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A trip to Hawaii is in your future. Perhaps to celebrate a honeymoon, anniversary, or you just need a tropical getaway, Hawaii is the premier destination. Let’s break down some tried and tested ways to have a luxury Hawaii vacation for less.
The cost of a Hawaii vacation has jumped this year compared to last year. $12,000 for a family of four for ten days on Oahu is expensive (full cost breakdown here). That isn’t quoting a luxury resort or fine-dining.
Besides leaving the offspring at home, here are 12 tips on having a Hawaii luxury vacation for less.
What I love about Hawaii is the necessities are expensive but the luxuries are free. Our favorite things to do are beach-bumming, hiking, and snorkeling. Those don’t cost much. But, nothing feels more luxurious than a five-star Hawaii resort experience.
Since a luxury resort will be your biggest expense, let’s jump into numerous ways to save on luxury, yet affordable, lodging in Hawaii.
1. Luxury Lodgings for Less
Your largest cost for your Hawaii vacation will be accommodations. Hotels in Hawaii are some of the most expensive in the world in the sun and sea category. In 2021, Maui had the third most expensive accommodations in the world. The only places that were more expensive were the Maldives and French Polynesia (figure 22). Each Hawaiian Island made the top ten in the world.
Erica and I love to splurge on luxury hotels (cough, our February 2021 trip to Oahu luxury hotel video). But, we try to be smart about our hotel bookings. 70% of our trips are excursion days full of exotic beaches, hiking volcanoes, snorkeling tours, and eating our way across the island (see our itineraries for more info).
For the remaining 30% of the trip, we want pool time with Henry and Edith to soak up the resort life. So we book a fancy place.
Tip: Split your time. Book a luxury resort for the days you plan to take advantage of all the luxury resort amenities. You are paying a $45 a day resort fee so sign up for the hula lesson or the lei-making workshop!
To save money on your three days at the Montage Kapalua Bay or Four Seasons Ko Olina, find the lowest cost nightly rates. Like a plane ticket, not every day is created equal for a hotel booking.
Most resorts show their reservation calendar with nightly rates. Pick the two or three nights that are the cheapest during your 10-day island stay.
You can also find rates by calendar day using Google search. Check rates on Google to see a calendar of nightly rates per the screenshot below for the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Big Island.
Here are five other ways to save on a Hawaii luxury resort:
- Sign up for the hotel’s newsletter or marketing promotions. Many resorts will have a fourth night free or similar promotion throughout the year.
- Malama Hawaii – participate in a beach clean-up, taro harvest, native tree planting, and qualify for a special discount or free night at a luxury resort.
- Hawai’i’s Shoulder Season: Hotel rates are historically the lowest from September to mid-November and mid-April to May.
- Last-minute bookings: you may find a low rate by booking three or fewer days in advance.
- Share your special event with the hotel: your luxury trip to Hawaii may be due to an anniversary, honeymoon, or babymoon so tell the hotel. The hotel may surprise you with a room upgrade, champagne service, or another special perk.
Being flexible with your Hawaii vacation dates helps, sometimes a lot, but is not a requirement to save on a luxury Hawaii vacation.
2. Travel During the Shoulder Seasons
If you have the luxury of flexible travel dates, the best prices can be found during Hawaii’s shoulder seasons. You can find some hotel and car rental deals as demand drops.
The summer and winter bring crowds and higher prices, especially around the holidays.
The shoulder seasons are September to mid-November and mid-April to May.
The graph below is from Hawaii Tourism Authority’s monthly visitor data for 2019 and early 2020, the last “normal” year for Hawaii tourism. You can see the low visitor counts are between the winter and summer seasons.
3. Visit the Best Value Hawaiian Island
I hate to call any Hawaiian Island the cheapest so let’s call Oahu the best value Hawaiian Island. Waikiki hotels and resorts offer the best nightly prices compared to any other island. If you’re looking for a luxury resort, start on Oahu.
Price check the Four Seasons Ko Olina, Ritz-Carlton Residences Waikiki Beach, Turtle Bay Resort, Kahala Hotel and Resort, or Halekulani to name a few luxury Hawaii resorts. The video below showcases some luxury Waikiki resorts.
Add in the cost of a rental car, food, and activities and Oahu is your best place to have a luxury vacation for the best price. See our article comparing the costs for each Hawaiian Island.
4. Discount Airfare to Hawaii
One can find deals on first-class airfare to Hawaii. Use credit card rewards, take the upsell offer at checkout to go from economy to first class, or travel during the shoulder seasons.
But many travelers don’t put a first-class plane ticket as a priority for a Hawaii vacation. They would rather spend the money on arrival. Be it first-class or economy on the way over the Pacific, check out our article to book the cheapest airfare to Hawaii.
