By: Revanche

How we spent a week in Hawaii for $1000

May 30, 2016

Aloha in our lives: Hawaii is a wonderful family getaway if you can make it affordableHawaii is awesome.

But Hawaii is also very expensive. It’s a high COLA and it’s only somewhat cheaper to have fun there if you’re resident because you can take advantage of the kama’aina rates. Otherwise, it’s expensive to buy groceries, eat out, and get around.

Part of this was possible because – well, I was going to say “we lucked into basically free accommodations” but that’s not accurate – our accommodations didn’t cost anything out of pocket but it wasn’t precisely free. We offer home-cooked meals, the guest bedroom, and rides to and from the airport to a variety of friends and family. This costs money, time and effort on our part but we don’t begrudge the hospitality because we have learned to set boundaries and offer only what we can truly give.

On occasion, and without any hints or nudges from us because we don’t expect it, some friends will offer us the same, either in their home or wherever they’re traveling.

In this case, friends happened to be traveling to Hawaii, had a free room in their rental home, and offered it to us. We were responsible for all our other costs, but we were welcome to stay for free and that was most excellent.

When free isn’t exactly free

Now you know me – when someone says “I have a free room for you in Hawaii”, I’m gonna say, hold on, lemme see if I can afford that “free” room. It costs something to get there, to get around, and to survive there, ya know! But it’s Hawaii and it’s been years since our last real vacation where I wasn’t pretty much working the whole time so of course I was going to find a way to make it work.

And indeed I did.

Our travel cost breakdown

Lodgings, $0 (est cost for 1 week, non-fancy: $2100)
Airfare for 3*, $35 (cost if we paid cash: $1500)
Groceries and eating out, $230
Gas, $20
Rental car for 1 week, $130
Taxi, $50
Boarding, $450
Gifts and things, $150

total: $1065

How did that happen?

After a few hours of research, I settled on flying United, hoping to snag a pair of fancy First Class / Coach class combination flights. The extra stop and short leg in Coach class meant that it was a Mixed Class booking and therefore would cost fewer miles.

If that worked out, I theorized that we could manage not buying a seat for JuggerLB who, even several months ago, was already unbearably wiggly. I succeeded in piling up enough miles with a couple of credit card bonuses, but failed to finalize the booking because we weren’t allowed to combine all our miles into one account to book the two seats at the same time. Drat.

Never mind, thought, we still had enough miles then to book three coach class seats which gave us the wiggle room that was sorely needed with JuggerLB.

The car rental nearly torpedoed my hopes when I saw the rates trending around $300-400 for the week. Put together with the fee to board Seamus, I just couldn’t see spending $1000 before we even left the airport.

ENTER: credit card membership benefits! It turns out if you hold a specific kind of CitiCard, you get complimentary Hertz Gold membership status and also extra discounts. I hadn’t seriously considered Hertz because they tend to be the most expensive but after combining that with our AAA membership, I saved us 60% on our week-long rental. And we were back in business!

Actually, those were the four biggest expenses, in order: accommodations, airfare, dog boarding, and car rental.

We simultaneously economized and didn’t.

On food. We treated our friends to a few meals out, at varying levels of expensive, and they bought enough groceries to provide us breakfasts and light lunches. We supplemented with deli lunches and other small desired delicacies.

We loaded up on mainland treats for our friends’s kids and some of our own foods for the week so that we wouldn’t have to pay $9 for a box of cereal or $7 for a jar of peanut butter.

On boarding. We could have gone with a cheaper sitter but we know and trust this one, and I’m still traumatized from losing Doggle in the hands of an irresponsible sitter. Seamus was in good and caring hands with this person and that’s the only way you’re going to get me to leave him behind.

On tourist stuff and having fun. Having a kid that still has to nap twice a day seriously limits your options when most attractions take half a day or more because of traffic or distance. We used to skip one of the two naps on occasion for special occasions but JuggerLB has hit a phase where skipping a nap means being too tired means ze will bite, usually me, and it HURTS.

I would have loved to swim with dolphins but, in the end, couldn’t bring myself to pay nearly $300 for less than an hour of fun.

Making a virtue of my cheapness and JuggerLB’s required rest periods, we enjoyed the sun and the water that was practically at our doorstep, free movies, and the free ice cream social. Also the free parking. I hate paying for parking so much that I celebrate a little extra when we travel and don’t have to pay an astronomical amount to leave my car in a safe space for a while. Oh, and each other. We had a lot of fun just hanging out together, chasing JuggerLB, and relaxing. I haven’t gone 24 hours without thinking about working, working, or thinking about work problems in I don’t even know how long.

I’d also forgotten how much the aloha spirit and relaxed island attitude toward time melts away my stress. There’s something magical about island time: it seems to pass three times more slowly. It was totally worth all the work and trouble to make it happen. Though technically I guess you’d say we paid $1000 for three of us to go and one of us NOT to go to Hawaii.

:: Have you visited Hawaii? Is it your kind of vacation? If not, what is?Ā 

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18 Responses to “How we spent a week in Hawaii for $1000”

  1. Nice job! Its not easy to get around cheaply in Hawaii. I’ve been there 4 times and at varying costs. Twice I stayed with a friend who had a car so that was very budget-friendly. Once I did a living social trip, so that was pretty good too. The first time I went to Maui and we kind of lived it up. No regrets though. Hawaii can be experienced in a variety of different levels!
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    • Revanche says:

      Was the Living Social trip an airfare+hotel kind of deal? I feel like it’s pricey to get there and then a whole other level of pricey to eat and enjoy but I really like it there too.

