One man’s tale of a week on points at a luxury resort whilst spending no money

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My article on the new Waldorf Astoria Maldives yesterday sparked a lot of reader interest.

One issue, of course, is that even if you can get a $2,000 + tax per night Beach Villa With Pool for free using your Hilton Honors points, you’re still on the hook for your flights, meals and, it turns out, the $370 + taxes return boat transfer from Male.

Most of our readers would be happy with that.  The focus of HFP is on maximising your travel experience for a moderate cost, not trying to get a low level travel experience for zero cost.  Of course, there is always one ….

My friend Nick reminded me of a classic article which I published way back in 2012.  If you ever find yourself thinking like this person, take a step back …..

Perhaps you’ve been in this situation.  You have enough points to stay in a luxury hotel, but you are worried about the cost of food, drink and other extras once you are there.  One FlyerTalker had it all worked out ….

InterContinental Bora Bora

After she [my wife] saw the video of the room, she was happy to stay in the Coral suite [of the InterContinental Thalasso Bora Bora, clearly not a cheap place].  The main reason she would have liked to stay in the Coral is because of the kitchen.  When we first planned this trip, we had to figure out a way to make it affordable.  The best way to do this was to stay in the coral suite for the kitchen.

I contacted the hotel and asked if those rooms had a kitchen.  I was told yes but they didn’t have any utensils in the kitchen.  I asked for specifics and they said they don’t carry anything in the kitchen.  So we decided to pay for the extra luggage on the Tahiti domestic flight.  The $100 we spent on extra luggage for one of our fares went from 44 lbs. to 110 lbs.

As time got closer, I decided that I wasn’t ok with staying in the Coral suite.  I wanted to stay in the OWB [over-water bungalow] [with no kitchen].  So here is what we did. 

InterContinental Bora Bora

We purchased an electric burner from Best Buy.  We brought:

  • the burner
  • pans
  • cups
  • silverware
  • drink packets
  • a voltage converter, and
  • 50 lbs of food

We purchased:

  • box meals
  • chips
  • canned chicken/ham
  • peanut butter
  • jelly
  • tortillas
  • English muffins
  • mac/cheese
  • rice packets
  • turkey sausage links
  • soup
  • hot sauce
  • vegetarian food
  • protein powder

and other various items to be able to eat on the cheap while we there. 

We ended up eating in for every meal except three while being there a week.  (Honey is not allowed)  We did purchase limes, cheese and loafs of bread from Tiare Market.  We spent less than $150 on food while we were there.  That includes the market and the few times we ate out.

I do have pictures of the outside of the Coral Suites but not the inside.  I also have a picture of all the food we were able to bring with us.  Feel free to PM me and I will send them to you.

InterContinental Bora Bora

Mind is well and truly boggled.

(Want to earn more hotel points?  Click here to see our complete list of promotions from the major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Promos’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

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  1. If you are on a budget points or cash then rather than going for the most expensive option ie Bora Bora a better solution would be to go somewhere cheaper and for longer unless of course its a one off destination. Would like to visit Bora Bora but I would save some money for food.

    • Totally agree, that would spoil the experience for me, especially with all amazing food available out there

    • Completely agree… but you know, nowadays with instagram and selfies,,, there’s a “status” associated with taking pics in “expensive” places.

      French Polynesia might be the best place,,, but it’s not the ideal place.

      I’d love to go to FP… but when I’m richer (eventually). In the meantime, SE Asia fulfils my priorities.

      • Yes or some greek islands

      • Bora Bora is cracking for the ‘wow, look where I am factor’ but I’d only do it as a once in a lifetime trip or as a rapid weight loss programme as affordable food (even by wealthy HFP standards) simply doesn’t exist.

        What most people don’t realise is the majority of hotels are effectively pretty prisons – they’re all on their own motu and there is no way of leaving except by getting a boat. And most hotels charge you an arm and a leg for the boat – I think it was about £50pp when I was there.

        The supermarkets are only in the main bit in Vaitape (so you need to get the boar) and because it’s FP and everything has to be imported, all the stock is 5 times the price you’d expect in Europe. So if you had the bright idea of getting food there and avoiding the hotel restaurant to save money, you’re SOL. Also, don’t expect great food in hotels either. It’s ‘alright’ but there’s no incentive for them to really blow you away because you have to eat there.

        Don’t get me wrong, Bora Bora is beautiful, it’s lovely to swim in the sea, it’s amazing to go somewhere that’s such a tiny dot on the map but it’s poor value for money.