5. Rental Car Discounts
If you are looking to splurge on a Jeep, Mustang, Camero, or Cadillac Escalade then shop for the best price at Discount Hawaii Car Rental.
We have saved hundreds of dollars when we visit the islands compared to booking directly with Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, etc. Plus, you can continue to shop for the best price till you depart as DHCR doesn’t require pre-payment. No pre-payment but at pre-payment prices.
Do you need a Jeep for Hawaii? Absolutely not. Do you want a Jeep for Hawaii? Sign me up.
Local car rental companies are a great way to save money. Most local car rental companies offer airport pickup and drop-off, provide a wonderful way to support local businesses, and offer a range of cars. Most offer reliable rent-a-wrecks but some offer convertibles, Jeeps, and other fun-in-Hawaii cars. A google search will point in the direction of places to call for a free quote.
A lot of folks, especially couples, would prefer to splurge on a luxury hotel and save by not getting a rental car. No rental car means no resort parking fee that can be $35 to $45 a night. Here are a few tips for getting around without a rental car.
See the island without a rental car but in style. Experience a luxury vacation to Hawaii by booking a private tour, a black car service type tour. Hawaii Tours is our go-to, local tour company for the best service, private cars, and reasonable prices. See their private tours options here.
The Oahu Circle Island Tour is popular and a great way to see the island without getting a rental car.
6. Hawaii Travel Hacking Ideas
My wife Erica and I made a goal this year to save more on travel. Our goal is to save over $2,000 on travel. As we are frequently island-hopping around Hawaii, we need all the help we can get. That is why we teamed up with the expert Zac at Travel Freely. He suggests using credit card rewards to subsidize a luxury trip to Hawaii.
Using credit cards for miles and reward travel isn’t for everyone. We only recommend this if you have good credit and you can pay off your credit cards monthly. That is how you can save on travel. Using credit cards irresponsibly can cost you a lot of money in interest and fees — not the way to travel for less.
Note, we earn a commission at no cost to you when you apply for the card below.
These are some of the standout credit cards that we are looking at getting for our Hawaii travels:
Chase Sapphire Preferred – This is an excellent all-around card for travel. The #1 card for beginners. The Chase travel portal and transfer partners make it very flexible. The power of this card is the ability to transfer points to Southwest, United, Hyatt, or Marriott. There go some of the flight and hotel costs to Hawaii. Marriott properties are some of our favorites in Hawaii, like the Westin and Ritz-Carlton resorts.
If that wasn’t enough, this card includes 3x points on dining, 2x points on travel, and a $50 hotel credit annually with no foreign transaction fees and primary rental car coverage. Learn more about the card and apply here – Chase Sapphire Preferred.
For a luxury Hawaii hotel, the best offers are for Hyatt and Marriott properties. Here are two cards to consider.
The World of Hyatt Credit Card – Although not as big as other contenders for the best Hawaii hotel credit card, there are lots of great Hawaii hotels under the Hyatt flag on each island. The Andaz on Maui is a luxury hotel and the Grand Hyatt in South Kauai is a gem, to name a couple.
They have a generous offer on free nights. You get a free night for every 5 different brands you stay with Hyatt and that includes both regular and award stays. You also get a complimentary free night for every year you keep the card. Learn more and apply here – The World of Hyatt Credit Card.
Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless – The annual free hotel night certificate is a nice perk. If you have a great all-around card, consider adding a Marriott card for your hotel needs. This card will earn 17x points on Marriott purchases and 2x points on everything else.
Having a Marriott Bonvoy Boundless credit card automatically gets you a Gold Elite Status with Marriott Bonvoy Rewards. This Gold Elite Status comes with great perks such as additional bonus points on all hotel stays, late checkouts based on availability, extra points as in-hotel welcome gifts, and room upgrades. Learn more and apply here – Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless.
Looking for more Hawaii travel hacking advice? Take it from these beginners with their tales of coming to Hawaii.
- Travel Freely Members Save $9,500+ on a 10-Day Trip to Hawai’i
- Travel Freely Members Save $7,400 on Anniversary Trip to Hawai’i
7. The Best Activities, At the Best Prices
A luxury vacation isn’t complete without a sunset sail or a snorkel tour to a secluded beach or private island. I consider Lana’i a private island as 99% is owned by the Oracle founder Larry Ellison.
We always recommend booking directly with the tour operator. I’m not just saying that because we have direct bookings with our favorite operators in our Hawaii Recommendations. We also have a list of coupon codes that you can take advantage of:
Unfortunately, booking tours at your resort usually costs a premium.
Once you arrive in Hawaii, you’ll find local concierges selling discounted tickets for tours. These low-cost ticket providers can be found in snorkel stores or stands in popular tourist areas.
