Hawaii is a dream destination, but surprisingly still not very well publicized in France. So when we started our research last summer, we spent many hours on essentially American sites to gather all the information we needed to plan our stay. We also had to take a few casts when booking our accommodations or calculating our budget because of information we didn't have.
In this article, we have put together all the tips we can give you to help you prepare for your trip to the Hawaii archipelago.
Estimate the length of his trip to Hawaii
Understanding the Geography and Interest of a trip to Hawaii
Contrary to popular belief, Hawaii is not just a holiday destination in the sun. Although the heavenly side of its beaches is widely highlighted, Hawaii is also an archipelago of volcanic islands with sumptuous tropical landscapes and impressive volcanoes. On Big Island, 13 of the world's 15 climate types exist!
So, it is impossible to go to Hawaii without taking the time to discover the interior and the exceptional attractions of each island. Yes, because Hawaii is an archipelago composed of 19 islands and atolls! The north-western part of the archipelago called "Leeward Islands" consists of protected and uninhabited islets, which are rarely visited. The main part of Hawaii, the "Windward Islands", is composed of 8 "large" islands located southeast of the archipelago. These are the ones we're going to be interested in.
On these 8 islands, Ni'ihau (located southwest of Kauai) is private with controlled access and Kahoolawe, a small island south of Maui, has been bombed intensively since World War II, making its access restricted to facilitate its ecological restoration.
There are still 6 main islands to be discovered, each with its own peculiarities and interests.
Plan enough time to enjoy each island properly
Given the diversity of landscapes to be discovered during a trip to Hawaii and the geographical remoteness, it is important to plan your trip properly so as not to come back disappointed. It is generally recommended to spend 1 week per island, but to avoid the generalities, we will take a closer look at each of them.
It should be noted that the durations we recommend have been estimated based on our 3-week experience in the archipelago in April 2017.
O'ahu is the best known island because it is the most populated. It is also very well publicized in TV series, which means that many people still think that Hawaii is only the island of O'ahu!
O'ahu is an essential stopover in Hawaii for all those who want to discover the lively atmosphere of Honolulu and its famous Waikiki beach, or to immerse themselves in history by visiting the former military base of Pearl Harbor. The island is not very large, but its relief offers a beautiful diversity. O'ahu has a large number of points of interest, including impressive hikes, beautiful beaches and interesting cultural sites. It is a pleasant island, but it is far from the most touristic island! Attractions located near Honolulu are mostly paid and often very popular.
If you want to discover the island as a whole, a minimum of 5 days seems essential to have the time to enjoy its various attractions and do some hikes. If, on the other hand, you only want to make a quick stop to get an idea of life on O'ahu and make only the unavoidable ones, 3 days can be enough.
Big Island, also known as Hawaii Island, is the largest island in the archipelago with 120 km wide and 150 km long. It is therefore only logical that we should plan for the longest time at Big Island because the distances are longer. Big Island has a number of attractions, including exceptional climatic diversity. On the island's 10,000 km2,13 of the 15 climates exist on Earth! Big Island is home to two huge volcanoes, the Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, both of which rise to more than 4100 metres above sea level!
To discover Big Island is also to go and admire the almost daily lava flows of Kīlauea, at the Volcanoes National Park. Big Island also has beautiful beaches with shades ranging from black to yellow, green and famous snorkelling spots where you can swim among turtles, dolphins and other Mantas rays.
To discover Big Island as a whole, we recommend that you ideally stay there for 10 to 12 days in order to have time to travel the island at your own pace. On average, count 3 days in the Kona area, 2 days around the Volcanoes National Park, 1 day if you want to go up to Mauna Kea, 1 day for the north of the island and 2 days around Hilo, without including travel times.
Kauai is a fairly small, almost round island of 40 by 50 km, located northwest of the Hawaii archipelago. Kauai is a wild paradise where nature lovers will be delighted. Although the island is small, it is full of incredible landscapes such as the superb Nā Pali Coast or the majestic Waimea Canyon, not forgetting waterfalls by the dozens, beautiful hidden beaches and a very luxuriant nature.
Also known as the Garden Island, Kauai is reputed to be the most beautiful island of Hawaii and its reputation is the height of what awaits you on the spot! Kauai is also a quiet island, where it is possible to find yourself alone on a beach even in the middle of summer. A real change of scenery!
The best way to discover Kauai is walking because the rugged and steep terrain does not allow the roads to venture. The landscapes of Kauai have been made famous because they are used for the shooting of many films, including the Jurassic Park saga. If you are fond of hiking, nature, or even solitude, Kauai is the island not to be missed under any pretext!