        On the flipside, the Brut d’Ananas pineapple champagne that’s made in Moorea nearby is very affordable there and utterly delicious. The wife and I import a few bottles every year for our anniversary to remind us of our honeymoon. Probably won’t impress the palate of fine wine aficionados but we like it!

  2. My partner and I did the same for Switzerland last year. Stocked on instant noodles, dried fruit, biscuits etc. But still ended up eating ridiculously priced lunches at CHF90 or so (for two) from time to time. Even a simple meal at McDo was about CHF 15pp!

    • It’s hard to have a reasonable meal when I’m in Zurich working for less than CHF100. My boss still encourages me to get a take away chicken from the Co op and sit by the lake but it’s a tad cold this time of year…

    • trickster says:

      We did the same in Iceland, to a degree. Took some instant meals with us (as a family of 3, with a 6 year old), but thankfully had access to the Hilton Lounge in Reykjavik, which had a generous food spread.

      • Michael Jennings says:

        Having a kitchen and a nearby supermarket near where you are staying is great, generally. I will always try the local food when I visit somewhere, but sometimes you just want to eat in and have something relatively simple. (Also, sometimes you find ingredients in foreign food markets that are better or at least different from what you are used to at home, and it’s interesting to try to cook them). And if you are somewhere expensive, it does save money. I’m off to Norway in a couple of months, and I’ve booked an apartment rather than a hotel partly for this reason.

        • Depending which part of Norway you are going to, you might still find the supermarkets expensive…I bulky at the price of a single apple in the supermarket when I visited Bergen (Being a vegetarian I was limited for options…)

        • “*Bulked”

        • Michael Jennings says:

          Buying expensive in the supermarket in Norway is expensive compared to buying food in the supermarket here, but still cheap compared to eating out in Norway. So it’s nice to have the option.

          I’m going to Alesund this time. I’ve been to a few other parts of the country, too. It’s beautiful and I love the place, but it is expensive.

        • Cheapest way to see Norway is on a cruise.

        • I must admit I quite enjoy visiting a supermarket when on holiday abroad – quite fun seeing what local items and brands they have!

  3. Whilst I wouldn’t got as far as taking my own cooker I can understand the thoughts behind this. I could do a luxury family trip with everything included but it would be all I did all year. By using points/avios for business flights and decent hotels and eating from supermarkets/street food etc I can go on at least 3 holidays for the same cost. 1 drink in a good hotel is £5 and you could get 5-10 drinks for that from the local shop. So for me its a choice of one luxury holiday or 3 being careful. We have a six year old who has been to Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Singapore & Borneo and this year Peru & Chile. Some friends wonder where we get are money from as they equate our trips to their £££ spent on an all inclusive week in Dubai which costs more than several of our holidays put together. But I admit its not for everyone, if you are a big foodie then its not going to be your sort of holiday.

    • TGLoyalty says:

      but surely being a foodie is going to the local street food markets etc.

      I enjoy a meal out as much as anyone else but good breakfast/brunch then street food the rest of the day is perfect.

      • Michael Jennings says:

        I think being a foodie is to love good food from all sources. That includes fancy restaurants, and it includes street markets, and it includes cooking for yourself using interesting ingredients, honestly. You mix it up.

  4. Scallder says:

    Fair play to them – they got to experience somewhere they might have otherwise never gone, and they did their trip in a way they were happy to. To some extent, it’s not that dissimilar to staying in say the St Regis in New York (or any other upscale hotel) on points and popping round the corner to get a bagel and juice for breakfast as opposed to being charged a ridiculous amount for something that you can sort out yourself.

    Interesting to see talk above about wealth etc. Who’s to say that this couple aren’t some of the wealthiest people around – not necessarily in money terms but not all people determine their wealth by the amount of money in their bank account(s). Personally my wife and I have good jobs, and my one is 9-5, as I determine wealth as maximising time and life outside of the office year-round, even more so since the arrival of our little one in 2017.

    • Do you really think bringing a portable cooker with you is in any way similar to buying your breakfast from a shop/café?

      • Both approaches save £hundreds if not £thousands on food bills.

        • And one involves packing another suitcase, bringing a pot/pan, dishes and all manner of cleaning up.
          I’ve done food on the cheap, and relatively recently at that. Porridge pots that only need hot water served as my breakfast, I’ve brought or bought snacks. I’ve had no problems going to the supermarket to get bread, bagels, spreads, etc. Even for my next holiday, I’ve made note of the Lidl that’s walking distance from where I’m staying. But there’s a whole world of difference between that and bringing your own cooking apparatus.

