My husband and I just wrapped up a beautiful vacation on Bora Bora. This was definitely a bucket list item for me and well worth the journey. I can see why many people lust over this journey, choosing it for honeymoons, anniversaries, and once in a lifetime special occasions.
Recognizing that this IS a once-in-a-lifetime trip for most people, that Bora Bora is crazy expensive, and that money doesn’t grow on trees, I put together this post to help people make the most of their trip. While you can’t avoid the cost, you can get a lot more for a lot less with some strategic planning.
This article is about our planning for the trip and NOT about what we did on Bora Bora. If you want to learn more about our time there, read this!
It’s a personal pet peeve when people BURY the information in the text and you have to read the entire article to try and extract the nuggets of info. So, here’s a summary of the entire section that follows:
- Start planning by choosing a hotel and play with dates to optimize cost.
- If you have kids, leave them at home!
- I personally recommend the Four Seasons, but wherever you stay, be sure to check on what’s included in your package, particularly food.
- Book through an account on hotels.com to get credit and accrue a super expensive free night!
- Use kayak to check the cost of flights for those hotel dates and then optimize them via one ways, splitting, and flexible travel.
- Bring the essentials with you and try to avoid costly hotel food and booze by splitting, groceries, happy hours, and duty free.
Doing the above can literally save you thousands of dollars and help you better enjoy your time on this trip and even another in the future!
Choosing A Hotel
For normal trips I recommend starting with flights, finding the dates that are cheapest with the right time window (e.g., one week round trip), and then planning the rest of the vacation around those dates. This is especially true if you’re traveling with children, where you have a cost multiplication factor for this super expensive airline tickets.
For Bora Bora, DO THE OPPOSITE. Start with the hotel.
Why? Hotels are so expensive that they become the big price breaker for any stay 3 nights or more. And no one wants to fly all the way to French Polynesia for less than 3 nights. Given the corpus of deals, a nice hotel can change by up to $500 a night using a different set of very similar dates, which equates to $2500 on a 5 day stay. This will far out weigh any savings you get from optimizing flights and probably the total flight cost altogether.
Additionally, for Bora Bora I strongly recommend that you LEAVE THE KIDS AT HOME. Bora Bora is an idyllic, peaceful place where a couple can experience life with absolutely no worries or cares. Bringing kids injects concerns, making it difficult to truly embrace the island life and surrender completely. Additionally, bringing kids will sky rocket your budget, even if they share your room (which is a double hit on wallet and freedom).
So, on to choosing a hotel. Hotels on Bora Bora start around $500 a night and extend upwards to the sky. However, you don’t want the $500/night room. They’re “normal” rooms ON LAND. If you’re heading to Bora Bora then you’re seeking the overwater bungalow stay. And here’s the secret about the bungalows… they cost the same at every hotel. The St Regis (by Marriott) and the Conrad (by Hilton) have $500 rooms, but the bungalows will still cost $1000 per night or more. By comparison, the Four Seasons only has $1000 per night or more rooms, but they are ALL overwater bungalows. Additionally, it’s worth noting that you’re going to spend like 100% of your time at the resort you choose; you’re a bit trapped there. There’s not really a road connecting the few different parts of Bora Bora; you need to take a boat to get from point A to point B, making it difficult to go to a different resort, restaurant, into town, etc. So, your resort becomes your work. Therefore, at equivalent bungalow pricing, I’m a pretty strong advocate of the Four Seasons:
- The hotel has the best view. You’d naively think they’re all just looking out overwater, but the four seasons is in a lagoon pointed at Mt Otematu, which is gorgeous. Other resorts simply look out over the open ocean. Additionally, the Four Seasons gets ocean colors at sunset whereas the hotels on the other side get sunrise (which 5-6 am on the island). I’d rather sip a cocktail with my beautiful colors 🙂
- The service is immaculate. I cannot stress this enough. You will never be disappointed in the perfect level of service which makes you feel better about spending so much money.
- The resort is less crowded than others. Because it’s all bungalows, there are less rooms and therefore less guests.
Just a note, if you have a ton of money and a huge family and are looking for a multi-room overwater villa; the Conrad by Hilton is the only one with such rooms. All the other resorts keep their large villas on land.
The next paragraph describes our interaction at the Four Seasons, but will be true anywhere.
