20 Tips for Visiting Hawaii on a Budget
The Hawaiian Islands aren't exactly known as a budget destination. But that doesn't mean visiting must cost a fortune. Like any other destination around the world, there are plenty of hacks and insider tips that can make a visit to these beautiful islands a bit more wallet friendly. Cheapism asked travel industry insiders to share some of their top recommendations for making a Hawaiian vacation more affordable. Here's what they had to say.
As the former president of Hotwire.com and current CEO of value hotel search site goSeek.com, Clem Bason has plenty of experience with budget travel. Bason recommends timing your trip for off-peak season. "Hawaii prices peak around Christmas and New Years, spring break and through the summer," he says. "If you want to find the lowest prices, try shopping the three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas." That gap is a particularly slow time for airlines, hotels and car rental agencies.
Vacation rentals can be a great bargain, particularly for family getaways. "You'll often find rental homes and condos in Hawaii that are associated with resorts," says Bason. "You rent the home and get to use all the amenities of the resort, including the pool, beach, towel service and activities." He recommends Kailua Kona on the Big Island near the Hapuna Golf Course, where properties offer access to the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel and the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. Check Homeaway and Airbnb for rentals.
Few travelers realize that sites such as Expedia.com, Hotels.com, Orbitz.com, Cheaptickets.com and Travelocity offer weekly coupons that can save as much as 20 percent off a hotel stay. "There is of course some fine print," Bason notes. "Major chains like Marriott and Hilton are excluded and there's often a cap on the total dollar amount you can save." Still, if you're booking an independent hotel or smaller chain, you can save real money with little effort. Look for coupons in the "Deals" section of travel sites.
Buying a package trip to Hawaii can save you as much as half of the cost of your vacation. But it's not a guarantee. "Sometimes packages save you nothing over buying the components separately. But sometimes they can save you up to 50 percent. It's hit or miss, but always worth a check in my opinion," says Bason. "My personal strategy is to get my trip planned by shopping for the individual components and then as a last step, check the package prices on Expedia and Priceline to see if I can do better."
"As a value-conscious traveler, nothing bugs me more than paying $40 plus tip for breakfast in Hawaii," says Bason. "It's highway robbery." To avoid dropping so much cash on eggs and bacon or oatmeal, rent a room or a vacation rental that has a kitchenette and then stop by the local grocery store for a few basic meal items that are easy to prepare.
Makani Kai Air is a small, local airline that doesn't show up on the usual search engines. But it is the cheapest way to travel between Honolulu or Kahului and the island of Molokai, says Keishi Nukina, creator of KNAviation.net. "All of its flights, every day, regardless of when you book, are $50 one way," says Nukina. The airline does not show up on search engines because flights can only be booked directly through the airline itself.
Haleakala National Park is home to Maui's highest peak, rising 10,023 feet above sea level. Watching sunrise at the summit of Haleakala has been a visitor attraction since the late 1800s. And making a reservation (which is required) to be among the lucky souls to witness it costs just $1.50. Samuel Clemens -- aka Mark Twain -- gushed about watching the sun rise here, writing "It was the sublimest spectacle I ever witnessed, and I think the memory of it will remain with me always."
Yet another way to visit multiple islands without spending a fortune is to take the ferry. Expeditions, for instance, offers ferries from Maui to Lanai and also from Maui to Molokai. The cost is $60 round trip for adults and $40 for kids. The one-hour trip takes you across the Auau Channel providing spectacular views of the islands of Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Kahoolawe. Lucky travelers also get to see Humpback whales along the way.
Volunteer travel is always a more affordable option, allowing you to work in exchange for some of your meals or accommodations or offering serious discounts. One example is International Volunteer HQ, which offers an all-inclusive volunteer program in Hawaii. The program fee, which includes accommodations, meals, airport pick-up and program orientation, starts at around $510 for one week. While in Hawaii you will work on a beach conservation project led by local marine advocates.
Interisland flying is one of the most popular ways to get from one island to another in Hawaii. Those who sign up for Hawaiian Airlines' frequent flyer program will receive a $15 discount off the cost of checked luggage. Multiply that by three or four interisland flights, and you have yourself quite a good savings, says Avichai Ben Tzur, editor and publisher of the travel site X Days in Y.
Hawaii has great weather year-round, says Aaron Mandich, who was born and raised in Hawaii and founded the site Flight Baron. The average temperature only fluctuates about eight degrees between winter and summer. Therefore, says Mandich, you can visit at practically any time of the year and have a great experience so there's no need to rush when booking your flight.
However much time you spend searching for the best deal, it's likely that between booking your hotel and when you arrive, the price will drop. JB Rosenberg, author of Vacation Guru: Become a Savvy Traveler While Saving Thousands of Dollars, suggests using Pruvo.net, which monitors hotel prices for you. "Once you book a hotel with the free cancellation option, forward your email confirmation to Pruvo and if Pruvo finds a better price for the exact same hotel they'll notify you and refer you to the website where the better deal was found and provide instructions on how to get that deal," says Rosenberg.
The same price monitoring concept can be applied to car rental prices, says Rosenberg. After you've booked a car rental, submit the details to a site like Autoslash (under the section "Track a Rental.") The site will notify you if a better price is found for the exact same car rental location and automobile type, Rosenberg explains.
Farmers' markets and fish markets can be found throughout the Hawaiian islands and provide a great way to eat inexpensively while also being exposed to local foods. The KCC Saturday Farmers' Market is the largest in Honolulu, and the Koloa Fish Market on Kaua'i is a great place to sample fresh poke.
When you're in Hawaii, a great deal of time is going to be spent on the beach, swimming, snorkeling, diving and more. Why pay for a car rental to sit in a parking lot? Many hotels and resorts also offer shuttle services to popular attractions. Plan your rental carefully, booking a car for only those days when you plan far flung explorations. O'ahu is also known for having Hawaii's best public bus system, which offers a one-day pass for just $5 and children under five are free.
Hawaii's four large islands are served by a publication called This Week Hawaii, which provides information about where to snag discounts. Aloha Visitor Guides offers island-specific issues that include coupons and specials. Both have a digital presence where you can find deals offered ahead of your visit.
While Hawaii includes many beautiful islands, sticking to just one for your visit can help cut costs such as interisland flights, ferries, baggage check fees and more. By many accounts, Honolulu and Oahu may offer the biggest opportunities to save, as they are the most developed and regularly visited of the islands, which typically translates into being cheaper.
Hawaii is a beautiful place with plenty of outdoor offerings, many of which are quite budget friendly. Hiking in national parks for instance, which charge per person or per vehicle, will only cost you between $1 to $25. Top choices include Diamond Head State Monument on Oahu ($5 per car or $1 per person) and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park ($25 per car) on the Big Island.
The website Tom Barefoot's Tours, which has been in business since 1975, offers discount tickets throughout Hawaii on more than 1,500 vacation activities, tourist attractions and more -- everything from air tours to dinner cruises. The site sells tickets for activities on the Big Island, Maui, Oahu, and Kauai.
Given its abundant natural beauty, there are plenty of activities on the Hawaiian Islands that can fill your days, which don't cost a thing. Beaches are obviously a top choice, and some of the most iconic or beautiful include Oahu's Waikiki Beach, the white sand Hapuna Beach and Hawaii's most famous black sand beach Punalu'u Beach on the Big Island, where you can often see endangered Hawksbill turtles and green turtles basking in the sun. If you're in Maui don't miss Makena Beach.