Overwater Bungalows and the Best Value Aspirational Properties

Yesterday CNN.com ran a piece on overwater bungalows that led off with my stay at Bora Bora Nui, then a Starwood property and the newest on Bora Bora and now a Hilton property and one of the very best award redemption values out there.

(A basic-level room redemption won’t get you the overwater bungalow but will get you a suite-size bungalow, and plenty of people get status upgrades or buy ups to overwater. Plus I’d expect Hilton’s new premium room redemption offerings to spread here and allow for overwater redemptions, though those are likely to be a less great value.)

For many, Bora Bora represents the utmost in aspirational redemptions. The story’s author told me that Bora Bora Nui is now her screensaver. And indeed, it was absolutely stunning. As regular readers of this blog know, I’m not much of a photographer. But ever picture looked like a postcard despite my poor photography skills.

I’m much looking forward to booking the Park Hyatt Maldives, it’s hard to beat 22,000 Hyatt points per night for a beach villa there and the standard difference in rates between a beach villa and beach villa with pool is about $100 and it’s another $100 more or so for a water villa. I’m hopeful that when I reach out to the property they’ll be willing to confirm the buy up at booking on an award redemption. I do have plenty of Hyatt gift certificates from the Capital One credit card promotion burning a hole in my pocket.

Places offering overwater bungalows are often quite secluded and a inconvenient to get to from my home perch in North America. You can get mileage awards to Tahiti, Delta miles are best-positioned because they partner with both Air France and Air Tahiti Nui which fly Los Angeles – Papeete. American miles are good for Air Tahiti Nui. Using miles in a Star Alliance program require flying via Auckland, New Zealand — not an easy award in and of itself — and then the Auckland – Papeete flight isn’t even daily, plus of course it’s a lot of extra flying out of the way from the US. (Hawaiian offers once-weekly Honolulu-Papeete flights on Saturdays and LAN flies via Easter Island as well, also a good bit of out of the way flying to go via South America.) And once you make it to Tahiti you have to separately buy your intra-French Polynesia flights.

Meanwhile the Maldives will involve pricey transfers once you make it to Male, also not the easiest thing to do, you can fly British Airways via London Gatwick or Emirates via Dubai, Singapore via Singapore or Malysian via Kuala Lumpur to name a few. Or buying flights on Sri Lankan. I’ll most likely fly to Columbo, Sri Lanka which is much easier to get to and buy a flight from there, Colombo is certainly an inexpensive place to fly from. And then there’s the seaplane transfer to most of the Atolls, the Park Hyatt involves a flight and a boat and costs nearly $500 per person roundtrip.

Overwater bungalows are cool, but beachfront can have an equal appeal and it’s hard to imagine a better deal from a price-value standpoint than the Le Meridien Khao Lak, getting a beachfront villa with private pool for $250 or less much of the year using this or that discount promotion like z3r, z4r, z5r, z6r, the various get a free night or two or percentage discount on various night stays. I stayed there when the hotel offered their rooms in Ugandan Schillings instead of US dollars by mistake, and they offered to honor the room rates at an average of $33 per night inclusive of tax and breakfast. I had their two-bedroom villa at that price.

And it’ll be a pretty great stay, I’m sure, at the Conrad Koh Samui where all of their rooms are standalone villas with private pool facing the ocean and angled for best views of the sunset.

I’m always in search of the best value aspirational properties, so any ideas from readers here are much appreciated. I wasn’t overly enthralled by my villa with pool at the Westin Siray Bay in Phuket, though having the villa was certainly a plus and it’s a beautiful property, it just needs to work on service.

What are the best values out there for use of points, or relatively modest price for incredible resort experiences?

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 Milepoint.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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  1. Gary,

    Booking the PH Maldives may not be so simple. With all of the hub-ub over Capital One and the Hyatt certificates, I looked at some non-points ways of getting into the PH Maldives.

    1) Hyatt Gift Certificates via C1. These aren’t easy to use at first glance because every rate at the PHM is pre-paid.

    2) Hyatt Stay Certificates. The top tier stay certificate is usable here, but the property will take make you prepay for every single night at rack rate as a “deposit”. I think that would also be true for award stays as well, but I can’t confirm that.

    Having to prepay for this place on an award (even if I get my money back) doesn’t sit well with me. Given the award nature of most of the travel, I’d likely book this place a year out. I don’t want to tie up $10k in a situation like this, not withstanding the fact I’d need trip insurance with a “cancel for any reason” policy that would cost about $800.

  2. @Dan 22k points per night is my strategy, the Cap One certificats will be used for charges other than room rate.

  3. I gave up on trying to use all those *A miles I’d been saving to get to Tahiti and ended up buying a package deal from a travel agent. Basically for what we paid for the package vs. what it costs for those over-water rooms, airfare, meals and transfers ended up being free. At the time we booked, we had no status or points with any hotel programs so for us that was the way to go.

    In premium destinations like French Polynesia and the Maldives it isn’t unusual to be nickel and dimed to death with things like airport-hotel transfers and meals, especially if you are staying out on a desolate motu somewhere. That free trip you booked might not end up being so free after all.

  4. We loved the beach villa at Conrad Maldives for 50k Hilton points. It makes me sick that I wasted 100k at the Hilton Bahamas when I could have been in paradise for two more days instead.

