Booking Bora Bora for the Family – Without Spending Cash

Jul 29, 2019

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Hilton Honors American Express CardHilton Honors American Express Surpass® CardThe Hilton Honors American Express Business Card

Once a year or so, our family likes to trade in a stash of miles and points for a big trip. This year, that big trip is to Bora Bora. We had toyed around with this being the year of the St. Regis Maldives, but when you get down to it, Bora Bora is actually much easier to get to than the Maldives for most of us in the US. (And yes, I totally get how bizarre that sentence sounds.) While it’s still a haul, once you get to California, you are looking at “only” an eight-hour flight to Papeete, Tahiti. That isn’t all that different from heading to Hawaii in terms of flight time.

St. Regis Maldives (Zach Honig / The Points Guy)
St. Regis Maldives (Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy)

Once Bora Bora overtook the Maldives for our big adventure of the year, we thought that the St. Regis Bora Bora would simply replace our St. Regis Maldives award reservation since both sit at the same top tier on the Marriott award chart. Unfortunately, there are only a couple of Reefside Villas at the St. Regis that are considered standard awards and price at the 85k points per night rate. On many dates, the cheapest award you will find at the St. Regis Bora Bora is for the Overwater Superior One-Bedroom Villa that costs 85,000 Marriott points plus 34,000 XPF (roughly $320 USD) per night. When we initially considered the resort, we booked a five-night reservation that cost 240,000 Marriott points and about 196,000 XPF (about $1,800) in copays. Now, after the introduction of an eighth Marriott award category, the number for the same number of nights in the same room type would be 340,000 Marriott points and the same $1,800 cash copay.

Related: Using Miles and Points to Get to Tahiti

But ultimately, that’s a lot of cash and points and there had to be a better option — and there was.

The St. Regis Bora Bora. Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy.
The St. Regis Bora Bora. (Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy)

Hilton Points Worked Better Than Marriott

The Conrad Bora Bora is located on the opposite side of Bora Bora from the St. Regis, just a few miles away as the crow flies. At the Conrad, there are 114 villas on both land and over water with award rates for standard rooms that now start at 89,000 Hilton points per night.

Conrad Bora Bora (Photo courtesy of hotel)

That 89k Hilton number looks similar to the 85k Marriott number, but keep in mind that a Marriott point is valued significantly higher than a Hilton point. Currently, TPG values Marriott points at 0.8 cents each and Hilton points at 0.6 cents each. Cash rates at both properties are similar for our dates at a little under or over $1,000 per night, depending on how you book.

We spent 80,000 Hilton Honors points per night to book a few nights in a more than 1,000-square-foot suite at the Conrad Bora Bora a few months ago before that award rate increased to 89,000 points per night. Thankfully, that particular villa is actually listed as acceptable for two adults and two children aged 13 and under with no additional fees or copays. (The St. Regis Bora Bora told us verbally we could have two kids stay in the existing bedding, but its base villas aren’t technically listed for two adults and two kids.)

Conrad Bora Bora (Photo courtesy of hotel)

As with Marriott, Hilton offers the fifth standard award night free, though you need to have elite status to get that fifth free night with Hilton. Thankfully, Hilton elite status can easily be obtained with any of the Hilton credit cards.

Credit Card Welcome Bonus TPG Bonus Valuation Annual Fee Elite Status
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card 150,000-point bonus after spending $4,000 in the first three months. TPG values the bonus at $900 $450 annual fee (See Rates & Fees)(up to $500 in annual travel credits) Hilton Diamond status
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card 130,000 points + free weekend night after you spend $4,000 in the first four months. TPG values the bonus at $930 $95 annual fee(See Rates & Fees) Hilton Gold status
Hilton Honors American Express Business Card 130,000-point bonus after spending $5,000 in the first four months. Offer ends 8/28/19. TPG values the bonus at $930 $95 annual fee (See Rates & Fees) Hilton Gold status
Hilton Honors American Express Card 90,000-point bonus after spending $2,000 in the first three months. TPG values the bonus at $540 $0 annual fee (See Rates & Fees) Hilton Silver status

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer.

**The free weekend night value of $150 is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer.

Leveraging a Hilton Transfer Bonus

However, for a few months there was still one final night we needed that wasn’t available at a reasonable points rate when we booked initially. The backup plan was to spend cash for one night if we absolutely had to, but we kept checking for award availability as spending that much cash wasn’t appealing. Often in the award travel world, you won’t have all of the puzzle pieces fit together on the first attempt, but patience and persistence can pay off.

Recently, an Amex Membership Rewards transfer bonus to Hilton Honors bumped the usual transfer rate from 1:2 to as high as 1:3, depending on the offer your account was targeted for. In our case, we had a 20% bonus. This meant that 1,000 Amex Membership Rewards points from cards such as the American Express® Gold Card became 2,400 Hilton Honors points. Around that same time, a 89,000 point per room award became available for our remaining needed date. With the transfer bonus, that means it cost about 37,000 Membership Rewards points to book the final remaining award night for the trip. Traditional logic says using Membership Rewards points for Hilton transfers isn’t a great deal, but there are exceptions to every “rule” and I was quite happy with this redemption.

Level Up Status

Before the trip, the plan is to either get the Hilton Aspire that confers Hilton Diamond status, which will translate to free breakfast (which starts at Gold status). That card will also give a $250 credit to use at this Hilton resort, up to $250 in airline fee credits and currently includes a 150k Hilton point welcome bonus after meeting the minimum spending requirements.

If for some reason I don’t get that card before the trip, the backup plan is to at least (hopefully) status match to Hilton Diamond status. This is the type of trip when free breakfast probably has a very tangible value as you can’t just walk to a bodega on the street for a latte and croissant in the middle of the ocean.

Bottom Line

Without miles and points, this trip wouldn’t be on our radar at all. But with award travel, all of a sudden the impossible isn’t impossible at all. As award availability, prices and logistics played into the equation, the details shifted a bit, but the payoff should still be worth it.

Using 80,000 to 89,000 Hilton points per night for a room for the family (with no cash copays) in Bora Bora is a big win. Families certainly don’t need to travel all the way to French Polynesia to have an amazing beach vacation, but we are ready for a new big adventure to mix into our Disney and closer-to-home jaunts.

With the standard Marriott award chart now as high as 85,000 points per night (and going even higher when peak and off-peak pricing is introduced) and Hilton’s (unpublished) chart topping out at 95k points (except for here), I anticipate more situations going forward where a Hilton point will go further than a Marriott point for high-end redemptions — especially when factoring in that Hilton never charges resort fees on full award stays and Marriott routinely does (to the tune of almost $100/day at some resorts).

For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Business Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Amex Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass, please click here.

Featured image by Mlenny / Getty Images

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