How to Plan a Budget Hawaii Vacation

February 25, 2022

Hawaii and saving money? It’s a combo you don’t see every day, but we promise it exists. It’s possible to visit this world of tropical wonder on the cheap!

The United States is teeming with beautiful vacation spots from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Options like the sweeping mountain views of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, or the abundance of magical fun at Walt Disney World in Orlando make it hard to choose where to vacation. Still, Hawaii constantly rises above the rest as an all-time favorite destination. It may seem like one of the priciest locations of the choices, but it is possible to plan a budget Hawaii vacation.

What sets this stunning location apart from other places? You’ll find sparkling teal water, breezy palm trees, and the freshest coastal cuisine when traveling to Hawaii.

Start each morning with a glowing sunrise and end with a flaming sunset. Snorkel or hike through the breathtaking nature landscapes for a once-in-a-lifetime experience of tropical amazement. 

We’re about to tell you all of our money-saving secrets, so read on to start planning your dreamy budget Hawaii vacation today!

Rocky shoreline and pocket beach at Makapu'u Point on a sunny day with bright blue water on Oahu, Hawaii, USAVisit Hawaii in the Off-Season

First, planning when to vacation in Hawaii could be just as essential to save money as planning what to do once you get there.

The peak seasons take place in both summer and winter. So naturally, these mean higher prices all around, from transportation to hotels and everything in between.

Related Post: Which is the Least Expensive Hawaiian Island to Visit?

Make the most of the low seasons by visiting in spring or fall. Rumor has it that there’s also a quick decrease in pricing after the holiday travelers finally wrap things up for the last two weeks of January. Catch it quickly, though, as prices rise again in February for another peak winter season.

Pro Tip: Visiting in the low season allows you to avoid bigger crowds, too! A thinned-out beach means more sand and surf all to yourself. 

View of where the ocean meets the sand at Sunset Beach with an orange sunset in the distance in Oahu, Hawaii, USA

photo credit: Victoria Johnson via Facebook

Book in Advance

Additionally, a little planning ahead can go a long way. The further in advance you book, the better deals you will come across. Often, hotels and activities will also honor any new deals that launch after you make your reservation. 

Related Post: Hawaii for First Time Visitors: 8 Tips to Know Before You Go

Moreover, booking in advance guarantees availability on popular tours and attractions. Activities fill up well in advance, so it’s in your best interest to snag your spot as early as possible!

Now that you know to book in advance, which activities should you even book? Tripster offers so many ideas!

For example, add a luau like one of these to your itinerary:

  • The Waikiki Luau (Oahu) is located within walking distance of many hotels in one of Hawaii’s most popular tourist spots.
  • For an interactive luau experience, the Experience Nutridge Luau (Oahu) consists of activities like helping build an imu (underground oven) and walking through a rainforest. 
  • Load up on delicious cultural food when you enjoy the all-you-can-eat Polynesian buffet at the Voyagers of the Pacific Luau (Big Island).

Three women in orange and red hula costumes and a man in a matching shirt playing a conch shell surrounded by greenery at the Experience Nutridge Luau on Oahu, Hawaii, USAShop Around for Airline Deals

When traveling to Hawaii, airline tickets will take a large portion of your budget. This is why it’s so important to take your time when finding and booking flights to Hawaii.

When skimming the internet for the best airline deals, two things to consider are the airport you fly out of and the airline (or airlines) you fly with. These two factors can create a lot of price variation.

Naturally, flying out of the Midwest or East Coast areas will generally be more expensive. But, on the other hand, flying out of West Coast airports tends to be easier on the wallet. 

Sometimes, it may be cheaper to book a flight to a city closer to Hawaii on one airline and finish the rest of your trip from that city to Hawaii on a different airline. For example, let’s say you live in Nashville and decide to book two sets of round trip tickets:

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

Creating a flight concoction of your own like this may be the cheapest way to go, but do your research before buying those tickets! If you decide to take this route, be mindful of airport layouts and takeoff times, so you are sure to have enough time to switch flights. 

