You might be wondering if taking a dream vacation to Hawaii on a budget is even possible. Is Hawaii expensive? It sure can be! Are the sunsets and mai tais and pineapples and turquoise waters and palm trees worth it? You betcha!
Hawaii is one of our favorite places to travel as a couple and as a family, so we have accumulated quite a list of the best ways to visit Hawaii on a budget. Something about that tropical air and island time vibe just makes the Hawaiian islands our favorite place to relax and take the time to savor our time as a family. Check out our tried and true tips below to help you get your toes in the sand too.
- TIP #1: Consider the Cheapest Time to Visit Hawaii
- TIP #2: Use Credit Card Points to your Advantage
- TIP #3: The Best Things in Life are Free
- TIP #4: Consider a Condo or Vacation Home
- TIP #5: Rent a Car
- TIP #6: How to Save Money on Food
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HAWAII ON A BUDGET TIP #1: CONSIDER THE CHEAPEST TIME TO VISIT HAWAII
The time of year that you choose to travel will have a significant impact on the cost of your trip, not only for your airfare but for lodging and airfare as well. Hawaii is beautiful all year round but there are certain times of year when hotter weather or increased rainfall could affect your itinerary. However, if you know what to expect and plan for it, you will find great value in the increased savings and lighter crowds on the beautiful beaches and hiking trails.
Because Hawaii is such a family friendly destination, the cheapest time to visit would be during the school year with the exception of school holidays. January-May tends to offer many opportunities for airfare specials, with the exception of Spring Break, which tends to be mid-March as well as Easter Week if it falls separately in April. These first few months of the year also bring increased chance of rain, but typically the south side of the islands are the drier side and a better choice for lodging if you would like the greatest chance of sunshine. The North Shore will offer larger waves, which will not be safe for snorkeling and swimming, but will give you the opportunity to watch the surfers soaking it up.
The second week of June, most American schools are on break for the summer and flight prices will increase significantly. The weather will also get very hot through September, but the ocean will calm down allowing you to explore and snorkel some of the islands’ best spots.
The crowds and prices will both decrease in September through early December and fall prices are comparable to prices in the winter and spring. Mid-December bring the winter holidays and with them, the highest prices of the year. Mid-December through the first week in January are extremely popular weeks to visit the islands, and while hidden price deals may be discovered, in general, this would not be the best time to visit Hawaii while sticking to a budget.
If you are planning a trip during high times, Summer, Spring Break, and late December, expect to book lodging several months early in order to snatch up the best spots at the lowest prices. You should also book your car rental as soon as possible as there is a finite number of cars available on an island and when they run out, they run out!
HAWAII ON A BUDGET TIP #2: USE CREDIT CARD POINTS TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
People have been using credit card points and miles since the beginning of time to help pay for their travels. However, many don’t realize the full potential that credit cards can offer toward earning (basically) free travel. Through many hours of research and trial and error, we have learned how to best maximize the value of credit card points in order to pay for travel for our family in ways that we could have never imagined.
We focus a lot on credit card sign-up bonuses to jumpstart our point balances. We also keep track of which of our cards earn us the most for each expense. For example my Sapphire Reserve earns me 3% back on restaurants and travel, my Costco Visa card earns me 4% back on gas etc., so we try to always use the “right” card each time we swipe it in order to earn the most points on our everyday purchases.
Before we get started, if you are not in a place right now where you are able to pay off any and every balance that you put on a travel credit card, please, please, shelve this email for the future when it won’t cause you financial strain. My husband and I do not carry a balance on any of our credit cards and that is only reason that this approach works for us. One free plane flight isn’t worth years of paying credit card interest. As much as I would love for you to experience cheap travel, I care more about your financial future. Off my soapbox now. <3
Here are our favorite credit cards for getting started in nutshell. Full disclaimer, there are a couple of cards below that earn me a bonus if you sign up through my link. I would never, ever promote something I wasn’t a huge fan of nor would I recommend it to you just so I could get a little bonus points! I have literally recommended these exact same steps to my parents and sisters and they have loved the benefits. There are SO many travel cards to choose from, but these are all Chase cards below because we personally think that they have the best bonuses and are the easiest to redeem. There is a travel portal on their website and you can book many airlines (such as Alaska and Hawaiian airlines) and hotels with Chase Ultimate Rewards points through it. You can also transfer the points to a travel partner instead of using the portal, which is often a better deal. There are many, many complicated ways to transfer points, but Southwest and British Avios are our favorites for Hawaii and are simple to use.
Favorite Personal Credit Cards:
Bonus: 50,000 ($500 cash value)
Minimum spend: $4000 within 3 months of opening
Annual Fee: $95 (waived for the first year)
Gives 25% bonus on points when booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards (so worth $625)
Bonus: 50,000 ($500 cash value + 300 annual travel credit)
Minimum Spend: $4000 in purchases within 3 months of opening
Annual Fee: $450 annual fee (include airport lounge access, free TSA pre-check approval, travel insurance + other benefits)
Gives 50% bonus on points when booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards (so worth $750)
*We LOVE this card and have had it for over two years. The annual fee is high but with the travel credit + 50% bonus on travel purchases, we easily earn our money back. This card is best if you are going to use the Chase portal for more than a couple of trips a year. Then the 50% point bonus will cover the annual fee. If you are going to travel 1-2X a year, then the Chase Sapphire Preferred above is the best one for you.
