The specific prices described in this article have now passed, but it remains online so that the resources named will be of future use to travelers.
Here's a dirty little secret about Hawaiian tourism: the published or "rack rates" announced by hotels have about as much basis in reality as reports of the molar-gathering prowess of the tooth fairy. And here's another secret: it seems like the Automobile Club of America (AAA) may not realize that. This Monday, it announced that Hawaii was the most expensive state to visit by far, with average costs of $793 per day, per couple, for food and lodging alone (read the complete release here). That estimate was based solely on the published rates and solely on stats having to do with the hotel and motel industry. The real picture is a bit more complex and far more friendly to travelers.
Having spent the month of October in Maui County with the arduous task of updating my book, Pauline Frommer's Hawaii (no really, it was rough -- your arm gets darn tired slathering on all that suntan lotion, day after day!) I can state definitively that while a couple could potentially blow that amount of money in the islands -- especially if they sported comb-overs and the last name of Trump -- most Hawaiian visitors will come nowhere close. And savvy travelers can have a wonderful holiday for less than a quarter of that amount. Here's how:
Go for a Condo Rental: A key factor that AAA seemed to miss is that a good one-third (if not more) of visitors to Hawaii no longer patronize hotels. Condos are the kudzu of the Hawaiian Isles, sprouting everywhere, and they now cover large swatches of Oahu, Maui, the Big Island and even little Molokai (sometimes to the detriment of the landscape, unfortunately). Maui may be the most condo-happy of the bunch and consequently, it's not all that unusual to find studio apartments there going for between $65-$125 a night, through such websites as VRBO.com, HomeAway.com or (my choice) such friendly, expert local agencies as Chase 'N Rainbows (tel. 800/367-6092; www.chasenrainbows.com) or Kihei Maui Vacations (tel. 800/541-6284 or 808/879-7581; www.kmvmaui.com). One-bedroom and two-bedroom units are also widely available and usually reasonably priced, especially when you factor in the savings that comes from having a full kitchen (where you can whip up quick meals, rather than having to patronize the island's often pricey restaurants for every meal.)
Book an Air Hotel Package: Another way to sidestep the published rates at hotels is to book a package that bundles together the cost of airfares and hotels. Sold by companies that buy massive numbers of rooms year round from the various Hawaiian resorts (and therefore have greater buying power than you or I), these sorts of purchases can sometimes cut the overall cost of a vacation by a full third. An example: specialist Pleasant Holidays (www.pleasantholidays.com) currently has a family travel special which drops the price of a five-night getaway in Oahu to just $545 per adult, $130 per child, including air from LA (it's only for families, as it's based on quad occupancy). Taxes and fuel surcharges are usually extra, but even when all the costs are factored in, all but solo travelers (who incur ugly singles supplements) can often save big bucks by booking in this fashion.
Look at other forms of alternative accommodations: Hawaii has well-priced B&B's that rival, in ambiance, any you'd find in New England and are often wonderfully well-priced. Maureen's B&B (tel. 800/935-9018 or 808/935-9018; www.maureenbnb.com) on the Big Island, for example, is a genuine Victorian manor house, with soaring redwood ceilings and exquisite antiques, though the cost to stay in this charmer starts at just $60 a night single, $90 double. In Pauline Frommer's Hawaii we also list welcoming religious retreat houses (Buddhist and Christian), military hotels (open to veterans as well as enlisted men), idyllic camp sites and spic and span hostels where penny-pinchers can save even more scratch.
Go the Hotel Route, but Buy Through a Discounter or Book an Inexpensive Chain: The Ohana (www.ohana.com) and Outrigger (www.outrigger.com) chains of resorts offer decently priced accommodations in high rise hotels that may be a bit older than the competition, but are usually well-located and maintained. For discounts at other hotels, simply turn to such sites as Hotels.com, TravelWorm.com, CheapTickets.com and you'll find rooms on Maui (as I did today, while researching this article) in June for as little as $109 (Best Western Kihei) or $127 (the Lahaina Inn). For something really plush, remember that on some islands the deluxe resorts all cluster together in one area. For these resorts you may want to "bid blind", using a site such as Priceline.com or Hotwire.com to look for properties along the exclusive Kohala Coast of the Big Island or in toney Wailea on Maui. Using this method, I've found $120 rates at the Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Big Island, a hotel where the published rates range from $249 to $599 for a double room.
And as for eats: when you dine as the Hawaiians do and where they do (I'm talking tasty plate lunch joints and shrimp trucks), you can eat well and affordably, spending no more than $40 per person, per day up to $60 if you splurge.