Oahu Travel Hacks + Budget Tips for Families
When I tell people that I take my kids to Hawaii about once a year, I always explain that my Mom lives on Kauai and we try to cut costs whenever possible. The truth is, a trip to Hawaii (even with kids) doesn’t have to cost and arm and a leg. So, I’ve compiled my top Oahu travel hacks and tips for Oahu on a budget. May contain affiliate links.
Flying to Oahu on a Budget
Depending on where you are flying from, flights to Honolulu can be really expensive. Southwest Airlines will be starting routes to Hawaii soon, so this may lower flight costs. But in the meantime, here are my top tips for flying to Oahu on a budget:
AIRLINE MILES + COMPANION FARES
If you have airline miles, USE THEM! We have Alaska Airlines credit cards where we earn miles and a companion fare each year (where we just pay the taxes on an airline ticket.) We like to save our companion fares for trips to Hawaii, especially if we are traveling in high season.
There’s also a thing called “travel hacking.” I haven’t personally done this, but basically you sign up for credit cards that will earn you points. Then, you use these points to pay for airfare and hotel rooms. The card that gets recommended the most is through Chase. But, with so many people doing travel hacking, I’m not sure how long this will last.
Traveling to Hawaii during low season or shoulder season can be tricky with school-aged kids but really appealing for families with babies, toddlers and preschoolers. The best discounts are in October and November. You can also find decent airfare for May and September.
CHOOSE ONE ISLAND
Another way you can save money on a Hawaiian vacation is to pick one island. Island hopping can dramatically increase your expenses (with flights and baggage fees) and it eats up your precious vacation days.
SAVE ON BAGGAGE FEES
Take advantage of traveling with small kids. You can add stuff like clothing, diapers, and wipes to your car seat bag or stroller bag, which fly for free. And consolidate your checked luggage whenever possible. I use these packing cubes to fit all the clothing for myself and my two kids into one suitcase.
We usually leave Seattle at 8:30am and we arrive in Honolulu just in time for lunch. I love it because we can usually drop off our bags, grab our swimsuits, and enjoy an afternoon at the pool or beach. It’s like getting a bonus travel day!
And for the same reasons, book your flight home for later in the day, if you can. Then, you can enjoy a leisurely morning in Hawaii, pick up any last minute souvenirs, and buy yummy takeout food to eat on the airplane!
Cheap Hotels in Waikiki
For the most part, Waikiki is the most expensive place to stay on Oahu. But, it’s also one of the most convenient places, if you aren’t renting a car. And sometimes you can get good discounts.
If you happen to be traveling with someone who lives in Hawaii, look into Kamaaina discounts. Most hotels offer some sort of Kamaaina discount or benefits. My Mom usually meets us on Oahu or Maui and she’s able to use her discount to save us money.
If you are a military family, you can stay at the beautiful Hale Koa Hotel on Waikiki Beach. I walked through the grounds earlier this year and it’s in a great location, especially for kids! And they have an on-site luau.
This is where you can bid on a hotel room. My husband and I have had luck getting 4 star hotels for an affordable rate in Vancouver, BC. We haven’t tried in Hawaii yet. This is a good option if you don’t care exactly which hotel you’ll be staying at, as long as it’s in the right location and has the amenities you’re looking for. If you have a particular hotel in mind, I’d suggest finding out all their amenities and making sure you plug them into your Priceline search.
I’d recommend taking in consideration whether or not you’ll be renting a car when pricing out cheap hotels on Oahu.
Discount Oahu Accommodations
But, if you really want to save money, look into some other Oahu accommodation options.
STAY OUTSIDE OF WAIKIKI
One of the easiest ways to save money is to stay somewhere outside of popular Waikiki. Kailua is a quiet, suburban area with great beaches and kid-friendly restaurants. And the North Shore is really relaxed and gorgeous. But, if you want to stay close to attractions, you can find options in Honolulu.
TRAVEL WITH ANOTHER FAMILY
One way to slash your housing costs in half is to split a rental with another family. You can rent a large house from AirBnB, Homeaway, or VRBO and share it with friends or family. That also means you’ll have a decent kitchen to cook at home. Plus, many of them have cribs, high chairs, and other kid items!
And if you really want to save some money, you can always try couchsurfing. Basically, you are staying in someone’s home. I’ve never done it, but might consider it when my kids are older and less likely to cry in the middle of the night. If you’re thinking about it, It’s a Drama has a really good blog post about Couchsurfing with Kids.
Cheap Car Rentals in Oahu
My first suggestion is to plan out your Hawaiian itinerary to see if you need a car for your entire trip. If you really only need it for a day or two, you can save a lot of money by doing that. Plus, sometimes you can save money by picking up somewhere outside the Honolulu Airport. For the days where you don’t need a car, you can take advantage of TheBus (Hawaii’s bus system) or the Waikiki Trolley.
For the days you do want a rental car on Oahu, you can check Discount Hawaii Car Rental, Little Hawaii Rent A Car, or see the deals from Rental Car Momma. Plus, Costco sometimes has great car rental deals. Reserve your car rental early (especially during high season) and check periodically to see if you can get a better deal. And fill up gas at Costco for the cheapest rates.
