Where I was at…

After posting about my hiatus on the 26th of May, I received several emails asking what the beautiful beach photo was. The answer: the Intercontinental Beachcomber Resort on Tahiti, which frankly was just an airport hotel.

I was on an award trip during which I spent a whopping 670,000 miles and points, including: 290,000 American Airlines miles (2 first class tickets to Tahiti, Australia, and back on Air Tahiti Nui and Qantas); 176,000 Starwood points for a 5th night free award at Bora Bora Nui; 60,000 Priority Club points for 2 nights at the Intercontinental Tahiti; 24,000 Priority Club points for a night at the Intercontinental Sydney (during a 20% off award sale); and several other redemptions.

After a flight to Seattle in Alaska first class, a stay at the W Seattle, then down to LA (Alaska in first) and a night in a Marina View suite at the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey, I headed off to Tahiti…

4:20 pm Depart Los Angeles (LAX)
Air Tahiti Nui Flight 21
First Class Seats 1K, 1L

We pulled up to the Tom Bradley International Terminal and I found a disorganized mess that exceeded even Mexico City. There was a line far outside the terminal for baggage screening near Lufthansa checkin. Fortunately there was a little used screening line at the far left hand side of the terminal, right next to Air Tahiti Nui (TN) checkin. There was virtunally no line.

We checked in with Air Tahiti Nui (bags were tagged with the same priority sticker as business class) and were given lounge access cards and headed off through security. Immediately past screening and directly ahead are the elevators that take you upstairs to the lounges. TN uses the Qantas/British Airways lounge (business class using the same lounge as F), which is the first one by the elevators. It’s really terrible as far as lounges go. Midshelf liquor, some food, chex mix, stale ham and cheese sandwiches. The bathroom isn’t even inside the lounge, it’s a more public space, and as a result quite unpleasant.

We sat ourselves down and it turned out that we were next to some kind of aging rockstar, I never did figure out who. BA special services came for him and his entourage, and board them right before their takeoff to Heathrow. Apparently they were on 20/20 a few days before, and they talked very loudly about Tommy Lee and Paris Hilton and there’s apparently a sex video out there about this guy, he doesn’t mind at all and thinks it could help him if it comes out. He won’t sue to stop it but would like to negotiate a percentage of the profits. He didn’t walk well, kinda hobbled.

After the London flight departed the lounge was mostly empty, populated only by the Papeete (Tahiti) flight and consisted primarily of honeymooners. They announced boarding in the lounge 30 minutes prior to takeoff.

Upon boarding, flight attendants passed out headsets and (overstuffed and bountiful) amenity kits, newspapers (LA Times, USA Today) and magazines and menus.

The seat didn’t really seem to recline 180 degrees as expected, maybe a bit more than 170 degrees and I found it a bit lumpy. It wasn’t the typical first class cocoon/coffin but rather standalone seats more like business class. In full recline position it was a little bit lumpy. Not bad, but not up to world standards for a sleeper seat IMHO. It was even a bit narrow, a consequence of the single row of 6 across (2-2-2). I really liked TN, though, because I don’t need a true sleeper seat on an 8 hour flight and what really sets them apart is their service and catering.

I had heard in the lounge that they were offering business class customers upgrades to first for $600 pp one-way. Apparently this was popular, I think 2 honeymooners took them up on the offer. I had reserved the seats 8 months out, two customers in the center seats had clearly come in on the CDG-LAX flight (and from the reception they received at immigration in PPT, appeared to be a government official and his wife), so I assumed that the young couple on the left side of the plane were upgrades from paid J. So F was full (6/6).

After takeoff, flight attendants changed from standard FA uniforms into Tahitian garb, and then back into usual uniforms for landing.

Meal service was a lovely two hour affair, with proper china (with TN tiare flower logo) and only the silverware for each course out at any given time, replaced at the appropriate time with the correct items for whatever one would be eating next (even using a tray with silverware wrapped in a napkin). The menu was as follows:

DINNER

Cold lobster with shrimps and cucumber salad and grilled scallops yakitori, or
Feta cheese and thinly sliced duck breast

Grilled beef chateaubriand porcini, or
Cornish stuffed hen with Cajun creamy sauce, or
Stuffed salmon filet with shrimps and saffron sauce, or
Grilled lemongrass shrimps and tarragon lemon sauce

Parsley chateau potatoes
Mixed wild rice
Zucchini and yellow squash gratinated

Selection of French cheese

Dessert cart
Strawberry tartlet, chocolate cake, carrot apricot cake
Fresh fruit basket
Sherbet and petits fours

LIGHT MEAL

Beef and chicken burrito
Mixed fruit tartlet
Fruit juice, coffee, tea, chocolate and herb teas and beverages from our selection

WINE SELECTION

Chateau prieure Lichine, Margaux, 1997
Chassagne Montrachet, Bourgogne blanc, 2002
Domaine du Tariquet Sauvignon, Cotes de Gascogne, 2003
Clos Des Menuts, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, 2000
Champagne Moet et Chandon, Brut-Millesime blanc, 1999
Champagne Nicolas Feuillette, Brut-Reserve particuliere

I chose the beef (which was a perfectly cooked mid-rare) and the lobster salad. The FA also brought me leftover lemongrass shrimp as I commented how that entrée would make a nice additional side along with my rice and potatoes.

We were the only ones to partake in the cheese course, everyone else was too full. The dessert cart had 3 different cakes, 2 sorbets, cookies, and some other treats, and they stocked enough so that all passengers could have everything.

