After having written now more than twenty articles to help you prepare your trip to French Polynesia, I am still being asked this question by email: should you go through an agency for a travel to Tahiti? The answer is: it depends! 🙂
Unlike other articles, more focusing on travel guides to the “paradise on earth and lagoon”, the idea today is to write you a more personal article, based on my own feelings and my 5-year experience on the territory until now. For many people, traveling to Tahiti and the entire Polynesian territory remains the trip of a lifetime, the trip we dream about at night, the trip of our honeymoon. Just the names of these Pacific islands, Bora Bora or the Marquesas Islands make more than one shudder, don’t they? This dream vacation – fan-shaped feet and wearing a pareo – on the terrace of an overwater bungalow, above turquoise waters, many people dream about it…
A little story on how did I get the idea for this article? Well, I had it in mind for some time, and I was receiving several times a month people who were wondering if they should go in this paradisiacal setting with an agency or not? And if so, which one would I advise? That’s why I said to myself now is the right time to look into the matter!
First of all, I’ve never gone personally with a travel agency and it’s just not the kind of trip I usually recommend around me. It doesn’t match my idea and way of traveling. I prefer my freedom and the excitement of preparing my trip all by myself, or even not preparing anything at all (as I do more frequently now). Leaving almost unexpectedly, without knowing what is going to happen, where I am going to go, where I am going to sleep, makes me vibrate even more now than organizing everything from A to Z.
However, I do understand that this is not the same for everyone and some people have this need to organize things. It’s far from being a criticism, everyone has their own vision of travel and their own way of traveling and having a good time. For some, organizing a trip is a pleasure, for others it is a waste of time. Otherwise, travel agencies and tour operators would not exist at all, right? The objective of this article is therefore to offer you my piece of thought on the need to organize or not a holiday in Tahiti by an agency. We will talk about factual, real, so to speak pragmatic things. I will voluntarily try to make you think (but not too much!) about which interest you have to go through a travel agency in French Polynesia.
According to my analysis, the recent arrival of the low-cost French Bee on the Polynesian market makes the decision to choose with or without an agency for your trip even more difficult. I feel like prices have dropped a lot, since almost all agencies have included this new low-cost company in their offers. Knowing the price of the Paris-Papeete ticket was a very important part of the costs, they have been revised downwards. If you’re coming from the US, Los Angeles or San Francisco, the cost of your airline ticket will of course be less important. At the end of the article, I’ll try comparing the price of a trip to Papeete with an agency to what it would have cost me if I had organized it myself. Suspense at the end of the article…
Come on, let’s see together if an all-inclusive trip to Tahiti is the best solution for you? Don’t blame me if you spend the next 15/20 minutes on this long article, I really let myself go, I confess…but I sincerely hope it will be able to guide you!
Let’s go straight away together in a few thoughts that could help you in your choice if you’re still hesitating. So yes, if you’d like to, I can recommend you a serious local agency that I’ve only had very good feedback from. The objective is not to advertise to anyone, so I will voluntarily not mention it in the article. Nor will I mention the notion of budget at the beginning in these considerations. Indeed, this is truly important for some and much less for others who will have more freedom or luxury to make this choice!
I think this is the first thought you should have if you are planning a trip to Tahiti. Are you ready to grasp the nettle and prepare the trip? I would say that it will depend on your habits and the way you travel. Obviously, if you are used to traveling in Europe or Asia with a travel agency because you find it easier this way, the question does not arise for a vacation in French Polynesia. Why? Because for people who are not used to organize, this kind of trip is a little hard to imagine, especially as a dream destination that far away.
If you are used to traveling, especially far enough in remote corners, and that it does not scare you, then you can do it. I will of course encourage people who are used to it and have the motivation to organize everything on their own. When I say it’s a bit of a hassle, here are the elements you will at least have to take into account to organize your trip:
- Find the best season to travel to Tahiti (as in any trip actually, except that here it can rain for 15 days in a row…),
- Book yourself your international flights at the best prices,
- Choose your itinerary in French Polynesia: 5 archipelagos, 120 islands, there is plenty to see…but choices have to be made,
- Book also (if I may say so, get worked up) the Air Tahiti Pass. You are more and more to ask me for advices on which islands to choose and on the Air Tahiti Pass. I just wrote an article on this subject.