Oahu Dining Hacks
My family LOVES eating Hawaiian food and we get so excited to eat on Oahu. But, the food costs add up quickly. Here’s how we save money on food on Oahu:
BRING FOOD FROM HOME
I wish I was joking, but food in Hawaii is soooooo expensive! Even at the grocery store. My kids love food pouches, so I usually stock up on discounted food pouches at Big Lots here in the Seattle-area and pack them in my checked luggage. I also pack boxes of granola bars (without chocolate that will melt) and other boxed snack items.
I can’t talk about Hawaiian food without mentioning shave ice! You absolutely HAVE to try it in Hawaii. You can find shave ice stands almost anywhere, but the most popular are Matsumoto in Haleiwa and Waiola Shave Ice (where President Obama goes.)
Personally, I like to order my shave ice “snow capped” with condensed milk and li hing mui. But, you can also get a scoop of ice cream on the bottom. Get a big one and share it with your whole family, to cut costs!
Costco has the cheapest groceries on Oahu. There are several Costco stores on Oahu. We usually hit up the one closet to the airport after picking up our rental car. We stock up on drinks and snacks here (especially the furikake Chex mix!) For lunches, we get sandwich makings. And we usually buy some fresh poke from their seafood area to eat for dinner.
If we are staying somewhere with a kitchen, we also buy steak, chicken, and veggies to grill. You can also buy wine, alcohol and everything you need to make tropical drinks. And if you want a treat, buy a box of ice cream bars or popsicles.
You can use your Safeway Club Card at the Safeway stores on Oahu. And, you can always sign up for the free loyalty cards at other grocery stores, like Foodland.
There’s also several Target and Walmart stores all over the island, including Waikiki.
AVOID HOTEL RESTAURANTS
Even though it may be convenient to have breakfast at your hotel, it’s not budget-friendly (and the food isn’t usually stellar.) So instead, grab some fresh fruit at the Farmer’s Market or hit up a local bakery.
TAKE OUT RESTAURANTS
One way to save money while eating out is to get your food to go. That way, you can avoid paying for drinks (just remember to pack some!) And you can supplement with food you buy at the grocery store.
Most plate lunches are quite large and can be easily shared, especially with kids. We like to order extra rice, which makes the meal stretch a bit further. Some of my favorite take out restaurants on Oahu are Rainbow Drive-in and Kaka`ako Kitchen.
So, Hawaii is known for their love of all things SPAM. One of the most popular Hawaiian snacks is Spam musubi. Basically it’s Spam sushi. And you can find it at most ABC stores, grocery stores, and delis. BUT, there are all kinds of musubi. Personally, I love getting mochiko chicken musubi from 7-11. And we recently discovered Musubi Cafe in Waikiki that has a wide assortment of musubi options. My family eats them for breakfast and for an easy lunch when we’re out and about.
As a mom with two little kids, I’m completely on the coffee bandwagon! But, I don’t like the taste of drip coffee. Instead of ordering a $4 or $5 latte every morning, I buy canned coffee and cappuccino at the grocery store. I really like the Royal Mills brand straight from the can or poured over ice in the morning.
You know what goes great with iced coffee? Malasadas! These Portuguese donuts have become a Hawaii staple thanks to Leonard’s Bakery. They have several locations on Oahu.
I like to buy a dozen and have them for breakfast for a few days. If you are staying somewhere with a microwave or toaster oven, they reheat nicely.
Go Oahu Card
If you are planning on doing several activities and attractions on Oahu, the Over 30 Oahu Attractions, Tours, Museums, Activities & Sights for 1 Low Price are included with the Go Oahu Card! is a good way to save money. You can choose to purchase a pass good for 1, 2, 3, 5 or 7 days.
These passes include admission to popular Oahu attractions like:
- The U.S.S. Bowfin and Battleship Missouri at Pearl Harbor
- Narrated tour of the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial
- Polynesian Cultural Center
- Sea Life Park
- Kualoa Ranch
- Iolani Palace
- Bishop Museum
- Paddle boarding, kayak rentals, and MORE!
And with a 3, 5 or 7 day pass, you can also choose ONE of the following:
- Ka Moana Luau and Entry to Sea Life Park
- Dolphin Encounter at Sea Life Park
- Sunset Dinner Sail on Makani Catamaran
- Oahu Hidden Gems Tour + Snorkeling with Turtles
- Semi-Private Surf Lesson
- Polynesian Cultural Center Entry and Ali`i Luau
Cheap Luaus on Oahu
Most people want to experience a luau on their Hawaiian vacation. But, luau tickets can be pricey. So, if you are looking for a budget-friendly luau, here are the cheapest luaus on Oahu:
The cheapest luau on Oahu is Germaine’s Luau (this link includes round trip shuttle service.) As of July 2018, the cheapest package they offer on their site was $85 for adults, $75 for kids ages 13-20, $65 for kids 4-12, and kids ages 3 and under are free. They also have coupons in the Hawaii Entertainment Book for 25% off.
