Dan & I traveled to French Polynesia in August on a whim after it reopened to Americans on July 15th! After spending nearly two weeks in the islands, these are our budget tips for traveling to French Polynesia. Because French Polynesia is expensive and really, who doesn’t love to save some money for that next trip?!!
We had an AMAZING time in French Polynesia. The water is more turquoise than you can imagine. The tuna rivals that from Japan. The views from the mountains are stunning. French Polynesia is truly a bucket list destination. However, French Polynesia is quite expensive. Like $30 Pina Colada expensive.
That being said, you can travel to French Polynesia and not break the bank. Here are our top 10 (+ 1 bonus!) budget tips for staying (somewhat) on a budget in French Polynesia, based on our recent experience!
1. Acquire status with your hotel. Many hotels have loyalty programs and participating in such programs can save you $$$. Our favorite (and likely the best value in French Polynesia) is our Hilton Aspire credit card, which provides us with “Diamond Status” at Hilton properties. Due to our status, we stayed at the Conrad Bora Bora (a Hilton property) and the Hilton Mo’orea Lagoon and Spa. Our Diamond status gave us complimentary breakfast each morning (a $50-ish US benefit per person at the Conrad and $30-ish US benefit per person on Mo’orea), a “welcome gift” of chocolate bonbons and cookies, late check out, early check in, and a guaranteed upgrade (*when available*). We also purchased Ambassador status with Intercontinental at $200 US for a 12 month membership. Ambassador status gave us a $19 room credit per day, 2 free drinks as a “welcome gift,” and an upgrade, which for two nights was to an overwater bungalow!! These free perks certainly add up, particularly if you are visiting French Polynesia on a budget. As mentioned, in our opinion Hilton’s Diamond status is the most valuable program in French Polynesia, mostly due to the guaranteed free breakfast given the high cost of food at resorts in French Polynesia (while upgrades are nice, an overwater upgrade is rare).
2. Bring your own alcohol. As mentioned above, alcohol in French Polynesia, especially on resorts, is pricey. To save on alcohol costs and “booze on a budget,” bring your own alcohol from home or purchase alcohol at the duty free store on arrival in French Polynesia. Adults entering French Polynesia can bring in five bottles of wine or two liters of liquor duty free. We brought wine from home in our checked luggage, but there is a duty free shop as soon as you clear immigration at the Pape’ete airport (open when flights arrive, even at 5 AM). Perfect for a drink in your overwater bungalow or to make your $30 Pina Colada a bit stronger. If you miss both of these budget tips, visit a wine/alchol shop in Pape’ete. La Cave de Tahiti, linked below, is a good option. This will still be far less expensive than drinking on the resorts, especially those on Bora Bora.
3. And on the booze note, look for “Golden Hour” deals at hotels and restaurants. A Golden Hour is essentially a happy hour with two-for-one drinks, half-priced drinks, or a special menu offering select drinks at a discount. Sometimes food is also included on this budget menu. Another good way to save money on drinks and “booze on a budget.”
4. Limit your stay to Tahiti and Moo’rea. GASP, I know – no Bora Bora!! The reason I say this is because flying from Tahiti to other islands in French Polynesia is budget breakingly expensive, like no less than $200 US each way per person, often for a very short flight (and often more expensive). This equautes to an additional $800 US at least just to get to and from Bora Bora. Air Tahiti runs all of these flights and the only competition is a private plane, so there is really no incentive to keep prices down. However, Tahiti and Moorea are connected via an inexpensive ($30 US round trip per person) 45-minute ferry ride, enabling you to save that flight money for other fun activities!
5. And following up on # 4, seriously considering skipping Bora Bora. Everything on Bora Bora is more expensive than anywhere else, simply because its Bora Bora. Plus, coupled with that expensive 50 minute flight on Air Tahiti, on arrival visitors need to take a boat from the airport to their hotel. While very, very cool, said boat ride also very, very expensive – approximately $150 US per person round trip. In short, it cost Dan and me an extra $1300 US just to get to our hotel in Bora Bora… (he also may kill me when he reads this, not sure he calculated the price). Avoid Bora Bora at all costs if you are visiting French Polynesia on a budget, especially a tight budget.
6. Take advantage of free activities at your hotel. Free?? Yes, I said free! Most hotels have complimentary access to “water toys” for guests. Both the Hiltons and the Intercontinental offered kayaks, stand up paddle boards, and snorkeling gear, among other things. The Hilton also offered bicycles and free demonstrations on certain days. And of course, there is also the budget friendly activities of swimming in the gorgeous waters or relaxing by the pool! You can have a great time without going on a fancy excursion every day. Some of our favorite days were relaxing at the hotel.
7. Overwater bungalows. Ugh, this is a tough one for the budget traveler. An overwater bungalow is probably a check on your bucket list and maybe one of the precise reasons you came to French Polynesia. While overwater bungalows are really, really fabulous and luxurious (we previously stayed in one on Langkawi – read about it here), Dan and I both agree that after 2 nights, its just another hotel room. Plus, not all overwater bungalows are created equal, and they don’t necessarily look like they do in those IG photos in real life. If you must do an overwater bungalow on a budget, do it for a night or two and then move to a less expensive room (those on Mo’orea are usually the cheapest – though you can get them on Hilton points). Most all of the rooms at fancy French Polynesian hotels are good rooms. And on the overwater bungalow note, don’t blow your whole budget on the OWB. You will want/need that money for fun activities.