The Four Seasons, like all hotels, has heavy costs swings. The cost will vary appreciably based on how far in advance you book, how long you stay, and which days of the week the stay is on. Assuming you book far in advance, the two factors you can control are length of stay and time of week. For our recent trip we were deciding between 5-7 nights on the island, with dates anywhere from November 6 – November 15. My initial search of the Four Seasons from November 7 – November 14th gave $1300/night on the lowest rate using a 5th night free deal, for a total of 7x$1300=$9100… yowza! I spent about an hour switching the check in dates and length of stay and found that staying from November 8 – November 13th activated the 30% off rate at $960/night, giving 5x$960=$4800 about half the price. Now I realize I’m staying only 5 days in this itinerary, but I’m saving $340/night = $1700 on a 5 day trip either way. That’s big.
Additionally, the 30% off rate included breakfast, which seems small but is actually a HUGE deal. EVERYTHING is expensive on Bora Bora. A breakfast of 2 eggs, toast, pastries, and coffee will run you about $60, and so breakfast for 2 is an easy $100/day, resulting in another $500 savings in cost. Having breakfast included is rad; it lets you order freely and start everyday off right. Everything is cooked to order (not buffet style) and prepared perfectly; it’s fine to sample multiple dishes, pastries, smoothies, etc in a single meal. They have a different smoothie and pastry everyday as well as ridiculous amenities like fresh cut coconuts for coconut water and locally smoked fish. If I was paying, I’d never order these things out of fear of dislike or waste. But with included breakfast, sure I’ll have a try! Oh, and we never did this, but the restaurant was always more than happy to send leftovers or even a full order home with people. I saw other couples take home full pastry baskets and breakfast plates, which basically absorbs the cost of lunch (another $100 easy). We didn’t refuse this on principal or anything, we usually had leftovers from dinner the night before in the fridge 🙂
And, one more tip for hotel savings: use hotels.com. Sign in or start an account and book through their website. Why? hotels.com does a “Stay 10 nights, get 1 free” deal. The price of the free room night is equal to the average of the 10 you spent. So, 7 nights at the Four Seasons gives at least $7000 on your 10 night rack up, which will be at least $700 in a free room (and that’s not factoring in costs of the last 3 nights). Who doesn’t want a $700 hotel room for a luxurious, spontaneous, and FREE night of their choosing 🙂 regardless of where you stay, book through hotels.com. Since everywhere is expensive, you’ll definitely win booking through hotels.com.
In the vast majority of cases, the hotels.com default search will match the best price/package at the Four Seasons. If it does, just go ahead and book. If not, they’ll do a price match guarantee. If you book through them and show them an identical package at a cheaper rate, they’ll refund the difference to you. I’m compulsive, so if I go this route I always call in advance to make sure this will 100% apply once I book.
So, on a 5 day trip we’re up to savings like:
$1700 (room) + $500 (breakfast/food) + $700 (future hotels.com stay) = $2900
So, if you find these tips helpful and are using any, do me a favor and book on hotels.com via my affiliate link. I would really appreciate it. It costs you nothing but helps me out.
If you do happen to stay at the Four Seasons, I have a few other tips for you:
- Download their mobile app to communicate with the concierge in advance. They are SO SO kind and responsive. On our trip I told them that we were celebrating my birthday and we were greeted with a free bottle of local wine and cookies from the island 🙂
- Be sure to supply your flight information so that they know when to send the boat (yes, the boat!) to come get you from the airport. If you book the boat with your stay they will charge you for the service. However, when we added our flight times later and asked them about pick up through the app, they just added it for free!
- Ask for late check out and see if they can extend you for free. They did for us and are usually liberal about this if no one else is checking in. If you added your flight time to your itinerary, they will usually set your flight time and book the boat back to the airport for you so that you don’t have to worry. In fact, they plan your boat ride an hour in advance of the flight and just send a golf cart to your room 15 minutes before that so that you have time to check out and don’t have to worry about your luggage.
So, now that you’ve pegged the dates of your trip based on hotel pricing, it’s time to get some flights. Most flights to Bora Bora originate from 2 cities in the US (Los Angeles and San Francisco), have a layover in Tahiti, and are red-eyes. The most common carrier is Air Tahiti Nui from the mainland to the islands and Air Tahiti to Bora Bora.
