Cleared for Takeoff: A honeymoon in French Polynesia with Chase and Amex points
Cleared for Takeoff is a weekly series showing readers like you the best ways to book adventures using points and miles. If you’d like tips on booking your own trip using miles, please email us with your preferred itinerary and current mileage balance.
With beautiful sunsets and overwater villas, French Polynesia is a popular honeymoon destination. So, for today’s Cleared for Takeoff story, I’ll look at TPG reader Mike Fleury’s request for help planning a honeymoon trip to French Polynesia:
I would love some guidance on my points strategy for my honeymoon next July 2022. We plan on traveling from New York to Bora Bora for a dream honeymoon (we thought of Maldives but with the monsoon season during the summer we decided not).
We were thinking of staying in Moorea possibly at the Hilton Moorea Lagoon for a few days and then traveling to Bora Bora for another few days (possibly Conrad Bora Bora). We are open to all alternatives for the best value and experience.
We were thinking of getting the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card for the Hilton perks and sign-up bonus. My fiancee was approved but would not receive the welcome bonus so we passed on it for now. I was thinking of getting it and adding her as an authorized user if she doesn't eventually get approved.
Any suggestions or feedback would greatly be appreciated in terms of maximizing my points for different flights out of JFK NY and hotels in Moorea and Bora Bora. I have been focusing on getting points, but I am not sure which direction to shift focus when it comes to maximizing the points for a nice flight or a luxury hotel.
The information for the Hilton Aspire card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Mike and his fiancee have a stash of Chase Ultimate Rewards points and American Express Membership Rewards points. So, follow along as I share how I’d plan their trip to French Polynesia using points and miles.
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Current points stash
Mike and his fiancee currently have the following points balances they can use for their trip to French Polynesia:
- 250,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (150,000 points in his Chase Sapphire Reserve account and 100,000 on her Chase Sapphire Preferred Card account)
- 180,000 Amex Membership Rewards points (150,000 points in his account and 30,000 in her account)
Assuming Mike and his fiancee consider themselves to be part of one household, they should be able to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points between their accounts.
However, Amex doesn't allow its members to transfer Membership Rewards points to other members. And, someone must be an additional cardholder on your account for at least 90 days before you can link their loyalty account and transfer points into their hotel or airline loyalty program accounts. So, Mike and his fiancee should consider whether they should add each other as additional cardholders to facilitate points transfer in the future.
Related: Maldives vs. Bora Bora: Which remote island chain should you visit?
Round-trip airfare to Tahiti
There are several ways to get to Tahiti using points and miles. For example, if you find availability, you can book Star Alliance flights through ANA Mileage Club for 75,000 miles round-trip. And you can sometimes get good value using Air France/KLM Flying Blue to book SkyTeam awards to Tahiti.
Unfortunately, I found no good-value options when I searched for awards through Flying Blue and ANA Mileage Club for travel next July. But, award availability changes frequently. So, I recommend doing some searches for yourself and potentially setting up some ExpertFlyer alerts.
However, if Mike and his fiancee want to book flights now, their best bet is to book a cash fare through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. For example, here's one of the least expensive options for a trip in July 2022:
The above screenshot shows the points I'd need to redeem from my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. But, Mike can get 1.5 cents per point instead of 1.25 cents per point when he books travel through the Chase Travel portal since he has a Chase Sapphire Reserve card. So, he'd redeem 73,910 Ultimate Rewards points per person for this Alaska Airlines and French Bee round-trip.
How to book this award with points
Start at the Chase Ultimate Rewards homepage if you want to book travel through the Chase Travel portal. Click where it says "Earn / Use" on the top menu and then click on "Travel."
Now, enter your routing, dates and the number of tickets you want to book.
You'll see results on the next page. You can sort and filter the results by various attributes. Once you find an outbound itinerary you like, click "Select" and then pick a return itinerary.
On the next page, you'll see a summary of your flights.
Then, if you click to continue, you'll reach the final page where you'll need to enter the passenger information and payment information. If you don't have enough Ultimate Rewards points to cover the entire fare, you can pay the rest of the fare with a Chase-issued credit card.
Related: How to redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points for maximum value
How to earn enough points for this award
To earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you'll need a Chase Ultimate Rewards card. Here are the Chase Ultimate Rewards cards currently accepting applications, including their sign-up bonuses:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening.
