Ideal climate all year round, alluring beaches, delightful landscapes and the welcome spirit of aloha – it’s Hawaii! Many would like at least one glimpse of these paradise islands, but prices can bite. However, Hawaii on a budget is possible. Smart travelers always have a couple of trump cards in their pockets, that is, secrets for saving the budget even in such faraway places.
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What’s your budget?
Decide on your own budget. If you have any flexibility, define the maximum you can spend. There are so many things to see, activities to do, foods to try and memories to make! At the same time, one doesn’t have to splurge or waste. Buying produce in Costco and cooking your own foods for two days, will save you enough to have dinner in a really good restaurant or go to a Hawaiian luau. This might be a better option than eating out all the time in cheaper places not much different from the ones in your town. Before going through our Hawaii on a Budget tips below, you might want to consult Maui Travel Guide for a general overview of all things Maui.
1. Flights: more options – less price
Check out recent Hawaii airlines news. Sometimes this proves useful. For example, in 2019, the American Southwest low-cost airline began flights from three California cities to four major Hawaiian Islands. Which led to reduced prices on Hawaiian and Alaska Airlines. It is interesting to see how this growing competition for Hawaiian air routes develops in 2020.
2. Time is money and Hawaii on a budget is not an exception
A standard trick to reduce a journey budget is to select a low season period. Speaking about Hawaii, it is spring (from after Easter to the end of June) and fall (September to mid-December). If you love flowers, visit during Hawaii Lei Day celebrated on May 1st. In the fall, there are many festivals, including the Festivals of Aloha in September, celebrating local culture with songs, dances, and parades of flowers.
3. Explore free entertainment
Why look for Hawaii on a budget, if you can’t swim and don’t sunbathe? Invest a couple of hours in researching free activities – beaches, natural wonders, local landmarks, hiking trails, free community events and festivals. A visit to a park, a museum, an arboretum, a hula dance or lei-making demonstration, a local farm or winery can be free or low-cost, but very enriching and entertaining. Make a prioritized list and keep it with you on vacation. It’s better to have more options than you are able to visit, but be flexible and able to see few things when you happen to be in the vicinity.
4. Hotel or vacation rental
If you want to save serious money, do stay in vacation rentals. Those range from studio condos for 1-2 people to 3+-bedroom condos and homes that can accommodate a large party. What brings you happiness? Sitting on your balcony watching the ocean in front will cost more. If you plan to spend most time outdoors and come to the condo to rest, eat on your lanai or BBQ area, go to the resort pool – then a tropical garden view setting will save you quite a few dollars.
Check out the reasons for staying in vacation rentals and then look at the current real comparison of the costs of vacation condo versus hotel.
5. Avoid service fees
Large portals – HomeAway, VRBO, Airbnb, TripAdvisor, etc. – charge travelers 9-12% service fees. Booking.com doesn’t charge traveler fees, but they charge owners a whopping 15%; the owners price those 15% into the rent, so travelers would still pay them at the end. You can book the same condos from the same owners without the added fees on direct rental websites.
6. Look for vacation rental deals
Yes, they do exist! On top of saving hundreds of dollars by staying in a vacation condo or home (rent + dining savings), on top of saving on service fees, you can also save by booking a special deal.
7. Get a cheaper car rental
You can usually cancel your rental car reservation without penalties. Book the best car rental deal you can find, and then check back in a week to see if there is a better one. discounthawaiicarrental.com is a good website to find your deals.
Or you can opt for local rent-a-cars that often have older fleet but provide great value. Read how one traveler found the cheapest larger rental car in Maui. You can apply the same techniques for any island.
8. Check your own car insurance policy
The rental car company will try to sell you insurance coverage and most people are not very familiar with the options. If you have a car at home and have an insurance policy for it, your rental car is most likely covered. To avoid paying for the coverage you already have, check your own car insurance policy or call your agent. You can save anywhere from $9 to $50 per day on average depending on the options offered. If you want to learn more on this subject, read Rental Car Insurance Explained.
9. Explore public transport
If you don’t want to rent a car, there are various city transport networks on more populated islands. There is a bus on Oahu, offering different routes and day passes. And on Maui, relatively new Turtle Tracks open-air electric vehicles serve passengers along South Kihei Road. They provide a fun ride while helping passengers to enjoy a trip on a budget. Therefore, having spent the evening on the relevant websites, you will understand how to save your budget from large expenses, and at the same time, you will find out where everything is.
10. Good food for less
Bypass expensive restaurants in tourist places. Let’s try to find out from the locals where they eat. Alternatively, stop at the farmer’s market, where you can buy the freshest products cheap (if you stay in a vacation rental, you can cook on your own). Food trucks are popular in Hawaii and their offerings are delish!
Kihei Farmers Market
Open: Monday – Friday 8am – 4pm
Address: 61 S Kihei Rd
Support local farmers and vendors at this robust farmers market. Be sure to stop by during your stay on Maui and remember to shop local!
11. Look for discount tours or coupons
Many companies offer Hawaii on a budget as discounts or coupons for various events, trips or entrance tickets. Look for discount coupons in local newspapers or This Week magazine, which you can pick up at the airport upon arrival.
As many activities sell in advance, it’s worth to book the best ones 2-3 weeks before your arrival. Check out these exclusive discounts for the most popular activities on Maui. You will learn about the activities and book directly with their operators, without overpaying.
12. Get travel insurance protection
Even with saving up to 50% of your trip with the above tips, you are still investing a good amount of your hard-earned money into your dream vacation. For a small fee (compare to what you saved, it’s really small) you can recover your money in case of the cancellation, interruption, emergency evacuation, etc. Travel insurance will usually cost you less than service fees on Airbnb or VRBO, so you can both have the travel insurance and keep some of the savings.
13. Organize and save
You can save a lot of trouble and space in your bags with the Ultimate Hawaii Packing List. It has 5 checklists that will help you prepare and pack for your vacation in the most efficient way.
14. Read a book on travel hacking
Matt Kepnes (aka Nomadic Matt) has a very popular blog about affordable travel. In his book “How to travel the Worls on $50 a Day“, also available for Kindle or as an Audiobook, he shows how to think out of the box and travel like locals without giving up luxury.
Dave Grossman is an expert on earning and spending miles and points to travel better. He has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal and Travel + Leisure, published on Bravo TV’s JetSet website, and has spoken on the Condé Nast Traveler podcast series. Dave’s book “MilesTalk: Live Your Wildest Travel Dreams Using Miles and Points” is available in paper and Kindle formats.