Hawaii is world renowned for being a luxury holiday destination – when I told friends I was going, I had more comments on how jealous they were than I had for any other destination I’d been to. When people asked my mum where I was on my journey, they turned green when she told them I was going to make a little stop off in Hawaii.
From the UK, Hawaii is a far flung destination and flights alone come up high in the price factor. So when I saw flights being advertised from Australia for just $229 AUD (around $170 USD or £120), I jumped at the chance to visit on a budget!
This guide, however, includes tips on how to save a whole bundle of money once you’re there, too. Because even if I’d saved all that money on flights, Hawaii can still be an expensive place in itself and could have been out of our budget – but it doesn’t have to be.
Read on for how I only spent around $300 (just over $700 including flights) for almost a week on Oahu.
Flights will, of course, vary wherever you are in the world. However, from Canada you can get super cheap flights with Westjet, and from Australia Jetstar are around $400 CHEAPER than the next cheapest flight. Look out for sales with Hawaiian Airlines, Air Canada, United, American Airlines and Virgin America.
My Jetstar flight, in the end, didn’t cost $229. I managed to pick up a seat for $249 instead; still an absolute bargain, and paid $40 on top for luggage. The total came to under $300 AUD (about $225 USD or £150) which is pretty insane for a 9 hour flight.
Our onward flight was to Vancouver with Westjet, which cost just $174 USD (£120, or about £140 now thanks to Brexit – seriously, that exchange rate is shocking). Again, luggage was an extra $20 – a little cheaper than Jetstar!
Tip: be flexible on dates and where you’re flying from. After all, I’d never have got flights this cheap from the UK; I got them because I wanted to fly from Australia to Canada and it was actually CHEAPER to take a detour through Hawaii than fly direct. My favourite way to find cheap flights is to look up a route on Skyscanner and set up a price alert.
Flight total: approx. $420 USD / $560 AUD / £340
Who knew there were hostels in Hawaii?!? I didn’t until I researched how feasible it would be to visit.
We spoke to a couple staying in the hotel next to us, who said as ex-backpackers they would have been perfectly happy to stay in a hostel had they known they existed in Honolulu.
I get that this isn’t for everyone. You go to Hawaii, you want a nice resort. However, if you’re on a budget this is a great way to save a crazy amount of dollars. The couple in question stayed in a budget hotel, which they said was nice but not amazing, and they paid around six times the price.
We stayed in an 8-bed dorm room at the Polynesian Beach Club hostel for just $35 a night – and that included pancakes for breakfast, tea and coffee throughout the day, access to free inflatables and snorkelling gear, and free wifi.
I was super happy with our time there – the staff are incredibly friendly and helpful, they gave everyone reminders of their transport back to the airport, they hold cheap tours to the north shore, they hold events like game nights, bar crawls, BBQ evenings. Each dorm has its own bathroom, there are hammocks in the common area to lounge around in, and the best part? It’s literally a block away from Waikiki beach.
Looking on their website now, the 8-bed dorm only costs $25 a night! Must be a low season special. You can also get a twin room for under $150 ($75 per person is mega cheap for a private room in Hawaii!).
Tip: to save even more, make sure you claim cashback on your accommodation. At the time of booking, I got around 6% back with Hostelworld. Now they’ve changed Hostelworld’s cashback terms and you get 40% off the deposit only. Topcashback also deals with hotels.com, booking.com, Agoda and many others – I always check them before purchasing anything online!
Accommodation total: $175 for 5 nights
FOOD / DRINK
The big budget eater: food. We indulged in one meal at the Cheesecake Factory on our first night, purely because we’ve been talking about going there for years and didn’t make it in Florida. Plus we had to have ONE nice meal out.
We also had one meal from the food trucks on the north shore, which cost $10 each.
Apart from that? Believe it or not, we shopped at Walmart and cooked at the hostel. Some might say that takes away some of the magic of a holiday. I say, uh hey guys, we only spent $50 on food. That’s more for activities.
Or cocktails! We “treated” ourselves to happy hour cocktails on a few occasions – our favourite haunt was Arnold’s dive bar, a quirky (sorry, I’m using that word again) tiki bar tucked down behind a restaurant. There are tons of places to drink along the main strip of Waikiki, and lots of them offer fantastic happy hour deals. We spent $4 – $6 on ours.
(For the record, I thought Mai Tais were my favourite, but I don’t like them in Hawaii! I realise this is how they’re supposed to be, but they were much fruitier and nicer in Asia – am I right?!)
Food & drink total: around $80
We mostly only took part in free activities – like swimming on Waikiki beach with our free beach toys, snorkelling at Three Tables bay on the north shore with our free snorkels, hiking Diamond Head crater, the US Army museum, the Friday night fireworks over the Hilton – but the few that we paid for really weren’t expensive.
Pearl Harbor amazed me because it only cost $1.25 to visit the USS Arizona memorial. Tours including transportation cost anything upward of $40 depending on what you want it to include (USS Bowfin submarine, etc), however some of the museums are free or included on your tickets anyway.
We were lucky because we went with a friend who drove us there (there’s plenty of parking if you do have a car), but you can also catch the number 42 bus from Waikiki and it only costs $2.50!
We also paid a whole $3 to get into the Byodo-In temple, and our biggest splash-out was something we weren’t even expecting to do – visiting Honolulu Zoo with a friend for $14 each.
I must admit that we didn’t do any paddle-boarding, surfing, parasailing, the Polynesian Cultural centre, or that many of the monolith of activities available in Hawaii, but I still think we did a fair amount considering a lot of people only go to sit on a beach!
Tip: Pick up some of the leaflets to get major discounts on a lot of these too – I found parasailing for just $20 but ran out of time to do it!
Activities total: $20
Okay, I admit we were really lucky here. The north shore hadn’t even entered my mind as a realm of possibility, but our friend was excited to show us around her new home and we arranged to spend a day road tripping up to the north shore! I paid for some of her petrol costs in the way of drinks later that night. We went to Whisky Dix, an amazing country bar complete with line dancing all night and beer pong on a US flag-decorated table. It was the most American place I’ve ever been to; not something I was expecting in Hawaii of all places!
HOW. EVER. Transport on Oahu is pretty cheap. Our hostel ran day tours to the north shore for a very reasonable price (around $30 I think, I could be wrong on that, though). There are local buses however they take a LONG time and on a return journey you’d probably spend five hours travelling. You can also catch the #22 or #23 bus to Makapu’u lighthouse trail (one of my favourite hikes!), just get off at Hawaii Kai golf course and walk up to the trail.
Inside Honolulu, including Diamond Head, you can catch the bus trolleys for just $2.50.
Our biggest expense of the whole trip was actually transport to and from the airport. If you only have hand luggage, you can save an absolute ton of money, and we were planning for one of us to take both big bags while the other caught the local bus for $2.50 (you’re not allowed to take any bags on the bus that you can’t have on your lap). After a long flight and no directions for ANYTHING at the airport resulting in walking up, down, around and then around again, we got annoyed and paid for a Speedi shuttle.
Tip: save money on the shuttle by pre-booking with Hawaii23, they are cheaper than Speedi and have great reviews. I wish we’d known about them before.
Transport total: $30 plus a few drinks for my friend as payment for petrol
HAWAII TOTAL: $305 (£200, closer to £250 at the moment) for 5 nights, 6 full days
INCLUDING FLIGHTS: $725 (£500, now about £590)
Have you taken a trip somewhere for WAY cheaper than you thought it would be?!
Plus I’d love to hear any more tips for Hawaii below!