- Set a route from one island to another one, and it’s not always easy to know in which order you’re going to travel,
- Choose your accommodation and make reservations from a distance.
These are basically the things you’re going to have to think about. If it doesn’t scare you and you still feel motivated, then go for it! I haven’t mentioned the notion of budget here. We’re just talking about motivation and whether or not you’re used to doing something like this. Does it cost more by an agency or not? And is it important for you to save a little bit? That’s another debate.
For some people, just like me when I had the need to have everything fixed in my head or on a small piece of paper, planning is just part of the trip. It’s the excitement of the moment, and you already feel like you’re on a trip as soon as you browse the web to find out which islands you’re going to visit, how long it takes to get here by boat, how to get to the Marquesas Islands, etc.
Honestly, I do understand it. I organized my trips and my year in Southeast Asia this way, or almost, for a year. I wanted to set things up and plan everything, which was too much in retrospect for my taste now. In any case, it is a question you have to ask yourself clearly. Do you see the organization of your vacation to Tahiti as a constraint, a joy, a step in your holiday? Or conversely, do you see it as a pain? A waste of time? A headache to set everything up?
This is one of the questions you should ask yourself if you need to go through an agency for your holiday. It’s also possible that you simply don’t want to bother with all of this and the only thing you want to do is to bask on white sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters, the rest being secondary. If that’s the case, going through an agency will never be a bad idea; in my opinion.
This is another point I wanted to discuss, especially from my personal experience: the notion of freedom in the broadest sense. For me, going with an agency is simply a matter of having to set things in motion, to set your agenda, your schedule, your travels, your islands, your archipelagos, the order in which you’ll have to visit them, etc. Is that what you want?
If I had to talk about my experiences, I’d say no: I’ve never wanted to do that and the more time passes, the less I want to do it. But again, it’s my vision of things and not a universal vision. I have less and less desire to have everything prepared before the trip.. Maybe it’s due to the fact that I’ve traveled quite a bit now and I’m no longer anxious on some things, I don’t know. When you don’t know where you’re going and you don’t know how life works there, you’re entitled to be fearful.
Now, ask yourself if you really want to be free to do whatever you want to do once there, or not? Let’s be clear: with an agency, you won’t have very much flexibility on the spot – hardly any. If you finally want to stay 3 more days in Moorea because you loved the island, you cannot. If you decide to visit the valleys of Tahiti when it was not initially on your schedule, it’s the same. Nothing is important in itself, and if you like things to be square for your vacations and everything going smoothly, then no doubt that going with an agency during your trip to Tahiti will be a good idea!
I would say that choosing an agency brings you the peace of mind you may be looking for. You don’t have to ask yourself any questions since you pay an agency that asks these questions for you. No need to know how to reach a particular island at the last minute, or whether you will have room in a particular guesthouse. Everything will be arranged in advance.
Before talking about money strictly speaking and the cost of both solutions, I wanted to mention the notion of time. Depending on your life, your situation or your work, it is quite possible that you may not even have time to organize your travel to Tahiti. If you work 70 hours a week, coming home and planning a trip in the evening may not be ideal for you. Maybe you need some peace and quiet and not have to worry about choosing between Huahine and Raiatea or between the infinity pool of the Intercontinental or the Saint Regis of Bora Bora.
It is again a matter of choice. To organize a 2 to 3-weeks trip to French Polynesia, it takes time and for many, time is money. I am of course talking about people who actually want to organize something. Since I’ve been keeping this blog, the great majority of people who come to the Polynesian territory really want to optimize (even if I don’t like this word…) their trip and “see the maximum” (.. and this expression even less.). It is not a criticism, it is a reality.
A little personal idea of why people need to plan things when they come on a trip to French Polynesia? I’ll say that for many, it’s the trip of a lifetime or almost, the postcard that everyone imagines (white sand/coconut trees…) and there is no way for them to miss something. It’s a vision of things – not necessarily mine, but I respect it.
During a trip to French Polynesia, why not discover the remote and authentic archipelagos (the Gambier here)?
