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In case you haven’t realized, we love to travel! And the question I often get is how we can afford to do so many great things? Especially with regards to our three-week trip to Hawaii. Well as always, I managed to plan this vacation to Hawaii on a budget, and I’m excited to share my best Hawaii money saving tips with you.
How to Vacation to Hawaii on a Budget
Although Hawaii is part of the United States, it is not a cheap place to visit. As you can imagine, flights are expensive, as are fancy resorts. But even simple things, like Doritos ($5.99 a bag, anyone?) are marked up due to the expensive costs of shipping goods to the islands. But it is possible to save money while vacationing in Hawaii, or visit Hawaii on a budget.
Flying to Hawaii on a Budget
Your biggest expense on a trip like this is the flight. You can’t road trip in so you have to fly. As with any big airplane trip, I recommend saving up points and looking into credit card rewards about a year in advance to take advantage of getting the maximum in rewards. I love The Points Guy for stuff like this. But since this tip is true for whenever you fly, I am not going to go into how to travel hack here.
From major cities in the US, you might be able to fly direct into Honolulu (this can often be the most expensive ticket, although convenient) or you can look at connecting on the west coast to the Hawaiian island of your choice.
Other ways to save money when flying to Hawaii, consider flying on Southwest, which often offers lower fares, more flexible fares and two checked bags per person with each ticket.
Another flight/hotel money saving option would be to look into a package deal – the kind that I as a full-service travel agent put together for clients. Often this shaves off some of the price of each individual component, plus my Hawaii Travel Planning services are free, so using me to plan your trip will definitely save you time and make sure your trip is incredible!
Hawaii on a Budget: Where to stay
For a family, after flights, the second biggest Hawaii vacation expense is accommodations. On our recent trip, we spent 21 nights in Hawaii, 16 of them in rental properties and the last five at a resort.
In Maui we stayed in a 1-bedroom condo across the street from the beach at an average of $160/night (including all fees and taxes). I rented this directly through the rental company, honestly this property was like a hotel. There was a gorgeous pool, tennis courts, hot tub, a clubhouse and our one bedroom condo had gorgeous views from the lanai.
In Kona (Big Island) we stayed in a 2-bedroom townhouse at an average of $156/night. This I did book through VRBO, although please use caution when booking a rental home owned by one individual. The deeper I go into the travel industry, the more horror stories I hear! But if you are looking for a nice rental in Kona – click the link above and consider this unit. We loved the HUGE property, and the pool was a few feet away, and this was a great home base to explore the whole island.
The last 5 nights we had a wonderful, but expensive stay (average $260 per night) at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott on the Big Island. We did use points to pay for some of our stay. Not only is the per-night cost cheaper in a rental, we had double or triple the space AND more importantly, the ability to grocery shop and cook our own food.
Yes we cooked our own food on vacation (I have friends who laugh at this). With a rental car, and access to the grocery store (Safeway), we were able to buy food, cereal, snacks, waters, sodas, juice boxes, and alcohol at the grocery store and keep them cold at home. This was a big money saver and important to consider if you are doing Hawaii on a budget.
I wrote a whole post on how to save money when booking a vacation rental, so I am going to direct you there for more information. But TRUST me you will save money this way, and honestly besides the poolside bar service, you really won’t miss much! The condos we stayed in had all of the amenities a hotel would have, but with more space, more than one bathroom, and even supplied beach chairs, beach toys and boogie boards!
Now of course, going on vacation, and staying in a hotel is a nice option as well. Between the islands there are some gorgeous resorts, and lets be honest, staying in a fabulous hotel is such a vacation! You can definitely consider doing what we did – a split stay.
When looking to book a hotel in Hawaii -be sure to consider all of the “extra” fees. Many properties charge a hefty “resort fee” that you must pay when you arrive, that are not part of the nightly rate.
At a hotel, car parking will most likely be extra. Also, what meals (if any) are included with your rate? Does the hotel provide an airport shuttle? Or other transportation? These are all important fees to to be aware of, and another reason to use a full-service agent (like me!) to plan a Hawaiian vacation.
Hawaii on a Budget: Car Rental
When visiting the most of Hawaii, you will need to rent a car. In 2005, hubby and I went to Oahu/Waikiki and did not need a car, but I cannot imagine getting around efficiently on the other islands without one. Sometimes I feel like car rental prices come out of a magic eight ball, there is no rhyme or reason to them, but when planning this trip to Hawaii, I figured out some important strategies to save money.
First of all, I recommend booking the smallest type of car that you need. For a family of four, I went with the compact or economy car. You might think of Hawaii as rugged mountain terrain, but you are not taking your rental car on any rugged mountain terrain. The rental companies are very adamant that you keep your car on paved roads only. If you really want to go off roading, there are outlets that will rent you a jeep hourly, or for the day.
All roads in Hawaii are slow. There are no big freeways. You will never be going more than 40mph. Unless you have a lot of passengers, there is no need for a van or large SUV. In Maui we rented a Corolla and that baby climbed Mount Haleakala to 10,000 feet (on paved roads). The car was fine. On the Big Island we had a Ford Focus and went to the observatory at Mauna Kea, which is at 9,200 feet. I felt strongly that for a family of four, renting a smaller car was a good place to skimp a little!
As for actually renting, and I do this whatever my destination, I book cars through Costco Travel (You have to be a member) or BJ’s Travel (where they do not ask you for a membership verification) or sometimes hotwire if you don’t have to pay in advance.
