This post may contain affiliate links. Any purchases from those links may give me a commission which help me to maintain this website. Thank you for your support 🙂
My husband and I just returned from a 5 day 4 night trip to Hawaii and let me tell you – it was awesome. It was the first real vacation we’d taken since our honeymoon 8 1/2 years ago. We’d done overnight local getaways maybe 3 times and gone to family reunions/weddings/holidays and back to my parents’ house but not really a vacation where we’ve picked a place to go and activities and all that. I’m pretty cheap so I always seem to look and think “well, but that’s a lot of money and instead we could… pay off more of our mortgage, or put it towards finishing our basement, or put it away for savings.” Now that we’ve finally done it I can definitely say – it was well worth the money! We did our entire trip (airfare, lodging, rental car, dining, activities, souvenirs – everything) for under $2500! I think we scored some pretty awesome deals, so I thought I ought to pass along how I did it so that hopefully someone else can take advantage of the deals too! We also analyzed our trip and found some things we thought we could have done differently (without compromising the experience) to save even more. I think we could have kept our budget right around $2000 if we’d really needed to and still had a wonderful time! Anyways, let me break down for you our expenses and how we did it 🙂
Airfare – $773
We flew with Allegiant Airlines and the airfare started at $135/person each way. We were already at my parents house in California so we flew LAX-HNL. Allegiant is a bare bones kind of airline, but for the price we were ok with that. For the fare you get to take your own self and a personal item on the plane – no carry-on bags, no checked baggage. Obviously for a 5 day trip we’d be hard-pressed to stick to just our backpacks! If you were really desperate I’m sure you could layer your outfits and find a laundromat or something, but I don’t think that’s really worth it – at least not to me! Instead we shelled out another $35 each way to have one checked bag that we shared which worked out splendidly for us. We didn’t fork out any extra money to ensure that our seats were together (we checked in together so our seats were assigned together for both flights) or upgrade for extra leg room or add on any other bells and whistles 🙂 Our goal was for the flight to get our bodies and our very limited baggage to Hawaii. It ended up costing us $193/person each way once we averaged in the cost of our checked bag and all of the taxes and fees, which was still pretty awesome! I should note though – the legroom is pretty atrocious in the non-upgraded seats. I’m 5’2″ – so not exactly a giant. The picture below is of the space from my legs to the seat in front of me from the flight out –
No, I’m not kidding, and yes I really am only 5’2″. You can adjust the way you’re sitting so that you’re angled differently to make it work with longer legs – but if you have reasonably long legs I’d probably recommend shelling out for the extra leg room. The seats do not recline at all. Just don’t expect this to be an extraordinarily comfortable part of your trip. But, they did get me and my husband and our bags from LAX to HNL without us having to mortgage our home so I’m not complaining 🙂
To pass the time on board we brought our travel pillows and bluetooth headphones. I love my headphones, Eric gave them to me for Christmas and they’re amazing! They’re super lightweight and comfortable and the battery lasts for a long time. Plus they have really good noise cancelling, they were the perfect thing for the trip! We didn’t have a way to split the audio (I haven’t yet been able to find a bluetooth audio splitter) so Eric watched movies on his tablet and I listened to my book. Before our trip I decided to get the book Honolulu by Alan Brennert to get me in the mood for going to Hawaii. It turned out to be a fantastic choice! The book is about a Korean picture bride (mail-order bride) who comes to Hawaii and her life there. It gave me such an interesting perspective on the history of Oahu and how it became like it is today. It was fascinating. I wouldn’t recommend it for young readers as there are sexual references (nothing explicit, but things I wouldn’t be very comfortable with my teenager reading) , but I would definitely recommend it to any adult readers who want a great story while learning more about Hawaii. I also downloaded Moloka’i by Alan Brennert but I didn’t get to reading it during our trip, but I’ve read that it’s supposed to be even better than Honolulu. My dad recommended Hawaii by James Michner but I was looking specifically for an audiobook and Hawaii wasn’t available on Audible. If you want a really cheap trip to Hawaii I’d recommend downloading one of these books and letting yourself escape winter for less than $10 😉
Lodging – $410
