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Fifty-Five Tips for Planning an Affordable Trip to Hawaii

Paradise doesn't have to be overpriced (it's not really paradise then, is it?). We show you how to pinch pennies and deduct dollars where it counts.

When To Go

1. The best bargain rates on hotels and airfares are available in the spring (from mid-April to mid-June) and fall (from September to mid-December)—a paradox, since these months bring Hawaii's best weather. Two exceptions are the week before and after Easter, which can land as late as mid-April, prompting some schools to take later spring breaks, and Japan's "Golden Week" of holidays between April 29 and May 5. Depending on the state of the Japanese economy, a sharp influx of Japanese visitors may drive occupancy and prices up during that period, primarily on Oahu. 

Package Deals

2. Booking a package deal that includes some combination of airfare, accommodations, and rental car is usually the most cost-effective way for two people to travel to Hawaii. Some packagers book Hawaii vacations exclusively. Pleasant Holidays (800/742-9244) is by far the biggest and most comprehensive packager to Hawaii; it offers an extensive, high-quality collection of more than 140 condos and hotels in every price range. Other reliable packagers include the airlines themselves, which often package their flights together with accommodations that may cost less than if you reserved on your own. United Vacations (888/854-3899) is the most comprehensive airline packager to Hawaii, offering great air-inclusive and land-only deals on a surprisingly wide selection of accommodations throughout the islands. Those leaving from New York or the West Coast should check out the options available from Hawaiian Airlines (800/323-9882), while those traveling from Canada should consider Air Canada Vacations (866/529-2079). Be sure to read the fine print carefully to understand which fees, if any, may have to be paid directly to the hotel or car rental company. 

3. The major travel booking engines such as Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity make it easy to assemble packages from cities that aren’t gateways for Hawaii-bound carriers, as well as  those that are. How to know you’ve found the best package out there? offers comparisons among them and other travel consolidators, such as,, and, so you’ll know which is the cheapest—although expect to find many identically priced packages.

Sheraton Maui, Hawaii (Credit: Jason Cochran)

4. Hawaii's major hotel chains—each offering hotel and condo accommodations on the "big four" of Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island—have a host of packages that can save you big bucks on accommodations, from multi-night stays, fly-drive combinations, grocery gift cards, and more. Compare the choices at Outrigger Hotels & Resorts (866/956-4262), which includes the two budget OHANA hotels as well as the more upscale Outrigger hotels in Waikiki, as well other Honolulu hotels and condos across the islands; Aston Hotels & Resorts (855/747-0763), which also has a wide range of properties and prices; Aqua Hotels & Resorts (800/924-6543), which conveniently classifies its Aqua Hotels & Resorts as "mid-priced," its Lite Hotels as "economy," and its Instinct Hotel Collection as "upscale"; and Castle Resorts & Hotels (877/367-1912), which adds condos at Molokai Shores (on Molokai, of course) to the budget and moderately priced condos and budget hotels on the four major islands.
5. A few international hotel chains have such a strong presence in Hawaii that they, too, offer packages with or without airfare, although the best discounts may be reserved for members of their loyalty programs. See for hotel/flight bookings and other specials for 14 Marriott hotels and timeshare “vacation clubs” on the four main islands. Starwood Hotels & Resorts’ 11 hotels on those islands (including Sheraton, Westin, St. Regis, and other brands) can be booked with air/car packages with minimum three-night stays via

6. Don’t forget to check independent hotels for special packages—what they save on marketing campaigns, they may pass on to you. On Maui, the Ka‘anapali Beach Hotel has earned a reputation among discount-minded travelers for its packages that may include airfare, rental car, buffet breakfast, use of pool or snorkel gear, souvenir towels, and whale-watching in season (December—April), among other perks. On Kauai, the two-bedroom condo-style units at Hanalei Colony Resort can be booked with activity packages that included guided hikes, kayaking, ziplining, golf, and/or spa treatments, with stays of a minimum of five nights.

Air Travel

7. If you’re not wedded to a particular carrier, by all means comparison shop, using or one of the other travel booking engines mentioned in tip No. 3. But be sure to keep in mind the suggestions below, too. 

