Learn How to Maximize Your Points With TPG’s Miles Away Podcast
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Get ready to hit that Subscribe button! We have a brand new podcast to share.
With Talking Points now well into its first season, we’re launching a second podcast award travelers will love. Hitting your favorite podcast app each Wednesday morning, Miles Away focuses on a new destination every week, detailing why you’ll want to visit, how to get there and where to stay — of course making the most of loyalty programs wherever you can along the way.
On the first episode, TPG‘s Darren Murph joins me (your host, Zach Honig) on a journey to French Polynesia, helping you plan an incredible adventure to the islands of Bora Bora, Tahiti and Moorea.
You can play the first episode of Miles Away above, or listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, including:
As Darren explains on the podcast, there’s a lot to look forward to in French Polynesia:
“French Polynesia is hands-down one of the world’s most spectacular otherworldly places. It is completely extraordinary in every way. The water color is unlike you’ll see anywhere else in the world. The culture there is very unique. The food is incredible. Then the resort quality there is exceptional. And it’s also in a unique part of the world where they don’t really have the wind and water effects and damage that hurricanes can bring. So what that allows them to do is build overwater bungalows similar to what you’d find in the Maldives.”
We’re also hosting a giveaway to celebrate the launch. One lucky listener will walk away with a $500 gift card — see my Instagram post above for instructions to enter.
I’d love to hear from you after the giveaway, too! If you have any questions, thoughts or topics you’d like us to cover, please email me at email@example.com, tweet at me @zachhonig or find me on Instagram — I’m @zachhonig there as well. And please don’t forget to subscribe!
Zach Honig: Hello travelers. Welcome to the very first episode of Miles Away. This is your host, Zach Honig, and I’ll be coming to you every Wednesday to explain how to get to some of the world’s most luxurious destinations using your points and miles. On this episode, I’ll be talking to The Points Guy’s senior writer, Darren Murph, about ways to get to the islands making up French Polynesia.
Zach Honig: So Darren, welcome to Miles Away.
Darren Murph: Thank you, sir. Happy to be here.
Zach Honig: So, Darren and I actually go way, way back. I’ve been at TPG since 2015, so I’ve been working with Bryan for about four years now, but Darren actually brought me onto Engadget in 2011, and now we have an opportunity to work again in his role as senior writer for The Points Guy.
Darren Murph: Yes, indeed.
Zach Honig: How’s it been going so far, Darren?
Darren Murph: It’s amazing. It’s exactly how you think it would be. We get to live, and write about, and breathe, and eat, and sleep travel all the time. It’s magnificent.
Zach Honig: What has been your best trip to date at TPG?
Darren Murph: The best trip to date at TPG, coincidentally, is the one that we’ll probably be talking about today, and that took me to Tahiti and Mo’orea, in the middle of the South Pacific.
Zach Honig: Just a couple months into your-
Darren Murph: I know.
Zach Honig: … role at TPG, you got to go to paradise, which is something not too many people can say, I think.
Darren Murph: Yeah, no. It’s incredible. My wife went along with me on that trip, and we pinched ourselves a number of times, reminding ourselves that this is work. It was phenomenal.
Zach Honig: In French Polynesia, a lot of people think of that, they would say, “That’s a once in a lifetime destination.”, and Darren, you’re in your 30s now. How many times have you been to French Polynesia?
Darren Murph: Yeah. So, this year made number 4.
Zach Honig: Four trips? Okay.
Darren Murph: Which is … It’s unbelievable, even to me, and I’ve been there four times, but it doesn’t get old, and I hope there are many, many, many more around the corner.
Zach Honig: Yeah. So, French Polynesia, it’s kind of been on my list but near the bottom, just because it’s been a bit of a pain to get to, and that changed this year. There’s a couple new airlines that have launched service to Pape’ete, which is in Tahiti. Am I pronouncing that right? Is it Pape’ete, or-
Darren Murph: It is. It is. I initially pronounced it as Pa-pete for a long time until someone corrected me.
Zach Honig: [inaudible 00:02:18] here and here. I said Pa-pete as well. So, Pape’ete, and United and French B both launched service this year from San Francisco to Pape’ete. PPT is the airport guard, and so that’s really made French Polynesia a lot more accessible to people.
Darren Murph: Yeah. In my prior trips, I flew Air France. I’m a Delta loyalist, and so it worked out that I could fly Air France and earn Delta miles, or redeem Delta miles on that Air France flight, but having more competition has been huge. Already, I’ve seen Air France under pricing pressure. Those flights are notoriously expensive, and with French B and United coming in and cutting under them, it should lower the cost and the burden, and so this, in theory, should be a much more accessible destination than it has been.
Zach Honig: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And we should note that all these international airlines, they fly into Pape’ete, which is on the island of Tahiti, and that should not be your final destination.
Darren Murph: Yeah. It’s much like … Well, the name Tahiti should not be confused for all of French Polynesia. A lot of people hear Tahiti and they think it’s one singular place. It’s not. That’s just the main island where the major international airport is on. Most of the post cards you’ve seen with pictures of French Polynesia are not in Tahiti.
Zach Honig: Okay. So, what am I looking at if I’m looking at a post card of French Polynesia?
Darren Murph: You’re most likely looking at one of the other society islands. So that would be Mo’orea, or Taha’a, or Bora Bora.
Zach Honig: Okay. Bora Bora is obviously the one that comes to mind for most people. Is that the one you recommend for everyone? How do they break down?