With the multitude of trails and places to discover, we recommend that you stay at least 7 days on the island, see much more if you want to hike and discover it from every angle. As the island is small, we recommend that you only take one place of accommodation and travel around the island according to your wishes and weather conditions.
Maui is the second largest island in the archipelago after Big Island. It is famous for its beautiful beaches, its big volcano, the Haleakalā, which rises to 3000 meters and offers an exceptional lunar landscape, as well as the Hāna Highway, a superb 100 km route through the island that crosses a humid jungle dotted with waterfalls. Maui also allows you to take a trip to the famous little island of Molokini, famous for its sea-bed and thousands of fish, or simply relax on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, admiring the most beautiful sunsets in the world!
As you will have understood, Maui offers a wide variety of landscapes and will satisfy travellers looking for a destination that combines relaxation and adventure! Nevertheless Maui is also the most expensive island in the archipelago and is relatively touristic.
A stay of at least 5 to 6 days will allow you to discover all the main points of interest of Maui, which you can extend by a few days to fully enjoy the multitude of fine sandy beaches along the west coast of the island.
Molokai is located west of Maui. This still wild island is not very popular because its inhabitants defend it against mass tourism which they accuse of distorting the other islands of the archipelago. As a result, you will not find much accommodation in Molokai (and therefore expensive) and expect not to be welcome on the island. But past these obstacles, you will discover a peaceful and wild island, bordered by a beautiful coral reef to the south, paradise for snorkelling and huge impressive cliffs to the north.
It can be interesting to spend 2 to 3 days on Molokai to discover this other facet of the Hawaiian archipelago. You can reach it from Maui by plane or ferry.
Lanai is a relatively little touristic island with only one city: Lanai city. The island was bought by an American billionaire at 98%. Lanai still has a very wild side and almost all the roads are trails accessible only by 4x4, which makes it obligatory to rent a 4x4 to discover the island.
If you want to venture into Lanai, you will have to either take a round trip from Maui during the day, or stay with the locals or in one of the 3 hotels on the island, but be careful, prices are very high.
Distribute your journey between the different islands wisely
All in all, if you want to discover the Hawaii archipelago as a whole, you will have to leave for at least 1 month because there are so many curiosities to see on each island, while knowing that the inter-island transfers you will have to spend half a day each time. On a shorter stay, you will unfortunately have to make concessions. There is still the choice of eliminating one or more islands to take full advantage of the ones you discover, or devoting less time to each island but in return you will concentrate only on the main tourist sites. Again, don't forget the time needed for transfers because with short stays on each island, you may not spend much time on the spot to really enjoy it.
Fly to Hawaii: book your plane ticket
How much for my plane ticket to Hawaii and when should I book?
When you think of Hawaii, you can imagine the cost of huge flights. But rest assured, if you look carefully, it is possible to go to Hawaii without breaking your piggy bank completely. On average, for a flight booked more than 6 months in advance except July and August, it is necessary to count in 900€ from France. But on certain occasions, it is possible to find lower prices.
For example, we have benefited from a price reduction to reserve our tickets. In mid-August 2016, British Airways launched a promotional campaign for several weeks during which ticket prices were around 720€ from Toulouse for a trip between February and April, all with very good connecting times.
On rare occasions, a few times a year, companies can break prices. At the end of 2016, we saw an exceptional offer at 550€ from France, but beware, such offers never last very long.
Update of 21/11/2017: If you are lucky, it is possible to find even cheaper tickets! We have observed several times tickets at 400€ from Amsterdam, Canada or USA.
To help you find the best prices for your flights, we recommend that you use alerts from sites such as Skyscanner or Algofly when choosing your selection criteria. This method also works for domestic flights.
In summary, look at prices a little more than 6 months in advance to benefit from advantageous fares especially if you travel during school holidays. Be on the lookout for exceptional offers that may fall at any time.
Tip: Think about multi-destination flights
You will most likely have to take one or more domestic flights during your stay in Hawaii. The first thing to know is that you can count on multi-destination flights to save a domestic flight such as arriving in the archipelago in Honolulu sur Oahu and leaving from Kona on Big Island.
Don't do what we do and think about it when booking your long haul journeys (we always regret not having thought of it before). Moreover, in the vast majority of cases, multi-destination flights are no more expensive than a regular return flight. And then, a 4-hour connection avoided and more than $100 saved!
Optimize domestic flights
To discover the different islands of the archipelago, you will have to travel by air. In recent years, the ferries that operated inter-island connections have stopped their daily rotations. From now on, the only way to travel from island to island is by plane, with one exception: there is still a ferry between Maui and Molokai, and Maui and Lanai.. But the plane will also allow you to make these connections.
