15 Ways to Save the Most During a Hawaii Vacation

By Damian Davila on 18 July 2014 (Updated 17 September 2014) 2 comments

Hawaii is a magical place that draws people from around the world.

Nearly 8 million visitors came to the Hawaiian Islands in 2012, with close to 5 million from the U.S. alone! As more and more people visit, there are more and more hospitality businesses offering their services to travelers. Which means sometimes just getting started can be overwhelming, not to mention costly. (See also: Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards)

To help you save the most in your next Hawaii vacation, here are the top 15 tips from a Hawaii resident.

Think Beyond Resorts

If you restrict yourself to resorts, you're imposing a major "beach tax" upon yourself.

1. Explore Other Hospitality Search Engines

Research shows that hotels have a financial incentive to rig the reviews from sites, such as TripAdvisor.com and Expedia.com. By increasing a single point on TripAdvisor's five-point scale, a hotel could increase its price by 11.2% and still maintain the same occupancy. This means that you end up paying an extra premium.

Here are some cheaper options to consider:

  • Airbnb: Just for Honolulu, the site offers over 1,000 possible accommodations. A great advantage of Airbnb is that hosts often are willing to act as your guide, provide complimentary parking (most places charge for this!), and give freebies.
     
  • HawaiiHostels.com: Young travelers (and young at heart!) may enjoy the option to interact with travelers from all over the world, while saving a buck. This directory includes hostels, such as Hilo Bay Hostel, Banana Bungalow Maui Hostel, and Kauai Beach House. Read the fine print and verify that you qualify for a stay before booking.
     
  • Bed and Breakfast: There are several B&B's across the Hawaiian Islands, however these smaller operations cannot afford to advertise as much as others. Start your search for the perfect B&B with directories, such as Bnb.com, and the B&B Hawaii Island Association.

Tip: Clear your browser cookies every single time that you visit any hotel booking engine, so that prices don't "suddenly" start going up, forcing you to book ASAP.

2. Dine, Shop, and Use Services Outside Resort Areas

Don't do this:

  • Chowing on a burger at Aulani Disney Resorts costs you a cool $21, and that's before tax and tip, and parking (sorry, Mickey doesn't give parking validations).
     
  • Learning to surf right on Waikiki with starts at $60 per hour (with a group) and goes up to $110 per hour (with a private instructor).
     
  • Renting a snorkel set from a hotel is a double whammy: a poor fit that diminishes your enjoyment and a $12-$20 hit every rental.

Do this instead:

  • Eat a Flintstones-sized burger at local chains, such as Kua Aina Burger or Teddy's Bigger Burgers, starting at $5.99.
     
  • Rent a surfboard at local businesses outside the Waikiki area, such as Blue Planet, for about $19 for a whole day or $149 for a whole month.
     
  • Invest in a new snorkel set that fits you well at a local Walmart or Costco. In just two dives you'll make your money back, have a great experience, and may even be able to return the gear.

Enjoy Free Activities

The Hawaiian Islands offer unique experiences, and the best part is, many of them are free. (See also: For Amazing Affordable Vacations, Travel Slowly)

3. Hiking

Hawaii has lots of hiking trails. For example, in the Hawaii Kai area you can find the Kuliouou Ridge Trail, the Koko Head Steps (a.k.a. Nature's Stairmaster), and the Dead Man's Catwalk. Most hiking trails in Hawaii have no admissions fee and provide free street parking.

4. Surfing

There is plenty of surf around the island. Locals stay on top of the latest surf forecast through the Surf News Network. Keep in mind the difference between regular height and Hawaii height of waves. In Hawaii, surf measurements are always in feet and scaled so the actual height on the face is roughly twice what's quoted.

  • All beaches have public access by law, no one can charge you for surfing on the ocean.
  • Avoid leaving valuables in your car, they are safer at home.
  • Never surf alone in a beach that you've never been before.
  • Oahu is chock full of opportunities to catch a wave.
  • Pick a surf spot for your skill level; there are spots even for beginners.
  • Wear plenty of sunscreen, and a rash guard (think wetsuit T-shirt) is always recommended for long sessions.

Do What Locals Do

When in Hawaii, follow the locals for the most fun and affordable activities.

5. TGIF

Skip the flyers handed to tourists full of overcharged events, and read the TGIF section from the local newspaper, which comes out every Friday and is also available online.

