How we made our dream honeymoon happen on a budget
I TRAVEL. Let’s start there. I’ll admit to that. Mostly for work…but also to satisfy our bucket list. On my 30th birthday, I had yet to leave the United States. Now, 5 years later, I’ve been lucky to have experienced some amazing places and countries. I believe travel is one of the only things that makes you richer. Follow your heart and your passions. Break down boundaries that may get in your way of seeing what other places this amazing world has to offer.
Our trip in a nutshell: (I will give more details on flights and hotels further in the post)
4 days in Kauai (St. Regis Princeville)
2 days in Papeete, Tahiti (Intercontinental Tahiti)
4 days in Moorea (Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort)
4 days in Bora Bora (Intercontinental Bora Bora Resort Thalasso)
1 day in Oahu (Turtle Bay Resort)
Total trip duration = 2 weeks
I’ve had many people ask how we pulled this trip off on a budget. What we did. Tips on how to do it. Which prompted me to write this blog post. Never in my life did I expect to be lucky enough to witness the French Polynesian Islands in person. It was merely a DREAM. A bucket list item that I worried would never get ‘checked off’. So if my research and advice can make it possible for at least one person to get there, I’ll be very fulfilled by that.
HOW WE DID IT / HOW WE GOT THERE:
The most important thing to note is how much, and how long, I researched for this trip. It was a solid 6 months of figuring out how we could work the system to make this dream trip possible — mainly by doing it with free airfare — which is the main reason it’s such an ‘unaffordable’ destination.
This blog post will focus on our stay in the French Polynesian islands only. In our 2 week honeymoon, we did 5 total islands. Kauai, Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora and Oahu — in that order. This post only shows images from the 7 days we spent in the French Polynesian islands. I will make a separate post for our time in Hawaii. As for budget, this post includes the whole 2 week stay on 5 islands, for calculating purposes.
Once we figured out Oneworld would get us to Tahiti from Dallas using miles (see below for flight path), we enlisted the AMAZING help of our travel agent, Jerre, for the French Polynesian portion of the trip. She’s been my go-to agent for the past 4 years since I started traveling. And she even helped our wedding guests get to Jamaica. From recommending hotels — to booking all ferries and regional air in Tahiti — she was a phone call and a late night email away, anytime. We even Facetimed with her from our overwater bungalow in Bora Bora to say thank you! While you could book this trip by yourself and lose lots of hair during the process, I would advise to use an agent with an international trip this substantial. Plus…it’s all done for you. Why the heck not. We actually saved money booking this way. She booked everything for us, aside from our oversea flights.
So let’s talk numbers. The most asked question yet. This entire 2 week trip would typically cost $18-25k for two people. We did it for a little over $6k, all in. The same price a 5-star new overwater bungalow in Mexico can cost for a one-week stay. So why not go halfway across the globe for the most sought after water in the world!? That was our EXACT reasoning.
We chose American Airlines and Oneworld to be our airline of choice. While I realize there are many airline loyalty programs out there, living in Dallas is kinda an obvious for American Airlines, as it’s their hub. You can literally fly anywhere from DFW non-stop worldwide on the Oneworld system.
- Be a member of the AAdvantage frequent flier program.
- We both got an AAdvantage Citi Card credit card, when they had the 50k bonus mileage signup. About one year before our wedding. All purchases on it are 1 mile awarded, AA and some oneworld tickets are 2x miles.
- We put most everything on the AA credit cards for our wedding, and immediately paid it off as we went.
- We also put all of our monthly bills on these cards (cable, internet, utilities, cell, etc) and do the same pay-off thing as above. We average $1500/month in bills, so that’s an additional 1500-3000 miles a month awarded.
- Signed up for AA Shopping and Dining. Easy miles for doing things you already do: shop online and dine out! For example, I shopped at Nordstrom a lot for our wedding. 4 miles per dollar spent. So a $200 purchase would get you 800 miles. Same with the Dining reward program, most restaurants award 3/miles per dollar spent.
- Take everything I’ve said above, and combine them. 1. Shop online with AA shopping 2. Pay with your AA card 3. Get 3x the miles. So that $200 purchase from Nordstrom would now give you 200 more miles to the 800 you were awarded from AA Shopping, so 1,000 total miles all for 5 mins of shopping online. They have thousands of stores on there… So pretty much any store you shop at is eligible.
- Fly fly fly. As much as you can. Anytime I would fly, I would book via American, or a oneworld partner. Loyalty to one airline is how we got free flights for this trip. And we never book via third party retailers like Kayak, Priceline, etc. Why? Because the prices are the same, and you don’t get miles.