And then, there are also people who like to organize as we discussed before, and who do their own research, take their own opinions, etc. These people don’t necessarily go with an agency because they like organizing themselves and this is clearly part of the trip. For the majority, myself included, we all think that a travel agency is necessarily more expensive because it earns a commission somewhere… Otherwise how would they really make a living of it?
This brings me to the last point: money. It is for the majority of readers of these lines the essential point – not to say crucial. It doesn’t matter if you have the time, the desire, the motivation to organize your trip: if the travel agency costs more than if you do it yourself, chances are you will try the thing on your own. I bring you here in my little comparative game to see what it really looks like, in all honesty.
It’s really an important point I want to develop because personally, not to mention the fact that it’s not my way of traveling, I still think it’s more expensive sometimes to go through an agency. But this vision of things is wrong as far as I am concerned because no agency will propose you 3 nights camping in Moorea, 2 nights camping in Tikehau, 3 sandwiches for lunch in Rangiroa and 4 plates of pasta on the beach in Maupiti. It may make you smile but you understand the idea, don’t you? My vision of the trip and the way I travel are simply not compatible now with the need to let a travel agency organize my trip. But what is yours? Are you sure you’re going to pay less than with an agency, depending on how you travel and what you like?
Well, I admit that the title is a bit catchy and covers a lot of things! I just added this little paragraph as we are in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic. Some of you went through agencies and some of you organized everything by yourselves, but I want to say that it does not matter. If I had to summarize and globalize things, I would say that in case of any worries or glitches, going through a local travel agency will make things a lot easier, in my opinion.
Of course, you can’t always think during such a journey or a world-trip that something is going to go wrong, but it does happen: an Air Tahiti strike, problems with boats to go to some islands, a global pandemic… In short, from what I have seen locally during the crisis and with the agencies I know well here, things are way easier to manage with them directly. In the present case of Covid-19, the agencies simply agreed to reschedule the trip to a later date. So yes, there may be extra costs to pay if you change for example from low to high season (normal), but once your agreement is given, the agency takes care of entirely everything! They will modify your international and local plane tickets, change your hotel dates, manage your transfers, etc. In short, you will save a lot of time and avoid a lot of headaches! To sum up, as you will have understood, having passed by agency will be a big plus in case of worries!
You are more and more to ask us if you should keep your holiday with the actual situation here, and especially regarding all the measures which have to be taken before coming here on a trip. Personally, I think that it is always worth it to come here despite the Covid. French Polynesia remains one of the only corners at the end of the world where French people (and others) can escape to go on vacation. On the other hand, many countries have closed their borders and it becomes complicated to actually travel at the moment. However, many ask me (even more at this very moment) if it is absolutely necessary to go through an agency to travel to French Polynesia. To simply answer this question, I could quote you countless comments and feedback from people who have really struggled and are still struggling for their trip.
Indeed, airlines have to adapt and modify their flights daily according to different criteria. As a result, all the people who had booked their trip alone had a lot of problems as soon as their international flight was delayed, even if it was only for a day or two as is often the case these days. Practically speaking, when it happens, you have to think about:
- Modifying your inter-island flights of your Pass: between the fact that Air Tahiti is rarely or hardly reachable from France or elsewhere, and the fact that you will have to think about a new flight organization, it will not be an easy task. Moreover, you will also often realize that the flights you wanted to book are no longer available, which means that your initial planning is no longer possible.
- Changing your accommodations: in parallel to all your flight changes, you will have to re-book all your accommodations on the islands you will be visiting. Once again, I often had the case of people who find themselves stuck simply because the accommodations are full on the dates they want to postpone their holiday,
- Also changing the activities you have booked. This may be less of a problem, but let’s just say it’s still something to think about.
As you can see, it’s really not easy if your flight is changed for a few days, no matter why the company did it actually – pandemic or not. For all these reasons, I recommend even more than usual to go through a local travel agency. Of course, you can do without, but a lot of people kick themselves now, especially during the Covid period!
By the way, I wrote a complete article on how to travel to French Polynesia during the Covid19 crisis. You will find there the essential to prepare yourself: what you need to know, formalities, the tests you’ll have to do, the documents not to forget, and my view on a lot of questions!