8. Buy your ticket in advance—but maybe not so far in advance. In early 2016, a study of 1.3 billion itineraries by analysts at found that 54 days in advance was the average best time to book the cheapest fare on any given flight. However, the analysts cautioned that doesn’t mean 54 days in advance is the magic number for your flight—in most cases, it will be earlier or later. Still, count on paying the most for flights when they first go on sale, typically about 11 months out, and then again within 20 days of flying. For best seat selection with only a modest premium over the rock-bottom price, advises, check fares 3 to 6 months ahead; if you don’t care where you sit or what time of day your flight is, you can wait up to 21 days out. Note: For travel over Christmas and New Year’s, don’t expect deals—just grab a seat.

9. Be flexible in your schedule if you can — flying on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday can save you money with some airlines; the prime Friday through Monday flights are often priced higher. Flights that depart the Mainland late enough to arrive in Hawaii in the evening, causing you to miss a day at the beach, and overnight (red-eye) return flights, which can shake the vacation sensation out of you, also tend to be significantly cheaper. provides monthly calendars showing the cheapest days to travel for any given itinerary.

10. If you really don’t care what time of day you fly, or how long you’re in the air, consider’s Name Your Own Price option, which can knock up to 40 percent off airfares, most likely in the off-peak season. You’ll depart between the hours of 6am and 10pm and may have to make a connection with a layover of up to 3 hours. You can push the discount up to 50 percent by booking within seven days of departure—assuming any seats are still available.

 11. Amass those frequent-flier points—even if you’re not a frequent flier.  Sign up for the loyalty program of an airline that offers a significant number of flights to Hawaii, and then take advantage of credit card offers and partnership deals with merchants to build up points for a free ticket. American Express, for example, allows you to transfer its Membership Rewards points into the frequent-flier programs of Air Canada, Hawaiian, Delta, and Virgin America. 

12. Taxis, including car-sharing services such as Uber, are the most expensive way to travel to and from the airport in Honolulu. If you’re not picking up a rental car, you can use the public bus network, as long as you’re traveling very light (bags must fit under your feet or on your lap). Otherwise, take a shared-van service such as Roberts Hawaii Express Shuttle (800/831-5541, reservation required) or SpeediShuttle  (877/242-5777, available by reservation or at the airport on demand); both cost about $30 round trip to Waikiki. Guests at Starwood Hotels and Resorts in Waikiki can also book round-trip shuttle service for $30, with an escort waiting for you at the arrival gate (or outside Customs, for international passengers). You’ll most likely require a rental car (see below) on the other islands, but just in case you don’t, SpeediShuttle also operates on Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii Island.

Car Rentals

13. Perhaps you already booked a hotel or flight on points, but you still need a rental car. As with airfares, you’ll want to compare rates before you book using a major travel booking engine— and since it’s typically free to cancel a reservation, check back a few times before you depart to see if rates are lower. Be sure to look at rates quoted by Discount Hawaii Car Rental (800/292-1930), which has negotiated deals with the leading car rental companies and offers excellent customer service. As always, be sure to read the fine print to make sure you know which fees are not included in the quoted price.

14. Check the rental car companies’ websites for specials that may apply only to members of their loyalty programs (it’s usually free and easy to sign up on the spot), auto clubs such as AAA, or those with government or military IDs. 

15. If there are only two of you traveling, get a subcompact or compact (sometimes called an "Economy" car). The $5 or more per day you save over a mid-size or standard car can add up—and you'll save money on gas and have an easier time parking. Just make sure your luggage will fit. 

16. If you’re planning to stay by the hotel pool or in a resort area with lots of pedestrian traffic, such as Waikiki or Kailua-Kona, it may be tempting to rent a car just on the day(s) you really want one. But others will want to book a car at a weekly rate when possible—you can save a bundle. 
17. If you arrive at the rental desk with a valid car reservation with a confirmation number, the agents are obligated to honor the rate you were quoted, even if they have to give you an upgrade. A ploy some rental companies use when they're all out of the grade of car you booked (economy cars often get booked up first) is to tell you that for just a few more dollars a day, they'll put you in a "better car." Make them stick to their original quote.

