Hotel vs. Airbnb: How to Decide What’s Best For Your Hawaii Vacation

by | Jan 15, 2020 | Get Started, Planning, Where to Stay

Once you’ve decided what island to visit, the next big decision left to make is where you should stay. Should you start looking for a hotel or an Airbnb vacation rental in Hawaii?

Hotel vs Airbnb: there is no bad choice. Stay in a hotel if you want a resort experience: big pools, close to the beach, restaurants within walking distance. Stay in an Airbnb or Vrbo vacation rental if you are traveling with a large group, want a kitchen, or want to save money.

We’ll go through some of the pros and cons of each to help you make your decision. 

Plus, we’ll share some of our favorite hotels and vacation rentals on each island. 

Hotel vs. Airbnb in Hawaii: Where Should You Stay?

Why You Should Stay in a Resort in Hawaii

When family or friends come to visit us on Maui (and don’t stay with us), their first question is always: hotel or condo? 

And because I know them so well, it’s easy for me to make that call. 

For example, my brother-in-law’s family is visiting and they love having the amenities of a hotel at their fingertips. I wouldn’t suggest they stay in a condo. They have kids, love having a pool, enjoy dining at restaurants, and need a large area for their kids to run around. 

They love having days where they never have to leave the hotel, and they can still have a fulfilling, relaxing experience. A resort is an obvious choice for them. 

Not sure if the hotel-life is for you? Here are the reasons why a hotel stay will be the better option for your trip.

Benefits of Staying in a Hawaii Hotel

✅ You plan to spend a lot of time where you’re staying. You’re here to relax and you want everything you need to do so at your fingertips.

✅ A big pool — and possibly waterslide — is important to you (or your kids). 

✅ Daily housekeeping is a must.

✅ Budget isn’t really an issue or you have hotel points that you really want to use.

✅ You want to have helpful guidance from the hotel concierge about where to go and what to do. 

✅ Consistency: you know what you’re going to get at a Marriott (or other hotel chains) pretty much every time

Drawbacks of Staying in a Hawaii Hotel

❌ High fees: resort and parking fees can really add to the bill ($35 to $70 per day)

❌ Usually crowded with other tourists

❌ Limited options for cooking and nearby restaurants will be more expensive than what you’d find out of the resort areas

Hotels are generally going to be more expensive than a vacation rental and they come with mandatory resort fees — and often parking fees. 

Yes, those costs can really add up and take a bite out of your budget, but for some people, the resort or hotel experience is well worth it. 

Why You Should Stay in an Airbnb or Vrbo in Hawaii

We just got back from a week-long stay in Kona on the Big Island and we opted for a vacation rental. We don’t always skip the hotel, but we did in this case because we didn’t want to stay in the resort areas near Kailua-Kona. 

We were bringing our toddler and our dog and were looking for a quieter experience that was still close to some of the best attractions. 

Plus, eating out with a toddler for every single meal on vacation for a week sounded difficult. We picked a vacation rental with a huge lawn area and a full kitchen so we could experience peaceful meals while he ran around the grass (it worked). 

Benefits of Staying in a Hawaii Vacation Rental

✅ You want space! A family of four staying in a hotel room for a week (or more) might get old. 

✅ You want a kitchen. Here’s the truth about eating out in Hawaii: it’s very, very expensive. A basic breakfast can run a family of four $100 or more. A kitchen in a condo cuts your food costs dramatically. 

✅ You want to find someplace a little quieter and away from the main resort areas.

✅ You don’t need the concierge to direct you. You have our itineraries to make the most of your trip!

✅ You want to save money. Vacation rentals can be significantly cheaper than a hotel, making this a cost-effective way to go.

Drawbacks of Staying in a Hawaii Vacation Rental

❌ You might not have access to a pool, depending on the rental that you choose

❌ High cleaning and service fees, without daily housekeeping

❌ Quirky or less than ideal decor, depending on your pick

❌ Less consistency — when you stay in a Marriott, you know more or less what to expect

Maui Condo Airbnb Cost

An example of high-end Maui condos with ocean views and a yard.

