This Family Paid Only $628 for a 10-Day Tahiti Trip (and Volunteered in the Community)

Here’s how this family of six used points and miles to go on a dream island vacation — and gave back to the community at the same time.
Last updated Apr 2, 2020 | By Matt Miczulski
This Family Paid Only $628 for a 10-Day Tahiti Trip (and Volunteered in the Community)

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From luxurious vacations to more budget-friendly itineraries, points and miles can help you travel the globe — and for cheap. Award travel is available to all different walks of life, and no two trips have to be alike.

Heather and her husband, Mike, have been active in the points-and-miles game for a few years now. They run a dental practice in Edmond, Oklahoma, and started out by earning travel rewards for the spending they do through their business. Eventually, however, Heather realized how much potential there was to take their points-and-miles hobby to the next level.

After taking to Facebook, Heather stumbled upon the FBZ Elite - Travel and Points Facebook group and began to learn more about how points and miles work and how to get the most out of award travel.

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How Heather and her family like to travel

Today, Heather’s award travel game is rich with strategizing. As the mother of four kids, she primarily looks for trips based on the cost of airfare. Because she’s willing to travel anywhere and everywhere, this allows her to be flexible with how she’ll spend her rewards to fly for free or stay in hotels for free.

If the cheap flights are heading somewhere that catches her interest, Heather grabs the tickets while they’re available. Then, she does her research on that place. Because she knows she has 24 hours to cancel a reservation if it’s made at least seven days prior to the flight’s scheduled departure date, she takes these hours to decide whether the booking is worth keeping.

This Family Paid Only $628 for a 10-Day Tahiti Trip (and Volunteered in the Community)

This particular story is about Heather and her husband’s 10-day trip to the French Polynesian islands of Tahiti and Mo’orea in mid-November 2018. In addition to vacationing — and with her husband being a dentist — they held a dental clinic for locals. They had started this tradition five years earlier during a trip to the Dominican Republic, and have since been offering dental treatment to locals whenever and wherever possible.

Joined by her husband, four kids, parents, and in-laws, Heather had a trip filled with adventure, breathtaking views, and plenty of authentic Mo’orean cuisine. Although Heather’s parents and in-laws vacationed with them, they paid separately. So, for this story, we won’t include their costs in the breakdown.

Here’s how Heather’s family of six funded a 10-day trip to the tropical islands of Tahiti and Mo’orea.

Flights

As mentioned, Heather determines where they’ll travel next by the cost of airfare — and, of course, how intriguing the destination looks. Her first flight, roundtrip from Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City to Los Angeles, was aboard Southwest. Although she booked this airfare round trip, her return flight would be from San Francisco, California, instead of Los Angeles. She booked this way because it required fewer points and travel time to fly from San Francisco to Oklahoma City.

This flight cost her 12,000 Rapid Rewards points and $11.20 each in taxes and fees for four of her family members; two of her children flew for free using both her and her husband’s Southwest Companion Passes. For the two free tickets, they still paid $11.20 each in taxes and fees. Had she not used points, it would have cost a total of $720.

This Family Paid Only $628 for a 10-Day Tahiti Trip (and Volunteered in the Community)

The Southwest Companion Pass is a perk that allows you to choose one person to fly with you free of airline charges. All you pay is $5.60 in taxes per one-way trip. To earn the Southwest Companion Pass, you need to either earn 125,000 Rapid Rewards points in a calendar year or fly 100 qualifying one-way flights. Once you earn the pass, it’s good for the remainder of the year in which you earn it as well as the following year. If you time it correctly so that you earn the pass in the beginning of the year, you can essentially get free airfare for a companion for two full years.

Heather and Mike earned their companion passes by each signing up for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card. After earning the welcome bonuses for each card, they had enough points to receive the companion pass. Because they live in the middle of the country, the companion passes especially come in handy for positioning flights. Positioning flights are flights you take from your main city to another city from which you’ll take a long-haul flight. Being willing to take a positioning flight can set you up for better deals when it comes to your final destination. In total, Heather paid only $67.20 in taxes and fees for this Southwest flight.

Heather’s second flight was roundtrip airfare that took her from Los Angeles to Tahiti with a layover in San Francisco. They flew United economy for 28,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per person, which she booked using the Chase travel portal. Originally, flights from Los Angeles to Tahiti were around $1,200 apiece. However, Heather used Scott’s Cheap Flights to find a date with a great deal that shaved a significant amount off each ticket. This savings brought the price-per-ticket to around $500. Because Heather paid for this flight using points, her total out of pocket cost was $0.

