Cheap Hawaii

Sometimes my readers write to me with travel-related questions.  I always do my best to help out, and sometimes share some of the questions and answers here in my blog posts.  I hope you find them helpful!  Feel free to add pointers of your own in the comments below, or ask me anything about travel.  Who knows, maybe your question will be featured in a future blog post?

Today’s question comes from S.B.:

Q:

So i’m trying to plan to travel to Hawaii for my one year anniversary.  I would love to learn how to see Hawaii for cheap. but safe because this will be my first trip away from the mainland U.S.  I want to do a lot of attractions such as beaches, horseback riding, etc.  Thanks for helping–I’m eager to learn how to travel on a budget!  ~S.B.

A:

Hi S.B.! Yes, Hawaii is great!  My husband Keith and I were there in 2011 for 12 days.  Our total cost was only a few hundred dollars.

We had almost no flight expense to get to the islands (thanks to frequent flyer miles), and almost no lodging costs (thanks to several nights of camping and Couchsurfing and a night in a hostel.  Only two nights were spent in a hotel).

Our primary expenses were for the rental cars (which we found at a good rate through either CarRentals.com or RentalCars.com–can’t remember which–check both, and check with your own auto insurance to see if they cover rental cars–and decline the rental agency’s insurance if so!) and flights between the islands (we flew into Honolulu and then visited the Big Island and Maui).

Hawaii Inter-island flight

Inter-island flight in Hawaii.

We did some of our own cooking in our Couchsurfer host’s kitchen and while camping, saving a lot of money on food.  We splurged on a couple of tours and activities, and otherwise we did cheap and free stuff (lots of hiking!).

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Do you have any frequent flyer miles?  As of right now you can get 50,000 (enough for a Hawaii ticket) by signing up for the US Airways credit card, paying the $89 fee, and making one purchase with it.  Keith and I both applied for and received the card a few months ago.  In fact, we may use these miles to go visit a friend in Honolulu in a few months.  By the way, American Airlines acquired US Airways, so these miles will convert to AA Miles soon.

I do strongly recommend that anybody who gets a card pay it off in full every month, though, because otherwise you’ll pay more in interest than what you save in travel if you allow yourself to go into debt with it.  Do NOT get a credit card if you already have credit card debt.  If you and your spouse have good credit, you can both apply and if both approved, you will each have 50,000 frequent flyer miles.  There are many other credit card options, too, but right now this is the only one I know of that doesn’t require a minimum spend (most cards require you to spend a few thousand dollars in the first few months in order to get the miles).

If getting miles via a credit card is not an option for you, there are other (slower) ways to earn miles, or you can save up for a ticket.  To find the best prices, search Google Flights, sign up for airfare alerts on Skyscanner or Airfare Watchdog, and subscribe to The Flight Deal (if you use Twitter, follow them there, too)!  If you have some flexibility on the flight dates and airports you fly to/from, you can potentially save yourself hundreds of dollars!

Hawaii is still the U.S….so definitely an easy place to start with if this is your first major trip! Beaches are generally free to swim and walk along, so that’s an excellent choice.  If you enjoy outdoor activities then be sure to take advantage of the excellent hiking opportunities on the islands–that is also free.  Snorkeling is another free or cheap activity–ask the locals for the best spots.

Beautiful view along the Hana Highway.

Beautiful view along the Hana Highway.

Hawaii has some beautiful national parks–Haleakala (on Maui) and Volcanoes National Park (the Big Island).  Camping there is cheap or free if you enjoy that sort of thing.  We had our tent with us and spent a few nights camping.

Amazing, other-worldly backpacking trip up Mauna Loa (Big Island).

Amazing, other-worldly backpacking trip up Mauna Loa (Big Island, Volcanoes National Park).

For other accommodation ideas, Keith and I had some excellent Couchsurfing hosts in Hawaii (free!  If you don’t know about Couchsurfing read this post to learn more), but if you’re looking for some more privacy (especially if you’re celebrating your anniversary) look up lodging options on AirBnB  (use THIS LINK for a $25 discount if you’re new to AirBnB).  A friend of mine found a great place on AirBnB in a beautiful location in Honolulu for $55/night. (Most hotels are easily $100 and more per night.)  If you have a house, you might even consider listing your own house on AirBnB while you’re away and offsetting the cost of your trip that way.

Alternatively, you could do a home exchange.  We don’t have a home to exchange ourselves, but I have friends and acquaintances who have done home exchanges and they say it is wonderful!

Another option would be to see if there are any house sitting opportunities around the time you’d like to go.  You and your spouse could take care of someone’s home, and maybe also their pets, in exchange for a free house to yourself.  Might be worth looking in to!  There are several house sitting websites out there.  Trusted Housesitters is the one that is most highly recommended.  I personally am a member of Trusted Housesitters and am always impressed by the number of house sitting options.  My sister also recently did a house sit through that site and had a wonderful experience.  This is also a great resource if you need someone to take care of your house and pets while you’re away!

Look up the hostel options (be sure to read reviews to get a feel for the place before you go). Most hostels offer private rooms in addition to the usual dorm room options, and they can be fairly nice, conveniently located, and much, much cheaper than hotels in the same area.  They won’t be the Hyatt, but they are usually clean and comfortable and you can put more of your money toward other fun experiences on the islands!  Check HostelWorld for some options.

If you do want something more like the Hyatt, many hotel chains have credit card programs and point systems much like the frequent flyer programs that the airlines have.  So if you find a good hotel credit card you may be able to score some free nights in a really nice hotel.   To get an idea for the best current deals, just Google “the best hotel credit cards.”

If you do end up booking and paying for a hotel, I recommend Hotels.com.  My husband and I usually book our hotels through here.  Their prices are usually as good as any other hotel site, and you get a free night after 10 stays, so you’re basically getting 10% off all your stays with that 11th night!

One little trick I have is to Google “Free things to do in ___” and just put in the name of the city or island or country I am going to visit.  Try it and see if you get some good ideas that way!  If you do end up using any of the alternative lodging options I mentioned above, often the hosts/hostel owners/home owners can give you some great tips, too.  I do recommend joining couchsurfing.org even if you don’t plan to stay with a host–it’s a great way to get to know locals and maybe you can get some ideas through that community!

I hope this helps!

~Lily

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About the Author

I spent 5 years of my childhood in Mexico, became a teacher, traveled the world, married a nomad, and now run some websites and write books!