  5. Qwerty Bertie says:

    There is another side to this, namely avoiding eating in a resort not just because of the cost but also the quality and range of the food.

    When we stayed in a Seychelles resort, we ate in the only restaurant the first evening. Choice for me as a vegetarian (normal, not vegan fad) was limited, but there were two or three standard options, plus several that could be cobbled together by combining sides. I tried a pizza which was okay and a Greek salas which was the worst I have ever had. My wife saw people helping themselves to a buffet and wasn’t hungry so just took from there a small bowl of chicken curry. Nobody warned us, even though the waiter who knew it was our first night from the small talk had heard her say she wasn’t hungry & would eat something light, that her food would be priced at a standard “full buffet” fare that converted to about £45! Total bill was £75. She said the curry was “alright, but I could have done better”.

    The next nine evenings we jumped in the hire car we had anyway, even though we had a 2 year old with us, and tried a different restaurant each time. Most of the time we’d drive half an hour or so. They too mostly seemed overpriced for somewhat basic food, but they were actually cheaper than the hotel, and were more interesting, and the food was a little better than the hotel’s. One restaurant stood head and shoulders above the others, run by a French woman in the grounds of the rum distillery.

    • e.thomas says:

      Which was name of the restaurant please – and the island? Any other SEZ food recommendations gratefully received. Thanks

      • Qwerty Bertie says:

        Can’t remember the name of the restaurant, but it is the only restaurant that is within the grounds of Takamaka, which is the only rum distillery on Mahe.

  6. I get both sides of the argument here. For me it comes down to what you prioritise.

    If it is a place you’d love to visit but could otherwise never afford to do it, it comes down to the choice of not going at all or cooking your own meals…. everyone will have their own thoughts on which to go with.

    Personally, eating local foods in local restaurants is a big part of my holidays so this wouldn’t be for me. However, I know people who view food as nothing more than fuel and couldn’t care less whether they were eating gourmet or a tin of beans. In such cases, the visiting the country/region would be way more important than the food.

    Each to their own – YMWV.

    • There is a difference between cooking your own meals and actually taking your own cooker, saucepans etc …

      • Haha.

        Good point – well presented.

      • This is true Rob but i do have a sneaking admiration for someone who has actually done it!

        In our case we actually like to have a kitchen facility when travelling, particularly for breakfast and lunch. Most of the time we would eat out in the evening but still enjoy the odd night in self cooking with a bottle of wine and the iplayer. Its not necessarily cost driven, its just enjoyable. We have a big trip to the States coming up and we will have accommodation with a kitchen most of the time.

        I think there is an easy alternative to lugging your own stuff around and paying baggage fees. Just buy local or get Amazon to deliver to your hotel or local depot and leave it to a local charity when you leave. We do this for all sorts of stuff when we travel.

        • Michael Jennings says:

          I’ve taken portable cookers, saucepans etc when travelling, but only when camping. Somehow that makes it seem reasonable.

        • Recommend you sign up with VPN360 while over there.

  7. guesswho2000 says:

    My OH will tolerate extreme routings, or even changing hotels seventy three times in a week, in the name of points and miles, but I doubt I’d get away with this!

    Not that I’d want to tbh, I’m happy to find interesting ways to get somewhere at a greater level of luxury, but once I get somewhere I want to enjoy it!

    • guesswho2000 says:

      That said, the Hilton Fiji resort apartment we stayed in has BBQs on the deck, and a couple of days we did purchase meat from the market to have on that, but a BBQ and beers on the deck is a bit different!

      • not sure how that is different? you are providing your own food and alcohol and cooking yourself…

        • btw i’m not knocking it because i love a good bbq and beers 🙂 just saying its pretty much the same thing

        • Presumably he didn’t buy the barbeque before the trip and then pay excess baggae to take it with him.

        • guesswho2000 says:

          Indeed, didn’t haul the barbecue with me from home, and the market was on site (Hilton Fiji sells meat packs so people can do this in their apartments, so I still got fleeced on the price!).

  8. Joking aside, you might want to take some wee treats to isolated resorts.

    Good Chocolate, favourite savoury snacks, etc all all rather nice to have with a drink after spending a lot of time in the sea and then lounging on the deck of your water villa…

    • That’s got very little to do with taking a cooking stove on holiday. Everybody buys chocolate and biscuits -even if you are in the Ritz Carlton..