Because their final leg of the trip was from San Francisco home to Oklahoma City aboard Southwest, Heather and her family got off their United flight on a layover in San Francisco and finished their journey home on Southwest.

Expense category Regular price What Heather paid
Flights from Oklahoma City to Los Angeles, and from San Francisco to Oklahoma City $720 $67.20
Roundtrip flights from Los Angeles to Tahiti $7,200 $0
Flights $7,920 $67.20

Hotels

Heather and her family stayed one night in Los Angeles before heading to Tahiti. They bunked in one room at a hotel near the airport for just under $100 total and paid using her Chase Sapphire Reserve Card. Had the room been more expensive, Heather told me she would have used points to book their stay.

The next day, Heather and her family flew to Tahiti. They didn’t get in until around midnight local time, so Heather booked them a family room near the airport. For this one night, Heather used 8,131 Chase Ultimate Rewards points. This saved them $205.07.

Overwater Bungalow Tahiti Moorea

For the remaining ten nights of their trip, Heather and her family stayed at an overwater bungalow in Cook's Bay, Mo’orea. She found the property online but wanted to personally reach out to the owner to let him know their plans to run a local dental clinic for the residents. And thankfully she did because the owner gave her, her parents, and her in-laws a significant discount on their nine-day rentals. The family-sized bungalow that was originally priced at $350 per night ended up costing Heather just $860.40 for their entire stay. But the savings didn’t stop there.

To pay for the bungalow, Heather used her Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. Then, she “erased” that purchase using her balance of Venture Miles. So, ultimately, she paid $0 for a family-sized overwater bungalow right on the sparkling waters of Cook’s Bay, Mo’orea.

Heather and Mike ran the dental clinic for a few days toward the end of their trip in the church across the street from their bungalow. They performed minor dental work such as cleanings, silver nitrate fillings, and extractions. The residents made it a point to return the favor. On top of bringing Heather and her family some of the best local foods, because it was November, the locals that helped set up the clinic cooked her family an entire Thanksgiving feast. They made Heather’s family ceviche, barbecue, fresh-caught tuna, and pumpkin dessert, before performing traditional fire dances for them.

Expense category Regular price What Heather paid
One night in Los Angeles $100 $100
One night in Tahiti $205.07 $0
Nine nights in Mo’orea $3,150 $0
Hotels $3,455.07 $100

Rental cars

To get around on the islands, Heather reserved a rental car ahead of their trip. Being a savvy traveler, Heather knew a great way to save money on rental cars. She booked her using Autoslash.

This Family Paid Only $628 for a 10-Day Tahiti Trip (and Volunteered in the Community)

With AutoSlash, you enter the type of vehicle you want and the dates you want it for. The service then searches all the car rental companies to find the least expensive option. On top of finding the lowest prices, Autoslash will continue to monitor inventory for lower rates from the time you reserve the car until you pick it up. If AutoSlash finds a better price, you’ll be notified and you can choose whether to update your reservation for the lower price. Because you don’t pay until you pick up your car, there’s no reason not to get the best price available. Autoslash provided Heather one lower price rental, which she jumped on.

Although Heather paid for the rental with her Chase Sapphire Reserve to take advantage of the card’s complimentary rental car insurance, she paid off the credit card using cash she earned from opening Chase checking and savings accounts. So, although the price of the rental car totaled $580.92 for ten days, she paid only $80.92 after using the $500 cash bonus she received from opening her bank accounts.

Expense category Regular price What Heather paid
Rental car $580.92 $80.92

Other special deals

Heather and her family took advantage of the free Priority Pass lounge access and Priority Pass restaurant credit that come with the Chase Sapphire Reserve. They used this perk in Los Angeles and San Francisco, grabbing lunch at Rock & Brews at LAX and hanging out in the lounge ahead of their return flight in San Francisco.

At Rock & Brews, each of the six family members received a $28 food credit. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve, each cardholder is allowed a maximum of two accompanying guests. Because both Heather and Mike are cardholders, all six of them received the dining credit.

This Family Paid Only $628 for a 10-Day Tahiti Trip (and Volunteered in the Community)

Additionally, the family kept their food expenses low throughout the trip since their bungalow was furnished with a full kitchen. They were able to cook many of their own meals and walk to the grocery store just down the street when they needed something. The people they met in the neighborhood also regularly brought them delicious dishes to eat!

