How to Plan a Trip to Hawaii on a Budget - Planning an affordable Hawaii Family Vacation is not impossible! Here's a guide to saving money in Hawaii.
I’ve wanted to take my family to Hawaii since I first visited the islands of Maui and Lanai on a press trip in 2011. Because I was hosted by the tourism board, I was unable to take along any guests, which is typical for most of the travel I do for the blog.
Within 24 hours of arriving on Maui, I fell in love with the island. I called my husband to let him know that I arrived safely and told him that we had to plan a family vacation to Hawaii ASAP. Of course, he was on board as Hawaii was on his bucket list.
But you know how life is-- I came home with stories and photos, and published many articles about my stay, offering inspiration to other families for planning their own Hawaiian vacations.
It wasn’t until THIS YEAR when I wrote “Hawaii Family Vacation” on my vision board, that our Hawaiian vacation became a reality.
Planning a Trip to Hawaii on A Budget
As we live on the east coast, flights to Hawaii are one of the biggest expenses. I hate to say it, but it’s cheaper for us to fly to Europe, which is why we’ve taken so many European vacations and put Hawaii on the backburner for many years.
Still, I knew I wanted to get my family to Hawaii, specifically Maui because it’s the island I fell in love with, and I wanted to do it without spending a small fortune.
This post features the island of Maui, but most of the info can be applied to any of the islands, especially Oahu and the Big Island.
Cheap Flights to Hawaii
I’ve mentioned my secret for finding the cheapest flights, and that’s just how I found roundtrip flights from Tampa to Maui for $397 per person on American Airlines -- in June, over my daughter’s birthday, no less!
When the deal came through my inbox I booked it IMMEDIATELY. Remember, when you book with a U.S. carrier you have 24 hours to cancel without penalty. So I used that time to make sure I had nothing on my calendar and started looking into accommodations.
What is the Cheapest Time to Go to Hawaii
Summer is peak season in Hawaii as so many families vacation when school is out. The same goes for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Spring Break. That’s just part of family travel and we’ve learned to accept higher rates during these times, but cheap flights to Hawaii can still be found if you know where to look!
My biggest tip for cheap flights to Hawaii (and anywhere else for that matter), is to be flexible with your dates.
This particular flight was in basic economy on American Airlines, which does not include checked bags or seat assignments.
My family is used to traveling with only carry-ons, so checked bags weren't an issue (It was $30 each way had we checked a bag).
When traveling with a family seat assignments are important. I took a gamble for our flights from Tampa to Maui and we were all seated together at check-in (Yay!). Coming home I noticed the flight from Maui to Dallas was very full and booked seats together for $36 total (three seats side-by-side in the center aisle - the long haul flight was a 3-4-3 configuration).
The cheapest flights are always bare bones, so if you need bags or guaranteed seats, take that into consideration when booking.
Where to find cheap flights
- Scotts Cheap Flights
- Google Flights - Search with "Hawaii" as the destination with sample dates from airport of choice. Then click on the calendar icon and select "Flexible Dates" >> All >> 1 Week or 2 Week - This will show you the cheapest flights to Hawaii for the next 6 months from your selected airport.
Hawaii Accommodations on a Budget
I previously stayed at the Westin Maui and considered it for our vacation as the rates were reasonable enough, but later found out that the resort is under major construction. I really enjoyed my first stay at the Westin Maui Resort and Spa, but want to return once the refurbishments are finished (especially so I can update my posts with new photos!).
That led me down a rabbit hole of hotel options, many of which were astronomically priced because of our travel dates and limited availability.
I am very picky with accommodations and will spend extra money if needed to feel comfortable. Obviously luxury is my preference, but since this post is about planning Hawaii on a budget, the Four Seasons was out.
I’m a huge fan of booking.com and 95% of the time I use it to book my family’s hotel stays because of the option to secure accommodations with free cancelation. There is a cancelation filter that you need to apply when you put in the location and dates.
The room rate per night will be more for free cancellation versus being charged immediately and locked into the rate with no changes...don't be tempted!
I know from experience that hotel rates fluctuate from week to week, so I stay on top of the trends and if find a better deal, I will cancel the first booking with no fee, and rebook a new hotel.
For Maui, I found that the best rates were for vacation rentals, which gave us the bonus of having a kitchen to prepare some of our own meals, a washer and dryer and free parking (along with no pricey resort fees!).
I kid you not, I booked at least six different properties, canceling them one by one, until I finally settled on an adorable 1-bedroom condo at Hale Kamaole in Kihei. The property was right across the street from Kamaole Beach Park III and had glowing reviews.
Photo credit: TurnkeyVR
Personally, I would never book a vacation rental, or hotel for that matter, without online reviews and photos, and this particular property had nearly all five stars.
The rate for 7-nights in June was only $1100 with cleaning fees and taxes included.
Car Rental Hawaii
With flights and a condo booked, the only major thing left for our vacation was a car rental. Renting a vehicle is a must on Maui as well as the other islands because it gives you the freedom to explore at your own pace.
