How to Plan a Budget Hawaii Vacation

May 25, 2017

Although it may seem impossible, visiting Hawaii on a budget is feasible. Trust me, I’ve done it! Follow these tips for an affordable, and memorable, vacation to Hawaii.

Everyone has their favorite vacation spot in the USA. For some, it’s the magic of Disney World in Orlando or the sweeping views after a long hike in one of our magnificent National Parks. For me, it’s Hawaii — hands down. Every chance I get to go visit the islands, I accept. But, I’m also one to avoid draining my bank account; which is why I always plan a budget Hawaii vacation.

Aerial View of Hawaiian Rain forest and Ocean - How to Plan a Budget Hawaii Vacation Cover Page

Visit Hawaii in the Off-Season

As you can imagine, traveling during the peak season of summer and winter results in higher prices all around—from transportation to hotel accommodations. Book your vacation during the spring or the fall to take advantage of lower prices and fewer crowds.

Book in Advance

The farther in advance you book, the greater deals you can take advantage of. Often, hotels and activities will also honor any new deals that launch after you made your reservation. Booking in advance also guarantees your seat on a popular tour or entrance to an attraction. Tours and activities fill up well in advance, so it is in your best interest to snag your spot as early as possible!

Shop Around for Airline Deals

When traveling to Hawaii, airline tickets will be your largest expense. Where you fly out of also has an impact on the price. For instance, since I live in the greater Nashville area, it is quite expensive to fly to Hawaii. In fact, direct flights from Nashville to Hawaii are non-existent. Even with layovers in LAX or Phoenix, the price from Nashville to Honolulu, HI is astronomical.

However, there is a way around this if you’re willing to shop around for deals. For my most recent trip to Hawaii, I booked two sets of round trip tickets:

  • Nashville to Los Angeles (and back) via Southwest
  • Los Angeles to Honolulu (and back) via American Airlines

Since flights to LA from Nashville are super affordable, it was far cheaper to fly there on a separate airline. Combined with the inexpensive flights from LAX to Honolulu, I saved a ton by flying this way! Look at different airline and airport combinations to find the biggest deals for your trip.

Quick tip: Be mindful of airport layouts if you schedule flights with different airlines. For example, at LAX I had to exit the terminal and walk across the property to a different terminal to connect to the next flight with another airline. While it wasn’t much of a burden, I could have missed my departing flight had I scheduled the flights too close together.

Also, be flexible about when you fly. If you’re fine with an earlier, later, or oddly timed flight, you’ll encounter deep discounts.

aerial view of beach and ocean on a sunny day in Hanauma Bay in Oʻahu, Hawaii, USA

Visit Oahu for Your First Budget Hawaii Vacation

While I love all of the Hawaiian islands, Oahu is the best for first-time visitors and those looking to spend as little as possible. Oahu contains the majority of Hawaii’s population along with an abundance of tours, attractions, and activities. Thanks to the numerous activities and attractions, the admissions prices here are competitive. This leads to better prices for you, the consumer!

Decide If You Really Need to Island Hop

While I know I’d certainly love to visit every island each time I travel to Hawaii, it’s not the cheapest of routes. If you’re a frugal individual looking to organize a budget Hawaii vacation, I’d suggest visiting one island for the duration of your trip.

To visit more than one island, you’ll have to organize additional airline tickets, hotel rooms, activity/tour reservations, and more. It all adds up, and fast. Plus, if you only visit one island during your trip, it gives you an excuse to go back!

Exterior View of the Entrance to Courtyard by Marriott Waikiki Beach - Oahu, Hawaii, USA

Reserve a Hotel Away From the Beach

Since you’re attempting to plan a budget Hawaii vacation, do you really need a room at that 5-star hotel right on the beach? The answer is no.

Hawaii is filled to the brim with hotels. Search for more affordable hotels located off of or just outside of the beach. If you stay in Oahu (which I highly recommend you do for your first trip), it is so easy to walk to Waikiki Beach from wherever your hotel is located. For instance, the Courtyard by Marriott Waikiki Beach is only a 9-minute walk away from the beach and offers competitive nightly rates! I’ve stayed in various places throughout the greater Waikiki Beach and Honolulu area, and never had trouble walking to the beach (or anywhere in the area for that matter).

Do Not Book Activities Through a Hotel

Upon arrival, the hotel front desk associate will point you to the concierge desk. Here you can book activities and tours throughout the island. I strongly urge you to not book activities through your hotel if you’re looking to save money.

While concierge services are certainly convenient, they are not cheap. Hotels receive a kickback of sorts from your reservation leading to higher overall prices for the traveler.

Skip the Rental Car

Your first instinct might be to reserve a rental car for the duration of your vacation. Instead, curb your instincts and forgo the rental car.

Between the daily cost of the rental car, rental insurance, gas, and parking fees, it’s an unnecessary burden. Getting around Hawaii without a car is easy. When in Oahu, I cut costs by taking the bus to destinations such as Diamond Head and Pearl Harbor. It’s $2.50 per way and I didn’t have to worry about parking, traffic, or gas money. I also leveraged services such as Uber and Lyft to get around the island and to the airport for far cheaper than a rental car.

Of course, you’ll want to explore areas of the island not trafficked by buses or ride-sharing services. Renting a car through a rental company or a service such as Turo for one day will not set you back far.

We found a local sushi window and had the best ahi poke bowls of our life in Honolulu!

Shop Local

Whether for meals or souvenirs, shopping locally can get you the most bang for your buck in Hawaii. Chain restaurants and retailers escalate their prices in areas of high tourism. Plus, you’re in Hawaii—do you really need another meal at Cheesecake Factory or another Coach bag? Go experience the local culture and cuisine at a price you’ll love. In the process, you’ll help the local economy. It’s a win-win!

Consider Eating In

Depending on your lodging accommodations, you may have a kitchenette at your disposal. Use it! Making breakfast or packing a lunch can save you so much money in the long run.

On my last budget Hawaii vacation, we bought eggs, fruit, and other items to make breakfast every day. We also purchased healthy snacks to stow in our backpacks for the day. This saved us from spending upwards of $60 (between 2 people) each morning on breakfast and coffee, and stopping throughout the day for snacks.

Or if your hotel offers a continental breakfast, take advantage of it. There’s nothing better than a complimentary breakfast to start your day off right.

Tourists enjoying the beach at Diamond Head State Monument - Oahu, Hawaii, USA

Check Out All the Free and Inexpensive Activities in Hawaii

The best part about a budget Hawaii vacation is all the free and inexpensive activities the islands have to offer. From hiking to historic landmarks, you have an abundance of free things to do when you visit the Hawaiian islands.

Personally, my favorite free activity is hiking. While the beaches are hard to compete with, you simply can’t beat the views at the top of a mountain (or volcano) in Hawaii. For an inexpensive adventure, I recommend snorkeling on the North Shore of Oahu. We rented snorkeling gear for the two of us for a grand total of $12. Considering we snorkeled for about 3 hours straight, I’d say that’s an affordable deal!

Start Organizing Your Budget Hawaii Vacation Today

Planning an affordable trip to Hawaii is simple if you follow our advice, look to Tripster for the best discounts, and take the extra step to find additional savings.

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