These are not scams, they are good tour operators. But, buyer beware as there is no free lunch in Hawaii. Here are some tips for buying these discounted tickets.
- Make sure you ask who the tour operator is and check the reviews.
- Usually, they will not sell you the advertised, low-cost ticket price. They will sell you the direct booking ticket price unless you attend a timeshare presentation.
- If you have the time, patience, and understand the persuasive nature of a timeshare presentation, then your activity will be deeply discounted.
We have friends who attended the timeshare presentations every trip to get low-cost activities with no intention of buying a timeshare. After a few years, one couple now has a Maui timeshare. We have heard the presentations have a high success rate (e.g., 30 percent success rate) so be cautious!
8. When to Splurge on Food
A luxury Hawaii vacation includes fine dining. Here are some tips to save as food may be your second-biggest expense after lodging.
Plan for those nice, memorable dinners. Eating out in Hawaii is expensive. The restaurants are good but you want to avoid those “let’s jump in to grab a bite” moments.
Pick your favorite restaurants in advance. If you’re looking for a romantic, quality dinner a couple of times during your vacation then find those special places and book months in advance.
For example, Mama’s Fish House on Maui is one of the most popular, best-reviewed by TripAdvisor, and it is worth it (tips to book and when to eat at Momma’s Fish House) but book in advance.
9. Breakfast and Lunch is Where to Save in Hawaii
Save your dollars for those big, romantic dinners out. In between, find the quality eats that are well priced across Hawaii.
We like to skip the hotel for breakfast. We enjoy going out to a cute coffee shop or a local diner for a classic, homestyle Hawaii breakfast (loco moco, fried rice, mac nut pancakes, Portuguese sausage, etc.). Our Hawaii island itineraries are where we share our spots to eat.
For lunch, stop at a food truck or a local place for a plate lunch. A plate lunch is meat with a scoop of rice and a scoop of macaroni (mac) salad. Served ready to take to the beach, under a shade tree, or find a picnic table. It may not sound luxurious, but the food is delicious and the location is paradise. Expect to shell out $12 to $18 for a plate lunch.
Our favorite places to stop for lunch are food trucks. Find a food truck park for a diverse selection. Everyone in your party will find something they like.
Maui and Kauai are our favorite islands for food trucks. See our articles for directions, the best trucks, and the best food truck parks.
Hawaii has some great happy hours. Even in busy Waikiki, you will be able to find drink and food specials. Happy hours are usually 3 pm to 5 pm. Live music typically starts after happy hour but that isn’t a hard rule.
Here are the best Lahaina Happy Hours (Maui).
10. Costco’s Hawaii Travel Packages
A Costco Hawaii vacation package can be a good way to save money on your Hawaii vacation if you book flights, a hotel, and a car rental with them. The convenience of booking everything with them can create a healthy discount for you.
Costco offers a large selection of hotels to choose from at different price points. While many are four-star hotels, they do offer luxury accommodations. For example on Oahu, Disney’s Aulani Resort and Spa and the Four Seasons Resort at Ko Olina are available. Learn more about Costco Hawaii Vacation packages here (we have no affiliation with Costco).
Our community member James T. found booking his Hawaii vacation with Costco saved him about 30% compared to Expedia and Orbitz.
There are drawbacks, like a strict cancellation policy, so see our article below for details.
Related article: Costco Hawaii Vacation Review: 9 Things to Know Before You Buy
11. Pack Light for Hawaii
This is a minor cost savings idea but packing light will also reduce your burden. Save on checking bags, if you’re airline makes you pay, and only bring a carry-on bag.
We share our full Hawaii packing list here based on activities you may do during your vacation.
We see a lot of visitors pack jeans, jackets, and sweatshirts that take up space and will never be worn. You’re headed to the tropics. Enjoy having a light suitcase or leaving room in the suitcase for macadamia nut chocolates and other Hawaiian souvenirs.
12. Hawaii Luxury Vacation for Less: Things to Do
Spurge on the flight, hotel, and car rental but leave the things to do to us at The Hawaii Vacation Guide. As I mentioned, some of the best things to do in Hawaii feel luxurious but aren’t expensive.
We show you the best spots to eat, the best snorkeling beaches, and so much more in our Hawaiian Island itineraries.
Thousands of customers have loved them, whether they were planning for a trip that was a year away or a trip that was a day away.
“Just wanted to say thank you for what you do. We’re currently 3 days into our trip on the Big Island and it’s exceeded our high expectations so far! Some things we want to note: We hit up the Coffee Shack yesterday for breakfast. My daughter said this is the best restaurant she’s ever been to. Little things like that make all the planning and cost worth it.” – Marcus A. (purchased the Big Island itinerary for his family trip).