18. Hawaii's "no-fault" insurance laws have sent the price of insurance sky-high, thereby forcing most independent car rental companies (the "Rent-A-Wreck" types) out of business. Among those still active on Oahu, Lucky Owl Car Rental (; 808/352-4890) averages about $25 a day, with unlimited mileage and all fees included, for older but reliable sedans; SUVs and minivans are also available at cheaper rates than the big companies charge. A driver brings your car to you at the airport, and picks it up from you at your hotel. Younger bargain hunters will be thrilled there are no additional charges for drivers under 25, and no credit card is necessary, either. On the Garden Island, RentACarKauai (808/822-9272) offers the kind of beat-up cars that blend in with many of the locals’ rides; if you don’t mind the dings and dirt, you can book one to pick up from the airport parking lot (you’ll pay the $10-$13 to exit). On Maui, the oldest used-car-rental firm—though far from having the oldest vehicles—is Word of Mouth Rent-a-Used-Car, in Kahului (800/533-5929 or 808/877-2436; It has teamed up with Aloha Rent-a-Car and Al West’s Windsurf Van Rentals for an expanded fleet. An older, four-door compact costs $169 a week, plus state taxes, which comes out to $204; the website allows you to pick exact vehicles and book online, unlike some of the mom-and-pop operations.

19. Always return your rental car full of gas. The prices the rental companies charge you to fill your tank when you don't can be much higher than the already steep price per gallon charged at local filling stations. For the cheapest gas in the islands, Costco members may head to its warehouse stores on Kauai (Lihue), the Big Island (Kailua-Kona), Maui (Kahului), or Oahu (four locations, with  the closest to the airport at 525 Alakawa St. in the Iwilei neighborhood).  Non-Costco members can check the listings of stations with the cheapest gas on, And remember: Don't bother putting expensive fuel in the tank. After all, it is a rental.

20. If you have only one or two people in your group and are staying in an area with inexpensive ($1–$2 a trip) shopping and restaurant shuttles, such as Waikiki Trolley’s Pink Line or the Big Island’s Keauhou Resort Honu Express (which heads to historic Kailua-Kona and nearby shopping malls), consider renting a car only for the day you want to explore the farthest. You don’t have to pick up a car at the airport, and if you return it to the hotel or city office where you collected it on the same day, you may save a fortune in overnight parking expenses if they’re not already part of a mandatory resort fee (see below). Keep in mind that many all-day tours and activities also come with hotel pickup/dropoffs, often with a guide’s narration for sightseeing along the way. 

21. Even if you do rent a car for the entire trip, utilize shuttles and public transit when possible and convenient to save on Hawaii’s exorbitant fuel prices. Guests at Kauai’s Hanalei Colony Resort, for example, can take a shuttle all along the North Shore for free during the day (; 808/826-6235). Those staying in the Poipu area can reserve a free evening ride to restaurants and bars on the charming Aloha Spirit Kauai trolley, although you’ll want to tip the driver/owner, Doug.  

Accommodations: Hotels

22. Comparison shop online at sites such as, and sign up for email notices of specials, which go quickly but can save you 50 percent if you’re willing to book a nonrefundable rate.

23. To get the cheapest room, book early. The more advance notice you give, the more likely you are to get the budget rooms—and many of Hawaii's best bargains are small places that fill up quickly with returning guests.

24. Don't accept the rack rate—there's almost always a lower rate available. When booking, look for discounts for seniors, government/military, or any national organizations that you might belong to (especially AAA and AARP). Look at package deals—sometimes you can get a car rental for just a few bucks more—discounts on longer stays, and special promotions.

25. Consider using’s Name Your Own Price feature after carefully reviewing the map. Some areas, such as the northern portion of the Kohala Coast on Hawaii’s Big Island, have so few hotels—all of them standouts—that you’re guaranteed to be placed in a winner for potentially half the price that anyone else paid.

26. If you don't have a reservation and are willing to stay in a small independent hotel, bargain at the front desk. This won't work during the high season, when most lodgings are nearly full. But in the off season, you might be able to strike a very favorable deal. Empty rooms generate no income at all, so some hoteliers are happy to discount a room just to get some return on it, especially if you arrive in the late afternoon/early evening. If the desk clerk is unhelpful, ask to speak to the manager, who is often the only employee who can make decisions on discounts.