6. First Friday and Last Friday

In Oahu, every First Friday of the month visit Chinatown (free admission) and every Last Friday, the Honolulu Museum of Art ($10 admission)

7. Block Parties

Honolulu offers free-admission block parties or celebrations in the Chinatown and Waikiki areas around the year, some examples are:

8. Important Landmarks

  • Visit important landmarks for great photo opportunities, such as the King Kamehameha Statue (both in Oahu and Big Island), and the Duke Kahanamoku Statue.
     
  • Invest in visiting the Iolani Palace, the only real palace in the entire U.S. (admission starting at $14.75 for adults and $6 for children)

9. Eat the Street

A family friendly food truck event that takes place on the last Friday of every month in Kakaako. Eat the Street Hawaii gathers 40 food trucks and vendors from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. View the full calendar of upcoming events and check if one takes place during your visit to Oahu.

10. Yelp Bash

Attention Yelp fans and elites: the local community is very active and has several free bashes throughout the year. While the event is by invitation only, it doesn't hurt to submit your RSVP and see if you qualify. RSVP confirmations are usually emailed out 48 hours before the event. The events offer free food, drinks, and entertainment. Plus, you have the chance to meet new local friends during your stay.

Avoid Big Fines

While local culture has a pretty relaxed attitude, Hawaii still has laws that everybody needs to follow. If you don't, then be ready to pay up.

11. Don't Use Cell Phone While Driving

Using your cellphone while driving is fined with $207, and $307 in school or construction zones.

12. Respect Local Animals

Hawaii offers great opportunities to spot beautiful wildlife. For example, in Oahu you can get close to green sea turtles in the North Shore's Laniakea Beach and to dolphins out in the ocean in Waikiki. However, you need to keep your distance and observe the suggested viewing guidelines. If not, then there are fines for disturbing animals in Hawaii, ranging from $500 all the way up to $100,000.

13. Use Your Seatbelt

Click it or ticket! If you don't and are caught, then you can be fined $102 on Oahu, Maui and Hawaii, and $112 on Kauai. Repeat offenders may get additional fines up to $500 and be required to take a four-hour class.

14. No Jaywalking

Be careful when crossing the street and wait until you have the right of way. In Honolulu, the top two spots that tourists get fined for jaywalking are Waikiki and Chinatown. The fine for not using the crosswalk or ignoring the "don't walk" sign is $130.

15. Agricultural Inspection

And before you leave back to the mainland, don't forget to let airport staff do the agricultural inspection for all your checked-in baggage bound. Otherwise, you may get a fine.

How do you save during your Hawaii vacation?

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PurchaseWisely

Mahalo, Damian. I'm fortunate in that my best friend has ohana on Kauai, so that's where we usually go.

For travelers going to Maui and Kauai, farmer's markets top the list of ways to save money, there's always a list of days/locations that you can pick up near the brochures at the airport. With at least one open per day, we save a lot of money on wonderfully ripe local fruits, veggies and sometimes local baked goods or cheeses. Even if you don't have a kitchen wherever you're staying, you can still use them for snacks. Also, Costco! Their prices on poke (raw fish salad - think Hawaiian ceviche) usually can't be beat, you can pick up staples for a week even cheaper than WalMart, and souvenirs to take home, like multi-packs of chocolate covered macadamia nuts. They usually have collapsible coolers that you can flatten to take home for your picnics for the trip.

Cultural fairs and open-air markets pop up at least once a week somewhere on Kauai, and are great place for inexpensive goodies, too. Check out Snorkel Bob's for gear rental, they have well-maintained gear at great prices for week-long rental, and the staff is really helpful. Multiple locations. Many beach parks offer areas with good snorkeling that are relatively safe, especially for people who are not familiar with just how dangerous the ocean can be. Pack a picnic and head to one of the covered picnic tables (Early! They fill up fast.) for a great day of snorkeling and beach play that's practically free.

Aloha!

Damian Davila's picture

Aloha!

Those are great tips: farmers markets and cultural fairs are indeed great thrifty ideas! I had in my mind to include a list of farmers markets in Oahu, such as KCC, Kailua and Hawaii Kai, but forgot at the list minute. Thanks for the reminder and the Kauai tips. Regarding Costco, I am the master on shopping there, check out my article on how to access Costco prices even without a membership at http://www.wisebread.com/7-things-non-members-can-get-at-costco-includin...