So we cheated a little bit on our hotel. A few years back Eric was travelling a decent amount and racked up some Marriott Rewards points. We cashed those in for half of our stay at the Marriott Courtyard in Waikiki and we paid for the other half. The rooms were tiny. There was enough room for a bed with some nightstands, a TV on top of the dresser/desk and a super tiny bathroom with a small shower and zero counter space. Which was fine, it gave us what we needed. There are hotel deals that would get you a room in Hawaii for a similar price to what we paid even without the rewards points. If you wanted to try a different experience there were some interesting listings on AirBNB that were really cheap too 🙂
Transportation – $387
This is where I think a lot of our budget could have been significantly reduced. We got a rental car with our flight tickets. Combining what we paid online with what we paid when we picked up the car (all the fun taxes and fees) it cost us $241 for our 5 day rental – or a little over $48/day. That part wasn’t too bad. Neither was the $25 we paid in gas for the week. What was killer was the parking fees! It cost us $35/night to park at our hotel in Waikiki! That would have cost us $140 in parking alone!!! We ended up using the parking at our hotel for two nights and then finding another parking lot that was about a half mile away that let us park for $20/night that we used for the other two nights. But even at $20/night that still would have been $80 extra just for parking! Even the $110 that we ended up paying in parking was well beyond what we really wanted to be paying. There’s two different ways that we could have really reduced our costs on this front –
- If you’re staying in Waikiki it’s easy to get free or very cheap shuttles to pretty much anywhere that you want to go (especially with the Go Oahu card that I’ll talk about later). We definitely could have skipped getting a rental car and just used the shuttles to get everywhere. That would have reduced this whole budget to less than $50, or even $0 depending on how much you were willing to walk and what shuttles you chose. However, we did like having a car just to be able to have the freedom to go where we wanted to go and the cost was worth it to us. What we would have probably done is…
- Book our hotel away from Waikiki. When we were booking our room we thought it was important to be down in Waikiki so that we’d have access to all of the things – it seemed closer to all of the attractions and just generally where we thought we wanted to be. Looking at the North Shore seemed like it would be SO far away. What we didn’t take into account is that the island is *really* small. Even in traffic to go as far as you’d want to go from end to end of the island would take maybe an hour and a half. If you’re not going to Waikiki for the night life and shopping and super commercial side of things (which we definitely were not) I’d highly recommend staying somewhere else on the island. We stayed that the Marriott Courtyard in Waikiki – if instead we’d stayed at the Courtyard in Laie our parking would have been $10/night or in other words it would have saved us $100! It’s more peaceful on the North Shore too, and it was closer to our favorite attraction (more on that later). This was by far the most important change that we would have made in our trip.
All things considered though, we were happy with how we did our transportation. Especially since when we arrived at the rental car pick up they upgraded us from an economy car to a full size car for free! So instead of having a little Kia Rio type car, we were driving around in a Dodge Charger. While I’m still happy with the Toyota Corolla we drive at home, it was definitely fun to have a powerful car with some bells and whistles for the week 🙂
Activities – $475
This is my biggest awesome find (other than the airfare). From Costco I got a 4 Day Go Oahu card for my husband and myself. You can book other lengths for the card directly from the Smart Destinations website (the provider of the Go Oahu card), or save a little money and get a 3 Day Go Oahu card from Groupon. At the time the Costco deal was the cheapest, but as of this writing I think the Groupon deal is probably best. Ok, so here’s the deal with the Go Oahu card – for the duration of your card you can get into all 34 of their attractions for free! Plus, when you get a card that is at least 3 days in length you can go on one day to one of their premium attractions.
So here’s what that means in layman terms, at least as far as our trip. So as we were planning our trip we knew there were two places we really wanted to visit – the Polynesian Cultural Center & Pearl Harbor. Without our Go Oahu card it was going to cost us $177/person for those attractions. Our Go Oahu card only cost us $167 through Costco. Basically it saved us $10 and then allowed us to go to 32 other places for FREE!