Come on, I’ll take you on my little comparison game. I had a lot of fun trying to compare a classic 12-day stay at a local travel agency, assuming that the only question for you is money. I obviously couldn’t compare the exact prices of each service because the agency doesn’t give them. I only have a global price for a defined itinerary. This is what I started with:
- 12-days and 10-nights stay in French Polynesia: 2521€, let’s say 2500€ then,
- Flights are included from Paris with the low cost airline French Bee. The condition was to fly between 11/01 and 11/16.
- Internal flights with Air Tahiti are included,
- Transfers from airports to accommodation are also included (to be honest, it is always the case – or almost – at least in a guesthouse).
- The tour includes small hotels and guesthouses, with or without half board. No over-water bungalows so, we are not on a luxury trip here,
- Tourist taxes are not included, but they are minimal so I deliberately do not include them in my calculations, at the risk of tearing my hair out.
So, I had fun (so to speak!) checking the prices for all the items below:
- International flights with the French Bee airline during this period,
- Inter-island flights -> basically choose the Air Tahiti Pass adapted to the same period,
- Accommodation detailed in the agency’s offer and according to the chosen formula,
- Regarding airport transfers, I’m more hesitant because – maybe apart from Tahiti – in all the islands, when I slept in a guesthouse, someone always comes to pick you up for free or almost…
Details of the agency for accommodation :
Moorea – Fare Vaihere – Bungalow – 3 nights with Continental Breakfast
Huahine – Moana lodge – Garden Bungalow – 3 nights with Breakfast
Bora Bora – Hotel Matira – Bungalow Garden View – 3 nights with Continental Breakfast
Tahiti – Relais Fenua – Room with air-conditioning – 1 night with Continental Breakfast
Maupiti, my island paradise for your trip to French Polynesia!
Here are the results found if I organize the trip by myself:
- International flight: about 1100€ round trip
- Inter-island flight: Pass Air Tahiti: Pass Moana: 300€: covers all the islands
- Fare Vaihere in Moorea – 3 nights with continental breakfast: 465 €.
- Moana Lodge: Bungalow garden + Breakfast + transfer: 390 €.
- Matira Lodge Bora 3 nights bungalow Garden: 530€.
- Tahiti Relais Fenua 1 night: 90€.
TOTAL : 2875€
I must confess that I was skeptical of the result found, more expensive by about 375€. I rechecked my calculations and counted it all again, ditto. I have a margin of uncertainty of 100 to 200€ on the price of the international plane ticket which may vary, but let’s say that the difference still remains between 150 and 250€ on average.
You may wonder how this is possible in reality. I was one of those who think that, as a general rule, going with a travel agency to Tahiti was always more expensive than organizing the thing itself. Apparently, I am mistaken.
I can already give some answers to these results which may seem strange at first glance. In all transparency for my readers, I went to several local agencies who explained the same thing to me. I had some bells and whistles, but it coincides with this result and I think agencies would not really have any interest in lying to me on these points.
The explanations are quite simple:
- On international flights: while you are going to pay a standard fare level price by choosing a company that comes to Tahiti (either French Bee, Air France or Air Tahiti Nui), the travel agency manages to negotiate prices with them knowing that they promise to fill up part of their plane obviously. For example, on a flight with French Bee, agencies could pay 150 to 200€ less than you actually pay (even more on a flight with a standard airline). That already explains part of it.
- Concerning accommodation, the principle is the same: you will pay the price displayed on the website of the guesthouse or resort, whereas a travel agency working all the time with the same establishments will have negotiated rates, close to a resident rate and sometimes even less. As tourists, you’ll never actually get them. In addition, they also buy a very large number of rooms, which reduces the unit price per night.
I think that makes sense. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to do this test over several vacations, but I think I should come to the same conclusion: it is possible that a vacation in Tahiti with an agency may actually cost you less. And no, I’m not telling you that you should at any cost travel with an agency, far from it – I’m just saying.
An à-la-carte trip by agency may therefore be suitable for some people. Moreover, it is also possible to include cruises in the islands for a good moment of total escape and idleness.
Here’s how I finally feel about my little game, what I’ve learned, and the reality. Because yes, it seems that traveling with an agency could cost you less than if you organize your trip alone, but I will say ABOVE ALL that everything depends on the kind of trip you plan to do first.
