If you are anything like me, then you have probably wondered which of the Hawaiian islands is the least expensive.
The answer is Oahu…
Like many people, I always thought a budget-friendly vacation to Hawaii was nearly impossible. After all, when you think of Hawaii you probably think of a tropical luxury paradise…right?
I recently went to Hawaii and I am here to tell you that not all of Hawaii is expensive. There are so many free things to do such as visiting a black sand beach, kayaking, or going to some of the best botanical gardens in Oahu.
Oahu has many options when it comes to activities, lodging, and attractions which makes it cost-effective compared to the other islands.
A trip to Hawaii can be just as rewarding without the need to spend thousands of dollars.
There are so many tips and tricks on saving money – whether it’s through airfare, hotels, or activities, there is always an opportunity somewhere to save. Travel hacking is how a lot of us afford to travel in 2021.
Keep reading this post to learn how you can save money and afford a trip to Hawaii as well.
How To Save Money Vacationing in Oahu
Flying to Oahu: The cheapest Way to get there
In most cases, the cost of getting to the destination will be the biggest expense of your trip.
I put off going to Hawaii for a long time due to the high cost of airfare from the east coast of the United States. Little did I know that there were some tricks on how I could get there without breaking the bank.
Here are some of my tips on saving money on airfare….
Be flexible about your travel dates
I did not have a set date for my trip. Thanks to the work from home (WFH) movement, I was able to work remotely while in Hawaii.
This allowed me to pick the cheapest day to travel based on what was available at the time of my search.
I always start off my search with google flights to see when the cheapest day to travel is. After I decide on the day, I then check various websites including the airline’s directly to make sure I am getting the best pricing available.
One other trick I learned was to book my tickets separately. This might not work all the time, but it has worked for me on multiple occasions.
I flew from ATL to LAX for about ($135) and bought a separate ticket from LAX to HNL for another ($135) bringing the total cost of my trip to ($270) one way.
I ended up using my Chase travel points and the total cost came out to a whopping $0 out of pocket. That same route would have cost me $420 dollars one way if I hadn’t booked the tickets separately.
I also could have found or paid a cheaper price if I was willing to fly with a different airline, but I wanted to travel with Delta because, well, I love Delta – I am based in Atlanta, GA and they have many options here.
Lodging in Oahu: Cheapest way to vacation on the island
Outside of the cost of airfare, accommodation will be where you spend most of your money. Compared to a lot of places in the world, Hawaii is generally not cheap.
If you are looking for a budget-friendly vacation in Hawaii, I strongly recommend that you look into vacation rentals such as Airbnb and VRBO. I am a huge fan of Airbnb and I usually stay in Airbnb’s while on vacation as it helps me save more money.
I love the luxury of being able to make my own breakfast before I head out or being able to make dinner for days that I do not feel like going out.
I usually spend a minimum of 3 weeks while on vacation so eating out gets old quickly and can get very expensive.
Here are some photos of the Airbnb we stayed in while in Oahu. On average, I spent about $75 a night for the 2 Airbnbs in Waikiki. Here is another Airbnb we stayed in for 5 nights (pictures below). Please note that the pricing might be more or less depending on the time of the year you go.
The pricing I got was very good given the fact that they were so close to Waikiki and the views were amazing in both places.
They are both high-rise condos and had a pool which was a win for days when I just wanted to relax and not do much. Again, I strongly recommend Airbnb.
Hotels in Oahu
If you absolutely have to stay in a hotel there are still a lot of great affordable options. You’ll likely have to book these in advance to get better deals.
I would also recommend a hotel that has either a full kitchen or a kitchenette that way you can cook/make some meals at home to avoid extremely pricey restaurant meals (because Hawaii has a lot of these) and eating out 3 times a day does add up.
Rental Car in Oahu: Do you need a car?
Well, this really depends on what you want to do. If you’re happy with lying on the beach and staying in Waikiki the entire time then a car rental is not required.
Waikiki is very walkable, and the bus system is also reliable and affordable ($5 for a day pass).
If you are anything like me and want to venture out of Waikiki, then I strongly recommend renting a car in Oahu to see all that the island has to offer.
Even if you are staying in Waikiki/Honolulu, I highly recommend renting a car at least once to see and explore the beauty of the entire place.
Car Rental Shortage in Hawaii
When I went to Hawaii in April of 2021 there was a shortage of car rentals. To my understanding, from my own research and talking with locals, a lot of the car rental places sold their cars during the pandemic when Hawaii and the rest of the world was on lockdown.
After doing some research I found this app called Turo where you can rent a car directly from the owner. It’s basically like Airbnb for cars.
I used Turo on my trip to Hawaii and boy did I save a lot of money. On average, my car rental daily rate was about $55. I couldn’t find anything less than $200 from a car rental company. I am so happy I found Turo and my experience with them has been great. The hosts that I had were exceptional too, making it all the better.