If we had planned out our trip better we really would have taken advantage of that card much more and gone to do the Dole plantation tour, and the tour of Iolani palace, and used it to get free snorkeling gear, and gone out on a catamaran ride, and rented paddle boards or kayaks, and done the guided Diamondhead tour… but we didn’t, so we really just saved the $10. But hey! We saved $10!
Our absolute favorite thing from the trip was, hands down, the Polynesian Cultural Center. We were so glad that we used the Go Oahu card to get the Ali’i Luau package, which got us into a really great luau and the show in the evening. When we were planning we’d looked at the package and saw that we could get in at 12:30pm and that we wouldn’t get done with the show until 9:30pm and thought that would be WAY too long to be there. So we decided that we’d make our way over to the PCC slowly and ended up starting our day there around 2:30pm. This was the biggest mistake of our trip! We so wished that we’d had those extra couple hours to look around and have time to go to all of the different stations. We didn’t want a lot more time than that, but those extra couple hours would have really let us see all that the PCC had to offer. All of the people there were so friendly and helpful to show us around and give us suggestions of where to go. The presentations were informative and entertaining. The luau had delicious food and great entertainment. The evening show was absolutely spectacular and touching and just phenomenal. I can’t say enough how much we enjoyed it. We did this on the first full day of our trip and it really got us into the island culture and feel right off the bat. It was so wonderful and we’re so glad that we went.
Pearl Harbor was wonderful too, but in a totally different way. Whereas we wished we’d had more time at the PCC we sort of wish we’d split our time at Pearl Harbor up. We got there around 11:30 and by the time we left at 5pm we were over the whole thing. We started with the audio tour of the Arizona Memorial and the site itself. This was awesome. I felt like I learned so much and really got into what we were doing. The audio tour really helped us to go through the site in a meaningful way and feel like we got a real flavor for the events of that day. After that we went over to the USS Bowfin – a retired WWII submarine and took that audio tour. Following that we went into the submarine museum with yet another audio tour… at this point we were getting a little bit audio toured out and we just skipped around the museum and looked at a few things that were most interesting to us. Finally we went over to the aviation museum where we skipped the audio tour entirely and just walked around and looked at the airplanes. We think that if we’d instead done a little bit of Pearl Harbor over a few different days we could have enjoyed all of the audio tours and really gotten a great educational experience, but at the end of the day we were mostly just dazed and ready to do anything else except listen to another audio tour!
Aside from our Go Oahu card we also bought a LivingSocial deal for Parasailing for $66 for a tandem parasail. This was really fun, and gave us a different perspective of the island and was a fun experience overall! We shelled out another $30 for the boat operators to take pictures for us, plus left them with a tip, so in all it ended up costing us $106. It was fun, but I think if we’d found the Go Oahu card first we would have skipped this in favor of going to some of the other attractions on our Go Oahu card instead. We definitely would have just brought our cell phones and asked someone on the boat to snap a few pictures instead of paying for the “professional” pictures since most of them ended up being out of focus anyways 🙁 But it was still a really cool experience and a pretty reasonable price. We enjoyed our time out on the boat as well as in the air.
We also hiked to the top of Diamondhead one of the mornings while we were there. That was a fun experience and gave us some good exercise! Definitely make sure that you are well hydrated beforehand! When we arrived there were rescue crews bringing a man off the trail who had passed out on the hike. The hike isn’t very technical and not terribly long, but it’s pretty steep in some places and it definitely left me pretty winded! But it was totally worth the view from the top.
Food – $250
I’m sure we could have eaten for cheaper, but we ate *really* well while we were in Hawaii so we were ok with the cost. Feel free to skip the rest of this section if you don’t want the play-by-play of our meals in Hawaii, but if you’re looking for recommendations of great places to eat – read on 🙂
The first thing we did on our trip though was a rookie mistake – we forgot to pack ourselves a lunch for the plane at home. When we got to the airport we got a couple of sandwiches, 2 lemonades and a bag of chips… for $36!! When we got on the plane we found out that we could have gotten a reasonable snack pack for $5 each. Lesson learned: Even if you forget to pack a lunch, it’s cheaper to eat on the plane than to pay airport “convenience” premiums!
