Points and miles can make that trip to visit family a few states away more affordable, and they can take you somewhere familiar like Disney World or to see the holiday sights in New York City.
Or they can do more.
This time, we set our sights further away all the way to French Polynesia, to be exact. Instead of dining on turkey at my parents house this year, we packed up the kids and spent the Thanksgiving week in Bora Bora.
Theres no question that our four-night stay at the Conrad Bora Bora Nui was my best Hilton points redemption ever. By far. It was a stay that none of us will soon forget.
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You dont have to have been to Bora Bora or even really know where it is on a map to accurately guess that its expensive. We originally had our eyes on The St. Regis Bora Bora, but when it turned out that the Conrad was actually a better deal on points, the decision was easy.
Finding award availability was a little harder, but we were able to book three nights for 80,000 Hilton Honors points per night. Eventually, we also found the fourth night on points. By then, the award rate had increased to 89,000 points per night, still a great deal compared to the common $700-to-$1,000-per-night paid rates for an entry-level room. Plus, with Hilton, you dont pay resort fees when redeeming points.
When we booked our stay, standard rooms only displayed as available using points within the Hilton app and not the regular website. I have no idea if that is common or a one-time fluke, but it was a tip that worked for us. If you have trouble finding standard award rooms, consider premium awards, as those room types are slightly easier to secure than the few standard garden-view Lagoon Suites that now price at 89k Hilton points per night.
Depending on your dates, you may even be able to redeem points for pool villas or overwater villas but be prepared to spend a ton of points. What might be a better plan if you want to sleep over the water is to redeem points for the base level room and then pay a cash copay for the overwater villa. With kids, our needs were better met in a centrally located room on dry land. We did receive standby-upgrade offers that started at around $50 extra for a land villa upgrade and about $400 extra for an entry-level overwater villa. Remember, those are per-night charges, and the prices for your dates may vary.
You can rack up Hilton points to cover some nights at the Conrad Bora Bora Nui many different ways, including with a limited-time 150,000-point offer with $3,000 in spending in the first three months on the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card. This TPG exclusive offer also comes with a $100 statement credit after your first purchase on the card in the first three months. (The offer ends Dec. 31, 2019. Terms apply.)
Another option, especially if you want Hilton Diamond status, is to get the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express, which also has a 150,000 Hilton-points bonus (after spending $4,000 in purchases in the first three months) and a weekend-night award certificate.
If two people each got a 150k Hilton card, you could then combine the points for free and have more than enough points for three nights at 89k points per night. If one person got the Aspire Card, then youd also have a weekend-night certificate and Hilton Diamond status that you could put to great use on a trip to Bora Bora.
At a minimum, you want at least Hilton Gold status before your trip so you can save about $100 per morning for a full buffet breakfast for two. If you dont have a Hilton credit card, you can also get Hilton Gold status via The Platinum Card from American Express or a status match from another hotel program.
Bora Bora is in French Polynesia, but to get there you have to first fly to Faa International Airport (PPT) in Papeete, Tahiti, which is also in French Polynesia. You have a few ways to get to Tahiti using points and miles, but your choices are limited from the U.S. Once you arrive in Tahiti, spend the first night at the InterContinental Tahiti near the airport before continuing on to Bora Bora, which is what we did.
To get to Bora Bora, youll likely need to book an island-hopping flight via Air Tahiti. While you can use fixed-value points to cover the cost of the flight, you wont redeem traditional airline miles for this one. These flights also arent as cheap as you may think, even though the flight time is only about 45 minutes.
Expect to pay about $400 to $500 round-trip for these flights from Papeete to Bora Bora (BOB). That means you can potentially spend about 27,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points from the Chase Sapphire Reserve, if you prefer to book via Chase.
Regardless of how you book flights, once you arrive in Bora Bora, theres still one more step to go. Since the airport is on a small island, you need to take a boat to your hotel. To save money, you can take the included Air Tahiti ferry to Vaitape on Bora Bora and then catch a ride from there to your resort. But its most likely youll take the hotels boat transfer directly from Bora Bora Airpot.
In the case of the Conrad Bora Bora, that 20-minute boat transfer was 139,000 French Polynesian francs ($130) per adult, with the kids for free. To catch the boat, we simply headed to the Conrad sign in the airport, where they helped transfer our luggage from the plane to the boat.
After a ride around iconic Mount Otemanu, we pulled up to the Conrads private island.
Check-in took place in a small indoor area near the boat dock. We were welcomed with a cool towel and a welcome beverage, along with the check-in paperwork.
We were assigned the same room type that wed booked, with no upgrades mentioned during check-in, which was fine by us. After the paperwork portion of the day was over, we hopped in a golf cart and were given a driving tour of the resort by one of the check-in agents, which helped us get a lay of the land (and water).
After about 10 minutes, we arrived at our suite, Room 510. The bags were already waiting for us, so after a brief tour of the room, we were left alone to finally begin our vacation. Whew!
