Are you dreaming of an exotic vacation in Hawaii? If so, you probably want to know how you can afford to fulfill those dreams.
You can start by finding out which is the cheapest island to visit in Hawaii.
The answer? Oahu, but that’s only the beginning.
We’ll break down all the costs of your dream holiday, from flights to food, comparing each island as we go. We’ll also offer some expert tips on how to save money while pursuing your dreams.
Getting To The Hawaiian Islands
Not only is Oahu the cheapest Hawaiian island, but it’s also one of the easiest and cheapest to get to.
From Atlanta to Washington, over 20 airports are offering direct flights into Honolulu, Oahu. Not only does that mean more choice, but it also means more competitive prices.
If you want to fly directly to one of the other islands, your choice is much more restricted. To fly direct from the US to Kauai, you only have nine airports to choose from. For direct flights to Kona or the Big Island, it sneaks up to 11.
As you can see from the figures below, flights to Maui, Kahului, and Honolulu are all more affordable than those to the Big Island, or Kauai.
The following prices are for one person flying to Hawaii from Los Angeles International Airport in October 2022:
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- Honolulu $258
- Kahului $279
- Maui $287
- Kona (Big Island) $353
- Kauai (Lihue Airport) $353
If you wanted to visit Hawaii for Christmas, however, you’d be facing much steeper prices like these:
- Honolulu $396
- Kahului $396
- Kauai $438
- Maui $600
- Kona $677
How To Save Money on Flights to Hawaii?
Tip #1: Book Online
Always book your flights online as that’s where you’ll get the best deals. You’ll usually find the cheapest airfare advertised on either Tuesdays or Thursdays.
Tip #2: Read The Small Print
Make sure you know what you’re getting for your money. Some airlines include meals, while others don’t. Some include checked baggage, while others charge extra for it.
Paying for small extras can quickly add up, denying you the savings you made on the flight in the first place.
Tip #3: Avoid Peak Travel Times
As our price comparisons above indicate, flying during the off-season can save you over $100 compared to booking a flight for the peak Christmas season.
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We saw earlier that the prices for flights in October were comparatively reasonable. You can also find cheap flights between February and April.
December and January tend to be the most expensive months to fly to Hawaii.
Getting Around the Hawaiian Islands
Oahu is by far the cheapest island to explore, partly because it’s virtually the only one where you don’t need to rent a car.
Not only does that save you the cost of the rental, but it will also save money on fuel and parking, which can be exorbitant.
Pretty much everything is more expensive in Hawaii than it is on the mainland. A nine-mile Uber trip will likely set you back around $45.
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A similar trip in Los Angeles would probably cost about $10 less. Nevertheless, Uber is one way to see the sights on Oahu, but it’s not much good for the other islands.
The bus is an even cheaper option although it will take a bit longer to get to your destination. Nevertheless, at $5.50 for a one-day pass, it’s a great way to take in the sights.
Rental options are also more varied and affordable on Oahu. You could rent a moped for less than $40 a day, or a small private car rental for around $42.
These prices are still high compared to car rentals on the mainland.
You can, for instance, hire a small car like a Fiat 500 in Los Angeles for under $20 a day, but it’s still a lot more affordable than what’s on offer on most of the other Hawaiian islands.
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Car rentals have increased so dramatically that last year tourists were hiring U-Haul vans because they’re more affordable that the standard tourist options.
On the Big Island, you can expect to pay around $50 per day for a compact car, while a similar vehicle on Maui will cost you over $70 per day!
Three Tips for Saving Money on Car Rental
Tip #1: Stick to Oahu
Set your sights on the cheapest Hawaiian island, and you can travel far and wide without ever having to pay exorbitant parking fees.
The Bus will take you from your hotel to Waikiki beach and then onto the Honolulu Watershed Forest Reserve all for $5.50 a day.
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Tip #2: Combine Travel and Accommodation
Rent a campervan or RV and you automatically have both transport and a place to stay. While I couldn’t find any campervans available on Oahu, there were quite a few options for Kahului and the Big Island.
For just $120 a night, you could have a place to sleep and a pair of wheels!
Tip #3 Consider An Alternative Rental
If a U-Haul truck is going to cost less than a rental car, then why not save your money?