When we got to the island we repented of our mistakes. To save a little bit we started our trip by going to the ABC Store (kind of a high end 7-11) and picked up some blueberry bread, cut pineapple and mango juice for our first breakfast. It might not have ended up saving us that much over just going to a restaurant, but since we were able to take that breakfast to the beach and watch the sunrise the first morning – totally worth it. We then went to Walmart and picked up some breakfast foods for the rest of our stay (sweet rolls, bananas) and some snacks (granola bars, chex mix, beef jerky, gum) and a flat of 30 water bottles with some crystal light. Those were great purchases that really helped us keep some of our costs down on our trip. Especially the water bottles – they cost us $5 and meant that we had water to take into all of our attractions, we used them in restaurants and just generally to keep ourselves hydrated – for $0.17 per bottle! We had quite a few left in the end that we left in our rental car – hopefully they got redistributed and not just thrown away!
Aside from our provisions we ate at some really awesome places. Our first night we went to a place called Aloha Table. I got a really delicious fried fish dish and Eric had a steak. We also got an appetizer of edamame that we could have skipped, but we were so hungry by the time we got there that we didn’t think we wanted to wait for our main dishes – they came out only a couple minutes after we got our appetizer 😛 It cost us nearly $60, but it was an awesome first meal on the island. SO delicious! The presentation was good too 🙂
The next day we went out in search of the famous Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck. Don’t be fooled by the fact that it’s a food truck – it stays in the same place all the time. It was $12/plate – cash only! It was really good, although I personally enjoyed the rice more than the shrimp. Eric and I both got the shrimp scampi. The weird thing is that they cook the shrimp with the shell still on. Removing the shell was a messy process, but the sad part was once you did… you’d removed the garlic and olive oil that they’d cooked the shrimp in too. It was good shrimp, but it seemed kind of silly to go to the effort of making a scampi just to remove the flavored parts before eating it.
That night we ate at the PCC Luau which was awesome as I’d already said. All the more awesome because we wrapped that cost up in our Go Oahu card 😉 The next day after our Diamondhead hike we went to Pioneer Saloon at the recommendation of the Zomato app (this is where we got most of our food recommendations for the rest of the trip). It was Eric’s very favorite meal of the whole trip! When we went in the menu was massive and a little overwhelming! We decided to go with the recommendations from the reviews on Zomato and we both got a ramen burger with everything (we were hungry after hiking Diamondhead!) They cost us $9/each but they were well worth it! The burgers were made with ramen noodles that had been cooked and then fried together to form a patty. Then on top they had a fried egg, avocado, sprouts, sauteed onions and mushrooms, lettuce and tomato. Oh, and the teriyaki patty too 🙂 It was SO delicious, and it really hit the spot after our hike. There were certainly cheaper things on the menu but we were very happy with that experience.
That night after our parasailing adventure we used Zomato again to find a Japanese noodle shop called Goma Tei Ramen. I got the Chicken Tan Tan Noodles and Eric got the Curry Noodles and we got some gyoza (potstickers) to split. We definitely did NOT need the potstickers to round out the meal – although they were very delicious. The bowls that they brought were huge! Eric definitely made the better choice in getting the curry noodles – his soup was really delicious. Mine was a little lackluster. I don’t think they flavored the chicken before putting it in the soup so it wasn’t great chicken. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. Eric mentioned afterwards that I probably should have added some soy sauce to it which hadn’t occurred to me at the time. It was a fun culinary experience and it ran us another $40.