It is necessary to moderate a little what I said (because we only talk about money here) and as we have seen together, this is not always the essential point for everyone. In my opinion, here are already some reasons why organizing the travel to Tahiti by yourself might be a better idea (not to mention the money):
- You are used to traveling and organizing things in your own way and you like it,
- You have time to prepare this trip and you love it too,
- You like your own freedom and advise things as they happen when you travel.
For example, I know pertinently that traveling today with an agency is not for me and will never cost me less. How do I know it? For the simple reason that I often travel on a budget, camping, snacking on the road and that I go very little or not at all to luxury hotels and restaurants. An agency won’t be able to beat you on prices like the ones you expect on an economical trip.
I summarize my vision of things below.
I’m talking about all backpackers, globetrotters etc. all the people who usually come to Tahiti with a small budget and do their best not to go heavily into debt by coming here…
Basically, if you’re like me, whether you are planning to go camping on the territory, to sleep in dormitories, in Airbnb, or in small local guesthouses at low prices, I don’t think that planning a trip in an agency has a true financial interest. Not to mention that for the vast majority of us (come on, I include myself in it, let’s be crazy!), you love discovery, adventure, the unexpected, surprises. For many, booking a trip with an agency clearly does not seem to be a good solution and will simply not suit us…
By the way, for a little reminder, here are some tips on how to do a cheap trip to French Polynesia.
And if you are looking for a rental car in French Polynesia, it’s this way!
The atoll of Tikehau, a wonderful place in the Tuamotu (ideal for divers)
Well, I admit that normal doesn’t mean anything, but I haven’t found a more appropriate word yet. I would put in this category all the people who don’t want to go camping or sleep in a dormitory as described above, but who don’t want either to go to the Hilton or the Bora Bora Meridian for a fortnight, sipping cocktails on the beach… Chances are you’re in it.
I’m simplifying a bit, but you are a large majority in this category. You are a young couple with a little means, a good job and you want to have fun in French Polynesia, but without ruining yourself either. You are a family with 1 or 2 children and you have always dreamed of a trip to Tahiti. You have a good life, without rolling on gold and you’d love to enjoy 15 days or 3 weeks of dream in this idyllic setting. Well, you get the idea, don’t you?
Considering what I’ve learned and concluded, you fit right in the category of people for who going with an agency in French Polynesia could be more interesting, at least economically speaking. I’m talking about money because you might want to have your own freedom there and you might want to go where the wind will carry you. Or you just love travelling, know very well the organization of tours, and you are not at the expense of saving a bit of money. You simply prefer to take your time and prepare your trip yourself.
However, for a great majority of you (who already had the courage to read the text so far), you will do according to your means, and if you can save 500€/1000€ on your next trip by going through an agency rather than doing it yourself, you will undoubtedly be interested. You are in the category where a tailor-made trip will be able to help you, both on accommodation (same guesthouses and/or small hotel) and on international flights. The agency will most likely always pay less than you’ll do.
For all of you, I would advise the following:
- Search the web to get as much information as possible about French Polynesia, and what you would like to see and do. You can use our blog as a starting point, where you’ll still find a lot of info (the guy toots a bit its own horn, right? 😂).
- Then contact a local agency (I think it’s better, isn’t it?) and ask for a quote on what you plan to do,
- If food is not a priority for you, you can ask to exclude full board and only take half board for example to reduce the costs,
- Do not hesitate to compare prices of the different agencies of course.
In the end, your flight and your accommodations will be cheaper with an agency and you keep the freedom in terms of food for lunch for example, if you are on half board. If you like to organize things in advance, if you are afraid of not getting out of it with all the preparation of the trip and if on top of that you want to save some money, it is not a bad idea to consider going through a travel agency in Papeete.
