Ever since knowing each other, hubby and I have made it a point to take a one week vacation every year to relax and re-energize from our normally very busy schedules. We have been very fortunate to be able to do this by shopping around for the best price while keeping within a standard that we are comfortable with. Our accommodations are usually at 4-5 star resorts and nothing less, while not breaking the bank at the same time. We all know that everything about Hawaii is very expensive – but I am here to tell you that it isn’t an unreachable goal for you to vacation there. As I write this, I am currently relaxing at the 4+ star Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii! Here’s how we do it:
Credit Card Points!
We have become accustomed to putting all purchases we can on our credit cards and paying off the balance in full every month. This way, we do not accrue interest and we earn points on all purchases we make that we can redeem towards things like hotel stays, gift cards, and more. Our favorite credit card is the Hilton HHonors American Express. We chose this card because we like the Hilton chain of hotels and the comfort of the rooms, cleanliness and the overall high level of service we usually receive when visiting a Hilton hotel. We have had a Hilton HHonors credit card since 2002 and have since upgraded our card to the Hilton HHonors Surpass where we earn anywhere between 3-12 points per dollar for purchases made on the card. The regular Hilton HHonors American Express doesn’t have an annual fee but the Surpass card does at $75 per year which was worth it for us due to the added benefits it had such as automatic upgrade to a Gold Membership Level with HHonors and a higher points earned per dollar spent. For us, since all of our spending goes right on the credit card, we are able to earn the highest Hilton level of membership which is Diamond AND have enough to redeem for 7 nights in Hawaii each year! Let me tell you how awesome it is to not have to pay for our 1 week stay in Hawaii, plus getting the perks of the Diamond membership which include a free continental breakfast daily for 2 guests (or food vouchers for the value at restaurants at the resort), complimentary internet access, complimentary health club/fitness center access, free bottled water, and free room upgrades based on availability!
Being that we have been able to travel to Hawaii almost every year for the past 10 years, we are very familiar with what to look for as far as airfare pricing goes. We have seen both the lows and highs and because of this, we ALWAYS schedule our vacation around not only our availability, but airfare prices. We have found that the best prices traveling from Oakland, CA are usually with Hawaiian Airlines and therefore, we make sure we are subscribed to their email list where they forward emails often with low priced airfares. We also check Alaska Airlines as their prices seem to be the next best bet. From past experience, we have seen airfares at their lowest usually around Thanksgiving time and the lowest price we have booked was $380 per person round trip, non-stop to Kailua Kona on the Big Island, Hawaii. We have also been able to score some fairly decent airfare prices in July and August when booking only 1-2 months out. We have found that it pays to wait to book our airfare to Hawaii as prices almost always drop 1-2 months before travel. We also utilize Airfare Watchdog where we can set up alerts when prices drop to a price at or below what we are willing to pay. We like that Hawaiian Airlines offers a monthly rate calendar on their website that allows you to look at the airfares across the month to see when the best prices are…this really helps us decide on what dates to book our travel for! Below is an example of prices each way from Oakland to Kona and Kona to Oakland for the month of November.
If all else fails when we are trying to search for a deal on airfare for an upcoming vacation, we really like Expedia for it’s travel packages. Sometimes, even when we have enough points to redeem for our hotel portion of the travel bill, we will just book a package thru Expedia and save our points for a future trip because the deals are just that good. For example, I just searched one of our favorite hotels on the Big Island – the Hilton Waikoloa Village for the dates of 11/23/15-11/30/15 (yes, Thanksgiving week). The price for 7 nights WITH airfare for 2 adults is $2696.13 which includes taxes and fees. If I were to book this out separately with the hotel and airline it would be $1715.10 for the hotel with taxes and fees and the same airfare with Alaska Airlines was $1748 for 2 people for a total price of $3463.10. As you can see, the Expedia packages offer a HUGE savings when booking hotel and airfare together – in this case the savings was roughly $767!. I have also noticed similar pricing on packages from Travelocity. Both websites often have coupons for $50 off or more which is also helpful – I usually find a coupon with a quick search on the internet.
If you travel to Hawaii, you can expect food prices are going to be expensive, especially if you are staying at a hotel without a kitchen to prepare your own meals. We find ways to help curb those costs, and when you have kids who want to snack all day long, you almost have to find other options than resorting to paying top dollar at the resort anytime they want a snack. Once we step foot off the airplane and have our rental car, our first stop is always Costco, Walmart, and/or the grocery store. There, we pickup up essentials like milk, yogurt, cheese, bread, fruit, water, juice, cereal, etc. We also pack a few items from home like peanut butter, jelly, Ziploc bags, utensils, etc. By doing this, we are able to cover most of our breakfasts, snacks and some lunches affordably and probably more healthy than resorting to some of the options offered at the resort. We also make sure to pickup our “adult drink” options at Costco while we are there to save ourselves from paying at least $10 per drink at the resort. A few years back when we were getting bored with the same old cold breakfast options of cereal and yogurt in the room, hubby came up with an ingenious idea to buy an electric griddle while at Walmart in Hawaii to make breakfast on. I laughed at him because I thought the idea was silly but by the end of the trip I was thrilled with the idea so much that we brought the griddle home and now use it almost every weekend to cook breakfast on. We even replaced it since the original had gotten so much use. It now comes on every trip we go on and it saves us tons of money and time with the kids at breakfast. This morning we cooked pancakes and scrambled eggs with cheese in our hotel room. We have used it to heat up leftovers, make grilled cheese, etc. It really comes in handy!
