Once upon a time, I really had to stretch our budget in order to take even an ok family vacation. We were busting our butts working with 2 kids in high school looking at college in the midst of a crap economy. The struggle was real.
We did it though. And I always found a way to spin straw into gold. A skill I still hold on to now even thought the kids are gone and our budget is in way better shape. Now, that mindset is just ingrained in me to save money on the big costs (air/hotels/car rentals) whenever we travel. So where it was once a necessary skill, now it is a fun an exciting hobby for me. I don’t do it for every trip we take, but I do like to plan one or two Budget trips a year, just to flex my skills a bit.
Thank you to all of the travel bloggers like Joe and Sharon at Your Mileage May Vary for constantly teaching me new ways to get the most bang for my buck. The money I save on travel costs, lets me travel better and more frequently. With current inflation, budget travel skills are good to have. That’s why I challenged myself to plan our fall trip to Hawaii as over the top as I can for the least amount of money possible. So lets get Boujee on a Budget!
Budget Trip Hawaii 2022
In 2019 I planned our first 6 day budget trip to Oahu with travel costs coming in under $1500 and it was a fantastic trip. The goal for our trip this year is 2 islands and 7 nights for $1500 or less. Game On!
When I planned our 2019 trip, Southwest had just started flying to Hawaii and I happened to have a Companion Pass. I was able to book my flights with points and my husband flew for free. Our total out of pocket for airfare was around $50 for taxes and fees. No companion pass this time around, but I do have a ton of flight credits, some gift cards and a pile of points. I took advantage of a lot of short term promotions during the pandemic that allowed me to beef up my points stash for several loyalty programs, including Southwest.
Flying Southwest to Hawaii from Michigan is a bit challenging. They don’t offer connecting flights, so I have to line up and book 4 separate flight segments in order to make it work. But that does give me the freedom to book each of those segments how and when I want. That means that I was able to book 2 segments for both of us completely with points. For one segment I rolled the flight credit from our Texas trip that we recently had to cancel over to cover the entire amount. For the last segment, I applied miscellaneous other flight credits and gift cards and then paid the remainder using my Southwest Rapid Rewards card. All in $565 for 2 people round trip including one interisland flight.
When booking with Southwest, I take advantage of their frequent flight sales to grab the lowest rates possible. But don’t stop there. Every time I see a sale, I check the price for each segment to see if it is available at a lower price. If it is significantly lower, I have the flight repriced. Originally I had booked one of the segments for 18,253 points per person. Later I found the same flight for 9,458 points per person which is nearly 1/2 the amount. Yes, that meant that I had to call Southwest (with a long hold time) to have them reprice the flight but it was so worth it. FYI their Customer Service Reps are always the nicest. She repriced our flights, redeposited the points and I was able to keep my attached Early Bird Check In. I used the refunded points to book the last interisland segment of our trip. The moral of the story, is keep an eye on your reservation for price drops after you book. Even if you just get a flight credit, as I often do, they no longer expire and you can just use them toward the next trip.
Now let’s talk about those Early Bird Check In fees. I get travel day anxiety. Yep, twitchy until I am on the plane. Several years ago on our first Southwest flight, we had a crappy boarding position and didn’t get to sit together. It was awful! Never again for me, so I pay the fee to board early and sit together. I don’t like to pay fees, so I offset the cost by using travel credits from credit cards. I used the $100 annual airline fee credit from one of my credit cards for part of our EB fees and took advantage of the 2 EB’s per year that come with my Rapid Rewards Card. My out of pocket (part of the total air costs I listed above) was $20 for the whole lot. You could also use a Pay Yourself Back Feature to wipe them out.
Another way I saved money on these flights was not being set on one specific airport when connecting in California. So on the way over, we found cheaper flights through San Jose, but on the way back Oakland was the best deal. Since flying over we would have just a few hour layover between flights it didn’t matter to us what airport it was at.
