8 tips to exploring Hawaii for less

Hawaii is the definition of #beachgoals and with close-to-perfect temps (hello, 80s) year round, there’s no bad time to get into the Aloha spirit. So it should come as no surprise that not one but three Hawaiian destinations found their way onto our 2019 Travel Hacker Guide Trending Beaches list — Maui, Kauai and Honolulu.

If cost has been your main concern when considering a Hawaiian vacation, we have you covered. Despite what you may have heard, Hawaii doesn’t have to break the bank. Sure, there are plenty of ways to splurge — you’re on vacation, after all — but there are also plenty of ways to save. Read on for our tips and then get ready to experience the Hawaiian Islands for yourself.

Keep your options open

With a number of low-cost airlines adding Hawaii routes in recent years (and more, including Sun Country and Southwest, adding routes this year), travelers on a budget are in luck. More routes mean more competitive prices. Plus, according to a 2017 study, when Southwest adds routes to a destination, you’ve generally seen fares drop by 15% on average.

In fact, our data shows that average fares offered by all carriers from California to Maui, Kauai, Oahu and the Big Island have dropped by 17% in the first half of 2019. Since the popularity of a flight route can impact price, compare fares for flights to different islands to get the best deal from your home airport.

Stick to one island

Hawaii’s islands are diverse and each offer something a little bit different, so island hopping is an attractive idea. But, if you’re hoping to keep costs down, sticking to one island is a smart move since flying between islands can cost you.

Choosing which island to visit is up to you — honestly, there isn’t a wrong answer. If cost is a factor, comparing prices for flights and hotels can be a good place to start. If money isn’t your main concern and you’re looking for a particular experience, one island may be a better fit than the others. Here’s what to consider when deciding between the three Hawaiian destinations trending for 2019 — all of which offer direct flight routes to/from the US and Canada.

Airport: Kahului Airport (OGG)

Searches for Maui are up 36% over the previous year, and it’s a smart choice for those looking for a healthy mix of relaxation and adventure. Aside from 30 miles of beaches, don’t miss Haleakala National Park, which features a 10,000-foot dormant volcano. There’s also Waianapanapa State Park, home to a volcanic, black lava sand beach and tidal caves. Snorkelers should head to Molokini, a crescent-shaped, uninhabited islet formed by a partially submerged volcanic crater.

Restaurants on Maui

Airport: Lihue Airport (LIH)

With an increase of 22% in KAYAK searches, Kauai is becoming increasingly popular. However, it remains one of the most accessible Hawaiian Islands where you can still feel off the grid. Of all the Hawaii airports offering direct flights to mainland US and Canada, Kauai is the least-frequented. Kayak on the Wailua River, Hawaii’s only navigable river, and hike to the not-so-Secret Falls. Keep in mind that much of the island’s sites are spread out, so renting a car or familiarizing yourself with the local bus schedule is a smart move.

Restaurants on Kauai

Honolulu, Oahu
Airport: Daniel K. Inouye International Airport aka Honolulu International Airport (HNL)

The most-visited Hawaiian island and home to the majority of the state’s population, Oahu is ideal for travelers looking for a healthy mix of beach, adventure and culture. Spend some time on Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach, where you’ll find a strip of hotels and resorts. Try Hawaiian cuisine at Original Roy’s, or snack on local flavors from the island’s farmers markets and food trucks. Note that Honolulu International is the largest of Hawaii’s airports and a hub for connecting to other Hawaiian Island flights if you should decide to island hop.

Restaurants in Honolulu

Time your trip right

The first step in saving money on a Hawaiian vacation is to time your trip right. This means avoiding peak season when hotel rooms and flights will be at their most expensive. Peak season tends to run from December through March, with an additional spike in the summer months of July and August. Time your trip for the spring (April-May) or fall (September-October) shoulder seasons when crowds are fewer and costs start to drop. If you’re feeling especially thrifty, go in September. Our data shows that you can snatch up the best hotel and flight deals then. Median flight prices are at their lowest for all three of the Hawaiian hot spots topping our Trending Beaches list — $431 for Maui, $466 for Kauai and $503 for Honolulu  – a steal compared to winter months.

Eat like a local

You don’t have to spend a lot to get great food in Hawaii. The food truck scene is big here. Head to the Eat the Street food truck gathering in Honolulu on the last Friday of every month from 5-10pm for your choice of 40 food trucks serving dishes from $5 to $10.

But if an innovative — and affordable — sit-down meal is what you crave, the island offers some epic options. Try Mud Hen Water in Honolulu for traditional dishes or Monkeypod Kitchen in Wailea for contemporary takes on cocktails. You can also visit local farmers markets to grab some fresh produce and budget-friendly meal options. Put together a picnic and scope out a free evening hula show on the beach.

Take advantage of free things to do

There’s always the beach, and you can’t beat the price — free. Some not to miss spots include Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Makena Beach on Maui and Hanalei Bay Beach Park or Anini Beach Park on Kauai. Depending on the beach, you may be able to rent snorkel equipment for a small fee.

In addition to beaches, Honolulu’s Royal Hawaiian Centre offers free cultural activities. Classes include things like hula dancing, lei making, ukulele, Hawaiian massage and more.

Take a hike

As many adventurers know, Hawaii is well known for its hiking. Some of the best places to hit the trails include the Kalalau Trail in Kauai, Diamond Head in Honolulu (head here early to avoid heat and crowds), and Haleakala National Park on Maui. All you’ll pay is an admission fee for the park.

Keep an eye out for deals

Grab a copy of “This Week” magazine at the airport (it’s available on all the major islands) for a variety of discount coupons on everything from dining to attractions.

Try public transit

Getting around by public transportation can be a great way to save money and see the islands like a local. If you’re staying in Honolulu, take advantage of TheBus, which serves the island via a large number of routes. A 1-day pass costs only $5.50 (a great deal considering one ride is $2.75). You can also give the Waikiki Trolley a try. It runs several different lines (at various costs) and offers the chance to hop on and hop off at multiple stops and attractions. The Pink Line and the Honolulu Dining Express are the cheapest at $2 a ride.

Affordable and reliable public transportation can also be found on Maui and Kaui. In Maui, choose from 13 bus routes. Tickets are $2 a ride — or $4 for a daily pass.

On Maui you can also take public transit, which runs 13 bus routes for $2 a ride or $4 for a daily pass. On Kauai, The Kauai Bus can take you to most of the island’s sites for $2 a ride.


Ready to go? Start confidently planning your trip on KAYAK.


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