We just got back from a week in Hawaii on Wednesday morning and returned to temperatures fifty to sixty degrees colder along with a whole bunch of ice and snow. Looking at the forecast before we headed back sure made it tempting to just not come home for a bit, but it appears that the cold temperatures will be sticking around for at least another week, if not two. And we are looking at another, possibly even bigger, snowstorm later today. Take me back to the sun and the sand please.

Granted, weather in the teens and twenties is still way better than the family from Minnesota who rode the shuttle back to the airport with us, but the Seattle area is not set up for snow and ice. Our neighborhood is particularly hard hit because of elevation, a steep grade, and the fact that tall trees keep the road shaded through the warmest part of the day. We jokingly call it “The Great White North” because we’ll be iced over for up to a week longer than other areas in our city.

So instead of dwelling on the fact that we likely won’t see our lawn for at least another week or two and the fact that this weather has likely killed off the early blooming plants like my daffodils, I’ll reflect on the past week in Hawaii in the sun and sand and warmth.

This was my grandmother’s very first trip to Hawaii, so it was a special one. She had a wonderful time and I’m so glad that we were able to take her. Time and memories with loved ones are on the very top of my list of things that are important in life, so making this trip happen for her was a really big deal for me. And of course, a big part of being able to bring her (and my mother in law, and my husband’s godfather) on these trips is that we are able to do them very affordably.

While this trip did cost more than our last where we spent just over $400 a person for a week in Hawaii, it still fell well in the realm of budget travel. I haven’t done the calculations yet, but I’d guess we spent somewhere in the $600-$800 per person range, including a luau that cost $145 a person, an Airbnb overlooking the ocean, and renting a 4WD SUV to take us places she wouldn’t be able to hike. The trip was absolutely worth every penny.

PS – my “Meet The Women Of The Financial Independence Community” is up for round two of the Rockstar Rumble competition. I’d be forever grateful if you’d vote “Women” in Game 5. Each round the post makes it through, new people click through to the list and find new women money bloggers to read 🙂

Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens in Hilo (free!)

Friday’s Frugal Five

1. Checked Baggage

We have the Alaska Airlines credit card which includes free checked bags (one for me as the main cardholder plus one for each person traveling on my itinerary, up to six). We checked four items each way between the six of us, including the car seat. At $25 per bag, that saved us $200 round trip. We don’t typically check bags, so I didn’t realize it would save us so much, but that starts to be a significant amount of money if you check bags regularly.

2. Rental Car

I booked the car through Costco again since I figured out last time that they have the best prices for car rentals (and this still appears to be true). The big difference there is that they include a second driver free when most other car rentals charge $13-$19 a day for an extra driver, including Alamo if you book with them directly instead of going through the Costco portal.

Since we had six of us we had to get a minivan or full size SUV for the passenger room, but we also had plans to go down into Waipi’o Valley, which is only accessible via 4WD vehicles. We walked down last time, but at a 25%+ grade down into the valley, we wouldn’t have been able to hike in on this trip. It is one of the most stunning, special spots on the Big Island and we weren’t going to miss taking my grandmother down.

There are also tours that will shuttle you down, but they are a minimum $60 a person so the slightly more expensive car rental more than paid for itself with that trip. The rental was $535 for the week for a Ford Expedition, but when we returned the car they only charged us $509. I’m not sure why they end up billing us a lesser amount, but this is the third time in a row after renting through Costco that the rental car has come in slightly less than quoted. Not sure if that’s a rule, but it’s worked that way for us thus far.

Rainbow over Waipi’o Valley

3. Airfare and Hotel

The really big reason we were able to do this trip cost-wise was my ability to use credit card travel rewards for the plane tickets. I signed my husband and myself up individually for Chase Sapphire Preferred cards and through the 100,000 point combined sign up bonus (50,000 points each) was able to cobble together enough points to fly everyone out for 25,000 points + $11.70 per ticket. If you want the details of exactly how I got us direct round trip flights on Alaska Airlines, I wrote out the process in detail here.

I also signed up for the new Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Plus right when they debuted the card so they had an extra good sign up bonus of 100,000 points. They are now offering 75,000 points (three free nights) with a smaller up front minimum spend ($3,000 over three months instead of $5,000), so I may still have my husband get this card in the future.

Regardless, since I earned the 100,000 point sign up, I was able to use this to cover two rooms for two nights each at the King Kamehameha Marriott Hotel right in Downtown Kona. It’s centered right at the start of the strip right along the bay so it meant we were able to get around easily without using the car while we were there. Somehow I managed to snag us two rooms that had balconies with what they called a “partial” ocean view, but they turned out to be a bit better than that, in my opinion.

