Updated July 2, 2021.
It’s no secret, a vacation in Hawaii is an expensive trip! But is it worth it? Absolutely! But never fear! There are definitely ways to save money on your trip. A visit to paradise doesn’t have to break the bank. It’s all about a little planning and a little willingness to do some leg work. Here are our favorite ways to save some cash on your trip to the islands!
Flights and Hotels
These are the priciest travel expenses, so we’re addressing these first!
Redeem Credit Card Points and Miles for Flights and Hotels
This one takes a little time and a little advance planning, but it can save you thousands of dollars! If you have loyalty status with any airline that flies to Hawaii, you can use those miles or points to fly there! Likewise, if you have hotel loyalty to a particular brand or a site like Hotels.com, you can redeem rewards to potentially stay for free as well! It’s definitely worth looking into.
No airline or hotel loyalty? No problem! If you don’t already have one, get a credit card with a points system that works for you. I use the CapitalOne Venture One card, which has no annual fee, and with the points I earn, I have paid for hotel stays, transportation costs, flights, and more travel expenses! If you’re interested, you can sign up through this link and earn points for travel the same way I do—and we both get a bonus if you do!
Essential Reading: The Beginner’s Guide to Points and Miles
and The Ultimate Guide to Earning and Redeeming Hotel Nights
Dining and Food
You have to eat! While food on the islands is generally more expensive than on the mainland, your food budget doesn’t have to break the bank.
Dine Out for Breakfast
Breakfast is the cheapest meal of the day. But it can also be incredibly hearty! And in Hawaii, it can also be quite unique. Taro pancakes on Molokai? They’re purple! Guava pancakes at the Royal Hawaiian? They’re pink! Loco Moco can be found everywhere and includes hamburger, eggs, fried rice, and gravy! So, start your day off with the least expensive, most filling meal you can. It’ll be delicious!
More here: What to Eat on Each Hawaiian Island
Have a Late Lunch
If your breakfast is hearty enough, you won’t be hungry until well into the afternoon. Often, my husband and I will have lunch around 3:00pm, and then either skip supper altogether, or just graze on leftovers or whatever we picked up at the grocery instead of going out to eat again that evening. Lunch and dinner menus are often the exact same, except lunch portions are typically less expensive! It’s a money-saving strategy that’s served us well in our travels in Hawaii, but also around the world!
Read next: Hawaii’s Best Adventures
Get Take-out for Supper
If you’re a three-meals-a-day kind of person, or if you just like supper, you can still save some money by getting take-out. Very often a service charge is added to a dine-in meal in Hawaii, so you’ll avoid that entirely by getting your food to go. Personally, Steve and I like to get a Hawaiian pizza from a fantastic hole-in-the-wall restaurant wherever we are, and we enjoy it from the comfort of our accommodation!
Check Out Happy Hour
If you really want to go out to supper, by all means, do it! But if you’re serious about saving money, check out happy hours around the islands. I’m not a drinker myself, but half price food? I’m there! The menu will be limited, but you’ll get a deal, and you will definitely get a taste of the islands!
Keep reading: The Best Hawaiian Souvenirs
Hit the Grocery Store
No, I don’t mean you have to cook on your vacation, though that is certainly a money-saving possibility if you prefer it! The grocery stores in Hawaii are more expensive than the ones on the mainland, but they’re certainly less expensive than eating out. They also have amazing, incredible, absolutely delicious ready-made food that you can simply pick up to-go! They have everything from sushi to Korean barbecue, from lilikoi cake to malasadas (Portugese donuts popular in Hawaii).
Geocery stores are a great option for any meal or snack throughout the day, and you’ll get a little peek into local life as well. You can also pick up local souvenirs at grocery stores in Hawaii, like macadamia nuts, coffee, and chocolate. Just remember to bring a reusable bag because plastic bags are banned, and paper bags cost extra!
Unless you plan to stay in Waikiki your whole trip, you will definitely need a car on any Hawaiian island you visit. Over the course of our trips through the last several years, we’ve learned a few tricks to save some cash. Take a look!
Only Rent a Car When You Need One
This is one of the biggest money saving hacks we’ve found for Hawaii. Because we like to stay in locations that are walkable to restautrants, beaches, etc., we don’t need a car every day. Depending on where you’re staying, there are probably several car rental locations within walking distance of your accommodation, so you can literally pick it up when they open and turn it back in the same day before they close! No exorbitant hotel parking fees? Sign me up for that!
For instance, if you’re staying in Waikiki, this is easy to do. There are tons of car rental locations nearby for days you want to explore further afield, but there is also plenty to do in Waikiki to keep you busy for the days when you don’t need a car.
On Kauai, we stayed at a hotel just two miles from the airport that had a FREE shuttle to the airport. On the days we wanted to stay on the beach and get food in the area, we didn’t have to pay for a car or parking. On the days we needed or wanted a car, we simply walked or took the airport shuttle to rent a car from there! Easy savings.
*There are also discount sites like Turo and Discount Hawaii Car Rental, but I advise you to always compare prices with standard car rental sites and read all terms to make absolutely sure you’re getting the best deal. Sometimes it’s not a better price or a better deal! Always check multiple sites and do some comparing.
Yes! There are FREE things to do, even in Hawaii! You just have to know where to look.
Do All the FREE Things!
Good news! All beaches in Hawaii are public beaches, so they’re all free and all available to tourists and locals alike, always. That’s right! Whether you’re looking for a white, black, red, or even green sand beach, you’ll be able to not only find one, but enjoy it without spending a dime.
Hiking is FREE! My husband and I hike as much as possible every time we visit the islands. The landscape and views never disappoint, and if you go early, you might have that whole hike to yourself. Do a little research first to make sure that parking will also be free so you’re not unpleasantly surprised! National and State Parks may also charge a fee, but for the most part, there is usually free parking around. For all the details, check out my hiking guides for O’ahu, Mau’i, the Island of Hawai’i, and Molokai!
Museums and More
Most of the museums in Hawaii are not free, but some definitely are! For instance, the Pearl Harbor Historic Site on O’ahu is FREE to visit. Maui’s Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm is also a FREE site! Kaua’i is home to the largest coffee plantation in the United States, Kaua’i Coffee, and their farm and museum are FREE to visit as well. Molokai’s Big Wind Kite Factory, Kumu Farms, and Purdy’s Macadamia Nut Farm are all FREE as well! Heading to the Island of Hawai’i? You can visit several coffee farms and try free samples there, too!
Budgeting for a Splurge
It’s important to spend your money wisely, but it’s every bit as important to make sure you don’t miss out on the things that will give you memories for the rest of your life. Don’t skip the occasional splurge!
A Note about That Pricey Thing You Want to Do
All that said, don’t forget that Hawaii is a special destination, and it’s worth a splurge when it’s worth it to you! Don’t let anyone–including yourself–talk you out of that luau, that helicopter ride, that ziplining experience, that fancy hotel of your dreams, one really expensive meal out, or whatever it is that you or someone in your party wants to do more than anything else.
One final thought: It’s far more common to regret the things you didn’t do when you had the chance, than the things you did do. So have that special experience with no regrets!
Get the whole story! Flying with Maverick Helicopters Over Maui and Molokai
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