The Best Bucket List Points Trips to Overwater Bungalows
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When you think of a vacation in a tropical paradise, there’s a good chance that staying in an overwater bungalow comes to mind. Maybe you think of French Polynesia, or the Maldives, or the Caribbean. While these destinations may require traveling halfway around the world followed by a boat transfer, they don’t have to be as expensive or as stressful as you’d think. In fact, you can stay in a luxurious overwater bungalow on points or even just for the price of a standard hotel room if you strategize correctly.
Today, we’ll show you the best ways to stay on an overwater bungalow at handpicked destinations from around the globe, both far from and close to the US, using a variety of strategies. Additionally, we’ll show you how to fly to each of these destinations on points and miles, so you can save your money for the activities and meals you’ve been dreaming about at the property.
Conrad Malvides Rangali Island
The Maldives seem to be on every award traveler’s bucket list. These remote islands are located in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Sri Lanka, and are home to some of the purest waters and sands in the world. The Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is one of the premier resorts on the island, complete with a selection of overwater villas. The resort has twelve restaurants on-site, including an iconic all-glass underwater restaurant. Activities are what you’d expect: snorkeling, multiple pools, yoga and beach volleyball, amongst others.
However, staying at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island isn’t cheap. On points, this same room goes for 308,000 Honors points per night, which is a ton of points and probably not a great use for them. However, if you have Hilton elite status (maybe from The Platinum Card® from American Express), your fifth night is free when booking with points, which makes the redemption a little less onerous. Also, if you prefer to save your cash, you can top up your Hilton Honors balance with a Hilton Amex card such as the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express, or by transferring points from Citi ThankYou Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards.
How to Get There
There are more ways than ever to get to the Maldives on points and miles. One of the most efficient routings is on Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong (HKG). Cathay has nonstop flights from Hong Kong to Malé (MLE), and many nonstop flights to Hong Kong from major US gateways like New York (JFK), Chicago (ORD) and Boston (BOS). The easiest way to book Cathay Pacific to the Maldives in either its economy or business cabin is by using American AAdvantage miles. Here’s how many American miles a round-trip ticket costs from the US to Malé:
Economy: 80,000 miles
Business: 140,000 miles
First: 230,000 miles
You can earn American Airlines miles using the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard or the Barclaycard Aviator Mastercard. Taxes and fees on these tickets are $146 round-trip.
Also note that you can book the same flights for fewer miles using Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles, but they’re harder to earn. Here’s the round-trip pricing using Alaska miles from the US to Malé on Cathay Pacific — taxes and fees are the same $146 roundtrip.
Economy: 100,000 miles
Premium Economy: 110,000 miles
Business: 125,000 miles
First: 140,000 miles
You can earn Alaska miles through the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card.
Conrad Bora Bora Nui Suites and Spa
If Moorea or the Maldives don’t strike your fancy, consider the Conrad Bora Bora Nui Suites and Spa. Opened in April 2017, it’s the newest resort in Bora Bora. The property has 86 overwater bungalows and 28 luxurious garden and beach villas. Bungalows feature lagoon and horizon views with hammocks, an outdoor area and stocked minibar. When you leave your room, take advantage of the six on-site dining options, mini-golf course and full-service spa.
Overwater bungalows at the Conrad Bora Bora Nui start at $1,295 per night with the Honors Discount rate. Alternatively, you can spend 355,000 Hilton Honors points per night for the same room, giving you a free stay in paradise. If you’re staying for five days and have elite status, make sure to use the fifth night free on Hilton award stays to save a good chunk of points.
How to Get There
Getting to Bora Bora isn’t as simple as getting to other destinations on this list. You have to find award space to Papeete, Tahiti (PPT) and then connect to a paid Air Tahiti flight. These short intra-island flights usually cost $300-$500 depending on the season. Thankfully, a handful of airlines fly to Papeete, and you can use your points and miles to get there.
The best way to get to Papeete using points and miles is on Air France’s nonstop flight from Los Angeles (LAX). You can book these flights using Air France/KLM FlyingBlue miles, which you can transfer in from Citi ThankYou, Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards or SPG. These tickets incur taxes and fees of roughly $170-$200 round-trip. With the new Flying Blue program, it’s tough to tell exactly how much an award ticket will cost. We found the following price ranges for one-way flights from LAX-PPT and in reverse:
Economy: 51,000-78,500 miles
Business: 145,000-275,000 miles
Alternatively, you can use United MileagePlus miles to book a one-stop flight from the US on the airline’s new nonstop from San Francisco (SFO) to Papeete route launching in October. You can earn United miles using the United Explorer Card or by transferring points from Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest. These awards incur only $25 in fees but have higher mileage costs, with Saver availability pretty tough in economy and nonexistent in business. Below are the round-trip mileage prices for SFO-PPT:
Economy Saver: 70,000 miles
Economy Everyday: 100,000 miles
Business Saver: 160,000 miles
Business Everyday: 350,000 miles
Another great option to Tahiti is using American miles to fly partner Air Tahiti Nui who serves LAX on a daily basis. You have to call American agents to find and book this award space.