- Multiply your miles at check in for flights. Yes, sometimes it can seem expensive. But nothing’s worse than being 5,000 miles away from an award ticket… And it’s $500 to buy them on the aa.com. Should’ve paid the $140 to multiply your miles on your last flight. Make sense? We only multiplied miles knowing we wanted to travel internationally for the honeymoon, and knew how many miles we needed.
- Follow and get obsessed with The Points Guy here. He’s brilliant. (Thanks for getting us to Bora Bora, man!)
- I read a ton of personal travel blogs. A simple google search will land you with a great helping of tips and info from others!
- Book award tickets as far in advance as you possibly can. For these tickets, we had to have them booked at least 6 months out. The earlier, the better (and fewer blackout dates and less miles needed).
- Once we had our tickets booked, we booked the hotels and transfers with our travel agent. We were able to put down a deposit of $1200, and pay the rest off in the months leading up to departure. This is GREAT if you don’t want to pay the entire thing in one hit. Our focus was to not accrue any debt with this trip, and we did just that by sticking to our budget.
In order to get to Tahiti from DFW on Oneworld, you have to either fly:
- DFW > LAX (American, 3.5 hrs) then LAX > PPT (Air Tahiti Nui, 9 hrs)
- DFW > HNL (American, 8 hrs) then HNL > PPT (Hawaiian Air, Saturday’s only, 6 hrs)
Since it was our honeymoon, and neither of us had experienced sitting in first class cabins on planes this large, we were aiming to redeem first class seats on all long haul flights round trip. The stop over in Hawaii option (#2) worked best for us because it was less miles to redeem for first class award tickets. We also heard Tahiti Nui is pretty blah, so booking on the new Hawaiian Air Airbus A330 with lay flat seats sounded pretty awesome.
MILEAGE BREAKDOWN FOR OUR TRIP*
DFW > HNL – 40,000 miles/pp (American Airlines)
HNL > PPT – 62,500 miles/pp (Hawaiian Airlines)
PPT > HNL – (we paid for this one way flight)
HNL > DFW – 37,500 miles/pp (Hawaiian Airlines)
Total miles used: 280,000
Total taxes paid for award ticket difference: $53.00
SAVINGS OF $6500-7000 IN AIRFARE
*Note: this itinerary could be done for less miles, but we opted for first class seating for the major flights listed above
BUDGETING ONCE THERE:
- To save about 40% on hotels in the French Polynesia, go during their off-season. That is September-January for us. They call it their ‘rainy season’….but we never saw rain a single time during our stay. Best part is we were one of 3 couples at both resorts we stayed at! Talk about having the place to yourselves. Perfect romantic honeymoon right there! The only time we would see other guests was at dinner at the restaurant.
- Heavily researched our resorts on tripadvisor. And spent weeks reading the hundreds of reviews left by others. SO much helpful info in them. Most of which is below….
- Adult beverages at resorts in the French Polynesia were $20 for a cocktail and $9-12 for a beer. Not including tips. So we once again got crafty and packed liters of liquor in our checked bags. Depending on the airline and destination, we could pack 2 bottles per person with Oneworld. So we packed vodka and Fireball whisky. Our priorities. (Disclaimer: I realize tastes and preferences may vary. Buy the libation of your choice.) This saved us $200+/day.
- Take advantage of the duty free on-plane experience on overseas flights. On our flight from Honolulu to Papeete, we scored a bottle of Grey Goose for $13 USD. Limit one. Damn. In addition, I also use La Mer facial moisturizer ($250/bottle retail) and I got it for $35. Happy dance!
- To avoid spending $12 a glass for cranberry or orange juice mixers at the resorts, we went to the island market by boat one day and stocked up. We did this with cases of local beer, snacks and more too. That $9-12 beer was now less than a dollar.
- Going along with the above…. Invest in YETI tumblers! We used them the entire trip. Best $80 spent. Plus the aluminum makes them super light for luggage packing.
- FOOD: Most resorts in FP include a European eating plan, which gives you free food until noon daily. Amazing food. Massive international buffets and cooking stations. Holy crap. So to save on food after 12pm hit, we would:
- Eat a late breakfast/brunch/lunch around 10 or 11am. And eat a large amount to stay full.
- I’d stuff a pastry in my purse or beach bag for a snack later.
- We would split a plate for dinner at the resort restaurants. Huge servings made it very possible, as did the prices. Seafood — as with most islands — is plentiful and the main delicacy, whereas beef and red meat are very pricey due to import fees. The fresh Sashimi and poisson cru were $12 for a massive bowl of tuna Caught that morning. A hamburger, on the other hand, was $50. Yes, $50 for a quarter pounder. There’s no moo in the middle of the South Pacific!
