For several years I’ve been helping people learn how to travel for nearly free using points and miles. There’s something amazing about encouraging people to dream about a place they’ve never visited—one that would most likely never be accessible to them if they had to save the money to get there—and then show a few practical tools to make this a reality.
As I challenge people to learn to travel hack by working towards a goal of a dream destination, I’ve always shared my own dream of sleeping in an over-the-water bungalow in Bora Bora–falling asleep to the sound of the surf, waking up to the fish under my feet, and morning coffee with my toes in the brilliant blue water.
The funny thing was, however, after years of teaching people how to hack their way to Bora Bora, I’d still never actually been there myself.
I had the points, I’d done all the research. If there ever was anyone qualified to hack their way to Bora Bora, I was she. What was I waiting for?
In October I flew to New Zealand. As my plane crossed the Pacific on it’s 17 hour journey I watched as we flew directly over Tahiti and the rest of French Polynesia on the inflight entertainment system flight tracker. Then it struck me. Was this the closest I was ever going to get to Bora Bora? A mile above it in the sky?
The wheels in my brain started turning. What was keeping me from going there if it wasn’t time or money? Why wasn’t I getting on the plane bound for Bora Bora? Was I subconsciously waiting for a significant moment. For my perfect traveling companion. For all the stars in the southern cross to align?
As I watched the sun rise at 37,000 feet, it literally dawned on me that I was waiting for no real reason. I was just putting it off because later felt easier than now. And then I thought some more. What other things was I putting off in my life like Bora Bora with no reason whatsoever?
Why is it that we put off our dreams and desires while waiting for the perfect time or circumstance to magically present itself? Aren’t we old enough to know that the magical present is the actual PRESENT? I made a pledge to myself to make it happen. And since I had to fly over Bora Bora again to get home from New Zealand —I decided that I would just do it now.
And as I typed the draft of this post from the deck of my over-the-water bungalow of my dreams, I can ensure you that NOW was the exact right time.
Whether you’re putting off a dream trip, calling your long lost family, waiting to pick up your pen to write your best-seller (points finger at self), the lesson is this: The perfect time is now. If you’re waiting for a sign, this is it.
I guess next time I teach this lesson I’ll be using my own photos and telling my own Bora Bora stories—and perhaps I’ll have to find another travel dream to share!
What are you waiting for?
Wonder how I actually hacked my way to Bora Bora? I knew you’d ask. Keep reading the bonus section below if you want to know how to plan this kind of trip.
How’d I get there?
Here’s how my travel to Bora Bora worked, how I booked it, and what it cost. The route I took was a little bit different than the one I’ve laid out in my lesson plans, since I traveled via New Zealand rather than direct to Tahiti from my home base of Portland, OR. (Don’t worry, you can easily do this as a return trip originating in the US with flights on Hawaiian, AirFrance or AirTahiti Nui.)
PDX-LAX-SYD-AKL: 72,500 AA miles (or $11,000)
My first ticket was from Portland (PDX) to Auckland, New Zealand (AKL) on American Airlines with a stop in Los Angeles (LAX) and an intentional one day layover in Sydney, Australia (SYD). This ticket was First Class and cost a total of 72,500 American Airlines points with a dollar value of $11,000! As this ticket was on American and Qantas flights, I was able to search for and book the ticket online at aa.com. I booked this flight 10 months in advance as a one way award. (This ticket was purchased prior to American’s devaluation in early 2016- the current ticket cost for this same route one way is 90,000 AA Miles on a First Class saver award). Most of my miles on AA are earned from AA domestic flights and from my Citi AAdvantage credit card.
While the first half of my trip was booked very far in advance, all of the remaining flights were booked at the very last minute since I didn’t decide to fly home via Bora Bora until I was already in New Zealand.
AKL-PPT: 30,000 Miles (or $1,400)
Starting in New Zealand, I booked a flight from Auckland (AKL) to Papaetee, Tahiti (PPT) on Air Tahiti Nui using American Airlines Miles. The cost was 30,000 miles for a one way business class ticket at a cash value of $1,400 (or 15,000 for economy class). Booking this ticket required making a call to AA reservations as the tickets are not searchable online. It’s the only airline I’ve ever flown that gives you flowers for your hair and serves pre-flight mai-tai’s. (Also, I think I was also the only person on the flight traveling alone)
PPT-BOB-PPT: $220 each way in Travel Credits
Air Tahiti (not to be confused with Air Tahiti Nui) has a monopoly of the French Polynesian skies and is the only way to get to Bora Bora once you’ve made it as far as Tahiti. I flew PPT to BOB and came back to Tahiti via Moorea—another island that connected to Papaetee by ferry. The only way to hack this leg is with lots of points on a credit card with a “travel eraser” or cash back travel credits like my Chase Sapphire Reserve. The cost of the flight is about $220 each way and doesn’t fluctuate much. I booked the flight directly through airtahiti.com to receive travel credits on my credit card. The most important thing to know about this flight is that you want a seat on the left side on the way out and right side on the way back. Catching a view of Bora Bora from the sky is worth the cost of the flight alone.
* Note: if you make it this far, and are hoping to use points to stay at hotels in Tahiti and Bora Bora, you’ll want to stock up on Starwood, Hilton or IHG points. These are the chains that operate properties around French Polynesia. I used points from my IHG and SPG Amex Credit cards to cover my hotel nights.
PPT-HNL-KON: 27,500 Hawaiian Miles (or $950)
To get from Tahiti back across the Pacific to the US, there are very limited choices of Airlines: Air Tahiti Nui, Air France, and Hawaiian Airlines–and not all of these airlines fly to the island every day. Since I had a stash of Hawaiian airlines miles that I’d never used after signing up for a Hawaiian airlines credit card, I decided to take the once a week Hawaiian flight to Honolulu (HNL) and then connect onward to Kona (KON) for no additional cost. An economy class ticket for the 5 hour overnight flight was 27,500 (at a cash value of $950) and bookable online at Hawaiian Airlines. The same flight was also bookable online via AA.com using American Advantage points, but cost more at 37,500 points.
KOA-PHX-PDX :$220 (or 20,000 miles)
Since I had to fly through Hawaii anyway, I took the opportunity to explore the big island for a few days before heading the rest of the way home via American Airlines. There were dozens of flights to choose at all times of day from on an assortment of airlines for about $220 or 20,000 miles on American. I went with a paid AA flight so the redemption value was low. Buying the ticket allowed me to earn qualifying miles and a paid flight allowed me to request a complimentary upgrade with my status..
All together, I saved more than $14,010 on flights by using points and miles! But more importantly than getting something of high value for a fraction of the cost. I finally got to see Bora Bora for myself!