But, if you have one of the above cards, you can also convert cash-back rewards earned by several other Chase cards into Ultimate Rewards points. For example, the Chase Freedom Unlimited and Chase Freedom Flex earn rewards that you can convert into Ultimate Rewards points if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Business Preferred.
Related: Around the world: How to spend 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points
Airfare within French Polynesia
Once in Tahiti, Mike and his wife could take a ferry to Moorea. But, if they want to go to Bora Bora, they'll likely want to catch a flight on Air Tahiti (a different airline than Air Tahiti Nui). I tried searching sample July 2022 fares, but my search repeatedly failed. But, fares for a round-trip flight from Tahiti to Bora Bora in May 2022 are as follows:
For reference, XPF 84,324 is about $828. So, if they have the time and cash to extend their trip and check out some other French Polynesian islands, I highly recommend looking into a multi-island pass. In particular, the Bora Bora Pass would let them visit up to five islands. For example, they could fly Tahiti to Moorea to Huahine to Raiatea to Bora Bora to Maupiti and then back to Tahiti for 465.90 euros (about $552) per person.
However, if Mike and his wife decide to visit islands besides Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora, they'll likely need to book cash rates for hotels. After all, there aren't hotels that belong to the major hotel loyalty programs on most of the less-visited islands.
Related: 3 stunning islands in French Polynesia that will make you forget about Bora Bora
Hotels in French Polynesia to book with points
Since Mike and his fiancee have Amex Membership Rewards points and Chase Ultimate Rewards points, they could transfer points to Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors, IHG Rewards, World of Hyatt and Choice Privileges. But, Choice and Hyatt won't help them in French Polynesia since these programs don't have any properties in the region. And IHG Rewards won't help since there's currently no award availability for July 2022 stays at IHG hotels in French Polynesia.
As such, I'll consider Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy properties in French Polynesia in this section.
Hilton hotels to book with points in French Polynesia
Hilton Honors has three properties in French Polynesia: Hilton Tahiti Resort, Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa and Conrad Bora Bora Nui. Here's a quick look at award availability for five-night stays at each property. After all, Hilton Honors offers a fifth night free on award stays to all Hilton Honors elite members.
First off, here's a look at award availability for a five-night stay at the Hilton Tahiti Resort next July:
At the Hilton Tahiti Resort, standard room reward nights cost 80,000 points per night throughout July and book into a garden view room with one king bed or two queen beds. So, a five-night stay for Hilton elites would cost 320,000 after a fifth night free. But, since you're redeeming Hilton points, you won't need to pay the $11.95 (plus tax) nightly resort charge.
Now, here's award availability for a five-night stay at the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort next July:
As you can see, there aren't any five-night standard room reward stays in July 2022 at the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort. However, when I clicked through to see awards for a sample stay, I found that premium room reward nights start at 190,000 points instead of the 218,000 points advertised on the calendar search.
Finally, here's award availability for the Conrad Bora Bora Nui next July:
As with the Hilton Moorea, there are no five-night standard room reward stays in July 2022 at the Conrad Bora Bora Nui. But, also like the Hilton Moorea, the calendar view of award night prices isn't accurate. For example, I clicked through to a sample award stay that would cost 553,000 points (at least for the first night) instead of 1,344,000 points per night.
If Mike and his wife decide to stay with Hilton in French Polynesia, it makes sense for one of them to get the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card for its annual resort credit and Hilton Diamond status. However, they should make sure to transfer Amex points to the person who has Hilton Diamond status to utilize Hilton Diamond perks during their stays.
Related: How points and miles helped my family book a dream vacation to Bora Bora
Marriott hotels to book with points in French Polynesia
There are two Marriott Bonvoy hotels in French Polynesia: Category 7 Le Méridien Bora Bora and Category 8 The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort. But, the Le Méridien Bora Bora is closed for renovation until the fourth quarter of 2022. Hence, the St. Regis Bora Bora is the only Marriott Bonvoy option for a July 2022 trip to French Polynesia.
However, for every July 2022 five-night stay that I searched, The St. Regis Bora Bora adds a cash upgrade cost to its Category 8 award pricing. For example, for this sample stay in July, you'd need to pay an extra 375,000 XPF (about $3,681) on top of the 370,000 Marriott points for a five-night stay.
As such, I can't recommend Mike and his fiancée redeem Marriott Bonvoy points in French Polynesia unless they find a redemption option that doesn't require a significant cash upgrade.