When to buy your ticket?
There is little chance that domestic prices will drop at the last minute. Generally they have a call price and tend to move upwards. We therefore advise you to book your tickets in advance, but ideally 3 months before your departure.
Local flight schedules and connections are known 3 to 6 months in advance. Booking too early could cause you to miss an opportunity with another airline that has not yet posted its flights.
In our case, we booked our domestic flights a few days after our long-haul flights, 7 months before our departure, so potentially too early. Today, almost a month before we flew away, we checked the prices. Our flights have climbed a lot to double what we paid for, but other flights have appeared on other airlines with sometimes advantageous schedules at almost similar prices. As a result, we could have booked now without seeing our bill explode, but only if we were more flexible in our schedules.
Book your domestic flights ideally 3 months before your departure, but keep an eye on prices as soon as you have purchased your long-haul flights.
Which company to choose?
2 airlines operate inter-island routes in Hawaii: Hawaiian Airlines and Mokulele Airlines . Island Air stopped its flights in November 2017. Hawaiian Airlines is a classic regular airlines, while Mokulele Airlines offers flights on small propeller aircraft boarding a small dedicated terminal, often on the tarmac, in a "free style"mode. The advantage is that the time spent on the transfer is reduced, with the need to arrive only 1 hour before the flight, whereas for Hawaiian Airlines, it is advisable to arrive 2 hours before departure, except for Honolulu for which 1h30 is sufficient. However, it is more likely that a flight will be delayed or cancelled with Mokulele Airlines.
How much does it cost to travel between islands?
Be careful, don't neglect this expense item which can be very heavy if you plan to discover several islands. Domestic fares vary according to the type of journey. Here are the prices (taxes included) that we have obtained for our flights, knowing that they are in the low average (price for 1 adult):
- Honolulu (Oahu) - Lihue (Kauai): 65$
- Lihue (Kauai) - Kona (Big Island): 110$
- Kona (Big Island) - Kahului (Maui): 115$
- Kahului (Maui) - Honolulu (Oahu): 63$
Count between $60 and $150 for each domestic flight, knowing that at this price, you will have to add the cost of your checked baggage if you have some (see below).
To obtain the best prices, we advise you to book your flights directly on the airline's website.
Attention to the billing of checked luggage
You will always have to pay a surcharge if you check in checked baggage on your domestic flights, regardless of which airline you choose (which is usually the case in the United States).
Fees will be payable at check-in (you will not be able to pay them online at the same time as your tickets). You will have the right to take a cabin baggage with you on the plane.
However, it should be noted that some airlines (as was the case with Hawaiian Airlines) generally allow 2 bags per person in the cabin: a carry-on bag to be placed in the luggage compartments, as well as a so-called "personal belongings bag" whose size must be smaller than that of the carry-on bag. So you can board the plane with a trolley suitcase and a large backpack. Be sure to check your company's carry-on baggage policy before boarding with both bags.
If you choose to travel with Hawaiian Airlines, you will be able to benefit from a discount on your checked baggage if you consider purchasing the airline's loyalty card before your departure. The card is free.
Here is the list of prices for checked baggage:
- With the loyalty card: $ 15 if a bag, $ 20 for the second bag.
- Without the loyalty card: $ 25 if a bag, $ 35 for the second bag.
- $ 20 if a bag, $ 25 for the 2nd bag. No reduction possible.
Lodging in Hawaiian islands
How much to pay for lodging in Hawaii?
On the accommodation side, expect relatively high prices compared to the rest of the USA. Your accommodation budget will be more or less substantial depending on the comfort you are looking for.
For a stay at the hotel
The price of hotels varies according to the islands. For a classic unpretentious stay, hotel type 2 stars (sometimes without air conditioning), prices start at about 80$ per night on Big Island, the cheapest island, followed by Kauai (from 85$ per night) and climb to Oahu and Maui where it will be difficult to lodge at less than 115$-125$ without going through another type of accommodation. On Molokai you will have to get your hands on the wallet because prices start at $190 and on Lanai, the choice will be made quickly because you will only have one affordable hotel (Hotel Lana' i) that starts at $200 per room.
More generally, for one night (double room) in 2 or 3 stars, count $105 on Big Island, $125 on Kauai, $135 on Honolulu (where you will most likely have to add parking fees), $160 on Maui, $210 on Molokai and Lanai.
For a luxury stay, like honeymoon, prices can explode because in Hawaii, luxury is expensive. For hotels of 4 stars and more, prices start from 210$ per night for the cheapest, without forgetting to add taxes to be paid on the spot. In some very upscale establishments, prices go up to over $1000 per night! You have been warned.