If you decide to rent a car on Turo just make sure to do your research and read the reviews on the owners before renting.
Update on car rental shortage 2022
We visited Oahu and The Big Island 3 times after writing this post. I am happy to report that the car shortage in Hawaii is no longer a problem in Hawaii. We were able to find multiple rentals at reasonable prices both through Turo and Car rental companies.
How to Save Money on Food
Like many things, food in Hawaii can be very expensive but I am here to tell you that with proper planning you can also save money on food. Most of the food in Hawaii is transported by ship which adds to the higher cost relative to the mainland. Here are my recommendations on how to save money in this area.
Go to Costco
I love love LOVE Costco and cannot say enough good things about this magical place. The prices at Costco are almost the same as the mainland prices and they are way cheaper than the local grocery stores for basic needs such as eggs and dairy.
I remember when I went into a grocery store in Oahu and eggs were almost $7 for a dozen, but Costco had 2 dozen for the same price. If you are wondering where to find the best supermarkets in Waikiki I have a post for you. Check it out!
I stocked up on groceries including snacks, water, fruit, and food. Also, Costco has some great pre-made meals that you can just pop in the oven (if your accommodations have an oven). You can also get pizza and hotdogs for a very cheap price as well. We definitely saved a lot of money by shopping and eating at Costco.
Here is a tip for those of you that do not have a Costco membership: if you know someone who has a Costco membership, have them buy you a gift card or two. You can use these without a membership, but if I were you I would get a Costco card because it’s awesome.
Also, I always use my Costco card for gas. They had the cheapest gas on the island. I have been told by some wise people that Costco has the best gas so I use that as an excuse to always get my gas from there, even on the mainland.
Eat Where the Locals Eat
This tip has helped me save money over the years. I always ask locals for recommendations on where to eat. On the way to our Airbnb, we asked our Uber driver for recommendations and they took us to Zippy’s. This place had fantastic Hawaiian fusion-type food and was affordable too.
Also, if you are on the north shore, be sure to check out some of the best food trucks on the island.
I found the portions to be big in Hawaii (especially the local spots). My partner and I ended up sharing meals often and we were both full.
The times that we both ordered our own meals we ended up having leftovers, and by the time we got home, the food was bad from being out all day.
Budget Friendly Activities in Oahu
One of my favorite things about Hawaii is the amount of free or affordable activities there are to do. Hawaii offers a lot of nature which means lots of opportunities for free adventures.
Here are my recommendations on free/cheap activities to do on the island…
Go to The Beach
Like many people, this is probably why you came to Hawaii. The beaches here are public and do not cost a thing. So put on your favorite beach attire and go experience what paradise looks like!
Here is a list of the best north shore beaches on Oahu if you are interested.
See Also: Bellows Beach: The Best Secluded Beach on Oahu
Lanikai Beach: A Complete Guide to Visiting This Popular Beach in Oahu
The hikes in Hawaii are some of the best in the world (if I do say so myself). I am an outdoors person and hiking is where I find my happiness.
Waterfall hikes are also a favorite while on the island of Oahu. Oahu has some of the best waterfall hikes I have ever been on.
In my opinion, you cannot go to Oahu and not visit Pearl Harbor. There is so much history here and it would be a shame not to visit.
For those of you that do not know, the USS Arizona Memorial program is free for all visitors. The visitor center and some of the museums are also free which makes it a very rewarding and budget-friendly activity.
To learn more about planning your visit to Pearl Harbor, check out this website.
Chinatown has some of the cheapest and most tasty food on the island. Be sure to spend some time here while on your vacation.
Visit The Byodo-In Temple
In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful places in Oahu and it only costs $5 per person to get in.
Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden
This place was free to get in and was one of the most beautiful places I have been to. Also, this is a great place for photos too if you are into that Instagram life haha.
Kualoa Regional Park
This place took my breath away. I almost felt like I was in a movie being here. Maybe that’s why scenes from Jurassic Park were filmed at a location very close by.
Can I visit other Hawaiian islands on a budget?
The answer is Yes. In fact, I visited the island of Maui on the same trip and I was able to save a lot of money by following all the tips I shared in this post.
As some of you might have guessed, Maui is the most expensive island to visit – but with proper planning, you can still save some money. The most important advice I can give you is to plan ahead.
You can check out this article on Oahu Vs Maui to learn more about which island is best for you to visit. You can also check out Big Island vs Maui to learn more about the differences between the two.
So Which Hawaiian Island is the most affordable to visit…
As you can see, a trip to Oahu or any other Hawaiian island does not have to be super expensive. Do your research (which you are doing by reading this article) and plan ahead.
If you are looking for the cheapest Hawaiian island to visit, then look no further than Oahu.
Oahu is amazingly beautiful and is by far my favorite island to visit in Hawaii.
If you have any other additional questions feel free to leave comments below!