You’ll get a good, strong workhorse of a vehicle for less than it would cost you to hire an economy car. Who cares if U-Haul gets some free advertising courtesy of your holiday snaps?
Finding the Cheapest Hawaiian Island Accommodation
Of all the Hawaiian islands, Oahu is the cheapest when it comes to accommodation.
Hotel rooms range from around $80 per person per night, a night in a condo or apartment will set you back anywhere between $85 and $7,000 depending on the location and facilities.
Backpacking hostels are the most affordable places to stay and you can often find a room for just $36 per night during the off-season. Over Christmas, the price of accommodation on all the Hawaiian islands soars.
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What would cost $7,000 per night in October will suddenly skyrocket to over $10,000. Even inexpensive places like backpacker hostels increase by around $10 per night, which quickly adds up over a week-long vacation.
When it comes to accommodation, Oahu is the cheapest Hawaiian island to visit. You may struggle to find affordable vacation rentals on some of the other islands.
Lanai is the smallest inhabited island in Hawaii and the most limited in terms of vacation rentals.
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Kayak.com lists just 11 properties, most of which are actually on Maui rather than Lanai. Those situated on Lanai cost over $300 per night.
Even if you find an affordable place, the chances of it having availability are limited regardless of the time of year.
Accommodation on both Kauai and Kahului is more affordable than on Lanai, which is the most expensive island in terms of accommodation and vacation rentals.
On Kauai and Kahului, apartments and condos start at around $120 and hotels at between $160 and $180 for two people sharing.
If you can’t find anywhere on Oahu, your next best option is Molokai where you can find a vacation rental for around $77 per person per night sharing. Hotels are a little pricier, starting at around $185.
Behind Lanai, Maui is the second most expensive island to stay on. A homestay is your cheapest option at around $72, and, if you’re lucky, you could find an apartment for less than $100 per night.
Average Cost of Hotel Rooms By Island (May 2022)
Big Island $371
Source: Hawaii Tourism Authority
Average Cost of Vacation Rentals By Island (May 2022)
Big Island $233
Source: Hawaii Tourism Authority
Tips on Securing Cheap Accommodation
Tip #1: Use a Reputable Vacation Rental Company
Book through a legitimate vacation rental company that provides 24-hour customer support and only lists legal properties.
This might not save money initially, but it will give you peace of mind and ensure that you get what you paid for.
Tip #2: Book into a Hostel
Hostels may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they do offer excellent value for money. You can often get a private room for a fraction of the cost of the cheapest hotel.
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Not only that, but you’ll have a better location and access to free equipment, like snorkels and surfboards.
Tip #3: Book in Advance
The sooner you book, the better your chances of securing a good deal, especially if you opt for the hostel route.
While you can often get a bed in a dorm room at the last minute, private rooms book out quickly so the only way to secure one is by booking in advance.
How to Eat and Drink on a Shoestring in Hawaii?
Hawaii is one of the most expensive places to live in the US with only Washington DC having higher food prices.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, “the average cost of food in Hawaii is $61 per day.”
If you have a vacation rental with a kitchen, you could save a lot of money by doing all your cooking.
According to the crowd-sourced global database, Numbeo, you could spend just under $20 a day on food in Honolulu if you shopped at the cheapest grocery store and resisted the temptation of eating out.
It would be a shame to miss out on all the local cuisine, however, especially when there are so many fine dining establishments and food trucks to choose from.
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You can still keep your costs down while eating out. According to Numbeo, a meal at an inexpensive restaurant costs around $18 per person, which seemed to be in line with many of the online menus I checked for popular Oahu restaurants.
If you head to a more upmarket establishment, however, you could quite easily blow your whole day’s budget on a main meal, especially if you want to try the local seafood.
Visit a Michelin-starred restaurant in Honolulu and you’re looking at spending $30 just on an appetizer, while a main meal costs between $70 to $195.
Not only is Oahu the cheapest island to visit, but it’s also one of the cheapest places to eat. It also has an abundance of eateries, ranging from street vendors to fine dining establishments.
Save Money on Food and Drink with These Tips
Tip #1: Cook at Home
Groceries might be expensive, but you can save a lot by eating in at least once a day.