Expense category Regular price What Heather paid
Food $168 $0

The travel credit cards Heather used

Card name Welcome bonus Earnings rate Annual fee Special perks
Chase Sapphire Reserve Earn 50,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months 10X points on Lyft rides, 3X points on travel (excluding $300 travel credit), 3X points at restaurants, and 1X points per $1 spent on everything else $550 $300 annual travel credit, Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit, complimentary airport lounge access, $60 yearly DoorDash credit through Dec. 2021
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months 2X miles on every purchase, every day $95 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months 2X points on eligible Southwest Airlines purchases and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases $99 6,000 points each anniversary year
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months 2X points for every $1 spent on Southwest Airlines purchases and 1X points on all other purchases $69 3,000 points each anniversary year

Chase Sapphire Reserve

The Chase Sapphire Reserve was Heather’s go-to card on this trip. She used this card to pay for her rental car, for Priority Pass lounge access, and the ferry from Tahiti to Mo’orea. Both the rental car and ferry charges fell under the card’s bonus travel category, which allowed her to maximize her rewards earnings.

As a new cardmember, you can earn 50,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. In addition, you will earn 10X points on Lyft rides, 3X points on travel (excluding $300 travel credit), 3X points at restaurants, and 1X points per $1 spent on everything else. This card also comes with a $300 annual travel credit, reimbursement for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees, and a number of travel protections.

#1 Premium Travel Credit Card

Benefits

  • 50,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 3X points on travel and at restaurants
  • 5x points on grocery purchases — up to $1,500 per month (ends June 30, 2020)
  • $60 annual DoorDash credit in 2020 and 2021
  • Priority Pass airport lounge access

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Heather used her Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card solely to pay for her overwater bungalow, which she then used Venture Miles to erase. She had accumulated these miles from various business expenses ahead of their trip.

When you open this card, you can earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. Then, you’ll earn 2X miles on every purchase, every day. You can also receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.

Incredibly Flexible Rewards

Benefits

  • 50,000 bonus mile welcome offer
  • 2X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit
  • No foreign transaction fees

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card

Heather and Mike used their Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card to each earn a Southwest Companion Pass. This allowed two of their children to fly for free, aside from taxes and fees.

As a new cardholder, you can earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. After that, you’ll earn 2X points on eligible Southwest Airlines purchases and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. Plus, every anniversary year, you’ll earn 6,000 Rapid Rewards points to put toward free travel.

Big Rewards For Southwest Travelers

Benefits

  • 60,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 6,000 points every year on Cardmember anniversary
  • 2X points on Southwest purchases
  • Free employee cards
  • No foreign transaction fees

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card

The Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card was the other Southwest card Heather and Mike each opened to earn the points required for the companion pass.

If you sign up for this card, you can earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months. Then, earn 2X points for every $1 spent on Southwest Airlines purchases and 1X points on all other purchases. As an added bonus, you’ll receive 3,000 bonus points each cardmember anniversary.

Valuable Sign-up Bonus

Benefits

  • 40,000 bonus point sign-up offer
  • 3,000 bonus points after cardmember anniversary
  • 3x points on grocery purchases — up to $1,500 per month (ends June 30, 2020)
  • 2X points on Southwest Airlines purchases
  • Redeem points for flights, gift cards, and more

Bottom line

Expense category Regular price What Heather paid
Flights $7,920 $67.20
Hotels $3,455.07 $100
Rental car $580.92 $80.92
Food $568 $400
Total $12,523.99 $628.12

Heather and her family saved nearly $12,000 on a 10-day trip to the beautiful French Polynesian Island of Mo’orea using points and miles and a bit of strategizing. Heather’s flexibility in where she would travel played a significant role in cutting down the costs, and it’s a strategy that can benefit any potential award trip.

If you’re curious about how points and miles can help you take a trip like this, the best place to start is from the beginning. Our ultimate guide to travel rewards will walk you through exactly what you need to do to get started.

#1 Premium Travel Credit Card

Benefits

  • 50,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 3X points on travel and at restaurants
  • 5x points on grocery purchases — up to $1,500 per month (ends June 30, 2020)
  • $60 annual DoorDash credit in 2020 and 2021
  • Priority Pass airport lounge access