We knew from the start that we wanted to stay at the Hyatt Centric in Waikiki again this trip and that they have a 5 night minimum to book with points. We absolutely love this hotel but they make it really hard to book reward stays. The hotel is newer, modern with a ton of included amenities and is very walkable to other Waikiki locations. Although you can book an average room for a very affordable rate of $270 per night, by the time they add on 3 levels of taxes and resort fees the price is nearly double that. We save $2,700 by booking this hotel as a reward stay because it means not only don’t we pay the room rate, we also don’t pay any of those taxes and fees. That’s huge.
When searching for our flights, I discovered that some of them were cheaper flying into Maui. I decide that meant a great opportunity for us to explore that Island for a few days before heading over to Oahu. Since we knew we had to spend 5 nights on Oahu, that left 2 nights for Maui. I immediately started looking for the best Hilton property on the island. Why? My husband had a Hilton Free Weekend Reward Night certificate (good at any rate) that needed to be used. I found the Waldorf Astoria Grand Wailea that costs about $1,200 per night. Because booking most reward nights at this hotel requires nearly 400,000 points, it didn’t look like we would have enough points for the second night. Fortunately a few days later I found a pop up rate for 110,000 points that worked. I didn’t waste any time booking while this rate was available. With taxes and fees we are saving $2,800 on our 2 night stay.
That means we will save $5,500 on our hotels costs and we will definitely not be slumming it!
Resort Fees….Sigh. What a scam. One thing we learned on our last trip to Hawaii though, is that you are still eligible for any items included in the resort fee even if you are booking a reward stay where the cost is waived. Here is what you get with the $33 per night (for paid stays) Resort Fee at the Hyatt Centric:
- GoPro Rental (Reservations Required)
- Beach Chairs
- Beach Umbrellas
- Boogie Boards Beach Umbrellas
- Boogie Boards
- Sunscreen & After Sun Aloe Gel
- 2 Reusable Water Bottles
- Water Filtration Stations on 19th, 7th, and Lobby Floors
- Unlimited Local & Long Distance Calling (int’l fees apply)
- Premium Wifi Access
- Chromecast service for in-room television viewing
- Exclusive discounts at the Activity Concierge Desk
- International Market Place (Shopping Center) Passport Discount Booklet
- One time Hui Car Share Discount Coupon (Hui Mobile App Required)
- Betta Fish Buddies
- Morning Yoga (Twice a week)
- Lei Making (Once a week)
Always take a minute to read through the amenities when you are staying at a hotel that charges a Resort Fee. Although some of this stuff is pure crap (betta fish buddies??), there are some useful things in there as well. During our last stay at this Hyatt Centric we constanly utilized the reusable water bottles (until my husband lost his..eyeroll). On a day when we went to the beach, we grabbed beach chairs, towels and a boogie board to take with us. The chairs had straps so you wear them like a back pack. A lot of hotels charge for those items. We also used the sunscreen that was available in huge pump bottles located at the rooftop pool.
Two Islands means 2 separate car rentals, and car rental prices have been ridiculous since the pandemic started. For this trip we definitely need a car rental on Maui to travel to and from our hotel which is about a 30 minute drive from the airport. I chose to keep the car later on our return day so that we could explore longer before hopping on our interisland flight to Oahu. That meant paying about $30 more that I had originally budgeted. In the end I decided that the added cost was worth it. I had a little over $400 credit from cancelling our prepaid car rental to TX to use and was able to book our car in Maui for $250 through Autoslash. Because car rental rates change frequently, I added their rate tracker to the reservation. Less than a week later I was alerted of a better rate and was easily able to rebook for $225 which saved me almost the extra amount I spent.
Initially we weren’t sure if we would book a car on Oahu or not because hotel parking is high and there are so many cheaper options for getting around. But since we still had a $175 left of our refund credit, we decided to book for a few days so that we could spend some time at the North Shore. I arranged the reservation so that we would pick up the car mid stay and return it at the airport when we fly home. The 2 day rental came in at $206.