8. Plan out and budget your excursions in advance. There are countless fun activities in French Polynesia, and they are often expensive. For example, an morning SCUBA diving or riding a jet ski for two can easily set you back at least $500 US for two people. The options can be overwhelming, particularly if you are seeing this information for the first time on arrival. Look up your island’s and “best activities” to find out what is available and a general price range prior to departure. I also recommend booking in advance where possible. Even during COVID times, tours were full. To get the most bang for your buck on a budget, take tours that include lunch or drinks. We did a shark and stingray snorkeling tour with Miti Tours on Mo’orea, booking the cheaper non-lunch version. We ended up being upgraded to the lunch-option (as everyone else picked that option), and the lunch was fantastic and included a lot of booze!
9. Check the price of “extras” before buying. Hotels offer many extravagant experiences in French Polynesia, from a magical sunset dinner on the beach for two, to breakfast delivered in a traditional canoe, to swimming with sharks and whales. Many of these experiences are way more expensive than you would imagine and more expensive than the same would be in other parts of the world. Confirm the price prior to booking, as many hotels do not disclose the price on their website. This is true even if you are not on a budget!
10. Eat off resort. Eating “off resort” where feasible, such as in Pape’ete on Tahiti or in a restaurant in Mo’orea, can provide a much better meal for at least the same price (if not less) as eating at hotel restaurants. Be sure to calculate the cost of taxis (fixed price) on Tahiti. On Mo’orea, many restaurants will send a complimentary shuttle to pick up and drop off hotel guests if you call during the day, making eating “off resort” an even better option! In addition to being a budget option, eating off-resort is also a nice way to experience the local culture. Note, this is not quite as feasible in Bora Bora due to the fact that you have to take a water taxi to and from the main town.
11. And last, not quite a budget tip, but high season in French Polynesia is high for a reason – good weather. The weather at other times is not nearly as nice and it can rain a lot. I wouldn’t risk bad weather in off-season to save a few dollars, although I’m sure a lot of people would disagree. That being said, I know multiple people who visited during off season (i.e. rainy season) and they had rain for 5 of 7 days.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Conrad Bora Bora: Super luxurious hotel in Bora Bora. We used a free night certificate here, were upgraded, received a daily complimentary breakfast buffet, and were gifted a welcome amenity (still and sparkling water, fresh pineapple juice, and chocolate bon bons) due to our Hilton Diamond status, obtained via our Hilton Aspire Card. Hidden costs at the Conrad are a required roundtrip boat ride to and from the airport for $150 per person, very expensive drinks, and a fee about around $20 US per person to leave the resort via water taxi.
Hilton Mo’orea Lagoon & Spa: Much less luxurious than the Conrad, but in an equally gorgeous location. Its almost always cheaper to stay in an overwater bungalow on Mo’orea than Bora Bora. Like at the Conrad, we received a daily complimentary breakfast buffet, were upgraded to a Panoramic overwater bungalow, and were gifted a welcome amenity (cookies and a half bottle of sparking wine) due to our Hilton Diamond status, obtained via our Hilton Aspire Card. Side note – we had to ask for our welcome amenity multiple times!
Intercontinetal Tahiti: Very popular in Tahiti due to its proximity to the airport. We received an upgrade for both stays (once to an overwater bungalow), welcome drinks, and a $19 credit per stay due to our Ambasador status, which we purchased for 12 months for $200 US.
Aremiti Ferry: One of two ferry companies operating from Pape’ete to Mo’orea. No need to buy tickets in advance – just arrive about 30 minutes before your ferry (and that’s probably more than enough time, unless you are driving a car). Cost is approximately $30 US per person round trip. Budget tip – the restaurant at the ferry terminal is quite reasonably priced.
Teravu Ferry: The other ferry company operating from Pape’ete to Mo’orea. The two companies use the same terminal.
Mo’orea Breach Cafe: Pk6 Maharepa cote mer, 98728, French Polynesia. Open 11:30 – 21:00. Closed Monday and Tuesday. MBC’s complimentary shuttle picks up/drops off at Mo’orea hotels if you make a reservation (as will many restaurants in Mo’orea). Instagrammable setting but unecessarily snooty staff.
Rudy’s: PK 6,9 Coastal Road, 98728, French Polynesia. Open daily 17:30 – 22:00. Awesome restaurant, and one of two favorites on my trip! Rudy’s complimentary shuttle picks up/drops off at Mo’orea hotels if you make a reservation (as will many restaurants in Mo’orea).
Les Roulottes: Place Vaiete, Pape’ete. The famous food trucks. Open nightly, even during COVID.
Mo’orea Miti Tours: Our tour with lunch, which was actually fantastic! We did the snorkeling and lunch tour. Again, lunch was FANTASTIC.
La Cave de Tahiti: Across from the McDonalds in Pape’ete. Open 8:00 – 18:00. Closed Sunday. A good place to stock up on French wine and alcohol. This is where we purchased the sparkling pineapple wine. Also sold at the Juice Factory on Mo’orea.
ON A BUDGET
This post is for you! In my opinion, it would be really hard to properly visit French Polynesia on a shoe string budget. But, these tips will save you lots of $$$.