort restaurants are expensive and there’s not much you can do about it. Knowing how much money food expenses can rack up, you can spend more wisely with a few of these strategies:
- If you successfully achieved status and therefore free breakfast, you already have one meal taken care of
- Have a large late breakfast that turns into brunch which actually means you have two meals for free
- Don’t pay for full-board or even half-board that locks you into big meals every single day
- Bar restaurants will often have great dishes at lower prices so eat there instead of the main restaurants
- Bring your own snacks from home
- Pack cup noodles to replace one or a few dinners
- If your resort has happy hour or complimentary afternoon tea, take advantage
Similar to the restaurants, activities at the resort can be inflated. What you need to know is that you don’t have to feel locked in to what they offer because most tour operators offer some form of pick up from resorts including dive shops.
- Bora Bora Snorkel Cruise Including Snorkeling with Sharks and Stingrays
- Bora Bora Jet Ski Tour, Lunch at Bloody Mary’s and Shark Stingray Snorkel Cruise
- Half Day 4WD Island Tour
- Self-Drive Jet Ski Tour
- Morning or Afternoon Snorkelling Tour
- Stargazing and Sunset Cruise Tour
Other resort expenses
Throughout your stay, you’ll be spending money on a variety of other things so keep that in mind as you’re budgeting your trip. These can include things such as tips and boat transfers.
To make the most of it, know that any of the money you spend at the resort can generate points for future spend. Again, make sure you have the right credit cards to maximize on points earnings and any quarterly promotions.
In the end, how much can you expect to spend in Bora Bora?
The best picture of the expenses comes from our Le Meridien Bora Bora final bill which you can see attached below.
The total for 6 nights was: 73,910 XPF ($689 USD). This means on average $57 USD per person per night but keep in mind this doesn’t include the diving we did with TOPDIVE or any of the flight costs.
Is Bora Bora worth it?
So after all is said and done applying all of these cost saving travel hacks, was it all worth it to have those 6 nights at Le Meridien Bora Bora?
Prior to the trip, I had the fear that I would be let down because of all the hype but I was surprised by how much we enjoyed our experience in Bora Bora.
That view. My goodness, I didn’t expect to be so moved by the backdrop of Mount Otemanu, the surrounding lagoons, and overwater bungalows but it was one of those magical things where I almost felt rejuvenated when I stepped out to our terrace every morning. That connection between man-made luxuries and some of nature’s finest work.
I was also worried it’d be overly touristy but somehow you never see any of these people and you’re left with a peaceful paradise.
Fine, it wasn’t Southeast Asia cheap but the funny thing is if you take a look at Tahiti travel guide breakdown of our total costs of everything, the per day cost per person was only $177.79 USD. That comes out cheaper than our 2 week Greece Island Hopping and 10 days in Egypt and the Nile itineraries.
So yes, Bora Bora is worth it and can be done way cheaper than you think it should cost. What I recommend though, is that you should look at combining it with other islands if you’re up for an adventure. For any scuba divers out there, Rangiroa and Fakarava are a must – just check out our full 2 week Islands of Tahiti itinerary.
Well that’s a wrap! If you have any specific questions about how to pull off points redemption, don’t hesitate to drop a comment below.
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