French Polynesia

Bora Bora on a Budget: How to Save Money in Paradise

travel blogger Amanda visits Bora Bora

I’ve heard the joke, “I’d like to go to Bora Bora, but then I’d be too Poora Poora” more times than I can count.

Which is funny, because the island’s name traditionally started with “P” in the Tahitian language. Bora Bora IS actually Pora Pora, when you look at its ancient roots. So yes, the warning is in the name itself.

Is Bora Bora expensive? Yes.

Is Bora Bora worth it? Absolutely.

After visiting Bora Bora, I can certainly confirm from first-hand experience that yes, Bora Bora is expensive, but can also confirm that there are big ways to save money in paradise. If Bora Bora is on your bucket list and you think it’s unattainable because only celebrities can afford this lavish luxury, think again.

I’m going to share with you some practical money-saving tips to make your Bora Bora dreams come true.

About my trip: My husband and I stayed at Le Meridien Bora Bora for two nights. Were two days enough? Of course not! But it was for our wallet. We spent all our time at the resort.

What kind of Bora Bora vacation do you want?

About your trip: What kind of vacation do you expect to experience in Bora Bora? Many imagine overwater bungalows or private villas with a Tahitian canoe delivering breakfast at dawn. If you’re expecting a Kardashian version of Bora Bora, yep, definitely plan to sell your first born.

What is non-negotiable for you? Is any overwater bungalow good enough for you? What about a view of Mount Otemanu? Would you melt away without air conditioning? Or maybe you want to visit Bora Bora simply for its crystal blue water and unreal snorkeling? Or maybe coconut drinks on the beach sound more appealing that spending time in your room?

Whatever is most important to you is fine, but you need to understand that if you’re on a budget you may need to prioritize what is non-negotiable in order to make a vacation to Bora Bora happen. Some things may need to be compromised.

If a premium bungalow with mountain views is your dream, you may need to forego the excursions. Or, if snorkeling the reefs and fine dining is a top priority, consider staying in a garden bungalow instead.

A note on the exchange rate: crazy, but for some reason it’s “different” in Bora Bora. Read: you get less bang for your buck in Bora Bora than the rest of French Polynesia. No idea why, or how, but when we showed up at our resort, much to our surprise, concierge explained that the exchange rate in Bora Bora makes our dollar weaker than everywhere else in the islands of Tahiti. Keep this in mind when you’re budgeting for your trip to Bora Bora.

Hidden Costs of Bora Bora

The cash register starts it’s cha-ching before you even step foot on Bora Bora. Simply getting to Bora Bora squeezes the wallet.

So before you even get stars in your eyes for an underwater bungalow, begin your budgeting at the airport. 

The flight.

You can’t swim to Bora Bora and you can’t sail to Bora Bora (unless you’re on a cruise). How to get to Bora Bora? The only way to reach Bora Bora is by plane. First you must fly to Tahiti. Then, to Bora Bora. It’s similar distance as a trip from Detroit to Chicago, about a one-hour flight. While your international airfare varies based on your departure location, the airfare from Tahiti to Bora Bora is always the same, with prices fluctuating only by season.

When you fly also makes a difference to the price. February, March, April, and May are considered “low season” with airfare cheaper than the high season months. These lower prices are due to the rainy season when less tourists visit. If rainy season scares you, consider traveling in May, a shoulder month that historically shows beautiful weather.

You can optimize your time in Bora Bora by taking the early flight in and late flight out. Think of it as squeezing more value from your dollar. :)

Your luggage.

Inter-island flights have different baggage restrictions to consider. Passengers are allowed one carry-on and one checked bag that meet the size requirements. Check with Air Tahiti’s website to confirm baggage restrictions, but at the time of this post, the requirements are as follows:

  • Carry-on bag: 11 pounds (5 kg) with dimensions of 17 x 13 x 7 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm)
  • Checked bag: 50 pounds (23 kg) with dimensions of no more than 59 inches (150cm) total.

Passengers can book a more expensive “special ticket” that allow for a weight increase up to 100 pounds. Why is this a hidden cost if bags are included in the airfare? Well, if you do not have a bag that meets the restrictions, you may have to purchase new luggage (not cheap) or pay for a special ticket for the extra weight/oversize bag. Our checked bags were too large so we had to purchase a smaller checked bag to meet the restrictions prior to our vacation. Keep this in mind when planning a trip to Bora Bora.

Hotel transport.

So now you’ve landed in paradise. The water sparkles a shade of blue your eyes have never seen, the scent of tiare mixes with the ocean breeze. Time to gather your luggage and mosey on over to your accommodation…

Oh wait. The Bora Bora airport is on a small motu. The only way off? A boat transfer. The boat is arranged by your accommodation and usually added to your final bill. The transfer for two people + baggage for Le Meridien? Oh just a mere $250ish. …aaaand there goes my line item for rum coconuts on the beach. The transfer varies depending on where you stay. Make sure you check with your hotel prior to booking. While in Bora Bora, I discovered a workaround to lower the cost of the hotel transfer —  more on that in the money saving tips section of this post. 