I don’t recall where I had read to expect it, but I anticipated pajamas. Unfortunately, because I hadn’t dressed as comfortably as I might have otherwise, none were provided.

I slept three hours, played trivia in TN’s game system against other pax on the plane (came in first every time, but usually against only 3 other people). There was a decent sized TV but movies weren’t on-demand.

Each of the 3 groups of 2 in F were given a bottle of champagne at the end of the flight, the 99 Moet & Chandon. We arrived about 5 minutes late, at 9:45pm.

We came off the plane and down stairs and were guided to the terminal where three men were playing Tahitian music. Flowers were handed out upon entry to the terminal. We deplaned out the forward door of the plane so first class is out first. (We came in through the back of J.)

We turn in our immigration form that doesn’t ask for our name as we enter the terminal, presumably it’s a tourism survey with an official imprimateur, then go through immigration. Lots of typing and we’re welcomed in.

Bags were out quickly, with first and business class priority tagged baggage out first. Baggage carts are complimentary. Through customs, asked simply how long we were staying, and we caught a cab to the Intercontinental (1800CFP, I’d expected more).

InterContinental Beachcomber Resort Tahiti

It was a ten minute drive to the hotel maximum, probably less. Checkin was busy, and the Ambassador line unmanned. A staff member saw my Ambassador card which was in my hand and brought me over to that open line.

I’d booked a panoramic room which shouldn’t have been available for points. (A known glitch in the Intercontinental forum at Flyertalk.com, suites are often available for the standard number of points.)

I had been thinking on the plane that I didn’t want an upgrade to an overwater bungalow, the view would be great in a panoramic room (maybe better than from the OWBs) and I’d heard lots of folks were disappointed in the motu bungalows, which are the lower of the two categories of bungalows, and the ones I’d likely be upgraded to. Still, I asked about an Ambassador upgrade when told I’d been assigned a panoramic room. It’s probably just ingrained in my genes.

The woman at checking brought out the manager on duty. I didn’t care about the upgrade, really, but it was still amusing to watch this person go through the different stages of upgrade denial: first, “you have a staff rate” (no, it was an award, but presumably the internal reimbursement rate is similar) then “we don’t upgrade award rooms” then “we’re sold out tonight” and finally “you already have an upgrade” (true, it’s better than the usual award room, but it was also what I booked). Finally I was told that if I was staying at the hotel on my way back through Tahiti I could have a motu bungalow, but I had chosen to try out the Sheraton Tahiti on my return instead.

We were given fruit drinks while checking in, something I didn’t see done for others who weren’t Ambassador members. After the upgrade dance at checkin we were taken by cart to our room. Our bags were already there and our Ambassador gifts (picture of the resort, Intercontinental French Polynesia DVD) and welcome snack were there too. The ironic thing about giving a gift of a DVD was that the room had no DVD player.

I didn’t like the room the longer we were at the hotel. But I wouldn’t have liked the bungalows here either as there was no privacy, they even shared walkways with the main pool and are bunched together such that you see other decks from yours. The Lagoon Bungalows esp. # 507 – 511 on the far edge of the property past Le Lotus restaurant but still facing Moorea seem nice though.

The bathroom had a 110V outlet as well as 220V, and not just for shavers. There was a window between the bathroom and bedroom with no curtain or shade, and there was no shower curtain or door for the shower either. No robes, no CD/DVD/VCR (TV had only Turner Classic Movies in English). Deck had two wood chairs and a wood table, the chairs didn’t recline and had no cushion. The room was stocked with only 2 towels and I had to call for more, they were brought up promptly while we were at dinner. Bed was very hard.

Breakfast buffet at Te Tiare restaurant the next morning ran 2900 CFP apiece per person but included tax and there was no line for gratuity on the bill. I was brought some kind of nonfat milk with my coffee and it took many requests for cream. The buffet was bountiful with fish, breads, Japanese soup, American breakfast, cheeses and pastries, deli meats, and an omellette station. A better value, though, would probably be the 1400 CFP express breakfast of fruit, breads, coffee.

After breakfast we laid out at the edge of the water looking out at Moorea. We wound up relaxing on the water for about five hours. Originally we had planned to head into Papeete, but for the first day away on this trip laying on the water was just what we needed. It was actually beautiful, although nothing compared to what was in store for us on Bora Bora.

While there’s plenty of cultural activities and things to do on Tahiti, my own feeling is to spend as little time on the main island as possible. Next time I’d spend only one night on arrival rather than two.

As you’ll see, I tend to be more critical than any property or flight deserves, and I dwell a bit much on shortcomings. I don’t mean to do so, but it’s a bit of my nature to notice such things. Actually, we both enjoyed our time at the Intercontinental, but certainly wouldn’t have wanted to stay at this resort longer than the two nights we did. It was pretty, but we just weren’t that comfortable in our room in contrast to what was in store for us at our next hotel. The property is aging a bit, but really is the nicest on the island of Tahiti.

Other photos here, here, here, here, here and here.

We had the buffet again the second morning and then walked around the resort in a light rain. At 9am we called for luggage assistance. There had been a sign at checkin saying that we should call 45 minutes (!) before planning to leave the resort. The guest services directory said 15-30 minutes. On the phone they said it would take 15 minutes for the bellman to arrive. Turned out it was less than 5. I also asked that they call a cab.

At checkout I offered my Diners Club card for payment but that elicited a frown – the woman would ‘have to go in back and run it manually’ so I gave her a Visa. We were checked out by 9:15 and on our way to the airport for Bora Bora.

To be continued…

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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