Do you dream of going to Hawaii but fear that you couldn’t actually afford a trip to this tropical paradise? There’s no denying that a Hawaiian vacation is expensive. In fact, it will probably be one of the most expensive vacations in your lifetime, says Brian Ek, travel editor of Priceline.com (opens in new tab). But there certainly are ways to keep costs – from flights and accommodations to dining and entertainment – down so it could fit into your budget. Here’s how:
Timing is everything. Airfare is the most expensive component of a trip to Hawaii, Ek says. By flying during the off-seasons in the spring and fall, you can save 50% or more on airfare. For example, you’ll pay $780, on average, for a flight from New York to Hawaii in the spring or fall, but airfare can be as high as $1,900 during August, he says. You'll also need to book well in advance – as early as 11 months before departure – to get the best deal on a flight to Hawaii, according to CheapAir.com.
You’ll also save at least $50 or more per night on accommodations when you visit during the off-seasons, says Sheila Beal, founder of independent travel advice site Go Visit Hawaii (opens in new tab). By all means, avoid traveling to the Aloha State around a holiday – particularly Easter, July Fourth, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve – when demand is high and rates match the demand, she says.
Pick the right island. Visiting all of Hawaii’s six main islands during one trip certainly would cost more than just seeing one. So Ek says it’s important to research the islands to figure out which one offers what you most want to experience during a Hawaiian vacation. Beal has an infographic (opens in new tab) on her site that provides highlights of each main island. For more detailed information, she recommends visiting each island’s visitor bureau Web site.
Be aware that the three largest islands – Maui, Oahu and Hawaii (the Big Island) – have more hotels and vacation properties, so rates are more competitive. Beal says that some of the least expensive areas to stay are Kihei on Maui, Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island, a block or two away from Waikiki Beach on Oahu, and Kapaa and Lihue on Kauai, which is less developed than the three biggest islands.
Cut the cost of lodging. If you want to see the ocean from your hotel room, you’ll pay a high price for that view. You can save $50 or more per night by booking a room with a garden or mountain view instead of an ocean view, Beal says. You also can cut costs by booking a room at a hotel that’s classified as 3-star on discount travel sites such as Priceline rather than a 4-star or 5-star hotel, Ek says. Hotel chains such as Hilton and Marriott often fall into this category and have rooms on or near the beach in places such as Honolulu and Kona for $100 to $135 per night – versus $500 or more per night for 5-star accommodations, he says. Also, Beal recommends checking daily deal sites such as Groupon (opens in new tab) and LivingSocial (opens in new tab) for deep discounts on hotels. She recently saw an oceanfront room at a 5-star hotel on Hawaii that normally costs close to $500 per night for just $271 on LivingSocial. When comparing lodging options, be sure to consider resort and parking fees. Some resorts charge $20 or more daily in fees, and daily parking can cost $15 to $35, Beal says.
Another way to save is to stay in a vacation rental property, such as a condominium or villa. While the average hotel room rate on Maui is hovering around $300 per night, you can easily find a one- or two-bedroom condo in South Maui’s Kihei area for less than $200 per night, Beal says. Plus, you can avoid resort or parking fees with vacation rentals. And you’ll have a kitchen, so you save money on food by cooking meals. However, you do need to check for and politely negotiate cleaning fees, Beal says. See How to Save Money on Vacation Rental Properties for more information.
Look for package deals. Buying a vacation package can also be a way to save money. When hotel and flight costs are bundled together, a Hawaiian vacation package can trim the total bill by $200 to $300 per person, Ek says. Also check for package deals available through warehouse clubs. Beal says Costco offers Hawaii hotel deals that can include a rental car and free daily breakfast.
Save on dining and entertainment. If you stay in a hotel or resort, avoid the breakfast buffet, which can cost up to $45 per person, Beal says. Instead, order a la carte from the menu for about $15 per person. And take advantage of pau hana (Hawaii's version of happy hour) to get half-priced appetizers at the best restaurants.
To enjoy the natural beauty of Hawaii and to get the most out of your trip, both Beal and Ek recommend renting a car, which can actually save you money. For roughly $35 to $40 per day, you can create an itinerary that would normally cost $100 per person per day with tour companies, Beal says. Follow these tips to save money on a rental car. For deals on snorkeling, surfing lessons, luaus and more, Beal recommends checking Groupon, LivingSocial and Travelzoo (opens in new tab).
Award-winning journalist, speaker, family finance expert, and author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk.
Cameron Huddleston wrote the daily "Kip Tips" column for Kiplinger.com. She joined Kiplinger in 2001 after graduating from American University with an MA in economic journalism.