Planning a trip to Hawaii on a Budget

I’m asked regularly, or hear comments regularly, on how it is not affordable to travel to Hawaii.  And no joke, before I started my planning I thought the same.  Enough that it became a place that I only dreamed of visiting.  That was due to the $ and due to no time.  But after medical turmoil and a change in the thought process, I decided this was a must to put on our schedule.

At the end I’ll note the final cost on the trip compared to Disney!

Finding the Time:
A trip to Hawaii should take some time.  How often does one have time to get across the country to such an enjoyable location.  Of course you want to spend time there and squeeze every bit of enjoyment out of it as possible.
But one must factor in that if you are on the East coast, this is a 6 hour time difference and approximately 12 hours in flight time.  So jet lag, travel time… you must be able to factor in at least 2-3 days for travel and body catchup time.
As many of you know, in my job, I am busiest between August and May.  Oh how awesome it is to have a lesser busy June July.  What many don’t know or realize; my husband works a seasonal job that is busiest over the summer.  He can’t take a week off between May and October himself.  So we could choose to never take vacations, which many couples choose to do.  Or we can get inventive.   Being that Spring Break has been a very non-busy time for me at work every year, I’m starting to take advantage of that. (Christmas is another option but then we are sacrificing family time to travel).  Turned out there was a half marathon in Honolulu on the Sunday starting Spring Break for 2019.  With my 50 state race challenge becoming a real possibility, this was a great reason to make this a 2019 race.

Budgeting the Flights:
First thing I did was look for recommendations.  I have great experience working with new credit cards to get points, etc to use for these trips.  I asked around and was told that the best option may be Alaska Airlines as they offer buy 1 get one deals for the card holder once per year for traveling.  Both Conrad and I got a card so we could utilize this benefit.  So we are definitely looking at flights for 50% off now.
But AA does not fly out of anywhere near Asheville.  I didn’t think about this initially.  So …
I started back in the fall of 2018 evaluating flights from everywhere around Asheville to any of the main hubs up and down the west coast.   I kept a watch as soon as flights were released for the dates we were looking at.
Turned out I had just enough points to fly all 4 of our family members with Southwest from Raleigh to Seattle for free (well there’s an $11 charge per person round trip for taxes).
Once I established those dates, I now had to find flights with AA to get us from Seattle to Honolulu.  My research online told me that the cheapest flights tended to be approximately 56 days before your flight, plus or minus a few days.  So I watched from November to February to see what the flight prices did.  I watched almost daily, but oftentimes Thursdays were the best day to watch.  I had hopper on my phone giving me updates as well.  Somewhere around the 2 month mark, it looked like the flight we wanted was the best price all around it would likely get.  So I purchased 2 flights on my card, and 2 on Conrad’s.  The cost was under $860 for all 4.  We chose the saver seats and rode in the back of the plane.  Our AA credit cards got us 1 free checked luggage per person as well (not many airlines do that)  That was really helpful for a trip across the country.
So we are now looking at $900 for 4 of us to fly- $225 per person round trip to Hawaii from the East Coast.

Hotel Budgeting:
There was a lot of looking at this.  I checked out so many routes to getting a good hotel room priced out- and in a location I wanted (considering race start/finish and proximity to the Ocean).  Hawaii has a lot of odd named hotels and that made me nervous.  But I didn’t want to overspend.  I checked out Travelocity, TripAdvisor, TicketsatWork, AAA travel… it all came down to Black Friday noticing that the Modern Honolulu ran a deal on their room.  They had high rankings online and we were able to get a room for $125/night + $30/night resort fee + 2 free breakfast vouchers per morning.  Pros to the room were excellent location, pool, and comfort in the ratings.  The negatives were parking fees, fees for breakfast (if you didn’t have the vouchers), and that its a timeshare hotel so if you didn’t know that, you’d be bombarded by timeshare requests.  However I knew this going in and did an excellent job of avoiding that part.  We took full advantage of the amazing breakfasts- shared them, or skipped a morning or 2 and saved those vouchers for another day so all 4 of us could take advantage.   The staff that worked for the hotel were actually pretty amazing as well.
$930 for the hotel

Hotel Budgeting on the way there and back:
Since we stayed in Seattle on the way there and back, we knew we might incur hotel fees.  However the awesome AMEX Ascend card I obtained in the fall had enough points for me to get a Hilton or Hampton Inn hotel with points and those were amazing hotels.  I highly recommend them.  They are consistent and every one we’ve stayed in since we started accumulating Hilton Honors points has been the same in service.   They are doing a good job with them.  And if you want a referral to the AMEX card, let me send you mine!  So I must tell you that we paid $0 for this part of the trip.