What’s Really Cheaper: Airbnb or Hotel in Hawaii?

Is staying in a condo really cheaper than staying at a hotel? The Hawaii Tourism Authority keeps (some) data that can help us figure out what’s the cheaper option for your trip to Hawaii

When looking at data for the entire state of Hawaii over 2019, the cost of a vacation rental is 10% less than the cost of a hotel, on average. 

Hawaii Hotel vs Airbnb Rates Compared

Note: December 2019 data not available at this time.

In most cases, getting a vacation rental is going to save you money. But there’s even more to the cost comparison. 

Average Hawaii Hotel Costs

We’ll look at the average daily rate for a hotel room from November 2019.

$205 – the average hotel room in Hawaii during November 2019. Source: The Hawaii Tourist Authority 2019 Hawaii Hotel Performance

But the report goes even further and breaks Hawaii hotels into the following categories.

Average Hawaii Hotel Rates per Night, by category
Upper Upscale Class$207
Upscale Class$153
Upper Midscale Class$128
Midscale and Economy Class$135

It’s also good to note that hotel prices don’t include the resort fee or parking costs. Those could be minimal, but they could also add up to over $50 per day, depending on where you stay. 

For example, staying at the Moana Surfrider in Waikiki will come with hefty additional charges including a $37 daily resort fee plus $35 per day for self-parking or $45 per day for valet. 

Away from busy Waikiki, the parking costs decrease but you’ll still have a resort fee to pay. The resort fee for Turtle Bay on Oahu’s North Shore is $48 per day, plus $15 per day for self-parking or $20 per day for valet.

Bottom Line: Plan to add $40 – $70 to the cost of your hotel room each night to cover resort fees and parking.

Average Hawaii Vacation Rental Costs

The tourism board doesn’t do quite as good of a job tracking the costs of vacation rentals in Hawaii, but they do give some data. 

$180 – the average daily rate of a vacation rental in November 2019. Source: The Hawaii Tourist Authority 2019 Hawaii Vacation Rental Performance

The problem is they don’t break this down further than that. There are luxury four-bedroom oceanfront homes as well as tent rentals in someone’s backyard. It’s tough to tell from that average. 

The real cost savings when getting a Hawaii vacation rental comes from:

  • No resort fee (and likely no parking fee)
  • You can cook at home and skip costly meals out
  • You can get a vacation rental with multiple bedrooms, rather than booking multiple hotel rooms

So are vacation rentals really cheaper than hotels in Hawaii? 

Bottom Line: If you’re a couple or solo traveler that prefers to eat out while on vacation, you’re probably not going to get big cost savings between renting a mid-range vacation rental and a mid-range hotel. But for a family who will eat some meals at home, a vacation rental can save you a lot of money. 

Airbnb vs Vrbo for Your Hawaii Rental

As I mentioned in the intro, I’m using “Airbnb” as a catch-all for vacation rental sites, including HomeAway and Vrbo. But what site is actually better for renting a place in Hawaii?

Note: Vacation Rentals by Owners (VRBO) rebranded to Vrbo in March 2019 after they were acquired by the Expedia Group. Vrbo (pronounced ver-bow) is trendy and hip, says the marketing company they hired.

While in the past I have generally stuck to simply searching Airbnb out of habit, I highly suggest looking at multiple sites. 

In many cases, Airbnb has the most inventory, but they won’t always have the best options and their search features aren’t as good. 

Anecdotally, from speaking with multiple rental owners, larger homes prefer listing on Vrbo and smaller places prefer listing on Airbnb. Many owners do both. 

Looking at the listings available on both sites I found:

  • Vrbo has a wider selection of larger listings. For example, Maui Vrbo has 203 rentals with 4 or more bedrooms while Airbnb has 157 listings. 
  • Vrbo has a larger selection of rentals within timeshare resorts, for example, the Westin Kaanapali.
  • Airbnb has a larger inventory of budget-friendly rentals — specifically rentals less than $200 during various weeks searched

Vrbo most likely has more listings as they are now owned by the Expedia Group.

