If you’re looking for a beautiful place with a tropical setting, French Polynesia just may win hands down (currently it’s tied with Thailand as one of the prettiest places I’ve visited, ever) but it can also be one of the most expensive places to visit.
A lot of honeymooners pick French Polynesia as their destination choice, and while it makes a fabulous pick, it can definitely put a financial strain on any newlywed couple’s budget. Now if money isn’t a problem for you, by all means, visit French Polynesia in the most luxurious way possible and you’ll have an absolutely amazing time. But for the majority that cannot afford $20,000 or more for a vacation, here’s how you can drastically cut down and easily afford a wonderful French Polynesia trip as if it were any other international destination.
Most people only think about Bora Bora when it comes to visiting French Polynesia, but Moorea is very comparable to Bora Bora, and it can give you a similar experience for a fraction of the cost. I personally spent double the time in Moorea than I did in Bora Bora for this very reason. Now while I do believe Bora Bora wins as the better island, my husband and I both agreed that any travelers on a budget would still be pretty satisfied with visiting Moorea and skipping Bora Bora altogether.
First of all, the flight from Tahiti to Moorea is only about five minutes and is a fraction of the cost of the flight from Tahiti to Bora Bora. It doesn’t matter when you check and for what dates you check, but without fail, roundtrip airfare from Tahiti to Bora Bora is always in the mid 400’s. There is no other way to get to Bora Bora (nope, no boat) so this is your only option. So in the end, you’re talking over $800 more in airfare on top of the international airfare you spent to get to French Polynesia to begin with. Yikes.
On the other hand, that five minute flight to Moorea is only about $100. While still pricey for such a short distance, you’re still talking only a quarter of the cost that a plane ticket for Bora Bora runs for. Alternatively, you can take a boat to Moorea for even less. I went the airfare route because since I was going to Bora Bora, I bought an airpass. My itinerary included flying from Tahiti to Moorea, Moorea to Bora Bora, and Bora Bora back to Tahiti. With the airpass, I was practically getting my flight to Moorea for free. But if I was skipping Bora Bora, I would’ve definitely taken the boat.
Once you’re in Moorea, everything is cheaper. The resort rates, the food, the activities offered by hotels, and so on. I found all of these things to be about half the cost that it was to be in Bora Bora.
Moorea, to me, also has one thing on Bora Bora: the snorkeling. By far, it wins here. The water near some of the resorts is much more shallow and there is so much coral reef. I never got bored of the snorkeling here because I kept seeing so many different things. It’s also pretty amazing to be able to do this right off your overwater bungalow.
Don’t Visit During the Peak Season
This one is also super important. Do you want to pay top dollar and be in an overly packed resort, fighting for activity availability or even struggling to get a chair by the pool every morning? No, you say? Skip peak season.
A lot of travelers are scared of French Polynesia during the so-called “wet season” and will only visit during the dry season. Depending on where you look or who you ask, the wet season is either from November or December, and lasts until about April. Now, there are some places in the world that pretty much guarantee torrential downpours every day during their rainy season. French Polynesia, however, isn’t one of them. While I do suggest that you avoid going right in the heart of their off-season (say around January or February), you’ll probably be just fine booking a trip at the very end or the very beginning of the off-season.
I have read several trip reports from people saying how they visited in the dry season, yet they saw rain every single day like clockwork and then I also read reports from people that didn’t see a drop of rain during the wet season. Yet a lot of people also said that even when did it rain, a lot of the time, it didn’t last very long.
My advice is to check websites like Wunderground for the time that you plan on going, and check the weather’s history from the past few years (do this for any destination). This is what I did and it seemed fine to me, so I went ahead and booked during off-season, which saved me a ton of money.
My trip lasted from November 23rd through December 3rd. During that time, I only saw rain for about 10 minutes. It was a bit cloudy for an hour or so after that, and then the sun came back out for the remainder of the day. Other than that, we had nothing but blue skies and sunshine. Oh, and we practically had the resorts to ourselves. There were some areas that were completely empty at times! It was great.
