smart spending

13 ways to save on a Hawaiian vacation

Couple relaxing beach hawaii
Highlights
  • Select a less-expensive Hawaiian island for your vacation.
  • Ask whether your condo or hotel offers laundry facilities.
  • Staying in a kitchen-equipped hotel room offers a break on dining expenses.

Ahhhhh, a Hawaiian vacation. Even the word sounds like a nap on a warm, sun-kissed beach as cooling trade winds reset your internal stress gauge. That is, until you get the bill for that four-star resort, the breakfast buffet, a treasure trove of souvenirs and the grocery store's $8 jar of jam.

Unless you use our tips to visiting Hawaii for less.

Even if you decide to go during peak season (January through March and the summer months), there's no need to let island breezes blow away your hard-earned dollars. Hawaii offers plenty of free and money-saving opportunities for authentic cultural experiences, great food and beautiful beaches where you can watch the sun melt into the Pacific.

Accommodate a discount. Select a less expensive island for your vacation. Bruce Fisher, a Honolulu-based travel agent at Hawaii-Aloha.com, says Oahu and Maui are the least pricey; Kauai and the Big Island take a bigger bite out of your trip budget. "There are more deals with a bigger population," he says, in accommodations, dining and activities.

Seek budget destinations. But that doesn't mean you have to avoid the more expensive islands. Just as every city offers a less expensive area of town for your stay, every island offers a discount. Perhaps it's relatively undiscovered, or it's a few blocks away from the beach.

"If you don't mind staying a block or so off the beach, Oahu's Waikiki Beach offers very affordable accommodations, usually under $125 per night," says Sheila Beal, a Hawaiian vacation expert for GoVisitHawaii.com.

Even the island of Kauai offers some reasonable locales. "For an oceanfront resort, I really like the Lihue and Kapa'a area of Kauai, where you find fairly nice accommodations for around $200 or less per night," Beal says.

Hunt down hotel deals. Many hotels in Hawaii offer perks, such as free Internet with hotel loyalty club membership; third-, fourth- or fifth-night free packages; breakfast-included deals; and hotel and car packages. Whether these actually represent a deal -- for example, a buffet that offers cold muffins and little else -- takes a healthy sense of skepticism.

If you don't feel like slaving over Google searches for weeks before your Hawaiian vacation, use a travel agent specializing in island trips -- one who has been to the resort or hotel in question, Fisher says. That agent also may be able to guide you to less expensive options or get you a free upgrade.

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A vacation on a beach in Hawaii sounds so warm and relaxing, doesn't it? But if you're not careful, the costs can be enough to raise your stress levels again. Still, there are ways to visit Hawaii for less.

For starters, you might try one of the cheaper islands. Travel agents say Oahu and Maui cost the least, while Kauai and the Big Island tend to take the biggest budget bites. Do some research on free fun in Hawaii -- many museums and cultural institutions charge no admission on certain days, and some are free year-round. Or, your hotel may have admission passes to local attractions. Also look for moneysaving offers on the Web, via sites such as Groupon or LivingSocial. Skip the expensive resort buffet breakfasts and instead shop for fresh mangos, bananas and guavas at a grocery store or farmers market and store them in your hotel room mini fridge. Luau for less by checking coupon books, because you can find excellent luau discounts.

For more on how to enjoy Hawaii on a budget, visit Bankrate.com.

Park for less. On most islands, a rental car is a necessity. From grocery stores to picturesque, less populated beaches, the islands seemingly were set up with the driver in mind. Beal suggests budgeting $20 per day for a rental car; you may be able to reserve one for less through bidding on Priceline.com. However, some islands, such as Oahu, offer decent public transportation.

Cook up savings. Staying in a condo or a kitchen-equipped hotel room offers a big break on daily dining expenses. Fisher suggests doing your shopping at Costco if you're a member, as food prices may be comparable to the mainland. But don't be afraid to look local as well. You may catch a good price on fish at the fishermen's terminal or on produce directly from a farm stand or at a farmers market.

Pack parsimoniously. Ask whether your condo or hotel offers laundry facilities. You may be able to get away with a few pairs of shorts, several T-shirts and your swimsuit. Water gear -- snorkel equipment, boogie boards, etc. -- can be rented weekly on Maui. Sans heavy bags, you'll also save on checked-baggage fees from the airlines.

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