Reader Success! Overwater Bungalows in Bora Bora, Snorkeling, Island Tours, And More. All For ~$140!
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Welcome to the next installment of our Reader Success Series where Million Mile Secrets Readers share how they booked a trip with miles & points to get Big Travel with Small Money! This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Riku is our newest reader success story to show folks it’s possible to travel without spending a lot of money. He has his own blog here!
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A big thanks to him for sharing his story!
What’s your name and how long have you been involved in the miles & points hobby?
My name is Riku, and I’ve been involved in the miles and points hobby for ~6 years. I remember coming across blogs like Million Mile Secrets when I was looking at ways to save on airfare for a ticket to Japan. Since that day, I’ve been able to travel to so many different places thanks to miles and points!
We have been on over a dozen trips within the US, as well as 2 trips to Europe, 3 trips to Japan, 2 trips to Cancun, and 1 trip to French Polynesia! We’ve stayed at many luxurious hotels, and we’ve also been able to experience flying in Business and First Class a few times!
One of the activities my wife and I also enjoy doing is collecting Starbucks “You Are Here” mugs, which are only available in certain locations. In fact, we made a special trip to Amsterdam to pick up the Amsterdam Starbucks mug!
What was the goal of your trip?
For this trip, we went to Bora Bora and wanted to experience the overwater bungalows. I remember being intrigued by the Bora Bora trip report that Emily and Daraius wrote back in 2012. I was amazed it could be done with just miles and points. Seeing the pictures of the clear blue waters was all the motivation I needed to start planning a trip of my own.
Now because Bora Bora is known to be quite expensive, I knew I needed miles and points from various credit cards to make it more affordable. In the end, my only out-of-pocket cost was ~$140. Miles and points covered everything else, including the hotel room, plane tickets, spa, and food. All for 2 adults and 1 child!
How long did you collect miles & points for your trip?
It took us ~2 years to collect enough miles and points to make the trip to Bora Bora. Between my wife and I, we ended up opening a total of 8 new credit cards for this trip.
We each opened the IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card (no longer available to new applicants), the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®, and the Merrill Plus Visa Signature credit card (no longer available to new applicants).
Which points did you save to take your trip?
IHG Points and Anniversary Night Certificates
I was really set on staying in an overwater bungalow in Bora Bora, and I knew that IHG points could get me free nights at The Intercontinental Bora Bora Resort and Thalasso Spa. We knew the hotel could also be booked with the IHG free night certificates (only true for certificates earned with the older version of the IHG card), so my wife and I both opened an IHG Rewards Club Select card (no longer available to new applicants) around the same time.
The Chase IHG Select card certificates were good for slightly over 1 year, and because we received a free night certificate each year, there was a short period of time when we each had 2 free night certificates available in our accounts.
When all was said and done, we stayed a total of 7 nights, 4 of which were booked using the IHG free night certificates which we stacked!
American Airlines Miles
We had a healthy stash of American Airlines miles, thanks in part to the intro bonuses my wife and I each earned when we had applied for the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® credit cards a few years ago. I ended up using 240,000 American Airlines miles to book 3 tickets in coach on Air Tahiti Nui.
Points we had earned on the Merrill Plus Visa Signature credit card (no longer available to new applicants) were used to cover the cost of connecting flights out of Los Angeles, which cost 75,000 Merrill points.
Arrival Plus Miles
We found that based on the flights we had booked so far, airlines miles and points only got us to Papeete, the international airport in Tahiti. We still needed another flight to get to Bora Bora!
We ended up booking a flight on Air Tahiti (different from Air Tahiti Nui). We used a total of 110,000 Arrival Plus miles for this segment of our flight which we had earned on our Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard.
Bank Account Bonuses
We also wound up opening a few different bank accounts that happened to also have intro bonuses. So in this sense, we explored every avenue we could outside of just credit card welcome bonuses, to help us with the costs of the trip.
We made sure to meet the bonus requirements for the bank accounts, most of which involved maintaining a certain balance and setting up a direct deposit to the bank. We earned a total of $1,200 from these bonuses.
Intercontinental Ambassador Status
If you are planning a trip to Bora Bora and are staying at any InterContinental hotels, I highly recommend paying either cash or points for Intercontinental Ambassador status! I paid for this using IHG points, and loved the extra perks that came with this. You’ll get benefits like a complimentary weekend night certificate, guaranteed room upgrade, an in-room welcome gift, and choice of refreshments on arrival.
We were very thankful for having paid for the ambassador status, because otherwise, we would not have been upgraded from the standard Emerald Overwater Villa to the Diamond Otemanu Overwater Villa at The Intercontinental Bora Bora Resort and Thalasso Spa.