  5. @Gary-Great post and even better timing: last night I came across an article describing your amazing honeymoon trip and went to bed thinking how I could improve my SPG points. This morning I learned I now need to work on getting Hilton pts.
    On a separate note, would you consider any US property (or anywhere a bit closer) an aspirational property (or at least the closest to it)?

  6. @Mon the hard thing about US properties or even North America generally is that they tend to be more expensive when they are hitting real peaks. There are nice places that don’t cost as much as they should, e.g. The Nines in Portland or the Intercontinental O’Hare. But those really aren’t in the same league. The places that are are just so expensive…

  7. Gary,

    What I was really fishing for was some comment about ways around having to plunk down $1000/night as a deposit. Did you get confirmation that the deposit is waived on award stays?

  8. @Gary, I hate to say it because it will attract people – but Sheraton’s new Waikiki beachfront resort is heavenly. You have an infinity pool right on the water and that is hard to beat – and on top of it you have a resort-type pool which beats any water creation in Honolulu! (haven’t seen the Disney property yet, but Sheraton’s location cannot be beat if you like the Waikiki scene).

  9. @Gary – Thanks, I thought there would be some place in Hawaii somewhat comparable (at least for someone that hasn’t experienced any of the dream destinations on the article.

  10. Gary- It doesn’t look like you got too many of the replies with the info that you were looking for which is a shame because I was very interested in additional suggestions. I know you are extremely well traveled so if you have any additional suggestions, I’m all ears. I am looking to take a luxury international trip with the miles I have accumulated. The one place I love domestically is the Ritz in Maui. It’s a beautiful property and has very good service. I didn’t use points for that trip though.

  11. Gary,

    Excellent post. I just started reading your blog a few days ago. I also read that CNN article and fell in love with Bora Bora.

    We were investigating the Hilton Maldives or Conrad Maldives (that underwater restaurant looks magical!) as a honeymoon spot. However, an over water bungalow in Bora Bora might be the ticket now.

    Here’s my question, I’m new to the points game. I just accumulated 60,000 HHonors points. By the time our honeymoon rolls around I’m confident I’ll have the points covered. (Couple years away.)

    Say we were planning a trip for two to Bora Bora or Maldives, what would be the best way to get airline miles? How many airline miles do you think it would take to get to Bora Bora or Maldives?

    Thanks in advance!

    Brandon

  12. It’s a shame that the “aspirational” hotels in Tahiti are just too much trouble to get to these days. In the late 80s, you could EASILY get to Papeete on CO. If you were willing to go in coach, two tickets were often available for 75,000 miles for both! Biz class (OK, it wasn’t very good) wasn’t much more.

    I think Tahiti is one of the few places in the world that has gotten harder to visit in the past 20 years. And the current frequent flyer awards there are almost uniquely unattractive. Add in the cost of getting onward (you can only visit Moorea cheaply), and it’s just hard to justify the cost.

  13. @Brandon

    I’ve been looking at going to both spots, trying to figure out which one is more doable with the smallest cash outlay and inconvenience. I don’t think there’s a clear winner here.

    Bora Bora

    You can fly with One World miles (via Air Tahiti Nui) or Sky Miles (Air Tahiti Nui or Air France). Delta doesn’t seem to have many mega sign-up bonuses, so your best bet here is probably one of the credit card deals with Citi/AA. They aren’t as lucrative as they used to be, but they’re still around.

    Maldives

    You’ll have to fly into MLE, the major international airport. AFAIK, the only alliance that flies there is One World (BA via LGW). From the US, many flights arrive into LHR, so you’ll likely be switching airports. You just missed some mega-bonus sign-up offers from BA/Chase.

    Although, it appears that Air India is joining Star Alliance sometime this year. Star hasn’t had quite the splash with their miles cards that the others have had.

    There are some nasty transfer fees in the Maldives. If you can’t get to MLE on your award ticket, you’ll pay $500/pp from BOM or DEL. Once you get to MLE, you’ll generally have to fly on a seaplane to get to your resort expect to pay $500 or less pp.

  14. Don’t forget, Skyteam also has 3 times weekly service with China Eastern via Shanghai stopping over at MLE and continuing onto to Johannesburg

  15. The Hilton looks very good
    The Park Hyatt Maldives concern me
    Crazy costs to get there
    There are reports of highly inadequate air conditioning/equipment,damp wet sheets/bedding due to humidity.
    Poor service,barely adequate food make me think I’ll wait till Gary reviews the place:)Not my idea of pardise
    Not into camping at those price points 🙂

  16. I can see some great rates for points the Bora Bora Nui, however the flights to get there from LAX are $2K per person.

  17. Sq flies to m,e from sin. So You can also do award travel on star alliance -doesn’t help,with the extortionate inter island transport nor the ridiculous prices for food though

  18. Just to add my 10c worth.

    I live in the Maldives, and have to say that I almost always go for beach villa if available rather than water villa. Maldives secret is that they have been able to sell over-water villas as a premium product, even though the main reason they exist in such numbers is because most islands are very small, and there is limited room for beach villas. The only way they can build to scale is to go over the water.

    The downsides of water villas include their distance from restaurants and other facilities, their exposure (no natural shade, so often very hot), the lack of a beach outside your door, and sometimes their size.

    Good luck!

  19. @john I believe you can see AIr Tahiti Nui award inventory on Expertflyer, KVS (Sabre availability), and FlightStats.com.

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