Darren Murph: Not for everyone. Bora Bora is, hands down, the most Googled honeymoon destination in the world, and it is indeed an amazing couple’s honeymoon destination, but I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily the best one for everyone, and I don’t think it should be the first one you go to. One reason is it’s pretty complicated to get there, so you need to be somewhat of an expert on planning just to make it not stressful, the other is there’s an island that’s just a ferry ride away from Tahiti by the name of Mo’orea that’s much more diverse, a lot less expensive, and it has something for everyone, which Bora Bora is, I would say, caters to couples. So, for family’s or folks that just want to have more adventure, they aren’t necessarily going on a honeymoon, Mo’orea offers all of that, and the spectacular aquamarine water that you would expect in that part of the world.
Zach Honig: Got it. So, what about the island of Tahiti? I know that there’s the InterContinental Tahiti, which I stayed at ’cause I had to stay somewhere overnight. I didn’t love it. It was fine. It kind of felt like going to Hawaii and then only going to Oahu. Maybe only going to Oahu and only going to Waikiki.
Darren Murph: Yes. Yeah. So, Tahiti, I have actually not explored Tahiti at length. I’ve only used it as an overnighting destination, so I have very limited experience on the island of Tahiti. If I go back again, I do want to take a day or two to just rent a car and drive around it, just to see what I see. I will say though, if you are there overnight, at 6:00PM on the dot, in the main park in downtown Pape’ete, floods of food trucks come out, serving all type of cuisines, and I actually published a guide on this, so if you search on ThePointsGuy.com for food trucks, you will no doubt see it. That’s the highlight of Pape’ete. The food is unbelievable. It’s really cheap. It’s cooked right there in the trucks by locals. It’s a cool experience.
Zach Honig: And that’s something that I just would not expect to find there.
Darren Murph: Not at all, and I think that’s what makes it even more incredible, is you’re right on the waterfront, so you have this amazing sunset view over the water, looking into Mo’orea, and there are dozens and dozens of food trucks, and it’s just a random place in the world to find them, but they are spectacular.
Zach Honig: That’s kind of crazy. So, we have food trucks in New York, obviously. I can walk down the street and get a different type of cuisine, mostly Middle Eastern, for the most part, but food trucks aside, what do you do in French Polynesia?
Darren Murph: You go to relax, you go to explore, and if you go without a camera, you’re doing it wrong. So, I do want to back up a little bit and say French Polynesia is, hands down, one of the world’s most spectacular otherworldly places. It is completely extraordinary in every way. The water color is unlike you’ll see anywhere else in the world. The culture there is very unique. The food is incredible, and the resort quality there is exceptional, and it’s also in a unique part of the world where they don’t really have the wind and water effects and damage that hurricanes can bring. So, what that allows them to do is build over-water bungalows similar to what you’d find in the [Maldive’s 00:06:38].
Zach Honig: Interesting. I’ve wondered why some destinations have over-water bungalows and others just don’t.
Darren Murph: So, French Polynesia, they do have a hurricane season. But, historically, it has been so gentle and light that hoteliers will still build an over-water bungalow. It’s why you will still find some parts of the world, like the Caribbean, with incredibly blue water, but no one dares build an over-water bungalow there because, every fall, you have to watch out for these major storms coming through and ripping everything up. So, for now, it remains one of the safer spots in the world where these bungalows can be built, and so if you’ve ever dreamed of staying at one, this is one of very few places where you can go and do that.
Zach Honig: Would you spend your whole time in an over-water bungalow? Is there something to be said for the beach bungalows, too?
Darren Murph: Yes. So, I’m speaking mostly on Mo’orea here. I’ve also been to Bora Bora, but I would say spend, if you can, half the trip at an over-water bungalow, and then the other half on an over-land bungalow, and here’s why, because money is a thing, and resources aren’t infinite, and I would rather you spend half the trip in an over-water and then spread that money to stay in a beach bungalow, and just stay there longer, than to say, “Oh, I can only go to French Polynesia for there days in an over-water bungalow.” Try to stay longer. There’s plenty to see and do.
Zach Honig: And that’s one of the first things that comes to mind too. When you think of French Polynesia, you think, “It’s gonna cost me a lot of money.” We’re gonna get into how to do it on miles and points in a little bit, but can you kind of walk me through a day in the life of Darren and Dina Murph in French Polynesia?
Darren Murph: Yeah.
Zach Honig: What did you spend money on? What did you do?
Darren Murph: I like this question. It brings me back to a very happy place. So, an average day, we try to wake up for sunrise, because it’s one of the most beautiful sunrises in the world, and you’re only there a few days, you might as well take advantage of that, then we would usually try to make our way to the gym. And the reason for that is we stayed at the Hilton Mo’orea, and included in our stay, was a breakfast buffet that was enormous, like 800 square feet of just food.
Zach Honig: Oh my god.
Darren Murph: It’s outrageous. There was an entire bread bar, because essentially, you’re in France, and so every type of bread imaginable. Croissants, loaf bread, muffins, it’s all there. So if you want carbs, this is a good place to go. So then we would indulge in breakfast, and honestly, the days there are so beautiful, I try to skip lunch and just enjoy being outside. So, I’d eat a lot of breakfast, and then we would go out and explore. The most fun we had in Mo’orea was renting our own car and doing a self-guided tour.
Zach Honig: That’s interesting. Okay, so when you think of these over-water bungalows and hotels that offer them, you kind of think they’re very secluded.
Darren Murph: Yes.
Zach Honig: I mean, the Maldive’s for example, there’s nowhere to even drive, really.
Darren Murph: That’s right.
Zach Honig: [inaudible 00:09:20] rent a car.
Darren Murph: That’s right. So, this is why I recommend Mo’orea, because you can go a little stir crazy if you’re in the Maldive’s, and your over-water bungalow is on this self-contained island where the extent of your exploration is going to be walking around the same beach 20 times during the day, and in Bora Bora, you’ll get stuck with that as well. Your resort is on a single motu with very little real estate, so there’s not a lot to do beyond gawk.