Related Post: 12 Most Romantic Restaurants in Hawaii

Pro Tip: Be flexible about when you fly. If you’re fine with an earlier, later, or oddly timed flight, you’re likely to find a better deal.

Visit Oahu for Your Hawaii Vacation

Each Hawaiian Island has its own appeal. However, Oahu may be the best for those looking to spend as little as possible. Why? This island contains most of Hawaii’s population and is a teeming tourist’s delight.

An abundance of tours, attractions, and activities means the admission costs are competitive. So, you’re more likely to find better prices overall.

In addition, Oahu is home to some must-see Hawaiian sights and locations. You’ll find Pearl Harbor on this island, as well as Waikiki Beach. Moreover, North Shore is a well-known surf town that hosts many surfing competitions each year. Hang ten!

Aerial view looking over Waikiki Beach towards Diamond Head State Monument on a sunny day with bright blue water in Oahu, Hawaii, USADecide If You Need to Island Hop

If you’re already flying from the contiguous United States to Hawaii, you may be tempted to travel between the different islands while you’re there. While this is a great way to immerse yourself in Hawaiian culture, it’s not usually easy on the budget.

Related Post: 31 Unforgettable Romantic Things to Do in Hawaii for Couples

While inexpensive compared to your flight from the mainland, Inter-island flights can add up quickly. Meanwhile, you’ll also have to pay for additional hotel stays and activities.

Planting yourself on one island for the entire duration of your trip will be less stressful and still give you a chance to get a breathtaking taste of Hawaii. Plus, forgoing a visit to every single island on your trip will provide you with a reason to go back. 

Use this list as a starting point to sort through what a few of the different islands have to offer so you can make a decision:

  • Oahu: This is the busiest island, based on the number of locals and the number of tourists. If you like a touristy beach scene, this is the island for you. It has a great combination of beautiful beaches and gorgeous hiking trails.
  • Maui: Maui is not as busy as Oahu, and therefore more conducive to lazy, uninterrupted days on the beach. This island lays claim to Hawaii’s most famous scenic drive, the Road to Hana. 
  • The Big Island: This island is a superb place to explore. Catch sight of one of the sizzling active volcanoes! There are some great snorkeling spots here, too.

Photo Alert: If visiting the Big Island, don’t miss out on snapping a photo of one of the rare black sand beaches or the even rarer green sand beach! This photo will stir up some serious camera roll envy.

Reserve a Hotel Away From the Beach

Hawaii is known for its beautiful beaches, but it’s so much more than that. The sparkling waves and sand are exquisite, no doubt. However, there are also captivating views of luscious greenery at every turn. The whole state is bursting with vibrant flora and fauna.

Related Post: The Ultimate Hawaii Packing List: What to Bring and What to Skip

One of the ways to save some dough while on your trip is to book hotel accommodations that aren’t right on the beach. More affordable options exist just beyond the shore, and it will only take a quick walk or ride to get you there.

Pro Tip: Walking to and from the beach could either sound like an adventure or a pain, depending on how lazy you like to be on your beach days. However, walking comes with its advantages. For instance, you’ll be able to dry off on your walk, so you won’t have to enter your hotel room sopping wet!

Additionally, consider booking one of the beautiful vacation rentals throughout the island of your choice.   

Tripster offers discounted hotel rates at these great stays:

Polynesian man climbing a large palm tree to get yellow fruit in Oahu, Hawaii

photo credit: Polynesian Cultural Center via Facebook

Do Not Book Activities Through a Hotel

Upon arrival, the hotel front desk associate will likely point you to the concierge desk. Here you can book activities and tours throughout the island. However, keep in mind that this might not be the best route if you are trying to stick to a budget. 

While concierge services are certainly convenient, they are not always cheap. In addition, concierges often receive a commission, which can incentivize them to recommend more expensive activities.