Here, they do a kitschy luau show and give you a free cocktail, like what you’d see in any movie set in Hawaii. But, it’s not the luau I’d recommend.
Instead, I’d suggest you check out Toa Luau at Waimea Valley. It’s the newest luau on Oahu and it’s run by people who used to perform for other luaus and wanted to create something that felt more authentic. We did Toa Luau earlier this year and it’s definitely something special. They do a lot of crafts and hands-on activities, plus they show you how to cook traditional Samoan food.
As of July 2018, the cheapest package they offer through the above link or directly through their site is $88 for adults, $75 for kids ages 5-11, and kids ages 4 and under are free. They don’t serve alcohol, but you can try Kava, an ancient numbing drink that warriors used to take before battle.
I’ve also been hearing good things about Chief’s Luau. They just moved to a new location. It’s run by Original World Fire Knife Dance Champion, Chief Sielu. How cool is that? He’s also a comedian and people say it’s one of the most entertaining luaus they have been to.
As of July 2018, the cheapest package they offer is $95 for adults 21+, $85 for kids ages 13-20, $75 for kids 5-12, and kids 4 and under are free. This price includes one drink.
Aulani Resort Hack
While Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa is amazing, it isn’t exactly budget-friendly. So, instead of staying at Aulani Resort, just do the Aulani Character Breakfast. After your bellies are full, head over to Lagoon #4 for beach fun! They have free parking, shady areas, and gentle water for little ones.
Polynesian Cultural Center Hack
If you don’t want to splurge for the whole Polynesian Cultural Center experience, you can just buy general admission tickets to explore the park. You’ll be able to take part in hands-on activities, see demonstrations, enjoy Polynesian dancing, and more. Tickets are $64.95 for adults, $51.96 for kids ages 4-11, and kids 3 and under are free. You can get 10% off if you purchase online.
If you want to do the Polynesian Cultural Center Luau and Ha: Breath of Life Show (which is amazing) then buy a Hawaii Entertainment Book. In there, you’ll find a Buy One Get One coupon.
Free Activities on Oahu
Just because you are on a Hawaiian vacation with kids, doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of cash everyday. Organized tours, boat trips, snorkeling adventure, etc add up quickly. There are quite a few free activities on Oahu that are perfect for families.
Yes, you read that right. You can visit Pearl Harbor for FREE. However, there are a limited amount of free tickets available each day, so I’d suggest getting there early if you want to score some.
FREE HULA SHOWS
Most people want to see a hula show in Hawaii. The good news is that there are free hula shows on Oahu daily. You can usually find them in shopping areas like Ala Moana Center and the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center.
SEE PENGUINS AND FLAMINGOS
Kids will get a kick out of seeing wildlife specialists at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa feed penguins and flamingos in Waikiki.
The Hilton Hawaiian Village does a spectacular fireworks show every Friday. The show usually starts around 7:45pm or 8pm, depending on sunset. The firework show is about 10 minutes long.
The cool thing is that you don’t have to stay there to enjoy them! In fact, you can see them from almost anywhere on Waikiki beach. It’s a great evening activity!
ALOHA FRIDAY AT THE HYATT REGENCY
If you’re in Waikiki on a Friday between 4:30pm-6pm, head over the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort & Spa to experience its weekly “Aloha Friday” Polynesian show. You can see hula dancers, lei making, fire knife dancers and Polynesian music.
Most beaches on Oahu are completely free! And that includes Waikiki Beach, one of the most famous beaches in the world! There’s a small fee to visit Hanauma Bay and some beaches have paid parking.
(Almost) Free Things to do on Oahu
One of the most recognizable things on Oahu is Diamond Head. It’s a popular hike for families because it’s close to Waikiki and isn’t too strenuous. The entrance fee is $1 (or you can get an official climber certificate for $2.)
LISTEN TO LIVE HAWAIIAN MUSIC
For just the cost of a drink or a plate of pupus (Hawaiian appetizers,) you can listen to some of Hawaii’s top musicians at local restaurants around Oahu.
Almost every bar or restaurant in Waikiki offers some sort of Hawaiian entertainment. Kani Ka Pila Grille in Waikiki is a great spot to listen to big names in Hawaiian music and maybe even see some hula dancers!
ALOHA SWAP MEET
If you are looking for cheap Hawaiian souvenirs, this is a good place to go. While it’s greatly shrunk in size over the years, the Aloha Swap Meet offers inexpensive Aloha Shirts, Hawaiian dresses, snacks, ukuleles, t-shirts, toys, pareos, and more.
The list of free activities on Oahu is almost endless and totally depends on what you’d like to get out of your Oahu vacation. Enjoy and Aloha!
Things to do on Oahu with Kids
Family Guide to Oahu with Kids
How To Choose The Best Oahu Luau
Family Photos on Oahu is a Smart Idea
Polynesian Cultural Center Offers Family Activities on Oahu
Toa Luau is Oahu’s Newest Family-Friendly Luau
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