Hacking Hawaii

DSC06577“It’s beautiful, but so expensive!”

More than one friend has told me they were blown away by how much their Hawaiian idyll cost them. They were prepared for hefty airfares, but the daily costs of living are what got them.

Here’s what we did to keep the bills down during a recent trip to Maui:

Used points and miles. Home exchanges, AirBnB and even camping are options to minimize lodging expenses, but we like nice resort hotels with fancy pools. Fortunately, hotel rewards programs typically give you a much better bang for your buck than most airline frequent flyer plans. You typically have to pay a $25 to $30 daily resort fee and you may have to pay for parking, but that’s way less than the usual $350-and-up rack rate. Both resort hotel rooms had refrigerators, which made it easier to:

Eat like a local. There are some wonderful restaurants on Maui…and many that charge a lot for a mediocre meal. We stocked up on breakfast foods, healthy snacks and lunch fixings at a local Safeway, then pestered locals for recommendations to holes-in-the-wall with good food and low prices. The people who work at resorts or who guide adventures are often a wealth of information, since they’re trying to live on not-great salaries in an area with a high cost of living. (Just avoid the concierge desk, since those folks may have incentives to steer you to pricier places.) We booked a few dinners at some Frommers-recommended restaurants that we thoroughly enjoyed, knowing these pricier places were offset by our thriftiness elsewhere.

Eschew resort prices. One of our hotels charged $20 a day to rent a snorkel set. Steps away an independently-run kiosk charged $25 for a week. In Lahaina, a shop charged $9 a week. Activities offered through the resort (parasailing, kayaking, snorkel trips and so on) also had big markups. The convenience simply isn’t worth the cost, in most cases. Booking adventures and excursions directly with the provider online can save you a bunch of cash. A good guidebook can steer you to the best outlets.

Put everybody on an allowance. Our daughter was allowed to bring $100 of her savings to buy souvenirs. I set a daily allowance for our spending as a family, and we stuck pretty close to it (excluding what we spent for Christmas and other gifts). Knowing how much you’ve got to spend makes it easier to say “That’s it for today” when you’ve reached your daily limit, knowing you can schedule pricier excursions, meals or purchases for tomorrow.

Check out farmers markets. We didn’t get a chance to do it this visit, but on previous trips we’ve enjoyed fresh fruits and vegetables at good prices as well as crafts and artwork produced by locals. Maui has farmers markets in several locations.

Enjoy the free stuff. I had a great time watching an evening hula show at an outdoor shopping mall. The performers may not have been as dazzling as the fire dancers at the hotel luau, but they were more authentic (fire dancing is a Samoan, not a Hawaiian, specialty) and lovely to see. In previous trips, we’ve enjoyed free open-air concerts and demonstrations of various crafts. Splashing in the pool, swimming in the ocean and talking long walks through beautiful scenery are always highlights of our trips. You can check the local newspaper and search for “free stuff to do in Hawaii” online for more ideas.