27. As with airlines, consider signing up for a hotel loyalty program even if you haven’t stayed at one of the chain’s properties yet. It may make special member discounts available to you, and you can direct points from affiliated credit cards or other merchant partners to your hotel account in the year or more leading up to a stay. Chains such as Starwood Hotels & Resorts currently have no blackout dates for free rooms, although you’ll have to book early for popular periods. American Express’ Membership Rewards allows customers to transfer points into Hilton HHonors  (16 hotels and timeshare "Vacation Clubs" across four islands) and Starwood Hotels & Resorts (11 hotels and timeshare "villas").

28. When comparing hotel rates, make sure you’re aware of what the almost-universally charged resort fee is for specific properties, which are not included in advertised room rates; they can add $15 to $30 plus tax (another $1.50) to your daily bill. For that fee, Wi-Fi and parking should be included; read the fine print to see how you can maximize whatever other things may be covered. At the Sheraton Waikiki, for example, the $30 fee covers Wi-Fi, self-parking (otherwise $25 a day), up to an hour of international and long-distance phone calls a day, fitness classes, bottled water (you’ll want to stay hydrated), and in-house meals for children 5 and under. At Aqua Bamboo Waikiki, the “hospitality fee” is only $15, and includes Wi-Fi but not parking, which will run you another $25 a day.

29. When staying at a Waikiki hotel that charges parking fees separately, consider only renting a car for the days you need it—you’ll have a tough time finding a parking space anywhere nearby, and you won’t want the stress of feeding the meters even if you do. Daily parking rates at the 18 Aqua Hotels & Resort properties in Waikiki and Honolulu, for example, range from $10 to $28, with $25 being the most common charge. All of the major national car rental chains—Avis, Hertz, Thrifty, Alamo, and so on— have locations in Waikiki.

30. In a fiercely competitive market, a number of Waikiki’s budget to moderately priced hotels offer free continental breakfast with coffee as an enticement. Find out from your hotel or travel agent if this is available at your hotel; the savings can really add up. This perk is a lot scarcer on the Neighbor Islands. For example, among Kauai hotels, only the affordable, oceanfront Hotel Coral Reef in Kapaa (808/822-4481) and the modest Kauai Inn in Lihue (888/734-8507) advertise free breakfast—continental "light bites" at the former and cooked-to-order at the latter. On Maui, the beachfront studios of the Mauian on Napili Bay (808/669-6205) and the Victorian/Hawaiian-themed Plantation Inn in Lahaina (800/433-6815) are also unusual in offering  continental breakfasts.

31. Consider getting a room with kitchen facilities. The cost of a kitchenette is usually well worth the extra few dollars—and it makes life a lot easier, especially if you're traveling with your family. Making your own breakfast, and perhaps lunch too, could slash your food expenditures in half. On Kauai, for example, the 21-room budget Garden Island Inn (800/648-0154) offers kitchenettes that include a small refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker with free Kona coffee, small sink and an assortment of dishes and utensils. Many of Aqua and Outrigger’s modest Waikiki properties come with kitchenettes, as do several attractively priced small hotels in Kailua-Kona. 

32. Rooms with an ocean view, especially on the upper floors, are the most expensive. Mountain or garden views are usually much cheaper, and in some cases you can save enough money to stay a day or more longer. At some properties with a limited number of garden view rooms, such as Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay (808/930-4900), you may find yourself upgraded to an ocean view anyway for the same rate. If not, remember at night—when you’re most likely to be in the room—the view is generally the same: dark.

33. Consider staying away from the ocean altogether. It's wonderful to be steps away from the surf, but hotels away from the beach—especially in Waikiki—are much, much cheaper. If you don't mind a long walk or a short drive to the beach, you'll save a bundle.

34. If you're traveling with children 17 and younger, check to see if they can stay in your room for free. Or better yet, consider getting a one-bedroom suite with a pull-out sofa in the living room; one suite is usually cheaper than two hotel rooms, and you'll still have privacy.

35. Don't make local calls from your hotel room, unless they’re covered by your hotel’s resort fee (as many do) or your cell phone plan charges exorbitant roaming fees.  Hotel phone charges can add up. In the unlikely event you don’t have a cell phone, you’re in luck: Hawaii still has a number of pay phones (75 cents per call), many in bright blue booths with white orchids painted on the side. 