Which cards would you recommend to open for a trip like yours?
For the trip we took, I would recommend the following cards:
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard
- Barclays AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®
- IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card
Basically, we focused on 3 main types of miles and points – American Airlines miles, IHG points, and points that could be converted into cash. So for instance, Arrival Plus miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards points, AMEX Membership Rewards points, and Citi ThankYou points.
We used American Airlines miles for an award flight on Air Tahiti Nui, IHG points for award stays at InterContinental hotels, and the other types of points we used to cover the cost of the inter-island flight from Papeete to Bora Bora.
How did you search and find the award flights?
We were not able to find a way to book our Air Tahiti Nui tickets online, so we ended up calling American Airlines. It doesn’t seem to be a common airline to book award flights on, so if you happen to get a customer service representative who is not familiar with how to search for Air Tahiti Nui award seats, you can always hang up and try calling again.
I’m fluent in Japanese, so I asked for an agent who also spoke the same language. Fortunately, I found that the American Airlines agents are well-trained and had no difficulty finding award flights on Air Tahiti Nui.
For the inter-island ticket from Papeete to Bora Bora, I was able to book tickets on Orbitz. We used our Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard and later redeemed our miles as a statement credit to cover the cost of this flight.
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
Finding hotels was the trickiest part of our Bora Bora trip. If you’re looking to make the same trip as us, you’ll want to jump on the IHG website and find award night availability as far in advance of your trip as possible because you might run into issues with limited rooms. If you find the rooms are fully booked, keep on checking back as often as you can!
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
The most challenging part was booking a hotel at The Intercontinental Bora Bora Resort and Thalasso Spa. Because we were afraid we would not be able to find award availability for our first choice, we also booked a few nights at the InterContinental Bora Bora Le Moana Resort, which is just a short 15 minute boat ride away.
Availability at the InterContinental Bora Bora Le Moana Resort was pretty decent from what we saw, and it’s also situated in a very beautiful part of Bora Bora! It doesn’t really matter which of these 2 hotels you end up choosing because they’re both quite amazing!
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
I have 3 recommendations.
- Bring your favorite alcoholic drinks
- Do excursions, like exploring the island of Bora Bora both from sea and land
- Participate in hotel activities
Alcoholic beverages are very expensive in Bora Bora, so if you can, I’d recommend bringing your own drinks for your vacation! And if you do this, you’ll never have to leave your overwater bungalow for refills. Enjoying drinks from your deck with a view of beautiful turquoise blue water feels so luxurious!
We also did a snorkeling tour and a 4WD island tour, both of which were excellent and allowed us to see the beauty of Bora Bora from both land and sea. We snorkeled in 4 different spots and got to see sharks, manta rays, stingrays, coral reefs, and other ocean life. And for the 4WD island tour, we were taken to the top of the mountains for some great views of the island, and were given some of the history of Bora Bora.
Regardless of whether you stay at The Intercontinental Bora Bora Resort and Thalasso Spa or the InterContinental Bora Bora Le Moana Resort, you’ll be able to attend free activities on a daily basis. We participated in activities that showed us how to make a lei, how to open a coconut, Tahitian food preparation, and making a bag with banana leaves. They exceeded the expectations we had, especially considering they were provided at no charge!
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
I learned I prefer taking 1 big trip, as opposed to multiple shorter trips throughout the year. And I enjoy being able to share how valuable miles and points can be with just about anyone I meet!
This trip, for instance, would have cost us nearly $18,000 in cash. But because we were able to pay with miles and points, we ended up only paying ~$140 out-of-pocket!
I’m really glad we were able to spend this time and create memories together as a family in one of the most beautiful places in the world. We travel quite a bit, and it has been great seeing our son grow because he has been exposed to so many different cultures, languages, foods, and more on our travels.
What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip? Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!
There’s never a better time to start planning your vacation than now! Especially since it seems like it’s getting a lot easier to fly from the US to Bora Bora, and also because you can use miles and points to save money!
You can look into cards like the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card because it comes with perks like a reward night when you redeem points for any stay of 4 or more nights, which can save you a lot of money, especially at great hotels like The Intercontinental Bora Bora Resort and Thalasso Spa and InterContinental Bora Bora Le Moana Resort!
Miles and points can really come in handy, and I believe that’s the main difference between those who end up traveling for nearly free, and those who don’t. One small step into the world of miles and points is all you need to get hooked. Once you find how fun it is to earn and redeem points before you know it, you’ll be planning your next dream vacation and saving $1,000s of dollars in the process!
Want to Share Your Story?
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Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)