Instead of concierge services, browse Tripster for some of the best and beachiest ways to spend your time in paradise on earth. We have kept your moolah in mind, too! Book activities such as one of these exciting tours:

Four children snorkeling with an instructor who is petting a manta ray in the water in Oahu, Hawaii

photo credit: Sea Life Park via Facebook

Skip the Rental Car

It’s no secret that car rentals tend to rack up expenses. Between the daily cost of the actual car, rental insurance, gas, and parking fees, renting a car in Hawaii can be an unnecessary financial burden.

Save yourself the worries and get around Hawaii without a car! Although Hawaii is full of wild natural landscapes, that doesn’t mean it lacks modern amenities such as public transportation. The main tourist islands of Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island have convenient bus systems.

Pro Tip: Taking the bus is one of the most budget-friendly ways to get around! Moreover, you’ll save yourself the trouble of traffic, parking, and getting gas.

In addition, ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft are also available to navigate the island.

If you want to travel beyond where public transportation can take you, we recommend renting a car for a single day. You can strategically plan to cross the activities off your list that are further away from your hotel on this one day without the giant bill that would come with renting a car for an entire week. 

Related Post: 12 Most Underrated Places in Hawaii Totally Worth Visiting

Pro Tip: A cheaper way to rent a car for a day is to use a car-sharing service such as Turo. Services like these allow you to rent directly from individuals rather than rental companies and will likely save you some serious dough!

Shop Local

Shopping locally may help you stick to your Hawaii vacation budget, whether for meals or souvenirs. Chain restaurants and retailers increase their prices in areas of high tourism.

In addition, you’re in Hawaii, so why would you waste your money on Cheesecake Factory meals and Coach bags which are commonplace in the contiguous states? Instead, take the opportunity to immerse yourself in local culture and cuisine at (more likely) a better price. As a bonus, you’ll help the local economy!

Pro Tip: If you really want to deter yourself from overspending in Hawaii, consider leaving your credit card at home and only bringing cash instead! This will allow you to tangibly see how much you are draining your bank account, rather than easy swipes that may seem inconsequential at the time. 

A sandy trail through some palm trees with a mountain in the background at sunset with clouds in the sky in Oahu, Hawaii

photo credit: Jessica Wong via Unsplash

Consider Eating In

This depends on the amenities your lodging of choice has to offer. If you happen to have a kitchenette, take advantage! Eating in is an opportunity to spare some significant cash. Food adds up quickly!

Consider making breakfast in your room, such as eggs paired with fruit. Then, pack an easy sandwich lunch for the beach. Stash away plenty of snacks in your beach bag or hiking backpack to munch on throughout the day. Then, splurge on delicious local Hawaiian eats for dinner!

This may initially seem like an insignificant change to make, but the little savings really do add up.

Related Post: 5 of the Best Luaus in Hawaii

Check Out the Free and Inexpensive Activities in Hawaii

How does free sound to your budget-savvy ears? Hawaii may be known for extravagant tropical luxury, but it’s also brimming with inexpensive and even free things to do

Go hiking, explore historic landmarks, and even gaze in awe at a fireworks show without losing a dime on your budget Hawaii vacation. There are free activities galore in this seaside wonderland.

One of our favorite free ways to fill the Hawaiian hours is to visit a state park. On the Big Island alone, there are multiple state parks, including:

  • Lava Tree State Park
  • Wailuku River State Park
  • Alaska Falls State Park (does have a small entrance fee)
Close up of a sea turtle swimming over the reef in blue green water near Oahu, Hawaii, USA

photo credit: Sea Turtle Foundation via Facebook

How Will You Save While on Your Budget Hawaii Vacation?

With our handy savings tips, you’ll be saving money in Hawaii (and lounging on the beach!) in no time. Visiting Hawaii on a budget is simple if you follow our advice and take the extra steps to find additional savings.

Let Tripster serve as your travel agent! We’re here to offer you deals and guidance to help you plan the most budget-friendly Hawaii vacation ever.

Have Any Tips to Add to our Budget Hawaii Vacation Guide?

Let us know in the comments below!


michaela smiling holding magazine with body of water in background

Written By Michaela

Michaela is a journalist who views every story she writes as an adventure, leading her to explore new places and meet new people. She is based in the Midwest ...

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