  2. Linda says:

    I was in Hawaii in January 2002 with my (now ex-) husband. Due to the craziness after 9/11, we scored a great deal on a cruise that visited several of the islands. We tacked on a few extra days in Honolulu on our own at the beginning of the trip.

    The cruise was meh. In fact, it made me realize just how much I hate large cruise ships and the cruise ship culture, which seems to consist of gluttony and obnoxiousness. My only fond memory of the cruise experience, in fact, was the one day we stopped at a little atoll island in the Republic of Kiribati, where ex and I rented bikes and rode as far away from the rest of the cruise passengers as possible. I found a quiet spot to bathe in the warm waters and was visited by local children who were quite amused with my extreme paleness and ability to turn bright red so easily. (There was some odd rule that we had to go outside the US on the cruise since the ship wasn’t licensed in the US?? Anyway, we had a spend one day at sea each way going very quickly to reach this “international” port.)

    I did enjoy Honolulu. We stayed in a small hotel with free breakfast a short walk to Waikiki Beach, and got around on the local bus service, We took it to Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay, the Polynesian Cultural Center, and to and from the airport. That’s one of the things I loved about Honolulu. The public transit worked so well, and we could have taken a bus all the way around the island if we had the time. I don’t like to drive very much and, like you, I hate to pay for parking, too.

    Now that I’m on the west coast I’m sure I’ll go back to Hawaii one day. I’m not the type of person to just lay on a beach for a week, but a few days of that plus some visits to local nature or cultural sites would make for a relaxing vacation.
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    • Revanche says:

      I always THINK I’d like to lay on the beach for a week but it honestly never happens. Possibly because someone always manages to get sunburned! You’d think we’d remember how to handle living in the sun.

      I wish I knew if I liked cruises, I’ve always been curious but I’m wary about spending a big chunk of money on being bound to a particular route. It’s not as if my other itineraries aren’t commitments too but somehow it seems different with a cruise.

      • Linda says:

        Not trying to divert the topic, but I’ve been on three cruises in my life. #1 was a Carribean cruise way back in the days when ships held about 1000 passengers tops, It was pleasant and so I thought I’d enjoy the Hawaii cruise (#2). But cruise ships now hold a lot more passengers, and I am not into being stuck on a floating hotel with so many people. I don’t enjoy shopping, talking about shopping, planning shopping, and mindlessly eating and drinking. That seems to be what most cruises are about on the big liners.

        BUT cruise #3 was amazing. I did a cruise through the Galapagos islands on a very small ship (only 120 passengers max, and that week there were only 60 of us). It was expensive but truly worth it. Naturalist guides accompanied us at every island and gave talks at night; all activities (such as snorkeling and kayaking) included; good food; and beautiful accommodations. So if you know yourself, you can usually find a cruise that fits you.
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        • Revanche says:

          Not at all, I asked! I’m so glad you enjoyed the Galapagos cruise – I had really hoped we’d be able to do that one day but I’d feel terrible spending all that money for an unenjoyable trip! It does sound more my speed but it’s probably really only worth doing as an adult. Here’s hoping it’s still healthy and visitable in sixteen or twenty years šŸ˜€

  3. We did Hawaii for our honeymoon, and we both loved it. I definitely would like to take Little Bit one day, if only for the snorkeling. It’s a little harder to do it cheaply from the east coast though.

    We had a good experience on one of the cruise boats, but we really enjoy getting up each morning, doing an activity at a new place each day, and then coming back to a home base for a good meal and a show. We did the Norwegian cruise, which is US licensed so we were in a port each day. Great experience for us, especially seeing lava flows at night from the ship.
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    • Revanche says:

      Oh yes, coming from the East Coast I would most definitely be looking for award travel. It would have been too much for us coming from CA, on top of all the other expenses, if I hadn’t managed to plan far in advance.

  4. This sounds awesome! I went to Hawaii last summer and spent a week traveling around the perimeter of Oahu and camping in various locations along the way. The main expenses were the airline tickets and the rental car (plus some camping fees, plus food). It was very possibly the best trip I have ever been on. I imagine that camping with a young toddler would be very challenging, but that’s great that you found another way to cut down on lodging expenses. šŸ™‚

    • Revanche says:

      I think some parents could totally manage camping but I am just not brave enough to try it šŸ˜€ I do love that you did it that way, though, it’s great hearing about other experiences that are possible.

  5. SP says:

    I haven’t been to Hawaii – I think it would be fantastic, but it seems more “in reach” than some other destinations, which makes me delay making it my destination. Not sure if that makes much sense šŸ™‚

    I’m planning our summer vacation on a slew of miles + SPG points, and am getting pretty excited about how much traveling we’ll be able to do for a really low budget.
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    • Revanche says:

      That does make sense. It’s why we don’t do any touristy stuff around here – it feels like it’ll always be there. But since we passed the point of easy farflung travel (JUGGERBABY), I think that’s why it feels more doable for us now.

  6. w00t! My son and his friends left for Hawaii just this very morning! They’re staying on Kauai this time. I think this is the second or third vacation they’ve done there.

    The ex- and I used to go to Maui every now and again. I understand it’s kinda ruined by the inevitable commercialism now — that was 25 years ago. But it was so lovely! If Maui were affordable, I’d retire there.
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    • Revanche says:

      I hope they have a great time! All the islands seem to be so expensive. We’ve visited Maui before but it was definitely not in our reach šŸ™‚

  7. Money Beagle says:

    That’s amazing. Good for you! Just goes to show that what goes around comes around, and that this works for doing good things as well.
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  8. Wow, way to go! I’m going to Hawaii at the end of them onto and felt like a rockstar knocking just $1,000 off the cost!
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