Darren Murph: And there’s nothing wrong with that, but if you want to do something more, Mo’orea is great for that because you can sit around, and gawk, and appreciate the beauty from your over-water bungalow, but you can also … There’s an actual island there, and there’s an actual interior that’s lush and you can drive around roads, and hike up mountains. There’s other things to do, which we like to do in the middle of the day when the weather’s beautiful and you can take a lot of photos, and then come back, of course, for the amazing sunset at your over-water bungalow.
Zach Honig: Got it. Okay, so, skip lunch. You have dinner at the hotel?
Darren Murph: If I have to. I mean, when I went there, I reviewed the restaurants there, but look, resort restaurants are outrageously expensive. In some ways, it’s like being at Disneyland or Disney World. You have a captive audience, so they’re gonna raise the rates accordingly. If you’re on Mo’orea, there’s a restaurant called Le Mayflower. It’s interesting because they throw Le in there, then Mayflower is a very American name, but nevertheless, they will pick you up and drop you off for free. This is something that is fairly common throughout French Polynesia. They know a lot of people don’t rent vehicles. The food was phenomenal. It was half the price of the resort, and so that’s what I’d recommend if you’re looking for a dinner spot.
Zach Honig: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And we’re talking about … Is it French food there?
Darren Murph: It’s French food, but also some Asian cuisine and a few other things mixed in.
Zach Honig: So, one thing that kind of caught me by surprise is French Polynesia is French, you’re in France. I mean, the people there are very French.
Darren Murph: Very French.
Zach Honig: And the food is French, and the currency’s actually tied to the euro, so I mean it’s kind of an extension of France.
Darren Murph: It’s France’s Hawaii, and a shocking amount of people will fly legitimately halfway around the world from Paris to Pape’ete.
Zach Honig: I think everyone on my French B flight was continuing onto Paris, and in that super tight economy. [crosstalk 00:11:23]
Darren Murph: That’s true dedication, to fly from Paris to L.A., or the west coast to SF, and then continue on, but if you’ve ever been there, you’ll understand why people do it. It’s legitimately amazing, and for a lot of the French, it feels like home. You get your own passport [inaudible 00:11:38] when you arrive. I mean, it caters to French nationals.
Zach Honig: Right. That makes sense. So, we don’t have a whole lot of time before we talk about how to get there and where to stay, but I want to touch on the other islands a little bit. So, which other islands have you been to, and who do you recommend those for?
Darren Murph: So, I’ve been to [Raiatea 00:11:52]. I’ve flown into Raiatea, and I’ve been to Taha’a technically, but it was Vahine Island, which is another one of those self-contained islands that is technically a part of Taha’a but not on the main island, and then of course, I’ve been to Bora Bora, the main island as well as the [inaudible 00:12:07], which is on its own motu.
Zach Honig: And if you’re going to French Polynesia and not going to visit Bora Bora, are you doing it wrong? Or, is that just somewhere you don’t necessarily have to go on your first trip?
Darren Murph: No. You’re not doing it wrong. The first time I went, we spent a week in Mo’orea, and I don’t regret it at all. We did Mo’orea right, and we were able to spend enough time there to see and explore. One thing I wouldn’t recommend doing is trying to island hop a lot in French Polynesia. There are dozens of amazing islands to visit, and if you just try to spend a day or two on each one and hop around, you waste so much time and money just in transit, you don’t really get the full experience of any one place.
Zach Honig: Yeah. I mean, I saw a couple cruise ships from my hotel in Bora Bora, and it seems like that’s exactly what they do. I mean, they move around from one island to the next, and you get just a little bit of time to explore, but that’s not something you’d recommend?
Darren Murph: I mean, it doesn’t suit my style. I like to get to a place and really embrace it. If you are more of the look-see type of place, then a cruise down there might be more for you.
Zach Honig: Sounds good. Well, since we’re not staying on a cruise ship, we’re gonna talk about alternative accommodations in just a moment. But first, let’s take our quick break.
Zach Honig: So, I’m back here with Darren Murph. He is our resident TPG expert on Paradise.
Darren Murph: You know what? I’ll embrace that logo.
Zach Honig: Yeah. I think that’s-
Darren Murph: Can I get that tattooed?
Zach Honig: That’s fair. Can I be the runner-up? I think I want to be the #2 to the [crosstalk 00:13:32]
Darren Murph: That’s totally fine. You know what? Every Polynesian traveler needs a copilot.
Zach Honig: Absolutely. And now it’s easier to get there. So, you can be an expert and really explore quite a few different options when it comes to flying to and from French Polynesia, and that’s exactly what we did recently. So, you, Brian, and I all went to Tahiti, and then beyond Tahiti as well, but we flew different airlines. So, I flew United going out. It was actually the inaugural flight from San Francisco to Tahiti, and then on the way back, I flew French B, which I did not love very much. It’s got a fun name, but it kind of stops there. I mean, there’s not much fun onboard, I have to say.
Darren Murph: So, I haven’t flown either of those, so tell me about those. I mean, people are wondering, “If I’m gonna go there, I need to know what the product’s gonna [inaudible 00:14:21]”
Zach Honig: Yeah, exactly. So, the fares are actually comparable, which is really interesting because French B is very much a low cost carrier, and so it’s no-frills, you have to pay for everything. There’s buy-onboard food. A lot of people are actually flying all the way from Paris to Tahiti, so they’re spending about 20 hours on this aircraft with a stop in San Francisco.
Darren Murph: And premium economy is as nice as it gets.