Points and Miles
This can really apply to any trip pretty much, but I thought it was worth mentioning. Using points and miles (whether you accumulated them through other trips or by using a credit card with these benefits) can help you to get a trip like this for free, or close to it.
Consider the Length
A lot of people seem to think that going to such a far away destination only becomes “worth it” if they are spending, at a minimum, two weeks or even more. But you could save an extra $5,000 to $10,000 by cutting that duration in half. That’s enough money for another trip! With the exception of when I was on my world trip a few years ago, my across-the-globe international destinations usually never exceed ten days (including travel time, so about 8 or 9 full days total). This is always enough. For French Polynesia, we spent 8 full days (four in Moorea, three in Bora Bora, and one in Tahiti) and as absolutely amazing as it was, I was still completely satisfied with this amount of time and ready to go home by the end of it.
While it’s nice to have a fancy meal here and there during your trip, especially if you’re celebrating something special, try to dine outside of the resort as much as possible and you will save A LOT of money. This is especially easy if you’re on Moorea (in Bora Bora, all the resorts are located on motus, or little islands. To get to the main island, you need to take a boat).
Excursions and Activities
Do not book these through your hotel unless you want to pay a lot more. For example, I did an ATV tour in Moorea. I went with ATV Tours Moorea, but I found them myself on the Internet and made a booking with them directly. The resort I stayed at also offered ATV tours of the island for substantially more money. The funny thing is that the tour would have been exactly the same, and very likely would have used the same company. You are not any “safer” or more “protected” by booking through the resort. They just use the same outside vendors that you could’ve found on your own. (By the way, I highly, highly recommend doing this with cruises, also.)
What Not to Skimp On
If you’re going to French Polynesia, stay in an overwater bungalow! It will usually cost more money than a normal room, but it is so worth it. It’s one of the main reasons to visit French Polynesia. If you just want a beautiful beach with crystal clear waters, there are a lot of amazing places around the world that you can visit for a lot of cheaper. With that being said…
Is French Polynesia Really What You Want?
If you haven’t traveled much (or at all) and you’re thinking about French Polynesia for your honeymoon or anniversary, ask yourself why. If you’ve settled on a tropical destination, you may have come to the conclusion that French Polynesia is the best choice, but it may not be the ideal choice for you and your partner. What do you two like to do? How much do you want to spend? Does the idea of spending all (or a great deal) of your time at the resort appeal to you, or do you want a trip that gives you a ton of places to see? Bear in mind that as beautiful as French Polynesia is, it’s not really a “beachy” destination. It is mostly coral, lagoons, and volcanic ash, so with the exception of the sandy white beach areas that your resort will have and the black sand beaches of Tahiti, there aren’t very many beaches in French Polynesia, at all.
If you still find that a French Polynesia trip is too expensive, even with the tips I’ve offered, and/or you want something a little…different and with more beaches, there are alternatives that are not only cheaper, but may be places that you and your partner would genuinely have a better time at.
Hawaii is one of these places. They don’t have overwater bungalows and the water isn’t nearly as beautiful, but no passport is needed and there are so many different beaches to visit and activities to do. The room costs, activities, and airfare? All cheaper. A lot cheaper. My personal favorite is Kauai, hands down. But you can’t really go wrong with Hawaii.
My other recommendation would be Thailand. The initial airfare is expensive, but once you get over there, everything is very cheap. And it has some of the most beautiful beaches you will ever visit!
Essential Travel Information
Flights to Tahiti: If you’re planning a budget trip to French Polynesia, you’ll fly to PPT Airport in Tahiti. From there, you’ll fly on a regional plane (or take a ferry) to nearby islands, such as Moorea. Use FlightHub or other similar airfare search engines to find the best price possible, as these tools will quickly compare the different options available for your travel dates/departure airport.
Hotel booking: In Moorea, we stayed at the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort And Spa. With an average nightly rate of around $400, it’s certainly a lot cheaper than Bora Bora lodging, and you get a very similar experience.