I’m returning to Hawaii in January for my fifth visit, and I’ll be sure to hear about it from envious friends and readers. But when I ask them whether they’ve been to Hawaii, they’ll tell me it’s too far away and too expensive.
Well, it hasn’t gotten any closer. It still requires an eight- or nine-hour flight from the East Coast. But it has gotten cheaper, and I’m going to share some tips on how to enjoy Hawaii at a minimal cost.
Hawaii’s tourism industry is suffering terribly, with 8.2 percent fewer visitors so far this year than last year — which was already off from 2007, the Associated Press reports. And those visitors are staying for shorter periods and spending less.
In response, hotels and resorts have slashed prices. Air fare bargains also have been popping up, though more sporadically. I flew to Honolulu from Bradley in May for $400, round-trip, all taxes and fees included. My husband and I are returning in January for an unbelievable $256 round-trip from Newark.
So, if you think that you might like endless sunshine, beaches, palm trees and a laid-back vibe, now would be a good time to plan your trip to Hawaii. Here are my ideas on how to do it at the lowest possible cost:
– Time it. Plan to go in the next six to 12 months because hotel rates, air fares and other costs will rise when the economy recovers. Look particularly at the slow periods between Thanksgiving and Christmas and in the last three weeks of January for bargains.
– Watch it. Keep an eye on air fares through airfarewatchdog.com or your favorite booking engine or metasearch site. When you see a deal, act quickly. When we got tickets for our January trip, the super-low fare was available only for a day or so, and only from Newark
– Consider award tickets. If you have frequent-flier miles, a trip to Hawaii can be one of the best deals you can get with them. You must be flexible, however, as award seats can be scarce. Instead of checking to see whether seats are available when you want to go, try wanting to go when seats are available.
– Shop hard for a hotel. I recommend booking a hotel well in advance at a refundable rate. Check the hotel’s Web site frequently and if you see a lower rate, cancel and rebook. If you like four-star hotels and fancy resorts, wait until about a week before departure and start bidding on Priceline or booking through Hotwire‘s opaque search engine. Beach resorts have been going for less than $100 a night through these services.
– Consider Honolulu. The capital of Hawaii is the most livable city of more than 1 million people that I have ever seen. It has pleasant beaches, great nightlife and a relaxed feel. Oahu’s public bus system is excellent, and will even take you on a 45-minute ride to the magnificent snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, saving you the cost of renting a car. And if you stay on Oahu, you don’t have to buy interisland flights.
– Consider a condominium rental. Many people keep condominiums as second homes in Hawaii and rent them out to visitors. The can be excellent bargains, particularly for families or larger groups. Some condo owners advertise discounts on Craig’s List, though I’m more comfortable if they also have listings with an established site such as vrbo.com.
– Educate yourself. Visit the excellent Beat of Hawaii blog to learn about deals, destinations and insider details.