Zach Honig: It’s as nice as it gets, and it’s not that nice. I mean, those seats were barely wider than regular economy seats. Economy on United 767 is wider than premium economy on the French B 8350, which is insane.
Darren Murph: So, take note of that if you plan on booking French B and then splurging for premium economy. Space wise, you’re just as well on the United economy.
Zach Honig: Well, I should clarify that United does not fly 767’s to Tahiti.
Darren Murph: That’s true.
Zach Honig: They could. I mean, it could easily make that trip, but they fly the dreamliner, which is a much newer, nicer aircraft, slightly narrower seats, but you’ve got a 3-3-3 configuration of economy, and then it’s 2-2-2 in business class. This is the older [inaudible 00:15:22] business class product, and actually, 2-2-2 kind of makes sense for that destination and that market.
Darren Murph: It’s couples, right?
Zach Honig: It’s couples going there. I mean, there aren’t too many business travelers flying to San Francisco and Tahiti, if any. Us, right? Are we the only business travelers?
Darren Murph: It’s funny. I actually met someone that is a business traveler going there. He’s in the vertical crop forming business, and they’re going to install, essentially, a modular greenhouse in Tahiti so a restaurant can basically grow their own herbs that are then served on food.
Zach Honig: Okay.
Darren Murph: There is a case to be made.
Zach Honig: Pointed note. I mean, if you want to work in paradise and live in the United States [crosstalk 00:15:58]
Darren Murph: Agriculture is the way to go.
Zach Honig: Vertical farming is the future.
Darren Murph: Yes. So, speaking of food, I think your French B experience was not super great?
Zach Honig: No, it was not super great at all. The United experience is what you would expect for United. There’s nothing different. I thought maybe they’ll have some Mai Tai’s, not that the Mai Tai is a typically Polynesian drink, but-
Darren Murph: It’s a South Pacific drink.
Zach Honig: It’s a South Pacific drink. No Mai Tai’s. So, you give Mai Tai’s to Hawaii, not to Tahiti, but the food was exactly the same that you would get on San Francisco to Frankfurt, or in London, or any of the long haul flights. It’s pretty lackluster. I mean, nothing too exciting, but you do get access to the players’ lounge if you’re flying in business class.
Darren Murph: Sure.
Zach Honig: With French B, there is no lounge access because there’s no business class at all. It’s a brand new A350, but you’d actually never know it once you step onboard. It doesn’t feel like an A350 really at all. I mean, it’s premium economy up front, and then a very tight economy product behind, but I was actually browsing French B’s website, and they go into detail about their cuisine, and they say, specifically, it’s not the typical chicken or fish option-
Darren Murph: Okay. Alright, I’m with you.
Zach Honig: … and then, when it came time for me to eat, the flight attendant came by and she said, “Chicken or fish?”
Darren Murph: No.
Zach Honig: Yeah.
Darren Murph: No.
Zach Honig: Exactly those words.
Darren Murph: Were you being trolled?
Zach Honig: I feel like I was, but I’m pretty sure she has never visited the French B website.
Darren Murph: The website of her employer?
Zach Honig: Yeah.
Darren Murph: [crosstalk 00:17:21]
Zach Honig: There’s a little bit of a disconnect there.
Darren Murph: Okay.
Zach Honig: So, French B, like Air Tahiti Nui, they’re pretty small airlines. They have very small fleets, and they really focus on serving the Tahiti market. I think French B has one other destination. Is it Reunion Island? Is that-
Darren Murph: That sounds right. From Paris, yeah.
Zach Honig: I think it might be, yeah. So, Reunion Island, which is really far as well.
Darren Murph: Yeah. That’s a very long haul.
Zach Honig: Ten hours? [crosstalk 00:17:42]
Darren Murph: That’s on my list of next tropical destination I want to go to. I don’t think I’m gonna take French B there after hearing this.
Zach Honig: No, please do not. Please do not.
Darren Murph: Okay.
Zach Honig: The other options, of course, are Air Tahiti Nui, which is also based in France actually, but it is named for Tahiti, and they have a fleet, a very small fleet actually, of a single dreamliner right now. They are expanding and replacing their A340s, which have an angle flat product, so they’ve got a new 2-2-2 [inaudible 00:18:07] and 3-3-3 economy on the dreamliner, which is an upgrade throughout [crosstalk 00:18:12]
Darren Murph: All the way around.
Zach Honig: All the way around.
Darren Murph: Let me ask you really quick, French B, do you earn anything?
Zach Honig: You earn nothing at all. You earn credit card points for your transaction.
Darren Murph: Oh man. Okay.
Zach Honig: And you earn the right to say that you survived French B.
Darren Murph: Okay. So, that’s another thing to mention. If the prices are comparable from United and French B, even on United, if you earn some miles, essentially that’s a bit of the money back in your pocket.
Zach Honig: Exactly, and if you have elite status on United, even if you have silver status, you can then select economy+ for free, which is probably … maybe just shy of the quality you can expect to have in premium economy.
Darren Murph: So, it sounds like if you’re gonna connect through SFO, United’s the way to go if the prices are comparable, and I’ll say I’m a little concerned at how low the United prices are. You pick some of the days and you’re like, “$500 roundtrip to Tahiti is unprecedented.”, but I do wonder if they’re just breaking into the market and will slowly rise this time [crosstalk 00:19:04]
Zach Honig: Right. I mean, the response has apparently been very good. So originally, it was introduced as a seasonal service, and then on the day of launch, about 30-45 minutes before we boarded the plane, they actually announced that it’s gonna be year round just because of the demand, and the fares have been cheap from the very beginning.
Darren Murph: Yep.