      • Mr(s) Entitled says:

        Honestly, they dont. But that doesnt make them wrong and you right. Or vice versa.

      • Jonah, a little added context, here’s our typical day at Rangali.

        Coffee + cereal bar.
        Morning snorkel
        Generous Rangali brunch with a glass of fizzy.
        Afternoon snorkeling, then enjoy your own afternoon snacks
        Free happy hour at Vilu with provided appetizers.
        1/2 price happy hour at Quiet Zone with more complimentary snacks

        Before you know it, it’s 8:30pm, bit boozy and the sun has set and your ready for bed and to do it all over again.

        We only dined out about 1/3 of the evenings.

        • trip rep/anon, have you ever been to rangali? just wanted to clarify.

        • Mike, why yes, thanks for asking.

          btw – my comment was on topic.

          Feel free to contribute positively.

        • tks for clarifying.

          if I see you mention your visit/s there once more in the comments I am going to cancel my subscription and ask raffles for a pro-rata refund……

        • That all sounds very nice and relaxing – and not a cooking stove in sight!

  9. OT: New to HHonors but am Gold due to Amex Platinum. I currently have zero points. When I search for availability using points at several Hilton hotels I see nothing available – is this because Hilton are searching based off my actual points balance rather than true availability?

    I’m considering buying points in the current sale for my partner and I but would like to know that I stand a pretty reasonable chance of booking a great location such as the above or the Maldives property.

  10. Each to his/her own obviously. 100 years ago as a student some pals and I took dried/tinned food to Spain – just pasta and stuff. We didn’t really eat it. But then we didn’t eat a lot in those days just drank. I do think French Polynesia s a long way to travel to essentially go camping though.

  11. luckyjim says:

    We all like to save money but there are rules.

    Chilling your own beers in the minibar = good.
    Drinking all the whiskey miniatures and refilling them with cold tea = bad.

    Grabbing a fresh coffee as you leave the breakfast buffet = good.
    Filling your bag with bread rolls and cold meats for family lunch = bad.

    Stealing mini bottles of shampoo and soap = good (but why?)
    Stealing hotel bathrobe = bad.

    Any others?

  12. When we do our month long USA road trips we take travel cutlery and disposable plates. I love American food but it can get too much day in day out so some days we just go to Walmart or the local supermarket and buy some chicken and salad and hubby has some beer after driving during the day. The Staybridge Suites are great as they have great kitchenettes. The bulk of our spend ends up being on food and drink so it also helps to keep the cost down so we can travel even more!

    • Yes its not all about cost, many restaurants don’t cater well for everyones needs

    • Chrisasaurus says:

      Love Hamptons over there for same reason

      Though good luck finding anything remotely tempting on the salad front from Walmart!

  13. Charlieface says:

    For anyone who eats only kosher, all of this is completely normal anyway, because they need their own pots and pans etc. Some people take disposable aluminium pans and plastic cutlery, it’s a lot lighter.

    • Not really…. If you are that orthodox you will be staying and eating in Kosher hotels and restaurants. And if you arent that strict, you will eat non-offensive food (ie fish and veg) cooked in a non-kosher kitchen.

      • You’d be surprised. There are plenty of high spending Jewish clients who want to observe a basic kosher diet without the need of a completely kosher kitchen And they don’t necesarily have a problem charging their iPad or using a hotel lift on the Sabbath. Most decent hotels will be able to source kosher ingredients with a little notice…. and charge accordingly. Using brand new cooking pots, pans, utensils and cutlery for kosher gets around the issue and they can be put into general use afterwards. Flexibility on both the client and the hotel usually finds a happy medium.

        • No, if you’re orthodox you take your own private chef these days and he works out of a demarcated corner of the hotel kitchen using his own equipment. So the Jewish parents at school tell me.

        • Charlieface says:

          Rob, I will grant you there are high flyers who do that. But anyone on a more middle-class budget who’s any sort of orthodox cooks their own food, usually in a self catered apartment and they much prefer that. They won’t touch anything cooked by the hotel (unless the whole hotel is kosher, few and far between), just fresh fruit or cereal etc. In the USA apparently 25% of all food sold in supermarkets anyway has some kind of kosher certification so its no big deal.

  14. zzzzzzzzzz...... says:

    Triprep – no PITA bread?

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