To find the best vacation rental for you and your family, look on multiple sites before making your decision. And be sure to watch for scams (covered below). 

Related article: 

5 Tips for Picking Your Hawaii Hotel

If you’ve decided to pick a hotel for your stay in Hawaii, here are my tips for picking the right one.

1. Location, Location, Location. Do you know what area of the island you want to stay on? Deciding what activities you want to do before booking your stay can help you find a hotel that is conveniently located. 

2. What are the fees? As I mentioned, the hotels in Hawaii come with huge fees, both resort and parking fees. Before you book, compare the fees. They can add $60+ per night to the total cost.

3. Restaurants Nearby. A lot of the hotels in Hawaii have great food, but it can come with a big price tag. If you don’t want to eat all of your meals at the hotel, look for a hotel that has restaurants nearby.

4. Amenities. Do you want an adult’s only pool? Is having a chair on a beach important to you? Hotels offer a wide range of amenities so decide what’s important to you before you book.

5. Airport Shuttle. If you don’t plan to rent a car, check for a hotel that offers an airport shuttle. That can save you money and time when you land. 

6 Tips for Picking the Right Hawaii Vacation Rental

Because there is a lack of consistency between vacation rentals, there’s a real risk of showing up to your rental and being disappointed. Here are some things to think about as you pick your rental.

1. Know Your Areas. Are you planning to stay in the West or South Maui? This comparison can help you decide between the two – Wailea vs Kaanapali: Here’s How to Decide Where to Stay

2. Review the Amenities. Is the rental in a condo community that has a pool, tennis courts, or a gym? Make sure you have access to what is important to you.

3. Assess the Location. Look at the area on the Google Maps satellite view so you can get a sense of the area. Is there a lot of green space? Do you have to cross any big roads to get to the beach?

4. Look for a Tax ID Included in the Listing. There are a lot of scam postings and illegal rentals on the islands. A tax ID can help you confirm that it’s legit. 

5. Pay by Credit Card. You always want the safety of knowing you can dispute the charges if something isn’t what it seems. 

6. Is Parking Included? If you’re planning to rent a car, having a designated parking space near your condo rental is a must-have. 

Related article: 

Hotel vs. Airbnb: The Perfect Compromise

My family and I are planning an eight-day trip to Oahu from our home on Maui. 

We agonized a little over the decision of where to stay. We used to live on Oahu and have also visited numerous times before so we know that the hotels are fantastic, but we also love the condo life there. 

Plus with a toddler, what would be best?

We’ve come across the perfect compromise (I hope). We are starting our trip off by renting a condo in Waikiki that comes with free parking. 

Yes, there are so many awesome hotels that we love, but we wanted to save some money this time around. By skipping the hotel, we are saving at least $100 per night, not including the money we’ll save by using the condo kitchen. 

After our time in Waikiki, we’re packing up and driving to the North Shore, where we’ll spend the remainder of our vacation at Turtle Bay. It’s the perfect spot to explore the North Shore from and we’ll get that quality resort experience for our last few days on the island. 

Once you’ve picked the island you’ll visit, where to stay is your next big decision. 

Hotels and vacation rentals can give you a very different experience, so be sure to take the time to decide which one is best for you. 

Need insider information to book your hotel or vacation rental? 

Check out Hawaii Recommendations for our favorite places to stay on each island. We also have itineraries to ensure you plan a perfect trip to Hawaii. 

Hotel Photo by Dan Ramsay on Unsplash


Erica Gellerman

Erica Gellerman

I'm the co-founder, with my husband Jordan, of The Hawaii Vacation Guide. We live on Maui with our toddler Henry and our sweet but quirky dog Hattie. I am a planner! I love to plan island-hopping adventures, days out on Maui, and everything in-between. I spend a lot of my time on our SUP and my favorite time of year in Hawai'i is whale season!

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