Accommodations: Condos

36. If you're staying on one island for five days or more, consider a condominium unit, especially if you're traveling with children. Condos can be cost-effective, as they usually have a sleeper sofa as extra bedding, a kitchen that lets you prepare some of your own meals, and a pool; some are even part of “condo-tels,” with all the amenities of a resort hotel and individually owned units managed by a hotel operator. You’ll typically be charged a one-time cleaning fee, however, so the savings for shorter stays may be minimal. 

37. The longer you stay at a condo, the lower the day rate goes. The rates at even high-end properties can become very attractive. The cheapest rates are found on or Airbnb; still, look for listings managed by professionals, since if something’s not right in your condo, the property management company may be able to switch you to a better one in the same complex or nearby—and you’ll be guaranteed it’s a legal rental. Larger property managers such as Parrish Collection on Kauai (; 800/325-5701) can also help you pick the best unit for your budget.

38. Ask about condo/car deals from larger-volume condo managers such as Outrigger and Aston. The prices are often so low that you practically drive for free.

Accommodations: B&Bs

39. You can generally save money at a B&B if you're willing to share a bathroom or use a private one outside of your bedroom. Europeans seem to have no problem with the idea of sharing a bathroom, or one down the hall, but Americans tend to balk at the idea. You'll have to decide for yourself if it's worth the savings to share.

40. Although they may call themselves bed and breakfasts, not all B&Bs in Hawaii serve breakfast, while some island jurisdictions ban such inns from serving hot breakfasts but permit fruit, cereal, and yogurt. In response, some B&Bs provide kitchenettes and supplies to make or supplement breakfast. If a hot meal at the start of the day is important to you, contact the innkeeper directly to understand what’s provided, especially since breakfast costs at resort-area restaurants can add up.

Accommodations: Vacation Homes

41. If you want the conveniences of a condominium, but with more privacy, you might consider renting a vacation home. The bigger your party, the better the deal. Two- and three-bedroom homes can be rented for as low as $75 per person per night—plus taxes and cleaning fees.  You’ll find numerous listings on and Airbnb, and through Hawaii specialists such as Kauai Vacation Rentals (808/245-8841) and Kona Coast Vacations (877/322-2407).


42. Plan daytime and romantic sunset picnics. Take to the heights or a nearby beach park with an inexpensive plate lunch, a tasty bento, sushi, Spam musubi, or any of the many take-out treats available from corner stores and markets. Some stores, like Daiei and the Times Markets, slash their prices on bentos and prepared foods around mid- or late-afternoon, when the morning rush is over. Perfectly delicious prepared foods (including many varieties of poke) are available at greatly reduced prices in supermarkets throughout the islands; KTA Superstores, Foodland, Big Save, and other local chains tend to have the best variety, while Costco (membership required) has the best prices.

43. Early-bird specials can mean substantial savings on meals. Yelp can tell you what the locals’ favorites are (enter "early bird specials" in its "Find" field). In Honolulu, they include upscale restaurants such as Ruth’s Chris Steak House and neighborhood joints such as Sushi King, which also has late-night specials—another way to save money around the islands, once you’ve adjusted to the time difference. Happy hour specials don't always apply just to drinks—given the hearty portions in Hawaii, you can make a meal from one or two more appetizers ($5–$10) at some lounges and restaurants, such as the Sea House (808/669-1500) in Maui’s Napili Kai Resort. 

44. Inquire about children's discounts. Keiki menus are widely available throughout Hawaii, enabling your kids to eat at a fraction of the regular adult prices.

45. Look for prix-fixe menus at the pricier restaurants, or splurge on a special meal at lunch rather than dinner. You'd be surprised at the difference between lunch and dinner prices at some of the finer restaurants.

46. Take advantage of Hawaii's many ethnic restaurants and their affordable, tasty offerings. Vietnamese, Chinese, Laotian, and other Asian culinary traditions line the streets of Honolulu’s Chinatown, while Japanese, seafood, and Hawaiian favorites can be found a few blocks past Waikiki along Kapahulu Avenue. Mexican, Korean, and Thai restaurants also typically offer good value, as does the burgeoning food truck scene. Check Yelp for the current lineup of food trucks where you’ll be visiting.