Zach Honig: But if you think about it, it’s an eight hour flight. It’s not crazy, it’s just a little … It’s a couple hours past Hawaii, so I mean, I think they can probably make that work, especially with the economics of the dreamliner.
Darren Murph: Yeah.
Zach Honig: The business fares, on the other hand, are not cheap.
Darren Murph: No. [crosstalk 00:19:36]
Zach Honig: Exactly. Typical business fares, and it’s a pretty small cabin. I think it’s 36 seats ’cause it’s a 787-8 dreamliner.
Darren Murph: Yeah.
Zach Honig: So, moving on then to Air France, which you’ve flew Air France both ways.
Darren Murph: I did. I flew Air France, that’s the longer standing way to get there, so really, it’s a tale of two cabins. I flew there in premium economy on the red eye from Los Angeles, and then flew in business on the daytime flight back from Pape’ete to L.A. So, on the way out there, the premium economy cabin is extremely exclusive. There are only three rows of it, however, and there are many however’s, it’s this shell based product where the seat doesn’t actually recline, it simply slouches into the hard plastic shell, which is truly awful for trying to sleep in.
Darren Murph: It is terrible. I didn’t test it, but I think I would’ve actually slept better had I just left it-
Zach Honig: Was it more of an angle than you usually get in premium economy?
Darren Murph: It is an angle, but it’s this weird angle where gravity then wants to push you the rest of the way down like a slide.
Zach Honig: [crosstalk 00:20:39]
Darren Murph: Like, imagine trying to sleep on a playground slide.
Zach Honig: Yeah, that would not be fun.
Darren Murph: You’d be better off just finding a wall to sit up against. At last gravity’s not trying to push you down the eternal slide.
Zach Honig: Right.
Darren Murph: So, the comfort level was not great, and you also get basic or standard main cabin meals. So you don’t get any upgrade on the meal front, and you also have to use their restrooms. So, although it’s an exclusive cabin, you have to leave it to find the restroom. So, it was … To me, the upcharge wasn’t worth it. Now, if I were on the daytime flight where you don’t have to sleep, maybe it’s worth it.
Zach Honig: And it’s a triple-7 that they have?
Darren Murph: It’s a triple-7, yeah, and so it’s arranged in 2-4-2, which certainly beats the tenebrous back in economy, no question. But on my ticket, it was around $700, so it broke down into about an extra $100 per hour to be in that seat, and it was, in no way, worth it.
Darren Murph: On the flip side, returning in business class, phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal. Now, it’s a splurge. They bank on people booking business class at full rates because it’s a, quote unquote, once in a lifetime thing. Maybe it’s their honeymoon, cost is not an issue, and it’s an amazing product. The meals were fantastic, the service was fantastic, tons of room to stretch out. I would definitely fly that product again.
Zach Honig: And it’s 1-2-1?
Darren Murph: It’s 1-2-1, and so I had one on the window, which was fantastic, tons of privacy, could stretch out. There’s no Wi-Fi on that plane, so take that into consideration. I don’t think Air France really cares so much because it’s a leisure market. They don’t think business travelers are gonna be on their computers the whole time, but it is worth noting.
Zach Honig: That’s one thing to note, actually, about French B. They had Wi-Fi. It was fast, and it was completely free. I don’t know if that was just something they’d overlooked, ’cause I connected to the Wi-Fi and there was no landing page. It just worked right away.
Darren Murph: Heres what it is. They think if you can disconnect from the seat and connect to the internet, you’re less likely to be complaining about how tight the seat is.
Zach Honig: Interesting. So, I see this the other way. I see having a really terrible time in premium economy, and tweeting about it the whole time.
Darren Murph: Yeah, yeah. There’s that. There’s that. Yeah.
Zach Honig: Which is kind of what I did, a little bit.
Darren Murph: Well, to be expected.
Zach Honig: And then so, I guess if you’re a business traveler, then the 1-2-1 business on Air France makes sense, but for everyone else, if you don’t want to spend a ton of money, maybe consider United.
Darren Murph: Yeah, and points and miles are an option. The best way to book the Air France flight is through Air France’s own Flying Blue program. Now that they’ve switched to dynamic pricing, they don’t have a flat award chart anymore. It makes it a little bit tougher, but I saw economy fares starting around the 25,000 mile range-
Zach Honig: Oh, that’s not bad.
Darren Murph: … and business fares at around the 73-5 range through Flying Blue, and you can also book it through Delta, but the economy rates there started about 43,000 sky miles versus 23-5 on Flying Blue. It doesn’t make any sense to do that.
Zach Honig: Big difference.
Darren Murph: And they don’t sell business, so if you want business, you’re gonna have to go Flying Blue.
Zach Honig: Got it. Okay. [inaudible 00:23:42] charges as well, or no?
Darren Murph: Minimal.
Zach Honig: Okay.
Darren Murph: Yeah, 100 bucks.
Zach Honig: So, you can also … You just told me something very interesting. You can actually use Delta SkyMiles to fly Air Tahiti Nui as well.
Darren Murph: This is true. So, you can actually use Delta SkyMiles and American miles.
Zach Honig: Yeah. American, I knew about. But Delta, that’s a surprise.
Darren Murph: Delta … It’s like a stealth, underground partner of Delta. You can use SkyMiles to book economy or business seats on Air Tahiti Nui. It’s not on their online search engine, so you’re gonna have to have a lot of dates available, call up Delta, and just start playing with dates, and they’ll … every single date, they have to longsell into Air Tahiti Nui, wait for a response, you need a few hours on the phone.