Felt like a bit more than a “partial ocean view” to me

All told, we spent just $10 per room per night on overnight parking costs. Not a bad reason to sign up for a new credit card, in my opinion (as long as you pay it off in full every single month and don’t spend more than you would otherwise). Again, making this trip possible meant finding ways to reduce the costs in as many areas as I could. Everyone paid their own way for the money we spent our of pocket, but we covered the flights and hotel stays that were paid for with points, which meant the total cost was a lot less.

4. Food Expenses

To start out, we didn’t have a kitchen to cook in like normal because of the hotel stay, but there were still plenty of ways that we kept our food expenses down at the start of the trip. We went to local, simple restaurants for breakfast that were a fraction of the cost of the hotel breakfast, and we found an awesome barbecue stand on the side of the road that was really affordable that ended up being one of the best meals on the trip.

Laid back restaurants and food stands tend to be much cheaper than the fancy ones, and oftentimes they are way tastier too. And the money spent goes to the local economy, which is an extra win in my book. We also ended up with free desserts at two restaurants since we let them know it was our kiddo’s birthday trip (he turned four the day we flew home).

Once we landed at the Airbnb on our third night of the trip, we were able to take full advantage of the kitchen and cooked half of our meals at home. We also stocked up at a number of different farmers markets and farm stands, which have the best produce as well as the best prices. And of course, just cooking meals ourself are simply less expensive than going out to eat (though we did spend some extra money at some local markets that weren’t the cheapest, but we do love to vote with our dollars at local, sustainable places).

Plus, we had a heck of a view from the dining room and even got to see some whales while eating breakfast one morning. We will definitely be looking to stay at that home again the next time we visit the Big Island.

Homemade macadamia nut pancakes with coconut syrup, local pineapple, and Kona coffee

If you haven’t stayed in an AirBnB before, I would highly recommend it. We love the flexibility it gives us while traveling as a family – full kitchen, laundry, and extra bathrooms, and it’s usually considerably cheaper than a hotel, especially when you travel as a group. If you’re new to AirBnB, here’s a link for $40 off your first stay (affiliate link).

5. Free – and Cheap Things To Do

And then of course, most of what we did on the trip didn’t involve spending money outside of gas, which totaled $150 for the whole trip. We did repeat a few of the free experiences from our last trip (#1-#6 to be exact), but we also founds some great new things to see and do as well.

To start with, the beach in front of the Marriott we stayed at in Kona was absolutely lovely and perfect for the kiddo because it was sheltered from the waves. We didn’t realize that it was a public beach the last time because it is roped off other than a pedestrian opening, but it’s open to everyone. Another great beach we visited wasn’t exactly free, but $5 for parking is about as close as you can get. Hāpuna Beach is listed on the top beaches lists over and over again for a very good reason. If you’re looking for a quintessential “Hawaiian beach” experience, you won’t be disappointed there.

Hāpuna Beach – take me back, please

On the other side of Kona is Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau (The Place of Refuge), which is a National Park so generally a place you have to pay to visit, but as my mother in law has her lifetime senior national parks pass, it was free for us to visit. She also got a lot of use out of that park pass on our east coast trip; if you know a senior (62+) who likes national parks, make sure they sign up! Even if you have to pay the minimal fee, I’d still recommend going. We’ve also seen turtles both times we’ve visited, so there’s that consideration as well.

Following down the tip of the island, we drove down to South Point, the southernmost part of the United States. We didn’t get a chance to make the hike out to Green Sands Beach as it was too strenuous for our group, but we saw a group of humpback whales breaching just off the coast at the start of the trail. Even if you don’t get to see whales, the drive is beautiful and the view of the coast is stunning. Please do not ignore the signs and drive the road down to the beach as it is an ecologically sensitive area.

We also took trips to Rainbow Falls (free) and Akaka Falls ($1 per person plus $5 per vehicle if you park in the lot – we didn’t) and stopped at a really cool playground at the top of Saddle Road at the Mauna Kea Recreation Area on recommendation from That Frugal Pharmacist. Hawaii can obviously be a very expensive place to visit, but if you can find ways to make airfare and lodging reasonable, it can be a very budget friendly trip. Once you get to the island, so many awesome things are free or very cheap.

