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On Monday, Jenny wrote in asking how to book an overwater bungalow at the InterContinental Thalasso in Bora Bora.
ArizonaGuy & Gary Leff explained that one of the biggest drawbacks of the Priority Club reward program is that it does not allow members to redeem points for a higher room category. In addition, Priority Club hotels are not obliged to honor elite status on award stays (when you likely want it the most), though some properties do honor elite status on award stays.
For example, Hilton, Starwood Prefered Guest, and Hyatt not only allow members to redeem points for a regular room, but members can also redeem extra points for a higher room category such as club rooms or suites.
Steve Schwartz suggested calling the hotel and asking the hotel what they could do.
I like this approach, but suggest doing it the way Gary explained in the comments.
And I also have another suggestion if that doesn’t get Jenny the overwater bungalow!
BTW, Gary wrote a great post on overwater bungalows which you should check out for more ideas on how to use your miles and points!
Step 1 – Make an award booking
First reserve a few nights at the InterContinental Thalasso using points. This is one of the best uses of 40,000 Priority Club points, since 1 night at the InterContinental usually costs $1,144 in the entry-level Family Suite Coral (I randomly checked the price for September 2, 2011).
You can buy 40,000 Priority Club points for $240 using the Cash & Points trick! If you do decide to buy points, check to make sure that there is award availability before you buy the points!
You can even get a 10% rebate on the points used for this stay if you have the Chase Priority Club credit card, so you can reduce the cost to 36,000 Priority Club points a night or $216 per night.
Yes, you could pay only $216 for a room in Bora Bora!
Gary explains that since most award bookings can be cancelled without penalty there is no real cost to making an award reservation. Having a reservation puts you on a more solid footing with the hotel when it is time for the next step.
Step 2 – Contact the hotel
Reach out to the hotel and ask them if they will let you pay cash to upgrade your room from the basic Family Suite Coral to the overwater bungalows. Gary mentions that this is very common in French Polynesia, though it is usually offered only at check-in.
If you do reach out to the hotel, I suggest emailing the hotel instead of calling them, because that way you have a written confirmation of the agreement in case something goes wrong. If you do call, be sure to get an email confirmation!
The cheapest overwater bungalow, the Sapphire Overwater Villa costs $1,284, and the entry level 2 Bedroom Family Suite Coral costs $1,144 (I checked both rates for 1 night on September 2, 2011)
The hotel may reply to your email with an offer to upgrade to an overwater bungalow.
The price for the upgrade may be $140, the difference between the entry level bungalow and the cheapest overwater bungalow or it may be more. I suspect that it might be more than $140.
If not, and you don’t want to risk flying to Bora Bora and having to spend your time by the beach (there are worse fates, you know!), instead of over the water, you can always cancel your award booking.
Or consider the options in step 3 and step 4.
Step 3 – Buy InterContinental Ambassador Membership
David wrote in to say that he has actually stayed at the InterContinental Thalasso for his honeymoon and suggested buying InterContinental Ambassador membership. Ambassador membership costs $200 or 32,000 Priority Club points.
Ambassador membership guarantees you a 1-level upgrade at InterContinental hotels, in addition to late check-out at 4:00 pm, plus a token gesture of “free fruit and water” & a free pay-per-view movie once during your stay. The 1-level upgrade is usually valid only on paid stays, since Priority Club hotels don’t have to provide elite benefits on award stays.
But Ambassador membership also comes with a complimentary weekend night certificate valid for 12 months which gives you a free 2nd night for a stay booked on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.
For example, you will have to pay for only 1 night if you book a paid 2-night stay on Friday and Saturday and used your complimentary weekend night certificate.
The complimentary night certificate has to be booked via the Ambassador service center or at the Ambassador website.
Now Jenny could book the cheapest coral suite and get upgraded to an over water suite as an Intercontinental Ambassador. However, to increase her odds of getting an overwater bungalow on her award stay, she may want to spend the extra $140 and book a room into the lowest overwater villa costing $1,284.
So by spending $1,284 for 1 nights stay , Jenny will get a 2nd night free in Bora Bora in an overwater bungalow, when she uses the complimentary weekend night certificate!
Each night therefore costs $642 ($1,284 /2) or about three times what it would otherwise have cost Jenny if she had just bought points using the cash and points trick. This is still 50% off the regular rate!
But this way Jenny is guaranteed at least 2 nights in an overwater bungalow. And she increases her chances of getting to stay in an overwater bungalow on her award stay nights since she will start her stay at the hotel in an overwater bungalow.
Step 4 – Make an award booking for additional nights
Jenny should consider making a separate award booking in her name (or in the name of the person making the paid booking) for the additional nights which she wants to stay in Bora Bora.
For example, if Jenny uses the Ambassador complimentary weekend night certificate for a Friday and Saturday stay, she should then make a separate award booking for, say, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.
Now the hotel could ask Jenny to change rooms for her award stay from Sunday to Wednesday, but I suspect that the hotel will be reluctant to do that provided the hotel is not sold out.
Yes, this is a little risky, and I wouldn’t recommend this if you absolutely must have an overwater bungalow
Jenny could also reach out to the hotel beforehand and explain that she has a PAID reservation for 2 nights in an overwater bungalow, and was curious if they would let her keep her overwater bunglalow for the other 4 nights (which are on points).
Once again, the hotel may reply with a paid offer to upgrade her stay for 4 nights to an overwater bungalow.
If the hotel does not reply to her, Jenny could contact the hotel again and suggest that she is open to a paying a reasonable price to upgrade her remaining 4 nights to an overwater bungalow.
There is no surefire way to book an overwater bungalow at the InterContinental Thalasso, but Jenny can increase her chances of having Big Travel with Small Money by:
1) Reaching out to the hotel and asking them about how much it would cost to upgrade a points booking to an overwater booking.
2) Consider purchasing InterContinental Ambassador membership and booking a 2 night stay in an overwater bungalow using the complimentary weekend night certificate.
She could then add on a separate booking for additional nights after her paid stay and hope (or negotiate) with the hotel so that she doesn’t have to change rooms.
Thanks to everyone who commented to help Jenny!
Have you been to Bora Bora? Tell us about it in the comments!