Before going to Pearl Harbor on Thursday we stopped at Liliha Bakery at the recommendation of a local friend. We got an onion pastry (sort of a savory croissant-ish thing?), a pizza roll and a malasada. The pastries were good, nothing to write home about but good. The malasada was unique but really sweet – we each ate a little bit and saved the rest for later. We were told that the better malasadas are at Leonard’s Bakery, but we didn’t get a chance to track those down. We probably should have brought a little more food because we were really hungry at the end of going to Pearl Harbor, but our timing was weird – we stopped at the bakery at about 10:45 after already eating breakfast. We weren’t quite hungry for lunch but we wanted to be ready for Pearl Harbor. I think we could have bought a decent lunch there and then kept it in our car to eat after doing the tour and we would have probably been more happy overall.
After Pearl Harbor we went back to our trusty Zomato app and headed over to Dirty Lickin’s Chicken for some chicken wings. We each got some breaded chicken strips and rice – and once again the rice was my favorite part 🙂 We got their combo meal which boasted corn and a salad – the corn was literally just cold canned corn and the salad was lettuce and ranch dressing. The chicken itself was good, but kind of dry. Our meal cost another $24.50, and while it was filling… it wasn’t necessarily our favorite spot.
One thing I’d been told we absolutely had to do was go and get Hawaiian shaved ice. We’d been given a recommended location but by the time we got there on Thursday it was closed. So on Friday morning we searched out the nearby Waiola Shave Ice and for $4.50 we got this yummy treat. It was really good, although we were eating it at a weird time of day for ice cream. Before hopping on our flight back home we stopped at L&L Hawaiian. Eric got the chicken katsu and I got the fried shrimp plate. We got the regular sized plates and holy cow! It was a TON of food! We thought we’d get a reasonable amount but it was WAY more than we’d anticipated. We each ate about half of our meal, and then we went over to the Walgreens and bought some sandwich baggies that we packaged the rest of the meal into for our flight home. It wasn’t what we were planning on eating on our flight home but it worked out surprisingly well. We even bagged up our rice and we were able to eat it straight out of the bag on the plane pretty easily, and the chicken and shrimp were surprisingly good. Since we had been struggling to find a place to pick up a sandwich or something similar for our flight home, this was a super happy mistake to have had that leftover food and that it packed up so much better than we’d hoped!
Ok, I promise, that’s the end of my food travelogue 🙂
Souvenirs – $143.48
This is obviously is another place where we could have saved a decent amount of money. I’m being a little generous in the term “souvenirs”. In this case “souvenirs” also means – hairspray, hair gel, hair clips and sunscreen that we could have brought from home but forgot. It also includes that I brought just one pair of shorts for Eric which he got dirty in the first hour of our first morning and we couldn’t wash them out in the sink. Rather than being stuck in jeans for the whole trip we bought him a new pair of shorts, as well as a belt since we left his at my parents’ house. We found leis for our kids at the ABC store for $1 and shell leis there for $1.50 each – so we bought one of each for each of our 3 kids. We bought a little hair clip for Maeli with a hawaiian flower and some shark tooth necklaces for the boys. We also bought some pineapple crunch chocolate for my brother and his girlfriend since they helped us plan the trip (she’s native Hawaiian, so she gave us some good recommendations 😉 ). Finally for my parents we got them some chocolate covered macadamia nuts and a puzzle – we got the Maui one even though that’s not where we went because it looked more fun than the Waikiki puzzle or the Polynesian Cultural Center puzzle. We also sent postcards to our kids, which they got a real kick out of. Our actual souvenirs really cost closer to $50, but I didn’t know where else to categorize our other sundry purchases and since they mostly came home with us, they get to be souvenirs.
So that’s it! That’s how we had a wonderful vacation for 5 days in Hawaii for under $2500. When we got back the fitness tracker on my Pebble gave me a notification that said, “Do you feel really good? You’ve been sleeping really well this week. Keep up the good work!” I thought, “No kidding I’ve been sleeping well this week – I’ve spent a week without my kids! Don’t get used to this!” It was a wonderful week, but it was really good to get back home to our kids 🙂 I hope that someone is able to use this information to plan their own affordable trip to Hawaii – or at least give you some good ideas of places to go! Let me know in the comments if you go and what places and deals you liked! Aloha!