Not Cheap But Worth It

This is where the trip got a bit more expensive than our last one, but as it was my grandmother’s first trip to Hawaii (but now hopefully not last), we splurged on a few pricier adventures.

The number one thing my grandmother said she wanted to do was go to a luau, and after a ton of research I landed on the Legends of Hawaii Luau at the Hilton Waikoloa Village. It was $145 per person after tax, but children under five are free, and I actually feel like we got our money’s worth out of the evening. The food was very good and the luau dancers were awesome. My grandmother’s favorite were the fire dancers, and she said it was one of the highlights of her trip.

Posing with the luau dancers after the show

We also had a meal at Merriman’s in Waimea, which is a restaurant that prides itself on serving local Hawaiian produce and meats. I had high hopes for the meal and it surpassed my expectations. It was definitely the most expensive meal on the trip even as a lunch, but it was absolutely worth it. We will likely go back in the future but pick much less “splurge-worthy” choices to keep the cost down.

Exercise Update

Since this is a Friday’s Frugal Five post, I still have to update you all on my exercise over the past week. Since we left Wednesday evening, I didn’t get to the gym at all this past week, work or otherwise, but I’m not complaining. My husband’s godfather and I went on two morning runs on the streets around our Airbnb rental and found a fun park that we took the kiddo to later plus an individual home’s produce stand where we picked up a few apple bananas. Running is one of my favorite ways to explore a new area because you get to see so much more of a place, plus I got to check off another state that I can now say I’ve run in.

We walked to the park (1.3 miles each way) our last night at the Airbnb and I carried the kiddo on my back in the Ergo the whole way, so I’ll count that as exercise. And then of course we walked all over downtown Kona (including an evening “date night” where my husband and I just walked the full stretch of the bay instead of going into any bars because we didn’t feel like it – frugal win there as well).

We also hiked Akaka Falls, swam at Hāpuna Beach, and otherwise were pretty active each day of the trip. As usual, I don’t have any problem hitting my daily 12,000 step goal when I’m not sitting at my desk.

Steps to Akaka Falls

Final Thoughts

Again, our trip to The Big Island of Hawaii was wonderful and magical and we’re already dreaming of our next trip back there. We also want to visit the other Hawaiian Islands (Kauai in particular), but it is so hard not to just keep going back to the Big Island when there is still so much left we’d like to explore.

We have plans of going to Iceland for our tenth wedding anniversary at the end of this year, but two weeks there will mean we won’t have the vacation time to take a week in Hawaii next winter, and we are torn about giving up our warm sunshine that has been so lovely in the middle of winter.

Have you ever been to Hawaii? Do you have a favorite island? Are we crazy for planning a trip to Iceland next winter instead?

42 thoughts on “Friday’s Frugal Five (Hawaii Edition)

  1. Whales from the breakfast table !!! OMG! That’s amazing
    Excuse the extra exclamation marks. I’m going to go finish reading the rest of your blog post now 😉

    1. Right??!?!?!!! Totally deserves the extra! We actually saw them two different times from that spot (and four times total on the trip).

  2. never been to hawaii, nope. we keep going to the same places year after year. looks like a nice trip and what the hell, might as well have a couple of splurges. i remember my mom came to nola when i lived there and i went on a swamp tour, which i never would have done otherwise.

    we did have a frugal win i forgot about. we’re paying zero for lodging in new orleans for mardi gras because it worked out that our friends had room for us for 5 nights. and my costume wig was only 9 bucks!

    1. Hawaii IS a lot farther away from you, to be fair. It’s a direct flight under 6 hours for us. And well done on the lodging!! Hope you’ll share a recap of that trip for those of us who have never been 🙂

  3. Loved that you brought your grandma! I find that splurging to have experiences with family is always worth it. I took my mom to Hawaii and it made me so happy to see her taking pictures of flowers and having a blast overall.

    I’m jonesing to go to Kauai next, and I want to use the SPG and Marriott free night awards to book lodging there. My only reservation is the 13-hour flight… Maybe I stop in Seattle first and say hi?

    1. A stopover in Seattle sounds like an excellent idea. Then Kauai can be a simple six hour direct flight from there – and you know, there are just a few people you might visit here in the meantime… 😉

  4. I’ve never been to Hawaii but I would definitely choose that over Iceland 🙂 Very kind of you to include and accommodate your grandma!

  5. This sounds like an awesome trip! I’m still amazed every time I see the power of travel hacking credit cards to bring down to cost of airfare and hotels to insanely low prices. I really need to visit Hawaii haha.