All of the rooms at the Conrad Bora Bora are really suites or villas, so even though we were in a standard room, it wasnt really just a room. Our suite consisted of a living area with a sofa bed, a rollaway bed and a TV wall that separated the living area from the sleeping area, though there wasnt full separation or a door.
Both the sleeping and living side of the wall had a TV, but we were unimpressed by the variety of channels. (And yes, with kids, you spend time in the room, even in paradise.)
The room was rated for two adults and two children, which was great for us.
This was French Polynesia, so while there were plenty of outlets, we needed to pack converters to charge up our devices, just as in Europe.
The bathroom was ginormous, with two large, separate vanities, a deep tub, a walk-in shower and separate room for the toilet.
Water pressure, temperature and towels were all excellent. The toiletries in the bathroom were Mandarin Tea and thankfully not mounted to the wall, so we were able to use them in both the tub and the shower.
Even with four of us along for the journey and lots of wet swimsuits and such each day, we had plenty of room for us and our stuff in the bathroom.
We noticed that the bathroom windows seemed to be permanently open to some degree, so be sure and keep the sliding door to the bathroom shut if you want to adequately cool the living and sleeping portions of the suite.
Housekeeping was great at coming pretty early in the day while we were out and about, and turndown service left a few bottles of water each evening. There were also a few welcome treats, such as water for us and candy for the girls, waiting for us when we first entered the room.
One small issue we had was that the coffee cups in the minibar were never restocked, and turndown service was relatively basic, with no rotating evening treat the way you often find at other, more high-end resorts.
Those minor issues aside, we loved the suite. Its extremely central location close to the kids club, pools and restaurants worked out better for our kiddos than if wed been on some far end of the resort in an over-water villa especially when it was raining, as was common for part of most days we were there.
Food and beverage
The restaurants at the Conrad Bora Bora included a beach grill, an evening lounge bar with sushi, a nice Chinese restaurant open for dinner, a French restaurant open for dinner, and 24-hour room service. We tried all of them except the French restaurant during our four-night stay.
Upa Upa Lounge Bar lounge was near the boat dock and opened at 5 p.m. each evening. In addition to drinks, the lounge primarily served sushi, though the kids menu had child-friendly foods beyond sushi.
There was an inside sitting area that looked down onto the ocean below through a glass-bottom floor, or you could sit out on the dock and watch the sunset.
We ate here twice during our stay, and the time we came right at 5 p.m. (before it was crowded), the experience and food were fantastic. You can view the full menu online, but the sushi combo shown below (called Lovers in Bora Bora) was priced at around $90. Expect cocktails to start around $25 and go up from there.
Heres a look at the childrens menu and nuggets with fries. Child meals across the resort were about $18.
The evening we came at a busier hour, closer to 7 p.m., the service was quite slow, so try to come early. I will add that that night the beach grill was also closed, so its likely that the lounge was simply overwhelmed, since there werent as many places to eat on the island that night.
Tamura Beach Grill was open for lunch and then again at dinner with a special themed dinner on Tuesdays. It was partially covered and stood on soft sand. The other part of the grill was consisted of interesting sitting areas around water features. That all sounded and looked great, but be sure and spray your legs for bugs, as I was dinner for some creatures while enjoying my own meal here.
On this menu were salads, burgers, pizza, pasta and fish. I went for the tuna tataki with fried rice (about $35), and it was pretty good. The kids menu here, like at all the restaurants we visited, was around $18 per meal.
While the first two restaurants mentioned didnt seem to require reservations for most nights, the Chinese and French restaurants did. There were only 30 seats in Banyan Chinese Restaurant, so we made a reservation for our last night the day we arrived. Thankfully, this restaurant had some seats indoors, which we were more than ready for by our last night.
You could order a la carte or from a set menu. (Heres a link to the menu online.)
I went for the Discovery Menu, a multicourse meal that cost about $90. My selections were hot and sour soup, wok-fried lagoon fish and some sort of mango-flavored heaven for dessert. It also came with fried rice, and dumplings also appeared, even though I didnt really notice those included on the menu.
The fried rice was average, but most of the rest of the meal was plenty good and a nice change of pace from some of the other on-island options.
Last but very, very far from least, was the daily included breakfast buffet that we got thanks to our Hilton Gold status. Breakfast was served in the French restaurant. It was open air, which made for lovely views, but we needed bug spray some mornings.
The normal price for the breakfast buffet was close to $50 per person, but our family of four never saw a bill of any sort thanks to my Hilton Gold status.
Breakfast starts at 7 a.m., and on the buffet we found everything from outstanding croissants and pastries to little eggrolls, bacon, sausage, fruit, cheese, meat, eggs, poisson cru and so much more.
Servers brought plenty of fresh juice and hot coffee to our table. (And yes, there was also iced coffee and almond milk, in case you were wondering.)
