Hawaiian hotel pool
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With its gorgeous blue waters and unique culture, it’s not hard to see why millions flock to the Hawaiian islands each year. Hawaii has been a popular — and expensive — vacation destination ever since jetliners first started flying customers to the state in 1959.

Now that Southwest has established routes from the West Coast, flights that would cost upwards of $1,000 during the holiday season are much more competitive. Lower airfare costs are leading to higher tourism rates, with the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) reporting a more than 13 percent increase in visitors year-over-year from the U.S. West Coast alone in April 2019.

Ultimately, this could lead to higher hotel and dining costs for travelers.

Rising costs of vacationing in Hawaii

While it might be easier to score a deal on flights to the Hawaiian islands, your getaway might end up costing you more once you’re on the ground.

Patrick Richards, an Australian native who typically visits Hawaii twice a year, said he experienced higher costs on his most recent visit this year — specifically hotels and dining.

Others have had different experiences. Ravi Dehar, another frequent traveler, recently took advantage of a Southwest flight deal to visit Oahu over Memorial Day Weekend. Because he used his Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book budget accommodations for his trip, he said he didn’t notice a large difference in pricing between this trip and his last.

Travelers who follow Dehar’s lead by using credit card rewards can help offset some of the rising costs other Hawaiian tourists are seeing.

Considering using points/miles for hotel stays instead of flights

For many travelers, flights can be the most expensive component of a vacation (and therefore where most are tempted to use their credit card rewards). However, that may not be the case on your upcoming trip to Hawaii. More competitive flight prices could mean that the largest cost to consider is your hotel or Airbnb. Make sure you’re considering where your credit card rewards will have the largest impact, which in this case might be on your accommodations.

Let’s say you just earned the sign-up bonus for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months). When you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, that’s worth $750. Since Southwest starting flying routes to Hawaii, it’s not uncommon to find round-trip flights from the West Coast half that price. In fact, Dehar paid less than $270 for his flight from Oakland to Oahu on Memorial Day weekend.

With the average Hawaiian hotel costing anywhere from $200 to $400 per night, your accommodations might be a better investment for your rewards.

Sign-up bonuses are your friend — but think long-term, too

For many, a sign-up bonus is the fastest (and most realistic way) to rack up enough points or miles before a trip. Point bonuses are certainly an advantage to most travel cards, but make sure you’re being strategic when deciding which cards to apply for. The card with the highest bonus isn’t necessarily the best card for you, and you shouldn’t make a habit of applying for cards just for the bonus.

When you look at travel credit cards, make sure you will find value in using it long-term. The Chase Sapphire Preferred and Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card both offer a competitive sign-up bonus and flexible rewards programs that help you rack up rewards year-round.

Don’t forget about cash back cards

Dining is another category where travelers have seen some increase, but using your travel rewards to pay for food doesn’t give you a good return. Cash back cards, on the other hand, could help you build a spending fund for your other expenses beyond flights and accommodations.

Plus, since Hawaii is part of the U.S., foreign transaction fees that often come with cash back cards won’t apply. You can redeem your cash back to help pay for your trip, or you can use this trip as a way to rack up rewards for later.

Cash back cards are also a great option for those who don’t travel frequently. You can use cash back to pay for flights or accommodations on the occasion that you do travel, but you’ll still have a strong redemption rate when you want to use rewards on other costs throughout the year.

The bottom line

By strategically using credit card rewards, you can take advantage of flight deals to Hawaii without feeling the sting of high hotel and dining costs. Whether you’re a frequent flyer or occasional vacationer, a Hawaiian getaway is easily attainable with a little planning and some strategic credit card use.