Transportation around:
Initially you think transportation is that flight over and back home.  Well, let us not forget… gas to get to Raleigh and home, gas to fill up rental vehicles, Parking fees at the airport, Uber costs, Bus costs, Tipping the shuttle drivers, Orca railway costs in Seattle, Rental vehicle costs… I feel like we tried out almost every type of transportation on this trip.
Discount Hawaii Car rentals was the way to go to book rentals there.  And prices changed daily when looking, so you just keep watching until the price hits your fancy.  You aren’t locked in with your credit card to canceling is easy.  And truthfully, if you didn’t show up within 2 hours of your reservation, they just canceled it.
The Bus was the easy way to get around the island of Oahu.  It took a few days to figure out the routes, but a day ticket let you ride anywhere all day as many times as you wanted.  Just pay with exact change.
If you have never used Uber or Lyft, download and look up online for discount codes for 1st time use.  There are a lot of options for the first time user… not so much for those who aren’t.
Gas in our personal vehicle:  Probably $25
Airport Parking:  $14/day:  $126
Uber:  $25 (Airport to hotel)
Orca:  $30 (We bought the card and never figured out how to use it…lol)
Shuttle Driver Tips:  $20ish total
Rental Car:  3 days use we spent $170
Rental car Gas:  $20 total (Just had to keep the line saying full… one of the times our 1.5 hours of driving didn’t make the needle drop, so we didn’t have to refill.  Also, the price on refill at the rental company was cheaper than the gas prices, so we left that up to them)
Bus remaining days: $15/day (plus I had to do 1 way travel get a rental vehicle one day):  $47.50
Approximately $450 on this

Entertainment:
We are ones to get as much out of a trip as possible without overspending.  We discovered that Cotsco sold cards called ‘Go Oahu’ Cards in 4 day increments that gave you the ability to do a certain number of things each day.  It actually turned out to be an excellent deal and allowed us to experience way more things than we would have if we had paid individually.  Something about having it all rolled into that card.
We paid just under $750 for all 4 of us to have this card.
Had we arrived and paid the costs of these items on site without the card, it would have cost us almost $100 more per adult, $75 more per child.
We probably spend an extra $20 on activities not on the card.

Food:
We knew before we went that food would be a higher cost for us on this trip.  So we strategically planned each day.
Free breakfast at the hotel
Trip to the ABC store (these are grocery stores, not liquor stores in Hawaii) to get PB &J and bread and goldfish for snacking.
Drank lots of water!  The hotel would bring us waters daily and we used the fridge and microwave in our room as needed plus any other amenities they offered.  Free coffee downstairs before 7am was great too.
We planned strategically to eat a big (free) breakfast, and 1 main paid meal per day.  Snacking or PB&Js for the 3rd meal of the day.
We took advantage of foods and restaurants that we had never eaten at before.  Some days our meal was $75, some days it was $30.  But I felt we did the best job possible with this.  And I can’t say anyone starved since I actually gained weight on this trip.  My quick count is probably $450 for food from start to finish.

Souvenirs:
I heard pros and cons on making it to the Aloha stadium for the market, but we loved it and obtained great deals on souvenirs and even foods to eat on while we were there.  We probably spend $45 in this market for these purposes.

Race Fees:
That was the cheap part…$60 per person to race.  We didn’t buy any souvenirs or any extras.

Calculating this, we spend approximately $900 per person for a 9 night/10 day trip to Hawaii with stops in Seattle there and back.  That’s considering 4 people split evenly for all costs.  But all 4 of us eat adult meals and thankfully the boys were able to get into a couple things for free.  That’s $100 per person per night

When we travel to Disney, we usually go for 5 nights/6 days and spend around $760 person when taking all parts of the trip into account (including food and tickets $1200, hotel $750, Food $700, travel $100, race price $300).  That’s a minimum of $150 per person per night.

So maybe you think I’m super revealing about our budget.  I don’t put all this out there to brag at all.  I am hopefully being very clear that I’m giving tips on how to get some deals when traveling.  I’m sure there are things we could have done to get better deals.  And hey, there are definitely easy ways to add on the cost of these trips but we wanted to make it work!

Thanks for reading!

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