I use Kayak.com to check general car rental rates and then look at the reviews for individual companies on the island. Additionally, Costco has really good car rental rates if you're a member (if you're not a Costco member, you may want to join as Costco has the cheapest gas in Hawaii!).
Sometimes it’s worth spending a few extra dollars for a smoother car rental experience as I noticed that all of the budget rental companies on Maui had less than stellar reviews. I ended up booking through Sixt, a car rental company I recognized from Iceland but is not as well known in the U.S (though I have a feeling that’s going to change!).
Sixt opened a location in Maui last year and all of the reviews were very good.
Like booking accommodations with free cancelation, I always choose the option to pay at the counter when renting a car.
Car rental rates also fluctuate and you can often get upgraded vehicles for the same rate as compact or economy. This is exactly what happened on our trip as I originally booked an economy car and later found a Mustang convertible for the same price.
I know a convertible isn't the most practical car for a family, but it was a really fun ride for the week and I don't regret the decision at all, especially for the Road to Hana.
The base rate for the car was $300 for the week and I used the insurance from my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. I added my husband as an additional driver for $80, bringing us up to around $400 for 7 days after taxes.
Now that we're home I can 100% recommend Sixt on Maui. The shuttle from the airport was easy to find and we didn't have to wait during pickup or check out. The staff was also super friendly.
How to Save Money on Food in Hawaii
To save money on food, we took advantage of the kitchen in our condo. As soon as we picked up our rental car on Maui we drove to Costco and stocked up on some essentials.
Croissants, POG, Hawaiian ground coffee, Maui Gold pineapples, rum and a few pre-made meals, including a chicken taco kit, Asian chicken wraps and Korean BBQ beef with vegetables, started our grocery haul for the week.
We also enjoyed shopping at Foodland for additional staples and made frequent trips to the store because we couldn’t get enough of their fresh poke. Seriously, Foodland has the best poke on Maui!
Three out of our seven nights on Maui we ate different types of poke for dinner with sushi rice and seaweed salad. This amazing meal was around $25 total for our family.
Tip: Sign up for the savings card (Maika'i card) at Foodland - it's fast and free!
We enjoy trying new restaurants when we travel, but eating out every night in Maui is not budget-friendly, especially for a family. To help reduce the cost of dining out, I researched the best rated happy hours on the island.
This was how we discovered Three's Bar and Grill in Kihei and the most incredible hurricane fries. I use the Yelp app to make sure the ratings are good for the restaurants we're interested in — there is nothing worse than paying too much for a crappy meal while on vacation!
There were so many great happy hours on Maui that there was no way we could have fit them all in. Even some of the pricier restaurants in Wailea had great happy hour specials on food and drinks.
Most restaurants have their menus, including happy hour times and prices, posted on their website or Facebook page. A simple search will save you time and money when you're looking to eat cheap in Hawaii.
Affordable Activities in Hawaii
Another reason why it's so important to rent a car in Hawaii is that it gives you easy access to all of the amazing activities on whatever island you're visiting.
Yes, you could book a pricey excursion, but for the most part, you can enjoy the beauty of Hawaii on your own— whether that be snorkeling off a black sand beach or driving the road to Hana.
A breakdown of our activities fees for a week in Maui on a budget:
- $36 - 24-hour snorkeling gear rental for 3 people from Boss Frog's
- $25 - Haleakalā National Park fee, valid for three days
- $9 - Admission to Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm for 3 people ($3 each)
- $5 - Parking at the Iao Needle State Monument
- $2 - Feeding the goats at Surfing Goat Dairy
Tip: It's much cheaper to rent snorkeling gear by the week but we decided at the end of our stay go for the snorkel and fins (we had access to masks courtesy of our condo rental).
If you plan on snorkeling a lot but don't want the gear taking up precious space in your luggage, you can buy a complete snorkeling set with fins at Costco for around $40.
Hawaiian Luau on a Budget
Hawaiian luaus are notoriously expensive and can easily exceed $400 for a family of four. I have attended a Hawaiian luau and I agree that it's a lot of fun, but it's very hard to fit a luau into a trip to Hawaii on a budget.
We opted not to attend a luau on our visit to Maui, but if it's on your must-do list there are some options for keeping the cost down.
- Check Groupon for discount luau tickets - You don't have to live in a city to buy and use a Groupon! Change your location to the Hawaiian island you're visiting and see if there is a Groupon available for a Hawaiian luau. I just did a quick search for a luau in Maui and found tickets for $99/adult and $60/child including buffet.
- Costco sells discount luau gift cards in-store and online. As of posting, the Honua'ula Sunset Luau at the Grand Wailea Resort is $89.99 ticket.
You can use Groupon and Costco for discounts on other activities as well. Groupon has some decent spa deals in Hawaii and Costco has a variety of discounts for restaurants, tours and activities (another reason to make Costco your first stop after picking up your car rental!).
Tip: If there is an excursion you absolutely want to do while in Hawaii, check Viator first. I have used Viator (also known as TripAdvisor Experiences) on numerous occasions and have always been pleased with the prices, availability and ease of booking.