Compare the Costs: Hawaii Travel

Whether you're planning a luxury tropical vacation or a family trip on a budget, the Aloha State offers a wide range of options.

by Jess Moss - August 28, 2017

A recent report from the Hawaii Tourism Authority shows the average visitor to Hawaii spends $203 per day. And because most visitors stay at least a week to make sure they’re soaking up all the sunshine, beauty, and relaxation they can, the total cost of Hawaii travel adds up.

But what often gets overlooked is that with six major islands and a dizzying array of accommodations, activities, and ways to get around, Hawaii has enough variety to allow smart travelers to spend less than $100 per day. And those budget-minded trips are often just as enjoyable as ones where visitors splurge and spend $1,000 a day.

Tickets to paradise

Most visitors arrive by air, with Oahu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) in Honolulu serving as the state’s main airport. Flights to Honolulu are the default for a lot of Hawaii travel, but research direct routes from the mainland U.S. to Maui, the Big Island, and Kauai. These flights tend to cost a little more, but will save you travel time.

Once in Hawaii, you can hop to other islands on commuter flights or private charters, including Mokulele AirlinesIsland Air, and Hawaiian Airlines. Prices for these short trips can be as low as $64; you’ll find deals if you book in advance and are flexible with timing. Some airlines offer discounts for kids or seniors.

If you prefer the one-and-done approach, vacation package deals that include your airfare, hotel, and rental car may save you money, just like bundling your TV and internet service.

According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the average visitor spends $203 per day.

Luxury tour operators cost more, but they’ll cover your logistics on complex, multi-island trips. Tauck’s 12-day “Best of Hawaii” tour covers 12 days, 21 meals, beachfront resort stays, multiple tours, and your travel between the islands, and ranges from $6,990 to $8,990, depending on the time of your visit.

Cruising is also popular for Hawaii travel and can simplify your trip; one flat fee typically covers accommodation, food, and stops at multiple islands. AdventureSmith Explorations offers a small-ship luxury yacht eight-day cruise through four islands starting at $3,800.

Natural Hawaii travel bargains

The most alluring part of Hawaii travel is the awe-inspiring natural beauty — green cliffs plunge into cerulean seas, while palm trees line white sand, red sand, black sand, and even green sand beaches.

Beaches in Hawaii are all free and open to the public. Buy or rent a snorkel set at the start of your trip and you’ll be equipped to explore the colorful underwater world that lies just offshore.

Guided day trips are a good way to get out on the water; you can reach offshore islands on a snorkel cruise and learn about the humpbacks that winter here on a whale watching tour ($60 and up). For something more active, consider surfing lessons (about $75) or a kayaking trip (about $150). Because Hawaii is a popular family destination, many outfitters offer discounts for kids under a certain age.

Hiking trails and waterfalls can also be accessed for free or a small fee, including some of Hawaii’s top attractions: iconic Diamond Head on Oahu ($5 per vehicle), seal and bird watching at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on Kauai ($5 per person entrance fee), lava trails at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park ($25 for 7 days), and sunrise viewing atop Maui’s Haleakala National Park ($25 for 3 days).

Hawaii is home to several stunning black sand beaches, which are common on volcanic islands.

Hawaii travel with alternate lodging

If you want to experience Hawaii in the most cost-effective way possible, consider camping on a beach — permits are available for $10–$30 per night.

Not ready to rough it? Give a look to the numerous vacation rentals available on the islands. Often less expensive than a hotel room, homes or condos also add value by letting you stock your own kitchen with fresh food from farms and fish markets, therefore avoiding eating every meal at a restaurant.

Get pampered in paradise

Always at the top of the list for romantic anniversaries and other special occasions, Hawaii has no shortage of ways to indulge.

If you’re not part of a tour that’s packaging these special “only in Hawaii” travel experiences into your vacation, you can control your budget by booking only the ones you care about.

For example, a traditional luau offers a lot of bang for your buck; they’re easy to find at the larger resorts. These Polynesian dinner shows include music, dancing, and a generous feast — all for around $100.

Want a little time on the water? Get up to six friends together for a sunrise sailing charter from Tradewinds Charters ($495), or explore ocean night life on a nighttime manta ray dive tour with Big Island Divers ($249 per person).

Longing for time at one of the top resorts in the world? Hawaii has several, and you can book many of their luxury amenities as a non-guest. Get a relaxing massage on the beach, play a round on a PGA Tour–level golf course, or dine at a celebrity chef’s restaurant.

Jess Moss covers practical tips and ideas for travelers and has worked at Fodor's Travel, AOL Travel, and MapQuest. Her writing has also appeared in Conde Nast Traveler and Huffington Post.

Images by iStock

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