Favorite Business Credit Cards:
Minimum Spend: $5000 within 3 months of card opening
Annual Fee: $95
Gives 25% bonus on points when booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards (so worth $1000)
How to earn the Southwest Companion Pass as a business owner:
Have you heard the news?!? Southwest was just approved to fly to Hawaii! Many financial gurus are estimating a 25-30% drop in airfare prices to Hawaii this year – so you are planning your trip at the perfect time!
We personally love Southwest for family travel. No, there isn’t meals on board or meals served, but we are okay with that. Easy bookings, easy refunds, easy boarding, and no checked bag fees are will win us over any day.
Southwest has an awesome program called Companion Pass. If you earn the Companion Pass (by earning 110,000 Rapid Rewards in a year), you can take someone with you on EVERY SINGLE flight that you take through the end of the year AND the following year. Literally, every single flight, no limit. All you pay is taxes which is a whopping $5.60 per flight.
You can earn this Pass of Awesomeness the traditional way by flying a ton, or you can earn it with credit card bonuses. Guess which one we chose?
If you are a business owner, you could apply for both the cards below and earn 100,000 of the 110,000 needed pretty easily. You’ll have earned 4,000 Rapid Reward points by spending the $4,000 for both spending minimum requirements, then 100,000 more for the bonuses, leaving just $6,000 more to spend over the next few months in order to reach 110,000 and get the Companion Pass. I am doing this right now. I applied for the business card in December and the personal one in January in order to maximize the amount of time could use the Pass. I started using them both on our household stuff in January. By the end of February, we reached our spending minimums on both cards and will receive our Companion Pass on March 1st. This will allow us to have a Companion Pass for the rest of 2019 and all of 2020. You can do this process at any time, but definitely consider how to maximize it. And don’t apply for these too close to the end of the year without reaching the 110,000 because all points reset on January 1st. Any Questions? Feel free to ask in the comments and I will help you in any way I can!
Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Card (personal card)
Bonus: 40,000 Rapid rewards Points (earn 3000 more RR points each anniversary)
Minimum spend: $1000 within 3 months of opening
Annual Fee: $69
Bonus: 60,000 Rapid rewards Points (earn 6000 more RR points each anniversary)
Minimum spend: $3000 within 3 months of opening
Annual Fee: $99
HAWAII ON A BUDGET TIP #3: THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE
While Hawaii offers many super fun adventures like ATVs, guided tours, ziplining and luaus, these activities can severely take your budget and throw it out the window. These types of activities are often around $100 each and for a family, they will add up rather quickly. We typically choose 1-2 “expensive” activities to splurge on, and then we fill the rest of our days with all of Hawaii’s natural beauty with only a few dollars here and there for parking or snorkel gear rental. It is quite possible to skip all pricey activities – Hawaii really has that much to offer!
Here are a few of our favorite free (or very cheap) activities in Hawaii. Check out this recent post for details on the island of Kauai specifically.
– Take a hike, preferably at sunrise or sunset when the light is golden and the trails aren’t crowded (such as Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail on Oahu or Pihea Trail on Kauai)
– Visit the Farmer’s Market, taste test and pick up a few goodies for snacks or breakfast
– Swim, snorkel, boogie board, and build sand castles at as many beaches as you have time to explore (such as Anini Beach on Kauai, Blackrock on Maui or Kailua Beach on Oahu)
– Watch the sunrise in the East and set in the West (we love Lankai Beack on Oahu, Blackrock sunsets on Maui, and Hanalei Bay on Kauai)
– Attend free hula shows or cultural events at shopping centers or on the beach (like the Poipu Shopping Village on Kauai or Kuhio Beach Hula Show on Oahu)
– Stop by the grocery store for some tropical drink fixings and picnic supplies and enjoy your feast on the beach, on your balcony, or in a botanical garden
– Take a drive to a beautiful lookout (like the Roundtop/Tantalus Road on Oahu or Kalalau Lookout in Waimea Canyon on Kauai or Road to Hana on Maui)
Once you have decided on the activities that you would like to pay for on your trip, then do a quick search for discounts. I do prefer booking directly as it decreases the chance that something could wrong with your reservation. However, I do enjoy using discount cards like GO OAHU for certain activities. We would choose the Build your Own Pass option, add 2-3 activities that we KNOW for certain that we will do and it gives you a 20% discount on those activities. I find this much more cost effective than the 3 or 5 passes which will keep you to busy doing activities to soak up the island air and kick up your feet and enjoy the view.