Youth hostels and AirB&B
If you have a smaller budget or travel on your own, you can push the door of youth hostels that are rather welcoming, but still relatively expensive (between $30 and $42) for one person. Note that there are relatively few on each island. Some hostels also organize excursions in small groups, which can be very pleasant for solo travellers. Here are some of the youth hostels in Hawaii.
On the AirB&B side, it is hardly more advantageous because the prices charged in the archipelago remain rather expensive (it is always necessary to pay the cleaning costs). Prices start at 55$ for a 2 person room on Big Island to which you must add the service fee of 15% per night. On the other hand, this can be profitable for stays of several days (3 days and more).
On average, count $75 for a night at 2 in a youth hostel and $85 per all-inclusive night with AirB&B. Note that prices will be higher on Maui, Molokai and Lanai.
The camping solution
For the tight budgets, you can opt for camping. Count between $3 and $10 per night per adult. Permission to camp will require a permit, knowing that each island has its own regulations. Permit applications must be made in advance via forms.
Tip: Thinking about renting a condo
A condo or condominium is a condominium apartment. In Hawaii, many Americans have bought small apartments to spend a few weeks of vacation in Hawaii during the year or in anticipation of retirement. The rest of the time, they usually rent their apartments on a weekly basis, or sometimes for shorter periods.
A large part of the condos in Hawaii are managed by rental agencies or are directly integrated into large rental resorts, but some of them remain under the management of their owners. It is often on the latter that it will be possible to obtain the best prices.
For example, we paid less for the rental of a condo in Maui just 50 meters from the Pacific Ocean, than a 2-star hotel room in the middle of town!
Condos are an excellent alternative to hotels or Air B&B. Renting a condo can be very interesting from 3 days and even more if you stay longer or with your family. Below 3 nights, it is quite unlikely that you will be rented and the end of stay cleaning fees will not be advantageous. You will be able to find many rentals on booking sites, such as, VRBO, HomeAway or Booking.com.
You should find your happiness in the wide variety of condos on offer, from a small studio apartment with a garden view to a superb luxury apartment facing the ocean. Most condos have a lanai, a kind of small balcony equipped with a table and generally 2 chairs.
The advantage of a condo is that you will almost always have a small kitchen, or at least a fridge and microwave. This way you can cook at home and lower your budget. Most condominiums also have a swimming pool and a small Jacuzzi, as well as barbecues to cook fish and meat outside (this is very common in Hawaii). In most cases, a parking space is allocated with the rental.
On the equipment side, some owners sometimes leave beach equipment available! Finally, the vast majority of apartments/condos are quite comfortable, often more than just a hotel room.
A deposit will be systematically requested upon arrival, see a few days in advance. It will be returned at the end of the rental period if nothing has been damaged. Housekeeping charges will also apply, even for short stays. In spite of this, renting a condo is often much more advantageous than renting a hotel of the same category.
Attention: Do not forget to add taxes and other fees
In France, we are not used to taxes, tips and other additional costs. Please be very careful before giving your credit card number, as there may be additional charges that you have not seen.
Taxes not always very visible
If you make your reservations or research on American sites, it is important to know that all the advertised prices are exclusive of tax. And often the taxes are calculated only at the end of the transaction or indicated in small numbers at the bottom of the page, even accessible only by clicking on a link!
All state taxes for hotels are composed of the GET (General Excise Tax for non-Hawaiian owners) and the TAT (Transient Accommodation Tax). Look for these famous taxes whose rates vary according to the island. In 2018, it was globally (GET + TAT) of the order of 14.416% on Maui, Kauai and Big Island and 14.962% on Oahu, with an increase of 1% effective January 1,2018.
Beware of resort fees
In addition to taxes, the price of your accommodation could be inflated by resort fees, which are set at the discretion of each establishment, often claiming fees for the use of common areas (computers, swimming pools, gym, etc.). Some hotels do not have one, others do, and they usually accumulate according to the number of days spent there. In some establishments, resort fees can rise up to 20% of the overall rating! And often, they are only indicated in very small or at the end of the reservation. Please note that these fees are to be paid directly to the hotel. For example it is indicated for a hotel at $126 per night:"This hotel charges guests a resort fee of $18.75 per room per night" (this hotel charges guests a tax of $18.75 per room and per night).
We take the case of 3 hotels located on Hotwire for a stay of 7 nights. The first is shown at $101 per night, the second at $103 and the third at $126 per night. Logic would have it that the cheapest hotel would be the first. For each one we push the reservation to the end.
