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Say Hawaii to most people and you’ll get the customary ‘Ooo’s’ and ‘Ahhh’s‘. This tropical paradise is often associated with luxury and affluence as a travel destination. Tell people you visit Hawaii every year, and they are immediately filled with jealousy and thoughts that you’re a gazillionaire of some kind. The regular remarks I receive are: “I’m so jealous”, “I could never afford that”, and the ever popular, with a condescending tone, “Oooh, you’re going to Hawaii again?”
You can afford it, you just need to change your thinking and downsize your travel dreams from staying at a ritzy hotel, to a B&B. Or, if you’re adventurous, camping. Hawaii is not as expensive as you may think if you travel differently.
Each year, I travel on a budget of $1500 – $2000. I use travel reward points for all or part of my flight and/or car rental. This year (2015), my $1200 car rental only cost $600 because of travel points. Note: my accommodations are FREE as I stay with family.
How Do You Do Hawaii For Less?
1. Do as the locals do.
Beaches and picnics are their entertainment. They don’t go on whale watching tours, parasailing or zip lining. Most activities on the island are a minimum of $150 per person. Believe me, I’ve checked. And you can regularly see whales and dolphins while at the beach – no expensive tour needed!
Shop the fresh markets for fruit and veggies. This advice comes with a small warning – be careful what you purchase. Some sellers will actually resell you produce from Costco, be mindful of where you shop.
2. Fly in the off-season or shop early for low fares.
I refuse to ever pay more than $1000 for the flight and I never have. I paid a total of $939 with taxes for 2015. You’ll also want to be sure to have short layovers, otherwise, you could pay extra baggage fees. Unfortunately, I’m not one for taking a teeny carry on to avoid fees, I prefer to take a suitcase…it’s only $25 each way.
Traveling from Toronto, I prefer to break my flight in Chicago and California. Sadly, there are very few direct flights and they’re super expensive. A word of warning: stopovers in San Francisco can result in delays due to weather (fog or wind), LA is a much better choice, however you may have to walk across the terminal (or take the shuttle) if you’re coming from Canada.
Update for 2017: $600 for Economy, $1400 for Business/First Class (CDN$)
Book your flight at least 2 – 3 months out for the best deals. Play around with the day of the week you leave, the difference between a Tuesday and Saturday flight could be as much as $200. I’ve always found Tuesdays to be cheapest when I fly.
DO NOT expect a Christmas in Hawaii unless you have money to burn. December and January are the most popular months and the most expensive for airfare. Myself, I always travel in February.
3. Splurge on the meaningful.
You’ll find this funny but my splurges are the car rental and a couple of nice dinners out and that’s it. A small SUV is a must on the islands for the winding roads and heading to the beach. Food, well, I’m a foodie and I know all the awesome eateries on the island – at least two expensive dinners are a must in the two weeks I’m there. They usually come with a beautiful sunset and are well worth it.
Fave sunset dinner: ‘Ulu at the Four Seasons Hualalai (see picture below).
Fave fine dining on the island: Merriman’s Waimea.
A FEW TIPS:
- On the islands, the sun sets early, so make dinner reservations for 5:30 as the sun sets around 6:20 during the winter months.
- Don’t splurge to rent a Jeep 4X4!! They guzzle insane amounts of gas, are too big for the roads, and are very well used (read: worn out and well abused).
4. You don’t need a fancy hotel.
I will openly admit that I love the Four Seasons Hualalai on the Big Island, but I would never stay there unless I had money to burn. The average room price is $1,076 per night. OUCH. That’s the extreme of course, most other hotels, like the Hilton, average $300 a night. I’m lucky as I have family I can stay with for free that’s away from the expensive tourist areas.
If you can’t resist the luxury of the Four Seasons, try stopping there for a splurge on a sunset dinner. It’ll set you back $300 CDN for two but here’s the view:
For the frugal traveler, your best bet on the islands is local Bed and Breakfast establishments. They range from $50 a night to $200 a night. B&B’s were the sole reason my father was able to give us a yearly family vacay in the Hawaiian islands when I was a teen. These yearly trips were yet another reason I was nicknamed “Rich Bitch”. Too bad they didn’t pay attention to how frugal my father was before dishing out names….haters. LOL!
There are also hostels on the island on the Kona side, and in Hilo. I can’t offer a recommendation as I’m more of a luxe gal, than a hostel rough it type gal.
One final option is to stay on a local farm and trade work for accommodation. Here’s a few options:
Note: Please always do your research to understand what you’re getting into. I’ve never personally tried hostels or work exchange programs, so I can’t offer a recommendation.
5. Dine at Costco.
Yep, you read right peeps – dine at Costco. I have had some of the best Ahi Sashimi and Poke (Pokeh) from Costco on a dime (Avg $15 for a large portion). If you’re not a raw fish fan like I am, you can still get some awesome salads and sandwiches for $7-9 dollars.
TIP: Costco and Tesoro are cheapest for gasoline but you’ll need an American credit card. I have a TD US Dollar Visa from a Canadian bank and they still won’t take it, you actually need a US Bank issued card. Average price per gallon is $3.85 as of Feb 2014.
6. Save your travel points for Hawaii.
Last but certainly not least, use your credit card reward points for Hawaii. You’ll get the most bang for your buck if you redeem for flights or car rentals to long haul destinations. I’ve always found that both Air Canada Aeroplan and United Mileage Plus points are best used for long haul big-ticket flights. Dollar for dollar, you get the best value.
That’s how I do Hawaii on a budget!
I stick to a low fare flight, stay for free, splurge only on a car rental and a few nice dinners. We eat most meals at home, buy groceries from Costco, and fresh fruit from locals in the area.
Have you visited Hawaii? What are your tips for travellers?
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