Again, throwing the summary at the top. Kayak is fast and easy and can be used to compare airline costs:
- Start by checking for the cost of RT tickets from your point of origin to Bora Bora and back. That’s your baseline.
- See if you can beat it by choosing 1-ways instead. You might have to fly different airlines but this isn’t a problem. This often wins on cost and gives you more flexibility.
- Try using mileage. Air Tahiti Nui is codeshared with American Airlines, so if you have miles on American, try to book through there.
- Split legs. The most important and difficult is LAX/SFO <–> PPT (Tahiti). Optimize this one and the others are easiest to supplement.
For our recent trip, what worked best for us was this:
- RT flights on Air Tahiti Nui from LAX <–> PPT. The cost was $660 per person, so $1320 overall. We flew the red eye on Friday 11/6 and the red eye back on Saturday 11/14.
- We booked directly through Air Tahiti for PPT <–> BOB. I booked it as 2 one-ways but that was arbitrary. Cost per person total was $220, so $440 overall. It *might* have been cheaper to book it all together, but doing it separate gave us a lot of flexibility on Air Tahiti, which flies 4-5x per day over to Bora Bora. We could pick flights convenient to hotel check in and check out without being stressed about it or spending an absurd amount of time in the Tahiti PPT airport (which is NOT air conditioned!!!).
- We booked PHX <–> LAX on Southwest. This was another reason to split. We have a zillion southwest points and a companion pass, so the flights from Phoenix to LAX and back were free 🙂
You might notice that the cheapest flights actually landed us in French Polynesia for 7 nights and that I had booked the Four Seasons on Bora Bora for just 5 nights. We spent a day on either end in Tahiti at the Intercontinental. This was a conscious choice. First, we discovered that flights on those days were $250 cheaper per person. Given that the hotel cost ~$200 per night, it was actually a cost savings to tack onto our trips. Second, it allowed us to rest after the long red eye and before the one coming back. Bora Bora was the part of the trip we wanted to make PERFECT, and by taking a day to rest we made sure we didn’t waste any time exhausted in Bora Bora. Third, we got to see a bit of Tahiti. We rented a car and drove around and checked out some of the beautiful parts of the island. While it wasn’t my favorite, it was the most culturally relevant part of the trip. Finally, if you have status at IHG (I bought Intercontinental Ambassador for $200) they’ll check you in early and let you stay late (4p!). This makes airport travel so much less restrictive. And if you purchase Ambassador Status, you get a free night per year, so it pays off. So so nice!
Bottom line: by being flexible with your options, you can squeeze more out of your trip for the same cost or less 🙂
Other Cost Saving Measures
Outside of a swimsuit, sandals, and maybe a hat, you really don’t need much to leave your cares behind in French Polynesia. You should have plenty of space in your bag to try to bring ALL of the following items (or pick them up at an airport or grocery store) to save you a GRIP of money:
- Food – Order a la carte, stash leftovers, or pick up snacks/groceries.
- Booze – Bring, shop at duty free, pick up at the grocery store, and utilize Happy Hours!
- Sun Screen – Bring this with you. And please please bring reef safe!
- After Sun Lotion (e.g., Aloe) – Be sure to bring.
- Buy Spray and Anti-Itch – Essential items in your bag
OK, so some details on the above.
As I said before, Bora Bora and French Polynesia are crazy expensive. I was SHOCKED at how much resort food cost. My husband and I are fairly small people and unknowingly sat down at the Intercontinental Buffet on arrival to grab a late breakfast (things were shutting down). After each eating a small plate of food, we were presented with our bill: $87!!!! Holy hell!
So, we decided to take a different approach. We ordered a la carte room service the next day; a plain omelette was $11 and they were happy to added whatever we wanted to it for free. The sides were $3 and were huge. Plus, we got to lay leisurely in bed to wait for our food to arrive. Heaven 🙂 It was abundant and delicious and somehow cheaper than getting food ourselves.
We found that Tahiti had many local grocery stores and we were able to pick up an awesome assortment of meat, cheese, fresh fish, SUPER fresh fruit, bread, and some cookies. It’s such a great blend of French and island cuisine, definitely worth grabbing some local treats and groceries. All the rooms we had came with refrigerators and this became a kind of staple afternoon snack or or early evening snack. We also brought with us a handful of our favorite Cliff and Luna bars for days when we were on weird schedules and hungry because of water excursions.
