Hawaii on a Budget

Oh Hawaii, so beautiful, yet so expensive.

However, if you play the game right, you can use plenty of cost-savings strategies. In one of my grad classes, we were required to give a “how to” presentation. After traveling to Hawaii last year, I decided to present on something fun: Hawaii on a budget.

So can it be done? Yes, but with some planning. The goal for me was: Hawaii for $1,000 per person: 7 days with flights, lodging, transportation, and attractions included. That’s a tall order. Here’s how I did it…

When To Go?
There’s not really an “off season” for Hawaii…it’s always popular! The priciest time of year is between Christmas (Mele Kalikimaka!) and New Year, and also during summer vacation when kids are out of school. Aim for mid-April to early June, or September through early November. We opted for late May/early June.


Which Island?
This is the hard part! Do you want cosmopolitan Honolulu, or how about Maui with all its varied landscapes from beaches to rainforests to mountains? How about laid back Kauai, or the volcanoes of the Big Island?

Take this Travel Channel quiz to find out which island is the best for you!

Undoubtedly, it’s cheaper to limit yourself to just one island. However, for us, this is one area where we wanted to splurge: We did 3 nights at Waikiki Beach (Oahu) and 4 nights in Maui.


Besides lodging, this will be your biggest expense. We opted for the easy, yet seemingly slow, way to get there: letting airline miles accumulate and then cashing them in! OK, so it took 4 years and by then I had accumulated 150,000 miles. Oh but it was worth it! – 2 round-trip economy class tickets. All we had to pay were $11 in taxes/fees per person. An $11 flight to Hawaii? I’ll take that!

Otherwise, if that’s not an option, look for flash sales–particularly from Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines from their west coast gateways. Make sure and search airlines’ websites and travel aggregators like Expedia. Also give Google Flights a look too.

Vive Hotel Waikiki

Vive Hotel Waikiki

Ahh, the other big ticket item. Depending on your island, you have some options. Maui, for example, is heavy into condo rentals while Waikiki Beach on Oahu is focused on hotels. And of course, there’s Airbnb too.

If you’re interested in hotels, make sure and check out aggregator sites like Hotels.com, Booking.com, etc. However, don’t forget to check out pricing on individual hotel websites as they may have some website-only deals.

And then consider: Do you really need that ocean view room? Because the other rooms will be much cheaper. Ask yourself? How much time are you going to spend in your room? For us, it was a place to sleep, so we gladly chose a room with a “less than stellar” view and saved some money that way.

We ended up going the hotel route because there was less guess work involved. Maybe I’ll get over my “thing” of staying in strangers’ houses…so it was hotels for us.

At Waikiki Beach, we stayed at the contemporary Vive Hotel Waikiki. Booking directly through their website, we had a discount code to use that knocked around $10/night and included breakfast. It was three blocks to Waikiki Beach–a short 3 minute walk.

On Maui, we stayed in Kihei – away from the expensive resort areas – at the Maui Coast Hotel. Here we paid in full before the trip, which knocked around $20 off per night. However, if you aren’t absolutely sure of your travel plans, that may not be your best bet. For us, it worked.

Save money when you can. If you’re mostly focused on Waikiki, skip the rental car. When we wanted to do the Diamond Head hike, we took the public bus–only $5 roundtrip/per person! On Maui, which is more car-centric, we used a rental car, but saved money by renting off of the airport grounds: Kihei Rent-a-Car. Be sure to factor in gas, because Hawaii has some of the most expensive in the U.S.

Another tip: Check prices for escorted tours: When we looked at a cab or Uber to get from Waikiki Beach to Pearl Harbor and back, it was just easier to pay $35 per person for an escorted tour of Pearl Harbor that included hotel pick-up and drop-off.

'O'he'o Gulch, Road to Hana, Maui

‘O’he’o Gulch, Road to Hana, Maui

Don’t forget: many of the attraction are free! Beach time and hiking? No cost! Others are low-cost: If you walk in to Diamond Head, the entrance fee is $1. If you do the Road to Hana (which you must), save your entrance ticket to Haleakala National Park because you can also use it within three days for entrance to the Haleakala Summit.

Did I Make My $1000 Budget?


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