47. If you’re in Honolulu the last Friday of the month, don’t miss the Eat the Street food truck gathering. Held from 5 to 10 p.m. at 1011 Ala Moana Blvd., the event includes 40 vendors of everything from tropical popsicles and Korean tacos to gourmet grilled cheese and Hawaiian mixed plates ($5–$10), with ATMs and portable restrooms on site. Check its Facebook page ( for parking information and similar events around the island.

Sightseeing & Activities

48. First of all, hikes are free. But before you leave the airport, wander over to the visitor's publications rack and grab a few of the visitor magazines. They're packed with coupons that will save you money on activities. Especially popular is This Week magazine, available on the major islands: Maps, dining reviews, recipes, feature articles, dining and shopping directories, and discount coupons give these pocket-sized giveaways a good wallop. Also check for coupons in the free drive guides dispensed by rental car agencies.

49. Book activities through a discount activity center. Many activity booking agencies will "split" their commission with you, giving themselves a smaller commission to get your business, and you get a 10% discount or more on activities. Founded in 1975 as a kiosk on Maui, Tom Barefoot's Tours (800/770-6305) has grown into an online giant booking more than 1,350 activities—helicopter tours, guided kayak trips, luaus, surf lessons, dinner cruises, etc.—on the four main islands. However, be wary of because some activity centers are fronts for timeshare sales presentations.

50. You can save 10 to 25 percent on nearly 100 different activities statewide by buying the Shaka Gold Card (800/398-9698) for just $30. The Gold Card gives your entire family (up to four people) discounts on car rentals, helicopter tours, sailing tours, dinner cruises, horseback riding, kayaking, luaus, submarine tours, and more. Note that you must buy the card before you arrive in Hawaii.

51. If you're a senior, student, or active member of the military, be sure to bring identification with you. Several activities and attractions around the islands offer discounts, but you'll have to have a valid I.D. to qualify for the bargain rate.

52. Buy a local newspaper such as the Honolulu Star-Advertiser (you’ll have to pay to read it online) or pick up the free Honolulu Weekly for the latest on inexpensive happenings around the capital city. Kauai’s paper of record, the Garden Island, has a free website that includes calendar listings (, click on “Visitors”), while the online-only has a useful events calendar noting free activities. Regularly occurring events also appear on the calendars for each island on the state’s official tourism site,


53. The fortunes of Hilo Hattie have taken a hit in recent years, but the three remaining stores—in Honolulu’s Ala Moana Shopping Center, the Outlets of Maui in Lahaina, and Lihue, Kauai—still offer a complimentary shell lei, refreshments, and a broad selection of made-in-Hawaii products and reasonably priced aloha wear.

54. Everyone in the islands heads to Costco for bulk prices on cans of macadamia nuts and other edible souvenirs, while Longs Drugs and ABC stores provide competitive prices on other inexpensive gifts. Outlet shoppers will want to explore Waikele Premium Outlets on Oahu and the Outlets of Maui in Lahaina. For best deals on locally made items, though, pull over when you see a roadside stand, craft fair, or even some farmers’ markets (you can search for the ones near you on Yelp).


55. On the Neighbor Islands, a number of open-air shopping centers have stages that regularly host free hula and Polynesian dance shows and/or live music. On the Big Island, for example, Te ‘E‘a O Te Turama troupe presents two different free, hourlong programs of Polynesian dance—from New Zealand, Tahiti, and Samoa, as well as Hawaii—at 7pm Monday and Thursday at the Shops at Mauna Lani. Down the road at Queens’ Marketplace in Waikoloa Beach Resort, three different hula h?lau (troupes) perform for an hour at 6pm Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights. On Oahu, head for the heart of Waikiki, Kuhio Beach, for free, hourlong hula performances Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 6:30pm (6pm Nov—Jan), weather permitting. The show includes live music and dance by top hula h?lau heralded by the lighting of torches and blowing of a conch shell. You’re welcome to bring mats or beach chairs to sit on the grassy hula mound on Kalakaua Avenue, across from the Hyatt Regency Waikiki (near Uluniu Avenue), and to take pictures and videos. To see who’s performing while you’re in town, check the monthly calendars at