Hotel 1 :
- $ 101.00 per night x 7 nights: $ 707.00
- Tax recovery charges + fees: $ 171.71
- Resort fee due at hotel: $ 77.00
- Total: $955.71 or $ 136 /night
Hotel 2 :
- $ 103.00 per night x 7 nights: $ 721.00
- Tax recovery charges + fees: $ 180.95
- Total: $901.95 or $ 128 /night
Hotel 3 :
- $ 126.00 per night x 7 nights : $882.00
- Tax recovery charges + fees: $215.62
- Resort fee due at hotel: $131.25
- Total: $1,228.87 or $ 175 /night!
Hotel number 2 is finally the cheapest 8$ per night whereas at the base it cost 2$ more. As for the third hotel, the bill explodes, going from $126 a night to $175! That's almost 40% more than the price indicated!!
Do not forget parking fees
If you have a vehicle, don't forget the parking fees! Indeed, if you have to stay in the big cities or in large resorts, there is a good chance that the parking lot will not be included in the service.
To save you the trouble of turning around to find a place, you will have to pay parking fees that are usually in the order of $20 to $30 per day excluding taxes! Sometimes service by valet will even be mandatory to park your vehicle (and therefore more expensive!). During a long stay, the extra cost of parking is not to be taken lightly.
Tip: book hotels in advance with free cancellation
Hawaii is a popular destination, especially for Americans and Japanese. It is therefore advisable to book your accommodation as soon as possible in order to obtain better prices. Early bookings are often advantageous and offer good prices. But booking well in advance also means depriving yourself of a good opportunity that could appear along the way. That's why we recommend that you book your reservations with free cancellation in case good news arrives before D-day.
For example, we noticed a drop in our hotel rates on Kauai 3 months after we made our reservation. Neither one nor two, we cancelled our 7 nights free of charge and then made a new reservation. In the end, 150€ more in our pocket!
As you approach your departure, don't hesitate to scan the offers for possible last-minute promotions. Even if this practice is not very frequent in the archipelago, it is better to try your luck!
Car Rentals in Hawaii: find the best deals
Select a local reservation center
In the vast majority of cases, it will be much cheaper to book a car through a reservation centre than directly with the rental company. Thus, after much research, we did not find cheaper than Discount USA Car Rental, which was originally "Discount Hawaii Car Rental", one of the first Hawaiian reservation centres founded 17 years ago, and therefore with a strong network in the archipelago. The sign was subsequently extended throughout the territory.
Discount USA Car Rental has the advantage of offering very favourable rates in Hawaii and allows you to book without a deposit. It is this last advantage that seduced us, because it gave us the possibility to cancel one of our reservations in order to realize a new one, following a price decrease (as for the airplanes, the prices of the cars fluctuate also). As an intermediary, the rental company is known in advance, from the search page, which also makes it possible to know who we will go to.
In the end, we made all our reservations at Discount USA Car Rental (5 times) and never had any surprises once we arrived at the car rental office. All our cars were waiting for us. We had to contact the customer service department because of an error in the email of one of our reservations and the support was very fast.
Finally, you can also look at Rentalcars.com, which is also very well positioned in terms of prices throughout the United States and which joined Booking.com in early 2018.
Attention to insurance
Please know that our insurance policies don't work in Hawaii! Apart from Gold cards, which will cover damage (except for accidents on the slopes), you will never be covered for civil liability in the event of a responsible accident.
You may decline this insurance (and therefore take the risk), but in most cases, you will be asked to take this insurance very strongly. Allow approximately $20/day for liability. If you rent your vehicle from a French website, the insurance (damage and civil liability) will automatically be included.
Last but not least, you will NEVER be covered on the slopes, even with your Gold card.
If you want to take a 4x4 and be insured, you will have to rent it from a specialized rental company, (like Harper on Big Island), but the bill is more salty right now! Otherwise, you can take the risk of riding on tracks with your rental car... but keep in mind that you won't be covered in case of a glitch.
Try combos offers "hotel + car rental"
You will find very interesting offers by booking your hotel and vehicle at the same time on a reservation centre. The prices are thus reduced and will allow you to save a little on your stay. The disadvantage of this formula is that to enjoy it, you will have to stay in the same place for the duration of your stay on an island.
Tip: Sometimes, going beyond a few hours does not change the price of the rental
Here is a strange observation we have made. In France, we are used to being increased by one full day for any additional hour, thus limiting rental periods to similar start and end times. But this is not always the case in the USA.
For example, for our reservation in Lihue with a pick-up of our car at 11pm, it was no more expensive for us to return it at 7am in the morning than at 11pm the day before the last day.
Pretty advantageous to avoid the hassle of transfers to the airport! So it's worth trying to make sure of the proposed rate, even if it won't necessarily work in all cases.