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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?