How to Vacation to Hawaii on a Budget

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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.

Hawaii on a budget

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.

Hawaii Money Saving Tips. Tips for saving money when traveling in Hawaii. Help booking the best place to stay, rental car, activities and inter-island flights! #Hawaii #Maui #TravelHacks #MoneySavingTips #FamilyTravel


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!

Check out everything you need to bring to your beach house vacation rental.


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

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!

Hertz logo 125x125


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.


Hawaii Money Saving Tips. Tips for saving money when traveling in Hawaii. Help booking the best place to stay, rental car, activities and inter-island flights!

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!

Hawaii Money Saving Tips. Tips for saving money when traveling in Hawaii. Help booking the best place to stay, rental car, activities and inter-island flights!

Hawaii Money Saving Tips. Tips for saving money when traveling in Hawaii. Help booking the best place to stay, rental car, activities and inter-island flights!

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.




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.

Hawaii Money Saving Tips. Tips for saving money when traveling in Hawaii. Help booking the best place to stay, rental car, activities and inter-island flights!

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 outMaui 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 Money Saving Tips. Tips for saving money when traveling in Hawaii. Help booking the best place to stay, rental car, activities and inter-island flights!
Magic Sands Beach, Kona, Hawaii. No charge to get on the sand. Street parking free of charge.

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.

Pride of America Itinerary

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.

Pride of America

5 reasons to Cruise Hawaii

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?




Hawaii Money Saving Tips. Tips for saving money when traveling in Hawaii. Help booking the best place to stay, rental car, activities and inter-island flights! #Hawaii #Maui #TravelHacks #MoneySavingTips #FamilyTravel


Other awesome Hawaii posts:

21 Amazing Things to Do in Hawaii by Off With the Kids

14 Recommended Local North Shore Oahu Activities



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57 Comments to “How to Vacation to Hawaii on a Budget”

  1. I’ve been to Oahu several times but that’s the only island I’ve ever been to. I think these are great tips though, especially about the food. What we usually do is buy fruit and muffins we can eat for breakfast, and oftentimes that’s eaten in the car or on a hike. Great way to save money and get an early start! Also, our favorite place to souvenir shop on Oahu is the swap meet, find all the same stuff as your local tourist shops but for much cheaper!

    1. harmskills Author

      oh wow, great tips! Hubby and I spent time on Oahu in 2005, so we stuck to two islands (Maui and the Big Island) for this trip. I’d love to go back and do Oahu & Kuaui (never been to this one!)

  2. I love these tips! I am dying to go to Hawaii and always find myself so discouraged looking up fights and seeing how expensive it is! These tips seem like a total life saver for actually visiting Hawaii. What are you favorite islands to visit?

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. harmskills Author

      Maui was the most beautiful! I love the beach bum, hang 10 kinda culture. Flights are def pricy but check out pointsguy if you are into travel rewards, i got 60K miles this year on delta just for signing up for a new card!

  3. This post totally makes me want to go to Hawaii again. We went before we had kids so it wasn’t as expensive. Thanks for sharing such great tips!! They’ll be so helpful if we ever get a chance to go again!

  4. I was actually born and raised in Kona, Hawaii, and I know first hand how expensive it can be! You shared some great tips! My parents both own retail shops on Alii Drive,, Kona Inn Jewelry and Hawaiian Fruit and Flower Company, if y’all ever need souvenirs, and they are just as cheap as Walmart, I promise! And we are friends with the owners of Mokulele Airlines, glad you were able to fly cheaper with them!

  5. We visited Hawaii for two weeks last July with a 3-year old and a 12-week old baby, and I totally agree with your tips! The beach being free is a huge one; when you think of Hawaii, you think beaches, and it doesn’t cost a penny to sit on the sand! I would also add that we found eating local produce was cheaper; ordering fish instead of steak at dinner, for instance.

  6. These tips are fab. We have been dreaming of going to Hawaii for so long but just do not have the funds right now. I love these tips. Never thought of staying in a condo but will now. We love the beach and we love that it is free. It is always one of our top activities abroad!

  7. Thank you for the fabulous tips! Hawaii is on our bucket list and this post will infidelity help us commit to doing it sooner!

    Looking forward to reading more of your work!

  8. I have never been to Hawaii before, but I will one day hopefully. I liked the idea that you are trying to save some money, people do not understand that that way you can afford to stay longer on your holiday.

  9. Some great advice, especially on booking the car rentals! Travel prices seem to go up and down all the time, and it takes some watching to find the bargains! Looks like you had a great time, too!

  10. We are headed to the Big Island next month and have found the same things you list to be true. Most notably, Costco wins for car rental cost hands down (especially since we will have 3 drivers and they don’t charge for additional drivers).

    Good tip on making sure to pack sunscreen and various sundries. Are prices at Costco and Wal-Mart also higher than on the mainland? This will be my first trip to Hawaii and all I hear is how crazy expensive everything is – except the beaches and the forests – those are free! 🙂

    1. harmskills Author

      wal mart really wasnt that much more. We had to buy sunscreen at CVS and it was about the same. Groceries were the biggest sticker shock. All grocery items were at least a $1 more than I find at home. This at the safeway.

  11. Tara

    These are some amazing tips! Our dream vacation is to spend several weeks in Hawaii and we’ve been concerned about the cost. Your tips could help us make this dream trip a reality sooner rather than years later!

  12. Great tips! I agree about saving money by cooking for yourself most days. It saves on any trip, but especially in Hawaii where prices are so much higher than many other places. Great tips about the car rental, too. I, too rent the smallest car I can get away with and book/cancel as prices change.

  13. Aw, I’ve just been to Hawaii earlier this year and I can totally relate to everything you posted. I did not buy sunscreen or underwater cameras in advance and was very shocked by the prices – even though I lived in San Francisco, where everything is usually pretty expensive as well.
    I also loved your tip regarding the airline. We flew with Island Air between Oahu and Kauai but I haven’t heard about the commuter islands. Great tip for next time when I definitely want to visit Maui as well!


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