With these sites, you reserve the car, but do not enter your credit card information. I would book, and then periodically check for better deals. When I found a better price, I then booked a new reservation and cancelled the old one. I think for each island I ended up reserving three times as the prices kept going down!
NOTE: I strongly advise AGAINST using third party discount sites for booking the bulk of your travel. I mean, I love Costco for giant bags of chips and toilet paper, but do I really want to book the vacation of a lifetime through a store that sells 100 lbs bags of Kitty Litter? After the COVID-19 debacle of 2020, it became even more evident that travel should always be booked with a travel advisor!
Hawaii on a Budget: Inter-Island Flights
Now as I mentioned above, flying TO Hawaii is expensive. It’s technically domestic, but you are paying fares more on par with international travel (and it will cost you more miles or points than basic domestic flights). BUT, I found a great way to save money when flying between Maui and Kona – commuter airlines!
We flew from Maui to Kona on Mokulele Airlines.
Exactly! Everyone has heard of Hawaiian airlines, and flying them will feel like you are on a small Delta/American/United plane. But there are smaller airlines that operate inter-island flights on smaller planes, and for smaller fares!
I found Mokulele Airlines by searching Google flights. Our Mokulele tickets were $40 cheaper- PER PERSON than the next lowest fare! We paid $20 to check our one bag.
We also had the awesome experience of flying on a 10-passenger Cessna plane. We flew low, so we had great views of both islands. The kids thought it was so cool to be on such a small plane!
Great experience and a money saver- I highly recommend looking outside the box when booking an inter-island flight! Mokulele flies routes between Maui/The Big Island, Maui/Oahu and Maui/Molokai. Island Air is the other commuter airline and operates between Oahu/Maui, Oahu/Kauai and Oahu/Big Island.
CLICK HERE TO SAVE ON ALL YOUR FLIGHT BOOKINGS!
Hawaii on a Budget: How to save on activities
This was a long trip where many days we lived like locals, waking up, eating breakfast, me going for a run or walk, heading to the beach with a picnic lunch and seeing where the day took us. But there were a few activities that we researched, and booked, in advance of the trip. Not only did this give us an outline to our time in Hawaii, but we saved money by booking in advance.
Maui Ocean Center – If you book online, you can purchase a Fin-Tastic Family pass for only $81.95. This is for a family of four and will save you about $14. You can only purchase this online, one-day in advance of heading to the aquarium.
Luau – we booked our luau through Honu Hawaii Activities and saved about $20 per ticket. I highly recommend looking for discount luau tickets before you go.
Snorkeling – we advanced booked this snorkeling trip and saved $10 per person.
I highly recommend all of these actual activities (check out: Maui Must-Do, Best Big Island Beaches, Big Island Activities) but in general, Google what you want to do and look for discounts online before you head to the islands. If you are going to pay for these experiences, might as well save a little money!
Hawaii on a Budget: Come Prepared. Or Not.
Figuring most items would be sold at a premium, we came to Hawaii well stocked. We had 8 bottles of sunscreen, toys, pool toys and all the toiletries we thought we would need. Online I purchased THIS set of two underwater cameras, which alone saved me about $20 over buying two cameras at our local CVS! On the snorkeling trip you could have rented an underwater camera for $40, but then you would have only had it for that two hours!
But with that said, we did need to buy some things. In Kona there is a Wal-Mart, where the prices were reasonable. Wal-Mart is also a good place to get postcards and souvenirs. In Maui there is a big K-Mart. So as long as you aren’t confined to buying at the resort gift shop, no need to panic if you do need to buy another bottle of sunscreen (as we did) or want to purchase some pool toys for the kids.
Hawaii on a Budget: The Beach is Free
That’s right. The best thing to do in Hawaii is actually FREE! No beaches charge to get on the sand. Now parking, that is a different story… state parks charge $5 per car, but still so reasonable! To access some great beaches, like Kamaole I, II & III on Maui, or Magic Sands on the Big Island, you have to find street parking. In August, we never had problems finding spots, and again, that’s where having a small car also comes in handy!
Hawaii on a Budget – Cruise the Islands
I should probably title this section, Hawaii on a budget (MAYBE).
One way to see all four of the major islands is to cruise them. Norwegian Cruise Line has a weekly, 7-night, sailing on the Pride of America. This is the only round trip Hawaiian cruise (meaning it starts and ends in Hawaii) and can MAYBE be an economical way to explore the Hawaiian Islands.
I say maybe because this is an expensive cruise. BUT with a cruise, you get a lot. Your cruise fare includes your sleeping accommodations, meals, and your “inter-island” travel because you are sailing. NCL also prices their cruises to be more all-inclusive, so depending on which type of cabin you book (inside, outside, balcony, etc.) your cruise fare may include some or all of the FREE AT SEA perks – drink packages, specialty dining, shore excursion credits or wi-fi minutes.
Norwegian Cruise Line often has a free or reduced air promo for the Pride of America sailings – so another way you can save money on your Hawaii vacation.
You all know I love to cruise (I can’t wait to get on the Pride someday) and you all know you should always book a cruise with a travel agent so be sure to reach out if you are interested in this, or other sailings!
Have you been to Hawaii?
What are your best tips for visiting Hawaii on a budget?
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21 Amazing Things to Do in Hawaii by Off With the Kids