- Free FAST wifi. It was beautiful! Most all resorts there offer this. It was so reliable, I could transfer a 30mb RAW photo file from my camera to my cell phone in just a few seconds.
- We packed two air mattress floats (the cheap kind) to inflate once we were there. Wake up, jump off your private balcony into the water, and float. Repeat daily. Never got old. Add the YETIS to this equation for an even more enhanced experience.
- Each resort in the French Polynesia has different levels of overwater bungalows. The further down the pier your hut is, the more expensive it is per night. No matter where you stay, I can almost guarantee the water under your bungalow will be equally nice, no matter how far down the pier you are. For instance, hut closer to shore may be $500/night, whereas the hut that is furthest out is $1600/night. If you are willing to walk less and spend less, stay in ones closer to the land. At one of our resorts, we had booked a middle-level bungalow location, and actually got upgraded for free.
PART 1 – MOOREA
Once we flew into Papeete, Tahiti from Honolulu, we then took a 40-min ferry to the island of Moorea. Moorea was our first island to explore in the French Polynesia! Being a lush, larger island — Moorea is known for it’s coral reefs, snorkeling and diving. Amazing aqua waters surrounding you with tons of colorful fish, rays and underwater life!
We stayed at the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa, which came highly recommended by our travel agent and off tripadvisor.
All the black areas under the water in the photos are coral and reef. Once underwater, they are colorful and full of life!
I purchased an underwater housing for my camera. So glad I invested in this. Hands down the BEST water and reefs I’ve ever seen in all my travels. I had hours of fun making and photographing new friends! I was obsessed with this trigger fish…until he charged me and bit my finger! The next photo is the one I took of him as he was staring me down, about to charge. Trigger fish: 1, Shannon: 0
The grounds at the Hilton Moorea were impeccable. We stayed in bungalow #108.
A sunset shot from our last night in Moorea!
Then off to Bora Bora next! (aerial shot saying goodbye to Moorea below)
PART 2 – BORA BORA
After spending 4 full days on Moorea, we said our goodbyes to bungalow #108, and headed to the Moorea airport (a.k.a. chicken coop). We hopped on a regional Air Tahiti jet for the 35 min flight to Bora Bora!
This flight runs 4 times a day and is super gorgeous. I recommend sitting on the left side of the plane (facing the cockpit) for the best views landing in Bora Bora!
A little video visual to stimulate the senses. No filters!
Upon arrival at the Bora Bora airport, we were in for a treat. Instead of taxis and cars, the island uses boats solely to transfer visitors around the island and to their resorts! So you got off the plane, got your luggage like normal, and then walked outside onto a long dock. Here, there was a boat for each resort. Think ‘town car’ shuttles, but on the water. There are only a few resorts on Bora Bora, so this airport was tiny. But such a different experience!
After a 30 minute boat ride around the island, we arrive at our resort! The Intercontinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa.
This was my favorite spot throughout the 5 islands we saw in our 2 week travels.
Bora Bora is known for it’s aqua-blue, shallow and calm waters.
The wedding chapel at the Intercontinental Bora Bora Thalasso was breathtaking! The entire floor of the chapel was solid glass. Imagine getting married here?!?
Our bungalow at the end of the dock #230. No neighbors!
The water at our bungalow was about 8ft deep. Great for diving!
Our collection of leis from our trip. Each resort would welcome you with one…most being made of shells or live floral!
ACTIVITIES ON BORA BORA
Many people have asked me what there is to do on the islands, other than swim, lay out on the beach and get a tan. I wasn’t going to include these photos, as I was initially trying to keep the post with landscape photos only, but I decided to add these in to show some activities we did while there. In case laying out and being a water-lover isn’t enough action for you, here’s some offsite day trips we took in Bora Bora.
Great shot Clinton captured of me, floating in my own piece of heaven.
We did a day tour to another part of the island, where we snorkeled in a 40′ deep reef and had a motu lunch (picnic tables/chairs in the water, a common tradition in Bora Bora).
Once again, the trigger fish bit me while I was feeding them bread….
If you look really close in the above photo, you can see the 12′ nurse shark on the bottom of the reef. This water was about 50′ deep.
We went to a private beach one day. Loved this spot.
I made another friend. Actually, there were hundreds of these little guys on the beach. This was the tiniest one I could find.
Our transportation to the motu!
I will leave off with this image. This might be my favorite photograph I captured on the entire trip. It was taken on an overlook on Bora Bora. Something about the simplicity of this photo that really sums up my feelings from our entire trip.
Mauru’ uru! (Thank you in Tahitian)
Shannon Skloss Photography :: Dallas and Destination Wedding Photographer