For an upcharge, you could order pancakes, waffles, crepes, French toast, omelets and other breakfast-y foods. Normally, this fee was around $8, though I was told kids under 5 could place an order from the menu for free. There was plenty to choose from the buffet, so we never needed to order anything a la carte.
If you are at all into spa days, budget a trip or two to the spa at the Conrad Bora Bora Nui.
The spa sat at the top of the resort, which made for breathtaking and almost unbelievable views, especially at sunset.
The spa itself was actually also breathtaking on the inside. In fact, it was so relaxing and nice that I just had to visit twice.
I can vouch for the mixed pressure of the Tahitian massage, and Ill always, always remember the postcard-perfect views from the treatment rooms.
A 50-minute massage was about $165 before the tip, but that number included service fees and tax, making the price of the spa not all that bad for being in the middle of the ocean.
A great way to get around the large property was via bike, and there were bikes scattered about the resort free for the taking. The bikes were not all in the best condition, but it was a cool way to get around the resort when you could find one, which got progressively harder as the day went on and people left them near their villas.
There were a few child-size bikes for younger cruisers, though I didnt notice any with training wheels.
Those who brought little ones to the middle of paradise (raises hand) were thrilled by the included kids club, open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
I never saw a minimum age listed but noticed children ages 3 and 4 in the club.
You could also hire nannies outside of the kids-club hours for any age. We booked a nanny to watch our two kids for three hours one evening, and it cost about $110. Most importantly, the kids had a great time. We even saw them run by with the nanny while we were eating, and they were having a blast.
If swimming and biking werent enough to keep you occupied, there was a 24-hour gym next to the kids club. My lack of photo will serve as proof that we didnt have time for that.
There were daily activities at the resort, and we saw listings for coconut opening, stretching, a beach volleyball tournament, lei making and ab workouts, but we didnt do any of that, either. Each day, there were around five different hotel activities beyond snorkeling and swimming.
The Conrad Bora Bora was on its own island and had an exquisite stretch of beach.
Not only was the white sand soft and beautiful, you could snorkel just off the shore all around the resort. Colorful fish were plentiful, and the resort was working hard to restore fish habitats, so there was plenty to look at as you splashed around. There were plenty of snorkels, masks and fins at the activity desk near the pool for no extra charge.
You could use paddleboards, kayaks and small catamarans for no added fee.
As nice as the beach was the two-level, zero-entry infinity pool.
There were four first-come, first-served cabanas that made for lovely poolside naps.
There was also a swim-up bar, and you could press a button at the chairs and cabanas for drinks or meal service. But again, paradise wasnt cheap, so that pina colada set us back about $30 unless we ordered during happy hour from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., when the price dropped to around $14.
In order to keep food costs under control, we normally ate a big buffet breakfast and then either skipped lunch or kept it limited to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that may or may not have come from the buffet. We paired that with $2 chips from the gift shop. That allowed us to indulge in the occasional pina colada without going broke on food.
If you have some budget to spare and want to do something really cool, you can have the hotel set up an excursion to their private islet for a picnicking or snorkeling adventure.
Im pretty sure we didnt pass a single employee during our stay who didnt say hello as we went by. Everyone we encountered was certainly cordial. The speed of the service varied a bit day to day, though, and staff didnt fulfill some requests. For example, when it was time to catch our boat home, we called to have our bags brought to the boat twice and no one ever came. In the end, we hauled the bags out to the dock ourselves. The few pieces of laundry we had done also werent returned to the room until we called to track them down.
On the flip side, the evening my youngest daughter wasnt feeling well and didnt really eat, we called room service late at night in search of apple sauce and bananas. They had neither, but they sent complimentary apple juice and yogurt to the room and were sure to have apple sauce and bananas for her at breakfast the next day.
There were no major service gaps, but it was uneven. What was most interesting was that even though we were essentially on a private island, I didnt feel like we got to know the staff here like is common in the Maldives. There was no managers reception or point person or butler who got to know us as our stay went on, the way youd likely find at The St. Regis Maldives, for example.
If you are considering a trip to Bora Bora, my advice is to do it. Furthermore, if you are unsure where to stay, the Conrad Bora Bora Nui is an excellent choice. While its true that only a few of the water villas at this resort have a view of Mount Otemanu, its a fantastic overall use of Hilton points whether youre bringing the kids or booking an adults-only getaway. It took a few steps to reach the resort from the U.S. mainland, but the longest flight from the West Coast to Tahiti is only eight hours. The time zone was just two hours earlier than Pacific time, making this a realistic destination for four or five nights, since you shouldnt have significant jet lag.
Bora Bora was the perfect destination for our family, and I wouldnt hesitate to return to French Polynesia or the Conrad Bora Bora Nui in the future. Maybe next time well make it a stop on a longer trip to New Zealand, which is just a few more hours away.