Whew, all that money spent and you’ve barely even arrived!

The Bora Bora Budget Breakers

Food, alcohol, room rate. 

These are what I like to call the “budget breakers.”

These are the variable costs that ALL quietly impact your budget’s bottom line. The more time you spend in Bora Bora, the more these items add up at the end of your trip. Somehow one little poolside margarita turns into a $500 bar tab after two days. That $500/night bungalow sounds like a steal until you decide to spend 5 nights in Bora Bora.

The food is expensive. The alcohol is expensive. The rooms are expensive.

This is where self control and managing your expectations comes into play.

But PLEASE don’t get discouraged. These are some of the realities of traveling to Bora Bora that I need to lay on the table for you first. There is hope! I do have practical tips to save money in Bora Bora below.

Tips to Save Money in Bora Bora

This isn’t your “stop drinking Starbucks to save up for Bora Bora” post. These are practical, cost-saving, budget-conscious tips to make a dream vacation in paradise more attainable, that could help you save thousands of dollars. Here are some ways you can visit Bora Bora on a budget.

Cash in your travel rewards.

Have any hotel points? Frequent flyer miles? Perhaps you have a credit card with travel rewards? Take inventory of your travel rewards. Can you apply any to this trip? Maybe enough Marriott points for a room upgrade?

This is how we visited Bora Bora for almost free (almost… those rum coconuts, man!).

Let me give you some context. Back in 2015, we wanted to honeymoon in the islands of Tahiti. But with the expenditures of a wedding, we decided to reserve this trip for the future, when the financial scars of a wedding healed themselves. Around this time, I opened an amazing  travel rewards credit card: Chase Sapphire Premiere. Shortly after that, I began traveling more for work, staying at Marriott properties. After years of squirreling away those points, I’d acquired enough to cover two international flights to Tahiti and a stay in a premium overwater bungalow at Le Meridien Bora Bora. As Le Meridien is Marriott property, I also had enough Marriott points saved up to cover a night.

In addition, I have another travel rewards credit card, Barclaycard, where I applied points to other travel expenses (such as inter-island flights). Long-term saving of these points did the trick to acquire enough rewards to make a significant impact on an expensive trip like Tahiti/Bora Bora. If you don’t have a travel rewards credit card today, I highly recommend the Chase Sapphire and Barclaycard. I’ve been pleased with both for many years. The Chase link is my referral link, so if you sign up, I’ll get some bonus points! Thanks in advance! *smile*

Remember: Only open a travel rewards credit card if you are financially responsible and are disciplined in your purchasing behavior and can afford to pay off your credit card every month.

Travel during low season.

As mentioned earlier, rainy season is considered low season in Tahiti. When you travel during low season, the tourists dwindle and the prices do too. Consider traveling in low season, especially during a shoulder month like May, when the weather is beautiful! Low season in Bora Bora is considered to be November through April (not including the holidays).

Book in advance.

Do not delay in booking your accommodation, especially if it is one of the more affordable options like Pearl Beach. There are limited rooms and the less lavish rooms get scooped up quickly. Booking in advance will guarantee a more affordable room rate and prevent you from reserving a room at a more expensive resort out of desperation. Supply and demand!

Reduce your room rate.

Rather than spend your monthly mortgage payment for one night at a luxurious resort with an overwater bungalow, consider modest resorts or economy rooms with less amenities. Your eyes are closed anyway when you’re sleeping. Hey – you’re still waking up in paradise!

Sleep with less amenities. If the room amenities are not important to you, consider a room with less features for a significantly reduced rate. A smaller garden bungalow or beach bungalow is much friendlier to your wallet than the private villa or premium bungalow. Let’s look at Le Meridien, for example. The room prices vary based on room size, room view, and room location. A premium sized overwater bungalow at the end of the pontoon with a view of the bay and Mount Otemanu is almost DOUBLE the price of a classic, standard room at the beginning of the pontoon with a “less thrilling” view (obstructed by the other overwater bungalows, which, in my opinion, is still amazing).

Seek BOGOs. Some resorts offer seasonal promotions, package deals, and discounts. A couple we met stayed at Pearl Beach because they offered a BOGO deal and stayed in Bora Bora for three nights for the price of two. I’ve also seen resorts include breakfast if a minimum of three nights are booked. To find these deals, go to the resort’s website and see if they have a “Promotions” or “Special Offers” section.