Zach Honig: And you need an agent willing to do that. [crosstalk 00:24:24]
Darren Murph: Yes, exactly. So, I’m fortunate that I can call the diamond line, and they’re happy to sit on the phone with me for two hours and just play with numbers, but you need some patience. But it is a good way to use SkyMiles if it’s a last ditch effort. I mean, it’s worth the effort if you land in Tahiti.
Zach Honig: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, one other thing that I want to talk about with the flights real quick before we move on is the timing, because that really plays into it, especially if you’re continuing on from Tahiti. So, I flew United, we landed at I think 8:00 or 9:00PM, and the last flight on Air Tahiti … So, there’s two airlines, there’s Air Tahiti Nui international carrier, and then Air Tahiti, which handles all of the domestic flight. They kind of have a monopoly there.
Darren Murph: They do have a monopoly. So, anything within French Polynesia, island to island, that’s Air Tahiti, without the Nui.
Zach Honig: Completely different airline.
Darren Murph: Yes, and they don’t-
Zach Honig: No miles.
Darren Murph: … have miles. The website was built in the 70’s. It looks like an Atari game. Yes, totally different.
Zach Honig: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And so, my flight landed. It was around 9:00, let’s say 9:00, and so I had to overnight in Tahiti, but I didn’t really want to waste much time in Bora Bora, so I booked an early morning flight out, so I didn’t get to experience Tahiti at all, but I got to pay to be in Tahiti, which was almost $400 a night, so sometimes there’s availability at the InterContinental, but it’s a pricey hotel.
Darren Murph: Yeah, for me, that’s a big bummer of the timing of the United flight. I actually prefer the timing of the Air France flight. So, when it leaves Los Angeles, it leaves at like midnight, essentially midnight, and it puts it in Tahiti at around 7:00 AM in the morning. So, the downside of that is you just experience [inaudible 00:25:58], you’re gonna be exhausted. The upside is you land as the sun is rising over one of the most beautiful places in the world, and you have the entire day to get wherever you’re going.
Zach Honig: Got it, okay. Well, one thing that can be said for this late night United arrival is that can you connect, by ferry, to Mo’orea?
Darren Murph: Depends on the timing. During some seasons, they run more frequencies of the Tahiti to Mo’orea ferry than others, and recently, another carrier has joined. So, there used to be just one carrier, now there are two different companies operating the Tahiti to Mo’orea route. So definitely check their websites. I’ve put up a guide on The Points Guy. Check that out. Look at the timing for whenever you’re going. That could be an amazing way to kind of save the day, and you don’t have to spend money to stay in Tahiti, a place that isn’t really your destination.
Zach Honig: Right, and you can fly to Mo’orea. It’s, I think, a four minute flight, which is insane. You see it very clearly when you land in Tahiti.
Darren Murph: You can fly to Mo’orea. I would not recommend it if you’re coming from Tahiti. The view from the ferry is unbelievable. The fresh air after you get off the plane for eight hours is also unbelievable. You don’t have to go through security again. It’s cheaper, it’s just better. It’s better all the way around. It’s one of the few times I’d recommend taking a boat over the plane. Mo’orea’s airport exists. Let’s say you flew to Bora Bora first and then you’re coming back to Mo’orea. I mean, obviously it needs an airport to connect to other islands, but if you’re coming from Tahiti, take the boat.
Zach Honig: Right. No, that makes a lot of sense. My flight, I had no choice. I mean, I guess I had a choice. Apparently There’s a cargo ship you can take to get to Bora Bora?
Darren Murph: Yeah. I think our points and miles backpacker is gonna try that early next year, so stay tuned for his report on that.
Zach Honig: You need a full day to pull that off.
Darren Murph: You do. He has the time, and he’s willing to make it work.
Zach Honig: So, one thing that seemed more attractive about Bora Bora over the Maldive’s to me is that you don’t need to pay for a seaplane flight, but once you start digging into it, you realize you actually have to spend a lot of money for Air Tahiti. My ticket was $420 round trip. Could be even $440.
Darren Murph: Yeah, and it’s like, what, an hour in the air?
Zach Honig: It was about an hour, maybe a little bit less. I had no view. Everybody’s like, “Have a seat on the left. Grab a seat on the left.” It was cloudy coming in. Obviously, I was paying for transportation, but … And then, when you get there, you have to pay for a boat.
Darren Murph: Yeah. So, this is something that a lot of people don’t realize about Bora Bora. When you land at the airport, you’re not actually there. The only thing on that motu is the airport, and if you want to go to any resort at all, which, let’s be honest, you do, you then have to get on a boat. So, The St. Regis, for example, there’s a boat that takes you directly to it. For some people, you can take the Air Tahiti bus … err sorry, boat, to the main island [crosstalk 00:28:36]
Zach Honig: And that’s included.
Darren Murph: That is included in the [crosstalk 00:28:38]
Zach Honig: It’s a time commitment, though.
Darren Murph: It is a time commitment, and it’s definitely out of the way. If you’re going to Bora Bora … I mean, used to … We can get into this in a minute. You can stay on the main island of Viatepe, but this is very similar to Tahiti. That’s not the place you really want to be. You want to be on the motu’s with the incredibly clear water, the picture perfect situation. So, if you do get to the main land, quote unquote, main land, you still have to take another boat to your actual destination.
Zach Honig: Right. Sometimes even a taxi to your boat. So, boat, taxi, boat.
Darren Murph: Yeah, and I will pause right here and say, “Please don’t let this discourage you from going to Bora Bora.”
Zach Honig: It’s beautiful.
Darren Murph: We’re here to tell you there are better ways to do it, and there’s efficient ways to do it, so go. And if you’re just like, “I don’t want to deal with all of those connections.”, just fly with Tahiti, take one ferry to Mo’orea, and I promise you, you’ll be in paradise.