HAWAII ON A BUDGET TIP #4: CONSIDER A CONDO OR VACATION HOME
Hawaii has many options for accommodations, so I would encourage you to carefully consider what you are looking for in this vacation. For us personally, we lean toward renting condos/vacation homes on family trips. We are a family of five which make a traditional hotel difficult, but we also find great value in the extra space offered in a home or condo.
We love hunting for the perfect one on Airbnb and have had great success in renting through them on many occasions. Check reviews, read the fine print for extra costs, and don’t be afraid to ask the host questions before committing. Oh! And don’t forget to use my discount link for $40 off you rental if you are a first time renter! If you have used Airbnb before, think outside the box? Does your husband or travel buddy already have an account too?
We love the extra space that renting a condo offers. Long beach days and exhausting, beautiful hikes, often mean early bedtimes for little ones, and having a separate room for mom & dad to cozy up and watch a movie munching on macadamia nuts or a late night shave ice run is pure gold I tell you! Having a kitchen also decreases our eating out budget significantly. Although I am not one of those moms that loves cooking on vacation (but I loooove those of you that are!), we still love being able to stash snacks, picnic items, and easy breakfast foods in the fridge. As an added bonus, vacation rentals also often have extras like laundry facilities for sandy suits and wet beach towels, as well as goodies like a cooler, beach chairs, boogie boards, and sand toys, which will decrease your spending on buying or renting those items.
If you would rather book a hotel, like my husband and I often do when it is just the two of us, check out tip #2 for how to do so for FREE with credit card points. If you haven’t saved up enough points yet, we highly recommend www.booking.com to best sort through properties. We typically choose the lowest priced hotel that meets the following criteria:
– 4+ star customer ratings with less focus on the official hotel rating
– Reviews that state how CLEAN the rooms are
– Breakfast included (if possible)
– Free Parking
– Close proximity to walkable areas. We are willing to pay more for this feature as we know that we will save time driving, and save money on parking fees, gas, etc.
HAWAII ON A BUDGET TIP #5: RENT A CAR
I can’t tell you how many people I have talked to who didn’t love Oahu because they never left Waikiki and thought everything was too crowded. This literally hurts my heart. We DID thoroughly enjoy Waikiki. However, if I had gone to Hawaii on my dream vacation blissfully awaiting stretches of private beaches and peaceful waterfalls, and never left Waikiki, I would have been sorely disappointed. The rest of the island is a DREAM.
The lush green landscape of Kaneohe, the white sanded sunrise at Lanikai, and the quaint beach towns and shrimp trucks on the North Shore were the perfect mix of beauty and culture and I can’t imagine missing out on them. However, in order to see the rest of the island, and other islands anywhere away from the airport for that matter, you must rent a car. Or take an expensive guided tour. But since this is a budget thread, I will recommend renting a car! Renting a car also gives you flexibility to stay longer at the places you love and skip those that you don’t rather than sticking to a crowded tour schedule.
We highly, highly recommend Discount Hawaii Car Rental for renting cars on any island. I don’t have any relationship with them, but they have served us quite well. We rented an SUV on Kauai for 12 days during Easter for a total of $240. I can’t promise you the same numbers, but we were quite pleased. There is no financial commitment to reserve your car.
You can book your car rental, and then KEEP CHECKING BACK at least weekly. If (when) you see the price drop, you can cancel your original reservation and rebook. Others swear by Costco for cheapest prices, but Discount Hawaii Car Rental has beaten their prices for us every time.
Please do your research before going to Hawaii in regards to what your car insurance covers. Check with your agent if you need clarification and also check out your card benefits. Our Chase Sapphire Reserve offers us car rental insurance in addition to our regular policy so we are confident that we are covered and do not need to be upsold and fork over more money at the check out counter.
HAWAII ON A BUDGET TIP #6: HOW TO SAVE MONEY ON FOOD
As mentioned in the lodging section, we thoroughly appreciate condos on our trips in part so that we have more flexibility with our meals. I do not like cooking on vacation, but do find it quite convenient and cost-effective to eat breakfasts in our condo, have plenty of easy to pack snacks, and occasionally make sandwiches for picnics.
We typically make a Costco run on one of our first days on the island for fruit, trail mix, granola bars, bread, deli meat, cheese, eggs, and some prepared meals from the refrigerator section for some marinated meat to throw on the grill or even frozen pizzas to toss in the oven. By significantly decreasing our costs on many of our meals, we can budget to eat out once a day or so without regret and fully enjoy it.
I love checking Yelp and Trip Advisor for Cheap Eats ideas before we travel. I make a quick list of options organized by geographic area and that way we have a quick reference to find a great spot when we get hungry. I think most of our “we paid too much for that sub par meal” moments come when we haven’t prepared and find ourselves starving and pulling into a parking lot on a whim. Preparation is key when trying to save money!
I hope these tips help you plan your dream trip to Hawaii on a budget! We are currently planning our summer vacation to Oahu to take our children there for the first time (we went as a couple a few years ago) and couldn’t be more excited!
Are you planning a Hawaiian vacation for a large family or group? Check out our additional tips for making that go smoothly here. Do you have any questions for me or any money-saving tips to add? I’d love to hear from you below!
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