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If you’re tossing around the idea of a Hawaii vacation, you probably know that the dream vacation often comes with a not so dreamy price tag. If you only have a vague idea of the exact numbers, check out this post on how much a trip to Hawaii costs. Once you get over the sticker shock, here are a few ways you can do Hawaii on a budget:
1.Don’t travel during high season. This is the single biggest way to save money on your Hawaiian vacation. High season is around the winter holidays and summer months. If you’re able to travel during the low season (there really is no “off” season in Hawaii), you’ll save a bundle on airfare and accommodations. For more info on the best (and cheapest) time to go to Hawaii, read this post.
2.Be flexible on when you can go and look for deals. If you’re flexible on your dates, you’ll leave yourself open to snagging great airfare or room deals when they become available. Track flights on Google Flights or set some alerts on SkyScanner.
3.Book a package. Sometimes booking a vacation package will score you a big discount as opposed to booking your airfare, hotel, and rental car by themselves. Hawaiian Airlines often runs good specials (I would sign up for their emails) and if you’re a member of Costco, they have travel specials that you can take advantage of.
4.Travel with a group. When you travel with a group of people, even another couple, you’ll be able to split a lot of the costs. Splitting a two or three-bedroom condo (and a rental car) will really cut down on the costs and be much cheaper than a one-bedroom condo or hotel room.
RELATED: How Much Does a Trip to Hawaii Cost?
5.Stay in a condo or vacation home. Choosing a condo is going to be MUCH cheaper than a comparable resort and many of them have resort like amenities. You’ll likely get much more room for the money and most will come with a kitchen and washer and dryer. If you’re looking for something even cheaper, many locals will rent out their “ohanas” which is usually something like a garage apartment or guest cottage. I’d recommend searching on VRBO or Airbnb (get $40 off your first stay) for these types of set ups.
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6.Choose the most affordable part of the island. No matter what island you’re staying on, there will be parts of it that are more affordable than others. On Maui, Kihei is a much more affordable alternative to Wailea or Ka’anapali. On Oahu, the hotels towards the south/east part of Waikiki (and even a block off the beach) tend to be cheapest. On Kauai, stay in Kapa’a and on the Big Island, stay in Kona for the best prices. Read my detailed guides on where to stay on Maui, Kauai, Oahu, and the Big Island.
7.Use points for airfare and rooms. This, of course, isn’t an option for everyone but if you have miles or points on a credit card or with a specific airline or hotel chain, this is the time to use them! Keep in mind that if you’re booking with points, you might be limited as to specific times and dates and you may have to book pretty far in advance to get anything. Read more tips on how to find cheap airfare to Hawaii here.
8.Book activities directly. If you wait until you arrive on the island, many activities will be booked up and they’re less likely to offer discounts when the tour is almost full and people who waited until the last minute are competing over a few remaining spots. Many companies offer a discount if you book online directly through them. This is because most tours rely heavily on resort concierge desks to promote their tours to the guests. The concierge get a commission for referring guests to the tour company (sometimes up to 40%) so tour companies have to keep their prices high so they walk away with a decent profit on the tour after paying out commissions. So if you go directly to the tour company, they’re often willing to cut you a deal because they don’t have to pay a commission to a concierge for your spot. For example, if a company pays a 40% commission for concierge recommendations, they’ll still come out ahead if they offer you a 20% discount for booking directly. But this way, you also come out ahead. Also, if you go this route, you can do your research on companies ahead of time (I recommend Trip Advisor) and read honest reviews about the tours and pick which one you feel is best for you. If you go with a concierge recommendation, not only are you usually paying more, but 99% of the time, you’re just being recommended the tour provider who pays out the biggest concierge commissions, not necessarily the best one. If the tour provider’s website doesn’t advertise a direct booking special, I would still call and ask for their best price. You never know until you ask! Read about the best paid activities and tours on Maui, Oahu, Kauai, and the Big Island.
9.Go grocery shopping. Everybody knows how expensive food is in Hawaii so every little bit you can avoid buying at your resort or a restaurant helps. Obviously, if you’re staying in a condo or vacation rental, you can buy enough groceries to cook all of your meals, but even if you don’t have a full kitchen, (or don’t want to cook every meal) there are still some things you can stock up on to save you a little cash. I would suggest at least grabbing a case of water, sodas, and liquor to mix your own drinks as well as plenty of snacks. If you have a membership, Costco is usually the best shopping option in the islands. Even buying in bulk, you’ll find their prices are often much cheaper than local grocery stores, plus they also have a pretty big prepared foods section (oh lord, that mac and cheese!). If you’re looking for brands you have at home, all of the islands have Walmart and all but Kauai have Target. Safeway is also a local grocery chain that you’ll find throughout the islands. If you shop there, I suggest signing up for their free loyalty rewards program, as it will usually save you at least $5-10 in one stop.
RELATED: Where to Stay on Maui
10.Eat like a local. Food gets a bad rap for being super expensive in Hawaii but that’s only if you don’t know where to eat. Anywhere in the resort areas are likely to have higher than normal prices. Even in the resort areas, many restaurants will have two tiers of restaurants, one high-end “steak and fish” option, and a more casual “burgers and tacos” option. If you are in a resort area, take advantage of happy hours! For more reasonable prices, venture away from the resort areas and into the more local towns (hey, it’s still Hawaii and everything is still geared towards tourists). Also, never pass up a food truck, bakery, or little roadside stand. That’s where you’ll usually find the best food. Read about my favorite spots in eat in Hawaii.
11.Plan your splurges. If you do want to have a nice dinner or two out, I suggest planning ahead instead of just blindly walking into a place. Do some research ahead of time to make sure you pick a good place. There are plenty of tourist traps in Hawaii that will cost you an arm and a leg and leave you disappointed. On Maui, Mama’s Fish House or Mill House are must dos for a nice dinner. On Kauai, try the Beach House in Po’ipu. On Oahu, Haleiwa Joe’s (in Kaneohe) is great, and on the Big Island, I like Ulu Ocean Grill.