    I also love the running in new places too! On my Europe trip last year my friends and I did that in every city. It was one of our favorite things as we all got exercise and saw so much of the cities we may not have gotten to!

    1. Right?? Especially because this was our first trip paid specifically by travel hacking it felt a bit like Monopoly money haha

  6. I’ve never been to Hawaii, but it looks beautiful! I’m jealous that you got to enjoy the beach. It sounds like you made the trip as frugal as you could without sacrificing experiences, which is what matters. The luau sounds great, even at that price!

  7. So cool that you brought your grandma to the trip. And being that it’s her first time to Hawaii, she must have really enjoyed it with the beautiful views from the hotel and the experience of being in the Hawaiian Islands.
    You can’t beat Costco with their car rental prices. We go there every time whenever we need to rent a car.

  8. My parents could really learn from this post because they spend money like crazy when they are in Hawaii. I like the idea of breaking the total cost down to see how much a trip like this costs per person. Prioritizing time with your loved ones (including your grandma) is really admirable. That is so awesome you got to go on a trip with her. Best wishes making Iceland happen. You can do it! I hear it is amazing there.

    1. Yeah, Hawaii can get insanely expensive if you don’t pay attention. I have a feeling keeping Iceland to a budget trip will be even harder though.

  9. Even in August, which is when I went, it was significantly cooler than our normal temps. But it’s so definitely worth it. We went for a week and planning to go back since we didn’t get to everything. It’s not the most financially appealing option but if you want 2 weeks in iceland and still have a sunny destination, is taking a week without pay off an option? Or maybe you can optimize by taking time where you have statutory holidays to make your 10 days vacation stretch further?

    1. Yeah, in theory we each have three weeks vacation each year but taking it all in the wintertime seems unlikely. I have considered the holiday grouping idea, though that means higher prices + not spending the holidays with the rest of our family. Hmm.

      1. You have a good point about higher prices… And being away from family at key holidays is likely not ideal given your focus on family. Obviously I didn’t think too far on that one =)

        Only other thing I can think of is banking overtime and taking it as holiday in lieu. Not sure how common that is but I’ve heard of some co-workers doing that.

        Hope you find a solution that gives you both!

      2. We’ve done a tiny bit of that to pick up an extra three day weekend here and there but hard to do more than that since we’re both salaried 🙂

  10. We were in Iceland in mid May. The cold winds blew, it snowed (white out), it hailed, the sun came out and it rained. All in two to three hours. We really want to experience the Northern Lights too but not sure it is worth it. Maybe Alaska – weather much nicer…

    1. Ha, yeah. Now that’s a glowing review lol. I’ve been to Alaska but my husband hasn’t so it’s definitely on the list as well.

  11. That sounds like an amazing trip! Big Island is on my list of places to travel to sooner rather than later… Kauai is outstanding and both times I went for a week and both times wish I’d spent 2! Once your kiddo can swim really well, the frugal extra fun snorkeling activity becomes available and is also an excellent way to explore and learn.

    1. Yeah Kauai is definitely next on our list!! And the Big Island is definitely worth a visit 🙂 Think we’re probably a couple years yet from snorkeling but then it will definitely be on the list!

  12. We have been so fortunate to spend time in Hawaii with our chosen family more than a couple of times now. We mainly spend time in Oahu to visit our loved ones but I’m grateful every time we make a trip out there work in our budget, no matter what island. Thanks for all the links, this is really helpful for future trip research!

    1. We don’t have any family over there so that hasn’t been a consideration, but it’s possible some loved military members may end up there and then we will definitely be going to Oahu 🙂

  13. My husband and I booked our tickets to Big Island for Thanksgiving and will be staying at the same Courtyard in Kona for a week! So thanks for sharing some details about the hotel. Definitely bookmarking this post (and all your previous Hawaii posts) for trip planning. 🙂 We are using points and miles to cover flights and hotel so hopefully we can keep the total cost fairly low with the list of free experiences you shared, and maybe a Luau.

    We too value time and memories with family so I’m trying to get my parents to travel from Malaysia and join us on this trip.

    1. Have a WONDERFUL time!! Please reach out with any questions you might have 🙂 The hotel really is located in the best spot to be walkable to all of downtown Kona.

  14. Oh man now I want to go to Hawaii! With this snomaggedon it is even more tempting.
    Your grandma looks so happy! What a steal for Marriott points- what a great deal to get two nights free and free flights too- amazing job travel hacking.

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