Hotel recommendations for Mike's trip
Given award availability and pricing, here's how Mike and his fiancée may want to redeem Hilton points in French Polynesia:
- July 10-15: Five-night stay at the Hilton Tahiti Resort for 80,000 points per night (320,000 points total)
- July 15-17: Two-night stay at the Hilton Moorea for 190,000 points per night (380,000 points total)
- July 17-19: Two-night stay at the Conrad Bora Bora for $2,803
You'll notice that I recommend they book a paid rate at the Conrad Bora Bora. After all, for the July 17 - 19 sample stay at the Conrad Bora Bora, they could redeem 1,104,000 points or pay the equivalent of $2,803. As such, they'd get just 0.25 cents per point on this redemption -- which is far less than TPG's valuation of Hilton points at 0.6 cents per point. Plus, by booking a paid rate, they'd also earn Hilton Honors points during their stay.
Related: Should you use points or cash to book hotels?
How to book Hilton hotels with points
Redeeming Hilton points is straightforward. Just go to Hilton's website and enter your destination, dates, number of guests and check the "Use points" box under "Special rates." Then click "Find a hotel."
You'll see a list of hotels with award rates as well as a map of hotel locations. Click "View rates" for the hotel you want to book.
Now you'll see a selection of room types that you can book. Click "More prices available" under the room type you want to book.
Now you can compare cash rates against points rates. However, note that you won't see the total award cost until you sign in. Click "Sign in" to continue with your award booking.
If you don't have enough Hilton points to pay for the redemption, you can pay for the remaining cost with a credit card. For example, I could redeem my 159,000 Hilton points and pay 173,027 XPF (about $1,698) for this sample five-night stay.
However, it may be better to earn more Hilton points so you can pay entirely with points. After all, when you pay entirely with points, you'll get the fifth night free (if you have Hilton elite status) and avoid paying the resort charge and taxes.
How to earn Hilton Honors points
One of the quickest ways to earn more Hilton Honors points is to transfer American Express Membership Rewards. Best of all, Amex is offering a 30% transfer bonus when you transfer to Hilton through Oct. 31, 2021. So, Mike and his fiancée can transfer Amex points to Hilton at a 1000:2600 ratio if they act soon. In particular, during this transfer bonus, they could transfer their 180,000 Amex points to Hilton and get 468,000 Hilton Honors points.
Mike and his fiancee could also buy Hilton points during a promotion. For example, you can currently buy Hilton points for as little as 0.5 cents per point through Sept. 30, 2021.
Or, as Mike mentioned in his request, you could sign-up for a new Hilton Honors credit card. For example, here are the currently available Hilton cards and their current welcome bonuses:
- Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card: Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors bonus points and a Free Night Reward after you spend $2,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership.
- Hilton Honors American Express Card: Earn 70,000 Hilton Honors bonus points and a Free Night Reward after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership.
- The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card: Earn 150,000 Hilton Honors bonus points and a Free Night Reward after you spend $4,000 in purchases on the Hilton Honors Business card within the first three months of card membership.
- Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: Earn 150,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in purchases on the card within your first three months of card membership.
However, if you plan to earn Hilton Honors points by applying for a new credit card, remember that you'll need to meet the minimum spending requirements for the bonus before you'll earn the points. So, while buying or transferring points can get you points to use now, applying for a new card will only work well if you don't need the points immediately.
Related: Dreaming of French Polynesia: How I’m booking Tahiti (again) on points and miles
Here, I laid out my recommendations for Mike and his fiancée's trip to French Polynesia.
Unfortunately, reasonably priced awards aren't available for much of their trip. As such, if I were in their shoes, I'd consider visiting a different destination such as Fiji. After all, when I visited Fiji and French Polynesia a few years ago, I found that Fiji provided better value for my points and cash while still being an excellent experience.
If Mike and his fiancée still want to visit French Polynesia, I recommend checking flight and hotel awards frequently. By doing so, I hope they can snag inexpensive awards if they become available. Additionally, I recommend they considering purchasing the Bora Bora Pass. By doing so, they could visit more islands and mix some nights at luxury Hilton hotels with nights booked through Airbnb or an online travel agency.
If you have a destination in mind and need help figuring out your points strategy, send us an email to be featured in the next installment of Cleared for Takeoff.