With this trip, since we are Platinum HHonors members, the resort gave us 12 vouchers like the below worth $10 to redeem at restaurants around the resort. These really came in handy especially at lunch when we were hanging by the pool. We were able to use these to cover several lunches and some extras for the room like milk and fruit. This is a nice $120 perk from Hilton and another reason why we are HHonors members and credit card holders.
Hubby and I often disagree on this area – the need for activities when visiting Hawaii. If it were up to hubby, he could lounge by the pool all day long and be happy with that as his vacation. For me and the kids, we like to get out and see and do new things, so it often involves a lot of creativity on my end to keep everybody happy and entertained. As soon as I get off the airplane, I always grab the free “things to do” and coupon brochures that are always waiting at the airport. The often have lots of great tips of things to do around the island, recommendations and coupons…plus they make for great reading when relaxing by the pool. We often check out the gift cards at Costco to see if they have any for restaurants and other establishments on the island as a way to save money. I also research options online to see what other travelers recommend for things to do – especially with kids. We have found things like visiting a zoo for free, kid-friendly beaches, botanical gardens and more that way. Also, don’t forget to see what your hotel has to offer – many offer kids’ clubs and some allow you to drop in for free if the parents are present while the kids play. As part of our hotel stay at Hilton Waikoloa this past visit, we were given a DVD Now rental card that allowed us to rent 2 DVDs or video games every 24 hours for FREE. The rooms had a PlayStation 3 in them where we could play these games and DVDs. Other things at our resort include wildlife like poi ponds and parrots and macaws that our sons enjoyed looking at. Not to mention the boat and tram that took us around the resort for free – those were added bonuses for them. When we stopped at Walmart on our first day we made sure to pickup items such as sand toys and inner tubes for even more entertainment at the beach and in the pool.
Time is Money and Less is More
Since most airlines are now charging for you to check bags, we have learned to consolidate our checked bags into one for our family of four and pack any additional items needed into our carry-ons. This not only saves us money on the extra baggage fees but saves us time when we get home because we have less to unpack and put away. We always bring some quarters and laundry detergent on vacation so we can wash a load or two of laundry during the week if we start running low on necessities. It is also a time saver for us when we get home to not have a huge amount of laundry to do and we can just unpack and put everything away right away.
Home Away from Home Comfort
We are slowly learning, with 2 young kids (ages 3 and 6), how to make the best of our vacation with them while helping everybody feel the most comfortable they can away from home. There are a few items we have found as necessities for us to bring and/or have when we travel so that we know they are entertained and so that we have a chance of relaxing. First, we always request a room on the lower level if there is a patio or lanai because it allows for extra room for them to run around outside. We also bring things like bubbles and squirt bottles that they can play with outside. A sound machine is handy during nap time and bedtime to muffle any sounds from outside the room. Another must are nightlights which help with getting around the room in the middle of the night and making children feel more comfortable at bedtime. Last not but least, and probably the most important tip I can give you, is if you plan to rent a car in Hawaii, ALWAYS bring your own car seat. The reason being is you never know the history of the car seats car rental companies rent which poses a safety concern. I always recommend that you do NOT gate check your car seat and utilize it on the airplane for a multitude of reasons – 1. Your child is safer in a car seat on the airplane. 2. If your child is like mine, they will probably sleep better in the car seat than on your lap or airplane seat. 3. You do not know how your seat is being treated when gate checked – if it is thrown around, it could possibly crack the foam and/or seat just as if it were in a car accident.
We have traveled to Hawaii the last 4 years with kids and definitely have had our ups and downs. We have come to learn that a vacation as a family is different than a vacation as a couple – and it brings us a different kind of happiness and relaxation to travel as a family. Every family has its own dynamics and all children have their own temperament. My best advice is to take your trip day by day when traveling with children and go with the flow. This past trip we made a costly mistake of planning ahead and paying for a Dolphin experience for both of our boys – only to find out that neither wanted to participate in it and we were out the full sum of money. We learned a valuable lesson the hard way – that young children don’t need extravagant to be happy. It’s similar to the idea of kid’s being happier with a cardboard box than the toy it came in. Vacationing with kids just works better when you make it easier for yourself by keeping the kids happy – it’s the sacrifice you make as a parent, plain and simple. We forced ourselves to give up the ocean view room that we always get at the opposite end of the resort and settled for a garden view next to the kid’s pool…and truthfully, it made our lives so much easier to have our room closer to where we spent the majority of the time at the resort. As parents, we are always learning – every year is different with each phase of life we all enter. With that, we adjust as best as we can to accommodate the needs of both ourselves, as parents and our children. We look forward to many more vacations as a family and the priceless memories that come with them. We are already looking forward to booking another trip next year! ALOHA!