Zach Honig: Absolutely, and speaking of paradise, I got to drive right by it on my airport boat. They picked us up at the airport, there were actually two InterContinental hotels, and this can be really confusing, because there’s Le Moana, which is on that main island, it’s near Viatepe, and then there is the Thalasso, which is the Greek word for something water related. I forget.
Darren Murph: Yeah.
Zach Honig: Beach water …
Darren Murph: It’s surrounded by incredible water, so that makes sense.
Zach Honig: It’s beautiful.
Darren Murph: I can buy that.
Zach Honig: So, the boat had passengers that were going to Thalasso, and we stopped there first, and so I booked Moana because they had a [inaudible 00:29:59]. It was a pretty good deal. I think it was 70,000 IHG points for one night, which we value at roughly $500, and then one night was completely free as a credit card perk, so getting a free night in Bora Bora just for having a $95 credit card? I mean, that’s amazing.
Darren Murph: It’s why we do what we do.
Zach Honig: Exactly, yeah. So, I was staying at the cheap one, which is Moana, and so I had to pay … I think it was $70 or something for this boat from the air port to Moana, but we stopped at Thalasso, and there were these honeymooners on my boat, the only other passengers, and they got off at Thalasso. They got the standard greeting where someone comes down and they put the lei on, and they smile, and you feel like, “Oh.”
Darren Murph: “I’m somewhere I want to be.”
Zach Honig: “People are happy to see me.”
Darren Murph: “People are happy.”
Zach Honig: “This is amazing.” I actually explored Thalasso later, and I’ll get to that, but they take you to this amazing lounge with a beautiful view of Mount … I’m gonna butcher it.
Darren Murph: Yeah. [inaudible 00:30:53]
Zach Honig: A mountain. The biggest mountain.
Darren Murph: The giant mountain. Yes.
Zach Honig: Yes. And so, they got off. I’m like, “Oh. I can’t wait to get to Moana in 10 minutes. It’s gonna be amazing.” I get to Moana, pull up, there’s no one there, not a single person.
Darren Murph: [inaudible 00:31:05]
Zach Honig: Yeah. The skipper gets off the boat and he goes to pick up a phone, and he calls the front desk and he’s like, points towards the reception and he’s like, “Okay, walk that way.” And I should mention it’s raining right now. So, there were no umbrellas, I’m walking in the rain, it was not the warmest welcome, I have to say.
Darren Murph: There’s a reason why the Moana is vastly cheaper than Thalasso, and that’s it. If you go to Bora Bora, don’t stay on Moana unless you want to do what you did with the boat, and I’ve done in the past, which is essentially stay at the Moana, use it as a place to rest your head, and then you get up in the morning and you say, “Look. I need to go to the gym. There’s not a gym at the Moana. There is one at the Thalasso.”
Darren Murph: So, you get on this boat that just runs all day between the two resorts, and you go to the Thalasso, and spend your day there. The beaches are amazing, the water is amazing, and I don’t know how the guests at Thalasso feel if there were this mass influx of people [inaudible 00:32:01]
Zach Honig: I should say I was the only one doing that.
Darren Murph: Yeah. I don’t think many people do it, but now that we’ve put this out there in the open, maybe more will, but I don’t know.
Zach Honig: Yeah. I hope more do.
Darren Murph: I do too. It’s an incredible property, and an amazing perk to just be able to take a boat over to it. It’s phenomenal.
Zach Honig: So, I had some service issues. I go into a lot of detail in my review of Moana, and overall, it’s kind of crazy to say it after reading that review, but I would stay there again, and the reason for that is because you can take this boat over to Thalasso-
Darren Murph: Yeah. Completely agree.
Zach Honig: … and it’s so much cheaper.
Darren Murph: Completely agree.
Zach Honig: And you can actually … So, you have to pay $25 round trip for the boat most of the time, but if you say you’re going over to the gym, because there’s no gym at Moana, it’s free.
Darren Murph: Yep.
Zach Honig: And you’re supposed to take the next ferry back, but I just didn’t [crosstalk 00:32:44]
Darren Murph: You don’t have to. Yeah, and I will say one other thing about the boat. If you fly in on Air Tahiti and you take the free boat to Viatepe, you can take, then, a $20-$25 cab from there to Moana-
Zach Honig: And then the boat?
Darren Murph: … and save yourself some money. Well no, then you’re there.
Zach Honig: Oh. Right.
Darren Murph: You’re at the Moana.
Zach Honig: [inaudible 00:32:59] Moana. Yeah.
Darren Murph: Yep.
Zach Honig: That makes a lot of sense. I should’ve done that. I think, yeah, $70 … I mean, for a 20 minute boat ride is a little steep.
Darren Murph: That’s a little much.
Zach Honig: Yeah. So, I stayed 2 nights in Moana, and then I went to the St. Regis Bora Bora.
Darren Murph: Slight upgrade.
Zach Honig: Amazing upgrade. I was just counting down the hours of the last day. “Can I go? Can I go? Can I go?” And so, to get between the two is a little tricky, which is kind of crazy because Thalasso is just one resort over from St. Regis.
Darren Murph: You could almost canoe to it.
Zach Honig: Believe it or not, you can actually walk between the two, but you have to go on private property, and there are stray dogs there.
Darren Murph: Oh, I see.
Zach Honig: And I was not … This was one thing I was not expecting about Bora Bora, but there are dogs kind of all over the place.
Darren Murph: It is a little bizarre.
Zach Honig: And they’re dangerous. They’ll bite you.
Darren Murph: They are. Especially on the main island of Viatepe. They’re all around [inaudible 00:33:46].
