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9 Ways to Save and What’s Worth a Splurge

Tahiti. Moorea. Bora Bora. The famously expensive islands of French Polynesia might seem beyond your travel budget, but if you know how to save, you can enjoy a visit without breaking the bank.

Lesser-known islands, like Raiatea, are just as beautiful and can be more affordable.

By Donna Heiderstadt, Islands

Tahiti is definitely one of those places travelers cite as a dream trip — for a honeymoon, romantic getaway or anniversary — but the islands of French Polynesia are also notoriously tricky for anyone on a budget. Enjoying those legendary overwater bungalows and surreal blue lagoons can practically cause the plastic in your wallet to melt! But by knowing a few tips on how to save and what’s worth the splurge, you can visit Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora and other islands in this South Pacific archipelago and stick to your budget. Here are nine ways to save.


Visit during low season.

Tropical Tahiti is warm year-round, but there are two distinct seasons. High season is the “dry” season (March to November), when temperatures average about 80 degrees and there’s minimal rain. Low season is the “rainy” season (December to late February), when the air is a bit warmer (high 80s) and more humid with bursts of showers that typically last a half hour or less (and rarely ruin an entire day). Visit during low season to snag the best hotel prices, which can dip 25-40 percent in January and February.


Play around with airfare dates.

Flights from Los Angeles to Tahiti’s Faa’a International Airport in Papeete don’t come cheap. Air Tahiti Nui and Air France/Delta are the nonstop options and roundtrip economy fares range from just under $900 to more than $1,600. Use an airfare comparison tool to check for the lowest airfares. Flying on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday versus Sunday or Monday, for example, might save you several hundred dollars per ticket, especially during peak wedding/honeymoon season. Booking at least six months in advance can lock in a cheaper airfare, too. Also, consider United, which recently launched a direct flight from several U.S. cities.


Look for a package deal.

As you’re pricing flights and hotels, also search online for package deals that bundle airfare, airport transfers, accommodations, daily breakfast and even a few dinners into one per-person price (generally starting in the $2,500-$3,500 range for seven nights). You’ll find deals from online travel agent sites, Costco, Air Tahiti Nui and others. Shop around for the best options that include daily breakfast (and preferably several dinners) since food costs are one of the biggest budget-busters.


Skip the overwater bungalow — or just book for a night or two.

Yes, the dream is to stay in an overwater bungalow, but at $500-$1,000 per night they don’t fit into most budgets for an entire week. Luckily, many resorts have hotel rooms and garden bungalows priced at $200-$400 per night. A few to check out are the Sofitel, Pearl, Manava, Hilton and InterContinental resorts on Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora. Book most nights in a room or garden bungalow and then trade up to an overwater bungalow for the last night or two. Tip: Overwater bungalows are cheaper on Moorea than Bora Bora.


Book an AirBnb.

If you’re a fan of AirBnb rentals, Tahiti can be a great deal. You’ll find dozens of options with prices in the $60 to $150 per night range. Just keep in mind that some residences might be a distance away from markets or beaches and, beyond Tahiti island itself, public transport is limited. Be sure to figure those logistics into your budget ahead of time.


Opt for lesser-known islands.

Most first-time visitors see the main three islands (Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora), but if you want to save money and prefer less-touristy locales, look into Huahine and Raiatea (located not far from Bora Bora) or Rangiroa, Tikehau or Fakarava (located in the Tuamotu islands and known for diving).


Consider a cruise.

While cruising Tahiti doesn’t come cheap, there is inherent value (no interisland flights are required and all meals are included) if you can score a sale fare. Fares for a 10-night roundtrip departing from Papeete on January 21 or 31, 2019, on Oceania’s Oceania Marina start at $2,799 per person. Windstar Cruises also has air-cruise-hotel packages that include flights from Los Angeles, transfers, a pre-cruise hotel night on Tahiti and a seven-night cruise on 148-passenger Wind Spirit, starting at $4,399 per person. And Paul Gauguin Cruises has seven-night sailings (including airfare from Los Angeles) in December 2018 on 332-passenger ms Paul Gauguin, starting at $3,995 per person. These may not seem like deals, but in a place where every little thing adds up quickly, a seamless cruise experience might be worth it.


Dine smart.

Resort breakfast buffet prices are $30-$60 per person, so it’ smart to bring along protein bars and buy local fruit and yogurt for a light DIY meal; another option is to order one room-service breakfast and split it (there is usually enough food for two). Also plan to dine locally rather than just at the resort — there are typically small mom-and-pop restaurants within a short walk or bike ride from many properties — and make lunch your most filling meal since menu prices inflate after sunset. If you do have dinner at your resort check out the bar menu, which is often less expensive than restaurant menus.


BYOB.

Wine, beer and spirits are more expensive in Tahiti than at home, but you can save by packing a few bottles in your checked luggage and/or buying your preferred alcohol at duty free or a local market and enjoying cocktails on your terrace rather than by running up a big bar tab. Some resorts have a happy hour with reduced prices, so that’s the time to be social.


Know what’s worth the splurge.

Some things just need to be experienced — like Bora Bora and its brilliant lagoon. Don’t skip it, just search for the best possible deals. And if you can splurge, book a soothing Polynesian taurumi massage with scented monoi oil. If feeling adventurous, a shark and stingray feeding followed by a picnic on a private motu (a small sandy island) is definitely worth it.
Tahiti, Bora Bora, Overwater Bungalows, Pacific
Book an Airbnb rental on the main island of Bora Bora to save.

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