7 Tips for Seeing Hawaii on a Budget5 min read
Like most vacations, the cost of a trip to the Hawaiian Islands depends on how far in advance you plan. Price is also determined by the steps you take to minimize “big” costs, and what you do once you’re on an island. Here, we’ll outline some of the easiest ways to visit Hawaii on a budget.
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1. Travel at the right time of year
Visiting Hawaii during peak season can cost you big. Peak season is when the greatest number of tourists make their way to the islands — and when airlines, hotels, car rental companies, and restaurants charge premium prices. Instead, aim to visit during one of the least expensive months, like January or September.
2. Stick with one island
Unless you’re willing to spring for the cost of transportation between islands, your best bet for vacationing on a budget is to choose one island and stick with it for the duration of your trip. Not only will you save on air or water travel, but renting a car can be less expensive if you keep it for the entire trip. If you’re looking for the island with the best bargains to offer, Oahu will likely fit the bill. While Oahu is the third largest of the Hawaiian Islands, it’s home to the state capital, Honolulu, and the world-famous Waikiki beach. Due to abundant options for lodging and food, prices tend to be more competitive on Oahu than on some other islands. Also — depending on what you have planned for your stay — it’s possible to get by without a rental car if you stay near Waikiki.
3. Tackle airfare
As travel restrictions lift, more people are taking to the air. And the influx of enthusiastic travelers has led to higher airline prices. Your best bet for traveling on a budget is to plan your Hawaiian getaway as early as possible. If you’ve been saving credit card airline miles, now is the time to pull them out. Schedule your travel in the off season and look for early morning or late evening flights for the lowest fares.
4. Customize your island accommodations
You have plenty of budget-friendly options when it comes to where you’ll stay. They include:
Like the rest of the world, Hawaii was hit hard by the financial impact of COVID-19. With almost no tourists for a year, hotels are aching to get their rooms filled. Check travel sites to learn which hotels offer the deepest discounts and best perks (like free drinks, meals for children, or tickets to local attractions).
If your trip to Hawaii is more about backpacking through the forest than luxuriating at a spa, a hostel is a great low-price lodging option. If you’re not familiar with hostels, think back to summer camp with dormitory-style sleeping and shared public spaces. Polynesian Hostel Beach Club and Waikiki Beachside Hostel are inexpensive but located in the heart of the action.
HomeExchange, as the name implies, is a service that lets you trade your home with someone else long enough to enjoy a vacation. Through homeexchange.com, it’s as easy as filling out a profile and listing your property. You let people know when your home will be available, add nice photos, and look for homes on the island that appeal to you. Once you’ve found something, you can send a personalized message to the owner of the Hawaiian property, asking if they’re interested in swapping houses. (This will be easier if you live in a city people want to visit.) The cost of becoming a member of HomeExchange for a year is $150, but you can make unlimited exchanges during that time.
Camping may not be the first thing you think of when you consider visiting Hawaii, but if you’re up for the challenge, it’s a great way to trim your budget. You can pitch a tent or rent an RV on the island. Be sure to check out all campsites available as amenities vary by site. One quick note about renting an RV: By combining the price of lodging and transportation, you’re likely to save money, particularly if you travel during the off season.
5. Shop rental cars
Due to an intensive rental car shortage, the most significant chunk of your vacation budget may go toward a rental car. Again, searching for a rental car in advance allows you to reserve something before they’re all booked up. If you go through a site like RentalCars.com, you can reserve a vehicle without an upfront payment. Then, if you check back during the weeks leading up to your trip and find a better deal, you can cancel most reservations. (Be sure to read the fine print.)
Another option is to look into Turo, a company that matches Hawaii residents with a car to spare with tourists looking for a car to rent. Like traditional rental car services, demand for cars is high on Turo, so it may take a bit of wading through the options to find an available vehicle that works with your budget.
6. Seek discount activities
If you stay on Oahu, you have the option of getting an all-inclusive discount pass. This pass not only saves money but it allows you to book slots for the activities you want to take part in while they’re still available.
But a discount pass isn’t the only way to score a deal. For just $80 per year, you can pre-purchase an annual pass to nearly all federally-operated lands from the National Parks Service, which includes access to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
7. Package it all
There’s no rule saying you have to plan the entire trip yourself. Take advantage of sites like TravelZoo or Expedia to find discounted Hawaiian vacation packages.
Saving money can also be accomplished by gassing up your car at a big-box warehouse store, like Sam’s Club or Costco (if you have a membership). You can also save by planning which meals you want to eat out and picking up supplies for simple meals at one of the big-box stores or a local grocery store.
The great thing about traveling on a budget is that it reminds you why you’re there — to experience the island. The fact that you can enjoy vacation without gouging your bank account is an added bonus.