There are some great grocery stores in and around Honolulu and you can pick up some delicious local ingredients at farmer’s markets and local produce stands.
Tip #2: Go Out for Lunch
Restaurants often offer substantial lunch options at a fraction of the price of their evening meals so you can enjoy a fabulous meal without blowing your whole day’s food budget.
Tip #3: Eat Like a Local
Steer clear of the tourist traps and enjoy some of the local fare at places like Grace’s Inn in Honolulu where a large serving of shoyu chicken costs just over $10.
Experiencing the Cheapest Hawaiian Island
If all you want to do is soak up the sun and enjoy the pristine beaches and natural beauty of Hawaii, you can have quite an affordable holiday in Hawaii.
On the other hand, if you’re planning on being a little active, you could end up spending over $1,000 on a single experience.
Some of the most expensive activities on Oahu include deep-sea fishing at $1,200 per hour and a trip on the Royal Hawaiian Catamaran at $650 per hour.
Fortunately, for those of you wanting a Hawaii vacation on a shoestring, there are plenty of free and inexpensive activities to keep you busy.
Free activities that you can enjoy on Oahu include:
- Enjoying the amazing beaches, just watch out for Sharks at Waikiki Beach.
- Hiking around the beautiful island
- Visiting Pearl Harbor
- Surfing Waikiki Beach
- Snorkeling at Turtle Bay
- Picnicking at Kanaha Beach Park
Other affordable places to visit include
- Diamond Head State Monument
- Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum
- Dole Plantation
- Kualoa Ranch (where Jurassic Park was filmed)
If outdoor activities are what attracted you to Hawaii but your budget is restrictive, hiking is by far the best way to take in the natural wonders of the islands.
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If your budget will extend a little further, you could explore some of these affordable activities:
Ziplining is one of the most popular activities in Oahu and costs as little as $30. If the longest zipline on Oahu sounds more up your street, you’ll need to budget around $170 for the North Shore zipline experience.
Waikiki Beach glass bottom boat cruises head out to the nearby tropical reefs several times a day and cost as little as $40.
If you’re more of an adrenalin junky, you’ll need to be ready to pay for your fix, but you can still save money if you plan carefully.
A parasailing adventure, for instance, costs less than $100, while a 30-minute jet ski experience costs around $80 sharing, and $140 if you prefer to go solo.
On average, visitors to Hawaii spend around $30 per day on activities, although this can easily increase tenfold if you want to experience the best the islands have to offer.
How to Save Money on Hawaiian Activities?
Tip #1: Book Direct
Save money by booking directly with the activity provider rather than a booking agent or activity broker.
Tip #2: Ask Your Accommodation Provider
Hotels and other establishments often have better rates available for their guests so check with them before making a booking.
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Tip #3: Do One Free Activity a Day
Whether it’s enjoying the natural reserves or exploring the amazing beaches, there are plenty of ways travelers save money without sacrificing their dreams of the perfect Hawaiian vacation.
Summary and Cost Comparison
The table below shows a comparison of costs for four of the most popular islands in Hawaii. These costs are for a seven-day vacation during the off-season.
Island Flights Accommodation Car Rental Total
Oahu $258 $1599.50 $294 $2151.50
Big Island $353 $2114 $350 $2817
Kauai $353 $2656.50 $387 $3396.50
Maui $287 $3080 $490 $3857
As you can see from the comparisons above, Maui is the most expensive Hawaiian island, and Oahu is by far the cheapest.
Visiting Hawaii is at the top of many bucket lists, and for good reason. The only problem is that it can be prohibitively expensive.
Visiting Oahu is the cheapest way to go and you can make your vacation even more affordable by using the tips included here.
You don’t need to compromise much to get the holiday of your dreams.
Opt for a holiday rental instead of a pricey hotel room, and use public transport instead of stretching to cover the high cost of a rental car.
Eat at local restaurants instead of tourist traps and explore the island on foot as much as possible.
A trip to a Hawaiian island doesn’t have to break the bank, so why not start planning your vacation today?
Nicky is a British adventurer and animal lover who spends her time exploring the natural world and writing about her experiences. Whether on horseback, underwater, running, hiking or just standing with a fishing rod in hand, she embraces everything her adopted home of South Africa has to offer.