Zach Honig: So, I started to walk away from Moana just to kind of explore the area, and I saw a pack of eight to ten dogs, and they started walking towards me pretty quickly, and I’m like, “Okay. Nope. Going back.”
Darren Murph: Yeah, it’s a little strange. It’s not what you think of when you go to Bora Bora, but the main island of Viatepe is definitely not what you see in marketing materials.
Zach Honig: No, not at all, but what you do see is the St. Regis Bora Bora.
Darren Murph: That’s exactly what you see.
Zach Honig: And we spent two nights there. Brian actually met me there so that he could explore the … experience, I should say, the deluxe over-water villa.
Darren Murph: Yeah, and jet ski amongst the jet setters.
Zach Honig: Yes, and I got to explore a beach villa, which was actually beautiful, and twice the size of the over-water villa.
Darren Murph: Exactly.
Zach Honig: So, it was 60,000 points per night, and obviously, the redemption is going away very, very soon, admittedly, but if you are able to get it, I mean, that is probably the deal of the year, I think.
Darren Murph: Yeah, and I think a lot of people will say, “If I’m going that far, I need to stay in an over-water bungalow.”, which is true. I say spend at least two nights there, but then stretch your budget to stay back on land so that you can just be in that part of the world longer. And as you said, the beach bungalows are amazing, ’cause it serves as a place to rest your head, but you get to explore the beaches and the water just like everyone else.
Zach Honig: Yeah, but I mean, it was really a fantastic time. Breakfast was included, which really makes a huge difference. The food was very expensive. I want to kind of round out talking about a budget and really what to expect. If you can get the hotel on points, and the flight on points, I mean, it’s amazing. You’re spending a lot less, but you’re still gonna spend some money.
Darren Murph: Yeah.
Zach Honig: So, what kind of budget … I know it’s kind of hard to do on the fly, but compared to other destinations nearby say Hawaii, is Bora Bora and French Polynesia more expensive overall?
Darren Murph: It’s definitely more expensive overall. I stayed at the Hilton Mo’orea on Mo’orea as well as the InterContinental, and the quick and dirty there is if you’re choosing between the two, the Hilton is by far superior. There are four main resorts on Mo’orea and the Hilton is far, in a way, the best one, mostly because of the lagoon that it’s on. The water color there is unbelievable, and you won’t find that anywhere else.
Darren Murph: So, short version is, if you can find a way to stay at the Hilton Mo’orea, do it. Once you’re there, though, you really need to try to find some ways to eat elsewhere. Le Mayflower is a good option, but you’re still looking at $45 to $50 a person for dinner, which is a lot.
Zach Honig: Well, living in New York, that’s not insane.
Darren Murph: It’s not insane, but it is a lot. I will say one tip for super budget travelers, if you have elite status and you can check heavy bags, don’t be ashamed to pack lots of snacks and even bottled water and take it over there with you. You can definitely save a lot of money by packing in as much food as possible.
Zach Honig: And another tip. Instead of bringing bottled water, you can actually refill your bottles in the gym. Usually, they have water dispensers there with filtered water.
Darren Murph: That’s an amazing tip. But I will say, compared to Hawaii, you’re gonna spend more money overall. It’s more remote, it’s based on the euro, which is generally pricier than the dollar, and they price things accordingly, and Hawaii definitely has more competition. There are multiple Hawaiian islands, there are tons of flights coming and going, a lot more tourists to kind of subsidize the groceries and such there, whereas French Polynesia is generally set up as a collection of resorts that will charge accordingly.
Zach Honig: That makes a lot of sense. Well, I look forward to my next trip back. I think it might be a couple’s trip. Going solo was an interesting experience.
Darren Murph: Yeah, that is interesting. It’s definitely built for couples and-or families. I saw a couple of families that were in two over-water bungalows at the Hilton Mo’orea, and they had an amazing time seeing who could jump the farthest off of their back porch [crosstalk 00:37:32]
Zach Honig: Oh, I love it. Picturing that in my head right now.
Darren Murph: So, despite what you hear, it is an amazingly family friendly destination, but solo travel is tough because you can’t be there and not think, “I wish X were here to also appreciate this with me.”
Zach Honig: Sounds good.
Darren Murph: So, take a friend. Save up enough miles to do it.
Zach Honig: Indeed. Well, I’m afraid we’re out of time. I really want to dig more into French Polynesia in general. Perhaps we can do that in a future episode.
Darren Murph: There will be another time. There is always time for Polynesia.
Zach Honig: Thank you so much for joining us, Darren, and welcome to the TPG family as our resident senior writer for paradise destinations.
Darren Murph: Yes. Absolutely. Thanks for having me. Hit me up on Twitter if you need anything. I’m happy to advise.
Zach Honig: And what’s your Twitter handle, Darren?
Darren Murph: It is DarrenMurph.
Zach Honig: Instagram? Do we need Instagram?
Darren Murph: Instagram is DarrenMurph, but there’s an underscore after Darren because someone already took my name.
Zach Honig: Oh, that’s alright. At least you got Darren_Murph.
Darren Murph: That’s right. First world problems.
Zach Honig: Well, thank you sir for joining us, and we look forward to having you back soon.
Darren Murph: Alright. Safe travels.
Zach Honig: That’s it for this week’s episode. Thanks again to Darren for his insight on traveling to Paradise. Again, I am your host, Zach Honig, and this episode was produced by Caroline Schagrin with editing by [Ryan Gabos 00:38:41]. Our theme music is by [Alex Schiff 00:38:43]. If you liked this episode, please subscribe, rate, and review on Apple Podcast. Tell your friends, and check back next Wednesday to hear more from TPG’s family team on North American ski destinations.
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