Last category of people, those who wish to enjoy their honeymoon trip on beautiful sandy beaches. I’m not really sure that the question actually arises, and even if I can’t verify it with precise statistics, I think that the majority of you already leave with an agency. Several easy reasons: you probably won’t come camping on your honeymoon in French Polynesia, you have saved up or you have been paid for a nice trip here and you want to “treat yourself”. You want to live 15 days of dream and you don’t want to be bothered too much with the organization. In any case, going through an agency will probably always be a better idea here and you will most certainly never match the prices the agency may have. For those who want to know more, I wrote a full article about honeymoons in French Polynesia 🙂
I’m ending this very (very) long article on this point. If you’ve already settled on the idea of going with an agency, this is a question you’re going to ask yourself. For me it’s quite easy to answer it. When you search on the net, you will find tons of travel agencies offering trips to Tahiti. For the majority of them, they are located in Paris or in France (we will say that they have the best SEO budget to be well positioned on Google…).
Personally, if I’d go with an agency and had to choose one, I’d prefer people who know the territory perfectly. So yes, someagencies will explain that they have local contacts, they have lived in French Polynesia for “x” years, etc. But in my opinion, nothing is better than an agency on the spot at least to privilege local employment on the territory (it is important anyway) and to make sure that the agency really knows all the particularities of the territory. Several local agencies (I haven’t truly checked) told me that agencies in France / US could be on average 5 to 8% more expensive on a trip.
You are going to tell me that everything depends on the type of trip you want to do and mainly on 3 points: if you come with a low cost, the accommodations you are going to choose and the number of islands or archipelagos you are going to visit. This is an obvious point to note but:
- You can do a cheap trip in an agency if you take off the half board and decide to cook your own food or taste a good raw fish in a local snack bar rather than in a lush hotel,
- Similarly, for the islands, if you want to go a little “off the beaten track” (Gambier, Marquesas, Australes), prices are going to be higher (flights being more expensive). Some tourists decide to discover for example the islands of Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa, especially to see the tombs of Brel and Gauguin.
- The cheapest flight to Europe or the US to Papeete will usually be with French Bee or United (see if it is important for you).
I deliberately exclude excursions/activities in the price, as people often feel like doing the organization all by themselves (even in All Inclusive). Here are some prices ideas (complete trip with flight from France included), by (local) agency and from what I know of course. I’ve tried to classify according to the type of stay, knowing that it is very often possible to make a combination of both types of accommodation – for example having fun in Bora Bora overwater bungalows and sleeping in guesthouses in Moorea or Fakarava.
But you should know that this article was first written by me in French (as I’ve been living here for 5 years now) and that a lot of French people – from France – are coming. Chances are if you’re reading this text in English, you will come from a European English-speaking country, or from US/Canada.
From Europe, prices will be more or less the same as shown below. Sometimes, the cheaper way will be for you to choose a flight from your capital to Paris and then flight to Papeete with a stop-over at Los Angeles or San Francisco.
From the US, prices will be lower than that as you will only have to take one flight from LA or SF to Papeete. So, I would say you can lower the price by about more or less 500€!
Vacation in French Polynesia in a small hotel/guesthouse
- 10/12 days in the Leeward Islands: 2500€/person,
- 2 weeks in the Leeward Islands: 3000€/person,
Vacation in French Polynesia for a honeymoon
- 2 weeks Leeward Islands + Tuamotu atolls: 3500/4000€ per person
- 3 weeks Leeward Islands + Tuamotu: 4000/5000€ per person
A mix of nice hotels and smaller ones
- 3 weeks Leeward Islands + Tuamotu Lagoons: 5000/6000€ per person
- 1 month Marquesas + Leeward Islands + Tuamotu: 6000/7000€ per person
Luxury stay in an all-inclusive formula (the thing that really rocks)!
- 15 days Leeward Islands + Tuamotu: 9000/10000€ per person
Figures are just big ranges giving you a first idea of what it could cost. Afterwards, everything is adaptable and negotiable to some extent with the agencies!
Why am I telling you to “go further”? Because despite the fact that I personally find this article quite complete (haha), there are still recurring questions coming up quite often. So finally, I told myself that the article still lacks a few specific points. I’ll tell you all of this in the different little elevators below. You just have to click on the small magnifying glass to learn a little more!
That’s where I stop, and I hope I have enlightened you as best as possible on the interest or not (for you) of choosing an agency for a tailor-made trip to Tahiti. What do you think about it? What kind of traveler are you? Feel free to give me a feedback on the article. Did you find this article useful? In any case, I am open to any remarks and comments on the question. If you need a very good and serious local agency, don’t hesitate to contact me of course!
See you soon,