Stay on Bora Bora. If money is the biggest barrier holding you back from Bora Bora, seriously consider staying on the main island of Bora Bora. Sure, you will not get the view of Mount Otemanu out your window, but at the end of the day, YOU’RE STILL IN BORA BORA. If you stay on the island you’ll have better access to a variety of affordable restaurants and food trucks. You’ll have a down-to-earth experience that doesn’t tie you down to the constraints of a resort. When researching places to stay, I saw many guesthouses (pensions) on the main island for less than $200/night. If you are considering something on the island, just look at a satellite view of Bora Bora in google maps and start perusing the coastline to see what pops up. Some of these places may not be in the search results on major hotel aggregators. Also look at AirBNB. Remember, these options may not be overwater bungalows, but they’re still in paradise! There are a few on island resorts with overwater bungalows, such as Hotel Sofitel Bora Bora Marara Beach Resort and InterContinental Le Moana Bora Bora or even Oa Oa Lodge. These are still pricey, but relative to other Bora Bora options, it’s a reasonable compromise for people who still want that resort vibe.     

The map below shows current resort prices. A great way to compare costs!

Count your calories & your pennies.

Food is a major budget breaker for the simple fact that it is expensive. Three square meals for two people each day on your resort could cost a few hundred dollars. There are some tips to save on food costs:

Bring snacks. No, seriously… stuff your suitcase with granola bars or crackers or instant oat packets or any other non-perishable goodies. Replace a meal with one of your reserves or stave off your hunger by munching on your stowaways.

Eat the breakfast buffet. Go ahead, glutton, indulge on all the breakfast foods and pack on the calories to cushion your hunger until dinner. Your skinny jeans will hate you but your wallet will thank you. Yes, the breakfast buffet is costly ($50 at Le Meridien) but those buffets are LOADED with everything you could imagine: eggs, bacon, sausage, crepes, pancakes, fruits, yogurts, cold cuts, cheese, toast, croissant, muffins, salad bar, veggie station, cereal, fruit juices, coffee, even MISO SOUP. You can even snag a muffin and coffee to go to save for later. If you eat enough, you probably won’t be hungry until dinner, so you could basically consider the buffet a two-for-one cost since it could cover breakfast AND lunch!

Consider a meal plan. All inclusive resorts are not a thing in Bora Bora. Some resorts offer a meal plan where you can pay a set price for food at the resort. Definitely do the math with this one and determine if this will save you in the end. At Le Meridien, it was $120/person/day for the breakfast buffet and an appetizer + main course for dinner. We opted out of the meal plan because we didn’t think we’d spend $70/person/night on dinner if we ate a la carte (we were right).

Don’t get dizzy from drink prices.

Abstinence from alcohol is clearly the best way to cut costs in Bora Bora, but for those who want to get boozy in paradise, save money by purchasing your libations at Duty Free. Bring along some bottles of French wine to enjoy on the deck of your overwater bungalow or Tahitian rum to spike your coconuts on the beach. For reference, ONE frozen drink at Le Meridien cost $26. When we’d purchased a bottle of wine at Duty Free, it cost $20. The cheapest bottle at the resort? $70.

Avoid the resort transportation.

Remember where I mentioned earlier that you’ll need to take a boat transfer between the airport and your resort? It isn’t free, at least, it wasn’t for Le Meridien. Round trip for two cost us nearly $250! Just for a quick ride from one motu to the other and back again! Check to see if the resort you’re considering provides complimentary transfer or verify the cost so you can add that into your Bora Bora budget.

The only way to lower this cost is to play with logistics; look into the Bora Bora boat shuttle. The airport offers a free boat shuttle to Vaitape on the main island of Bora Bora. Then, look at the boat shuttle schedule for each of the resorts from Vaitape; that transfer shouldn’t cost more than $15 per person. If the timing between the shuttles and your flight work well, the total cost for two round trips should only be $60… much less than $250! It may be a pain to shuttle to Bora Bora then transfer to your resort, but it’ll save you quite a bit of money! 

Don’t leave your resort.

As I mentioned above, unless your resort offers complimentary shuttle service, you’ll need to pay per trip per person to leave your resort to the main island. Let’s say you want to dine at the famous Bloody Mary’s restaurant with your newlywed husband… that’ll cost about $60 for both of you just to get there and back. To avoid spending this money, just stay on your resort, or stay somewhere that offers complimentary shuttle. Or, if spending time on the main island of Bora Bora is important, plan to visit the island in one day to avoid the cost over multiple days (check out this website for great advice for getting around Bora Bora).

Join in on free activities.

Find out what complimentary activities your resort provides to guests. Take advantage of those activities before dishing out the cash for more expensive excursions. At Le Meridien, we took advantage of paddleboarding, snorkeling the lagoonarium, feeding the turtles, and riding in a traditional pirogue… all for free.

Have you ever traveled to Bora Bora? What was your experience with the costs there? Do you have any tips for visiting Bora Bora on a budget? Please share with readers by adding your tips in the comments below!

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