The 2 rentals currently total $431 which meant just $31 out of pocket after applying our $400 credit. I have left the Autoslash rate trackers on both reservations so there is still time for the rates to drop again. Who knows, I may fit it into the $400 budget for this trip before it’s all said and done.
With car rentals, come parking fees. No way to avoid it, so I had to budget in 2 nights at each hotel. A hefty $65 per night at the Waldorf Astoria Grand Wailea and either $42 for Self Parking or $50 for Valet at the Hyatt. Ugh! But it’s really a small price to pay when you think about how much I saved on the rooms!
Other Money saving travel day hacks:
- If you have an airport lounge membership, use it to grab a snack there between flights instead of the other pricey airport food options. I estimate each time we do this it is a $50 savings for the 2 of us.
- If you have an overnight layover, book a hotel that has a free airport shuttle and includes breakfast. Save $20-$40 for 2 on breakfast plus a cab, Uber or car rental.
- Take a few small snacks like granola bars or packages of nuts in case you get hangry on long travel days.
- Travel with an empty refillable water bottle that you can fill after going through Security Checkpoints. This saves you on bottled water while you are waiting, keeps you hydrated and is better for the environment.
- Do you really need a car rental or can you get by without one. We love to walk while exploring. In resort areas parking fees at hotels can be ridiculously high. Also consider public transportation. Another option is to book a car for 1-2 days instead of the entire time. You save on rental costs and parking. For our Budget Friendly Stay in Key West this year, our hotel had a free shuttle into town that ran hourly. By using this shuttle and their free airport shuttle, we got by without a car saving us $348.
- Savings can also be found at the Concierge or Valet Desk. On our last stay at the Hyatt, the Valet was able to call for a Flat Fee Taxi to take us to the airport. It was $29 vs the $36 we paid for the one we grabbed ourselves on the way there. Remembering this, we also used the Concierge in Key West to call a Taxi for us there one night. Sometimes they get a better deal. Some hotels also offer discounted tours through their Concierge Desk. Last trip to Hawaii, while booking a day trip to Pearl Harbor, we were also able to snag a last minute bonus sale on a sunset catamaran booze cruise for later that night.
- Utilize offers on your credit card that could provide you with travel savings. American Express puts some nice travel discount offers out there on a regular basis. Other credit card websites may also offer you discounts on attractions.
- Check for discounts through work. I saved a bunch in San Francisco by taking advantage of a deal from Tickets at Work for our Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour. They also have discount codes for Car Rental companies, Airport Parking and a few other travel related items. It’s worth looking into.
- Utilize Pay Yourself Back or Purchase Eraser features on your credit card to cover little costs like Taxi Rides or Airport Fees.
- Use a AAA discount. With a basic membership you get emergency roadside assistance, access to a travel agent, free maps and tour books. You can also save on everything from passport photos, trip insurance, tour and attraction discounts, and my favorite a discount on airport parking.
Lets Add it All Up
Because I am an Analyst by nature, I always keep a spreadsheet for every trip I plan. It helps me track reservations, travel times, activities and costs. When I total up Everything we have spent for Airfare, Early Bird Fees, Hotels, Parking and Car Rentals so far we are all in at $858. Although I do still have one hotel to book for our overnight layover in California on the way back (still determining my best move) it won’t be more than $200, so we are well under our $1500 goal!
Breaking News>>>>> After posting this I received notifications from Autoslash which allowed me to rebook both of our car rentals for $170 each. That reduction along with repricing another Southwest flight segment (never stop watching prices) dropped our travel costs (hotels, flights, car rentals and parking) to under $500!
So the gist of my examples here is that you can travel well without breaking the bank. It might take a little more time and planning to find the right deals, earn points for the right loyalty programs or make the travel arrangements, but in the end it’s so worth it. Less money spent on Travel Costs equals more left for Mai Tais, Luau’s and Hula Pie!
Dream, Plan, Save, Adventure!