No doubt, Hawaii is expensive. But DON’T let that stop you from visiting the islands! Hawaii is NOT just a vacation destination for the rich & wealthy – trust me. We are definitely not rich or wealthy, and we are about to take our second trip to Hawaii within a 12 month period. Yes, you heard that right. 2 vacations, 2 different islands, in only 1 year. And we do it on a serious BUDGET!
Here you’ll find my best tips for saving money before & during your trip that will have you saying Aloha before you know it!
1. When booking a place to stay, AVOID RESORTS! I cannot stress this enough. Resorts come with daily resort fees, parking fees (you’ll want to rent a car), and tend to be in the most touristy areas of the island. Touristy = $$$
2. Consider buying someone’s timeshare week on websites like redweek.com, or book directly with a vacation rental owner on AirBnB or VRBO. These places typically come with beach necessities (chairs, towels, etc.), spacious floor plans, free parking, and great advice from locals.
3. No matter what type of room or place you book, avoid the ocean views. They are nice, but they always cost more. If you want to splurge on this, then go for it! But if you want to save some money, then opt for a city/garden/other scenic view instead.
4. Choose a place that has a kitchen (condos have these). This gives you the option to cook your own meals versus eating out for every meal. Groceries are way cheaper than restaurant meals. Buy groceries at places like Costco, Walmart, or Target.
5. Pack lightly – you won’t need too much. Lots of swimsuits, cover ups, shorts, tees, and sandals. Maybe some sundresses too. The islands are very casual. And if your place has a laundry unit, then you can pack even less and wash clothes in the middle of your trip! This will allow you to pack for your trip in a carry-on and avoid luggage fees and wait times at baggage claim.
6. Book your stay away from the touristy areas. For example, Honolulu (specifically Waikiki) is the most well-known place in Hawaii. The majority of tourists choose to stay here on Oahu. It has all of the resorts and famous restaurants, but it is also CROWDED and EXPENSIVE. Consider staying on the iconic North Shore of Oahu or the northeastern side of Oahu. You are guaranteed to find a better deal and more serene setting for your vacation. Each island is like this with tourist and local areas.
7. If you can, book with discount sites like Expedia, Travelocity, Hotels.com, etc. We typically use Expedia which offers an option to bundle & save on our flights, hotel, and rental car altogether. Even if you book your hotel/condo on AirBnB or another site, Expedia can often save you some money on flights and car rentals.
8. Take advantage of reward programs! Many credit cards offer airline miles on your purchases (we use the CapitalOne Venture Card) that can be used towards travel purchases or towards the cost of your flights. Airlines have membership programs that give members exclusive discounts on flights and more. We also use Ebates, an online company that gives you cash back on online purchases (not just travel purchases). I use this often and have gotten hundreds of dollars back! And yes, I use it on Expedia when we book our vacations! Sounds like a scam, but it’s not – I promise. I wouldn’t recommend it if I didn’t like it.
9. Southwest Airlines began flying to Hawaii in 2019. They are one of the cheapest airlines around with 2 free checked bags per customer (under 50 lbs)! I would recommend checking their fares first. If all airlines seem to have the same prices, I’d recommend flying with Hawaiian Airlines. Their flight attendants wear Hawaiian touches, like leis or flowers in their hair, and you get a meal that includes Maui chips, AND you get a 1 free alcoholic Mai Tai towards the end of your flight (ages 21+). They really set the tone and spread around some Aloha. There’s no better way to start off your trip!
10. Even if you do not have a kitchen, head to the grocery store after you land and grab some snacks and sandwich supplies. You can save a lot of money by eating granola bars or microwave oatmeal for breakfast and having sandwich lunches on the beach. Then you can eat out for dinner. You’ll save a lot of money this way!
11. You can also eat off of dollar menus on the island. Hit up a drive-thru and save a lot of money. There’s no shame in doing this!
12. Another great alternative is Happy Hour. TONS of restaurants offer this! Some are greater than others, so do a little research and check the menus online. Your schedule will be off (Hawaii is 3 hours behind PST) so you will most likely be hungry during Happy Hour at least sometime during your trip.
13. Many activities on Hawaii are FREE: beaches, hiking, snorkeling, exploring. Take advantage of them! We bring our own snorkel masks so we do not have to rent them on the island (it can be $20+ for an hour). There’s so much beauty in the island nature. You don’t have to pay for expensive excursions while you’re there – there’s plenty to do that is cost-free!
14. Visit the swap meet to find your cheapest souvenirs (or just skip buying souvenirs altogether). We are souvenir fanatics and found that the swap meets (aka flea markets) carry the same items as the tourist-trap stores (like the ABC stores or Walmart Hawaiian section). We loved the swap meet on Oahu (only open certain days of the week) and snagged some great deals there. Don’t be afraid to bargain! Maui also has a swap meet, and I’m sure the other islands do as well. You’ll save a ton of money and walk away with some Hawaiian treasures!
15. When renting a car, choose the smallest car possible. It is easy to want to splurge and choose a Jeep or convertible for your trip to Hawaii, but MPG is important (because gas is expensive), and also it rains everyday on the islands. Go with something that is compact and fuel-efficient. These cars are usually the cheapest and you can save hundreds. On our trip to Oahu we drove a Fiat, which worked perfectly for just us two. We explored the entire island and only had to fill up the tank once during the week. It was easy to drive and we were also able to park in compact car spots, which are closer to the stores! Not to mention, we saved a couple hundred dollars! It was only around $300 for 10 days. PS – skip the extra insurance. Your credit card or car insurance usually covers that already.