Economy: 40,000 miles one-way
Business: 80,000 miles one-way
- Flight schedule: 1-2x daily
- Aircraft: Airbus A340 only until November 7, when a Boeing 787-9 will start operating 3x weekly flights, increasing to 4x weekly in February 2019
InterContinental Resort and Spa Moorea
Another good choice in French Polynesia is the InterContinental Resort and Spa Moorea. Moorea isn’t as popular as Bora Bora, but offers incredible views and the same white sand beaches and clear waters. The InterContinental sits on the northwestern coast of the island and is surrounded by 200 different types of tropical plants and trees. On-site activities include a dolphin center, turtle care center, speed boats and snorkeling. Three adults or two adults and two children can stay in one overwater bungalow.
An overwater bungalow at the InterContinental Resort and Spa Moorea starts at a rather unbelievably low $425 per night when looking at January 2019. A base Lanai room goes for 50,000 IHG points per night — but with overwater bungalows going for just over $400, I’d sure keep my points and pay cash here. Make sure to connect your IHG Rewards number to the booking so that you earn points on your stay.
How to Get There
Like Bora Bora, flying to Moorea requires that you fly to Papeete and then connect onward on an Air Thaiti flight to Moorea (MOZ) airport. Use the instructions above for flights to Papeete to find an award ticket, then search for flights from Papeete to Moorea. These flights can be found for less than $500 regardless of the season.
The better option to the closer island of Moorea is a quick ferry ride from Papeete to Moorea for $15 per person each way. Book tickets online in advance and be at the dock which is a 15 min taxi ride away from PPT 30 minutes prior to sailing.
Anthony’s Key Resort
Looking for a kid-friendly bungalow that’s close to home? The Anthony’s Keys Resort, located on the Roatán islands off the coast of Hondouras, is your best bet. The property has 56 overwater bungalows and offers on-site snorkeling, diving and other fun water activities for families. All bungalows can fit at least five people and meals are included with your stay.
This resort won’t break the bank either. The Anthony’s Keys Resort starts at just $314 per night for an overwater bungalow, making it significantly cheaper than most of the other properties on this list. It’s an independent hotel, so you can’t use hotel points to book. However, consider redeeming 31,400 Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card points or the same number of Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card points to get a statement credit or cash back for the same amount of the charge, essentially getting the property for free.
How to Get There
The Anthony’s Keys Resort has a free shuttle from Roatán Juan Manuel Gálvez International Airport (RTB). American Airlines currently offers twice-weekly nonstop service to the island from its Miami (MIA) hub, and once-a-week service from Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW). If flying nonstop from these destinations, your best bet is to use British Airways Avios to book your ticket. Here’s how much the round-trip awards cost:
Miami to Roatán
Economy: 15,000 Avios
First: 30,000 Avios
Dallas/Fort Worth to Roatán
Economy: 20,000 Avios
First: 40,000 Avios
Additionally, United flies nonstop to the island from its Houston (IAH) hub. Consider using United miles to book an award ticket if flying from Houston or connecting from another airport since United prices its awards by region, not by distance or leg. Here’s the award pricing on United Airlines.
United States to Roatán
Economy: 35,000 miles
First class: 60,000 miles
Note that award taxes and fees are minimal — generally ~$20 per ticket.
Upgrading From a Base Room
Unfortunately, it’s hard to upgrade a base room to an overwater bungalow, but depending on your hotel status, you may be able to score an upgrade. Contact the property beforehand and explain the situation. Sometimes getting in touch with the right person — mixed with the right room availability — can make a world of difference. This is especially true if you hold top-tier hotel status with any of the hotel chains on this list.
Some hotels may offer paid upgrades at check-in too. Namely, we’ve heard reports of upgrades at the InterContinental Resort and Spa Moorea starting at $175. However, this doesn’t hold true for all times and there’s no guarantee that you can score a paid upgrade on a base room at any hotel.
Long story short: if you want to guarantee an overwater bungalow, we recommend spending the extra points or cash.
What About the Upcoming Marriott Sweet Spot?
If you’ve been following along as Marriott reveals details about its new combined loyalty program with SPG and Ritz-Carlton, you probably already know that starting on August 18, there will be a temporary “sweet spot” through the end of 2018 where ultra high-end all-suite resorts in the hotel chain’s portfolio will be available to book for 60,000 points per night. Some of these resorts do offer overwater bungalows, such as the St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort.
However, we’re not including them on this list at this time because, while it’s not 100% clear as of this writing, it’s likely that you won’t be able to get that price for the overwater bungalow rooms themselves. Rather, you’ll get a “standard room” and the overwater villas will require additional points. While that may still be a feasible redemption option, we won’t know how the prices all play out until the program switches over on August 18.
Overwater bungalows are often thought of as something reserved for those with a bottomless bank account. Luckily, with points and miles, this doesn’t have to be the case. Use your hard earned miles to fly to the island of your choice and book the overwater bungalow of your dreams. Or if you don’t have the points, use one of the strategies we’ve outlined here to save money on a paid booking.
Featured image of the Hilton Conrad Maldives courtesy of the resort.
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