For lunch and dinner, we’d often order a meal and an app or side and split it. The food was super ample on Tahiti and we’re not big people, so we always started small and ordered more as necessary.
For us, the big cost is always booze. We like to drink which could drain our pockets. Drinks were often $20 or more per beverage, a bottle of wine <$100 is hard to find, a beer will run you $8-$13 even for local depending on the size and choice, and don’t even get me started on champagne, which is my favorite. Our in room 10 oz drinks, On The Rocks, were $40 a bottle. They were super good, but SO EXPENSIVE! So, some tips.
If you can pack booze in a carry on, more power to you. But if not, on the way in, STOP AT DUTY FREE. If you’re coming from the US it doesn’t look like the prices are lower, but when you get to the grocery store you realize how expensive French Polynesia is relative. You’ll also see that duty free is MUCH cheaper than the resort. It makes it possible to bring some nice champagne to Bora Bora without paying Bora Bora prices for it. Another option is to stop at a grocery store, but two things to remember:
- You have to do this in Tahiti! Bora Bora, like I said, doesn’t have roads. You won’t be just heading over to a grocery store for some booze there.
- French Polynesia doesn’t sell booze past 6 pm on Saturday or on Sunday. This was a surprise to us when we showed up at 6:30 pm and saw the “not for sale” signs across the liquor aisles 🙁 Moral of the story, get there before 6.
Both resorts had Happy Hour and outside of 50% of drinks (that was the deal), they overlapped with the most AMAZING sunsets and the best seats in the house. They reserve the unobstructed sunset views for happy hour drinkers, so pull up a seat and enjoy! Given that we had 4-6 drinks per night, this is 5 drinks * 7 days * $10 per drink = $350 over the trip. Enough for an excursion 🙂
The sun is BRUTAL in French Polynesia and the resorts know it. You need sunscreen. And the resorts try super hard to be eco friendly AND make a profit, which means they only sell super fancy reef-safe sunscreen. We wound up buying a bottle at our resort. It was $50! So, make sure to bring but please bring reef safe. The islands are so special; keep them that way.
No matter how much sunscreen you wear, you’ll probably get burned. My husband and I both did and we are from Phoenix and applied the block somewhat obsessively. So, an after sun container of Aloe or soothing cream becomes essential. The resort can charge essentially anything for this since you’re being actively tortured, so it comes in pretty equally priced to sunscreen. I know you think you won’t get burnt, but just buy some and bring it.
Finally, mosquitos LOVE me. I got probably 5-10 bites per day; it’s just the nature of tropical islands. I couldn’t even find insect repellent or itch cream (like cortisone) at the resorts and I HATE wasting time on a nice vacation searching for weird things like that. Fortunately, these are two things I never leave home without, but thought that I’d warn others,.
**This information is up to date at the time of our trip: November 6, 2020. Things change so fast that you’ll want to look up the most recent advisory on the French Polynesia webpage here.
You’ll need a COVID-19 test with lab sampling (not a rapid test) within 3 days of leaving for your trip. So, if you leave on a Monday, you need to get the test on Friday or later. Given that the results take 2-3 days to come back and you can’t get on the flight without it, take it at the first available instance! Schedule your test well in advance if you can.
You’ll also need to take a survey and questionnaire within 72 hours of your flight. The airline will send this to you by email and you’ll get a QR . Print this and bring it with you.
When you land in Tahiti, you’ll need to go through customs. Customs will first check your QR code and give you a COVID-19 test to take on your 4th day on the island. It really couldn’t be easier. You just self-administer the exam (it comes with really good instructions!), wrap up the results, pop it in the room refrigerator, and call the front desk to come get it. The hotel/resort will take care of everything from there. Unfortunately, if you’re in an Airbnb, I can’t help you with procedures as I’m not sure how they work.
You need a mask to go through the airport, but you need a true N95 mask for when you get on the flight and go through customs. Don’t worry if you don’t have one. Air Tahiti Nui gives each customer a little care package with sanitizing spray, alcohol wipes, and 2 wrapped N95 masks for the flight.
Hope this post was helpful! I cannot say enough good things about our trip to Bora Bora. It was an unforgettable experience that I’ll cherish for a lifetime. A little planning went a long, long way!