Money-saving tips for Hawaii

The bad news about planning a trip to Hawaii this fall or winter: You're not likely to stumble across a bargain on air fares, rental cars or hotel rooms. Everyone's favorite vacation destination is on the rebound as it attracts more visitors, especially Japan and China.
 The good news: No need to let anyone kick sand in your wallet. Try custom-creating your own deals.
  I've been experimenting while planning a two-week trip to Kauai and the Big Island and offer a few ideas in one of my recent Travel Wise columns for the Seattle Times


A flight to Hawaii is an excellent way to use an Alaska Airlines' companion fares. I don't normally sign up for credit cards with annual fees, but I did last year to qualify for a $99 companion fare.  Now I'm cashing in.
 Two tickets for non-stop flights in mid-September that would have cost me $600 each totaled $814, including $39 taxes on the companion fare and the $75 Visa card fee. 
Lesson learned: Maximize the value of companion fares by using them for expensive flights.
Keep in mind that flight to the islands from either Bellingham or Vancovuer, B.C. sometimes cost less. Whether or not the drive is worth the savings depends. A recent check showed an Alaska's non-stop to Oahu on Dec. 6, returning on Dec. 13, priced at $537 out of Seattle vs. $437 out of Bellingham.
For an inter-island flight on Hawaiian Airlines, I saved $22 off the best price that showed up on the meta-search site,, by rechecking prices on the airline website. 
Hawaiian's inter-island prices vary depending on the time of day. In this case, they ranged from $125-$179 on one-way flights  between Kona on the Big Island and Lihue in Kauai, with the bulk of priced at $145, the lowest fare to show up on Kayak.
Hawaiian's site, however, revealed a $125 flight not shown on Kayak.
Lesson learned: Kayak, which doesn't sell tickets directly but rather links buyers to airline websites for purchases, is a generally comprehensive mega-search site, but it's not 100 percent reliable. This was the second time in a few months that I found a better fare by searching directly on an airline website.

Rental cars 

Searching for an 11-day car rental for pick-up in Kona, I checked prices at the major national companies' off-airport locations as well as quotes from and other discount sites. 
 Several surprises: By going to Enterprise's website and shifting the pick-time at the Kona airport from from 1 p.m. to  2 p.m., the price on a compact dropped from $406  to $356, slightly less its off-airport price, and less than anything I found on Hotwire or other sites. 
 The compact was slightly less than the price of a smaller economy car, reflecting more demand for smaller cars due to high gas prices. But that's not the end of the story. Checking back on Enterprise's website four days ahead of my trip, I found the car available for $218. Needles to say, I cancelled the first reservation and rebooked. 
 Lesson learned: Never pre-pay, and always recheck prices again closer to your departure date. Rates can drop if companies suddenly find themselves with more unrented cars than expected. 


Occupancy and room rates are rising on all the islands, reports Smith Travel Research. Average daily rates on Oahu rose 13.4 percent to $221 in July compared to last year.
Not everyone can afford a week at a luxury resort, but if one or two nights seem doable, think about the possibilities for mixing things up a bit.  
I like to sample different types of accommodations when I travel, both for the variety of experiences and the chance to average out the costs.
We'll stay with friends on Kauai for a few nights, then divvy up our time on the Big Island with two days at a beach resort, then  boutique B&Bs on a working coffee farm and former sugar plantation; an Airbnb ( rental apartment near Volcanoes National Park and two nights "Couchsurfing" ( with a retired couple near Hilo. and a B&B on a start-up coffee farm in Captain Cook.


  1. If you've been following our travel blog, you probably read that we just returned from Vancouver Island where we paid far more for a Best Western in Tofino (the cheapest rate we found there) than we will soon be paying for a hotel, the Marriott on Waikiki Beach. Hawaii is not alone in price increases and tourism apparently.

  2. Thanks for the article. I'd love to hear your advice for how far in advance to book flights to Hawaii. Most articles I've read a generic (fly domestic, 6 weeks in advance), but I don't think that applies to Hawaii. What do you think?