How to choose the best Hawaii hotel, condo or villa

After you’ve chosen which Hawaiian island(s) you want to visit, one of the next major decisions is choosing where to stay. Though the selection process can be daunting, if you follow our tips, it will make the process easier.

In this guide, we’ll primarily focus on hotels, however many of the same factors to consider for a hotel also apply to condos, villas and other vacation rentals.

Learn about the resort area options

There’s no need to start your research from scratch as we’ve created where-to-stay guides for the four larger islands — Kauai, Oahu, Maui and Hawaii. In our guides we discuss the major resort locations, weather, conveniences, attractions and more. Think of these guides as a cheatsheet to help you hone in on the resort area that suits your interests.

Determine your accommodation options and read reviews

After you’ve chosen a resort area(s) of your interest, the next natural step is to consider the accommodation options. A simple way to discover your options is to search for them on TripAdvisor. For example, if you’ve chosen Poipu for your Kauai vacation base, you can search for hotels and to a lesser extent condos/homes in Poipu on TripAdvisor. For condos or villa rentals, VRBO.com has many more options. From there, you can get an idea of pricing, ratings and the numerous reviews all in one site.

Though it can be time consuming, reading reviews for hotels and condos can also be well worth your time. From reviews, you should be able to get an idea of the level of service, room categories that are or aren’t worth the spend, amenities, nearby restaurants and attractions, trends, unedited (“real”) photos and more.

Note that our where-to-stay guides, that we listed in the previous section, include a list of the hotels and condos where we’ve stayed. We link to our reviews which contain lots of photos and a video overview.

Review the satellite image of your accommodation options

Some hotel and condo websites use very cleverly positioned photo angles to make the hotel and room views appear more ocean front and secluded than they really are.  To prevent any surprises, it’s a great idea to go to Google Maps, search for the accommodation(s) you’re considering and then view the satellite version of the map. You’ll be able to see if the accommodation is on a beach or across a road from the beach, how close the hotel is to a beach, how secluded the area is, etc.

From this Google Maps satallite view of part of Kaanapali Beach, you can learn a lot about the location of different hotels, the size of their pools, the proximity to the beach, etc.

Shop around for pricing

TripAdvisor, Expedia, and Trivago are online sites that we’ve used to compare hotel rates. TripAdvisor and Trivago can become one-stop-shops as they both search multiple online sites for the lowest rates.

Travel agents are a useful source, too. They can sometimes match the pricing of the online booking sites. Additionally, if they’re familiar with the Hawaiian Islands, they can offer personal insights and service that the online travel sites can’t.

If you have a Costco or other warehouse membership, check their package offers. We booked a stay at the Mauna Lani Hotel on the Big Island through a Costco package deal that included car, room and daily breakfast. We saved hundreds of dollars compared to room-only pricing we found through the online booking sites.

Know the room/view categories

Desired room views can be a matter of personal preference. Some people may be perfectly happy in a non-ocean view room, while others would be disappointed. If the type of room view is important to you, make sure you are well informed of the type of view categories as you are narrowing down your options.

As you’re shopping around for a hotel, you typically see the least expensive room categories listed first. Those are usually termed city, mountain or garden view rooms. Though not always, sometimes those terms are a nice way to say view of the parking lot/garage/road/buildings. Some garden view rooms do actually have garden view so, make sure you know what you’re getting before you book.

Even partial ocean view or ocean view rooms may not be as good as what you might expect. For example, the following photo shows a partial ocean view room in Waikiki. Note that the primary view is of the building next door.

A partial ocean view room in Waikiki

We could see the ocean if we stood on the balcony as you can see in the following photo.

The actual “partial ocean view” — a sliver of a view of the ocean, which could only been seen at a certain angle from the balcony.

Some hotel websites will show photos of the room categories. From our observations, they typically show the very best case scenario. Again, TripAdvisor is a good source to find actual room view photos taken by guests.

On the topic of room views, we will say that we’ve never regretted splurging on rooms with ocean views. Depending on the proximity of a hotel to the ocean, you can sometimes hear the soothing sounds of the ocean waves from most oceanfront rooms. For us, the more we can see and hear the ocean, the better.

Consider the amenities

The best ways to learn about hotel amenities is to find amenities listing on the hotels’ websites. You can also get an idea from reading reviews on TripAdvisor.

Some special amenities that you may be of interest: large pool, golf, tennis, spa, fitness center, special programs for kids, outrigger canoe rides, nearby snorkeling and snorkel gear, daily housekeeping and more.

A variety of onsite and nearby restaurants should be considered. You can see how well the restaurants are rated by checking Yelp.

Research resort fees

We detest resort fees, but unfortunately, they’re more the norm than the exception. Many Hawaii hotels charge a daily resort fee on top of the room rate – typically in the $20 – $30 range. Some examples of what the resort fees include are usually in-room coffee makers and coffee supplies, local phone calls, wifi and use of a fitness center. Some of the better resort charges include parking. So, as you are comparing your hotel options, make sure you factor in the daily resort fees and consider what, if any, value they offer to your needs and interests.

Research the parking options and fees

If you will be renting a car for your Hawaii vacation, then you should consider parking fees as you compare accommodation options. Some hotels have rather expensive parking fees — nearing $40 per night. Some hotels offer less expensive self-parking while a few only offer pricy, valet-only parking.

Note: if you are not sure if you should rent a car, see our advice.

Read any fine print

Before you commit to a particular hotel booking, make sure you read any fine print. In particular, make sure you know your cancelation and refund options. A travel agency contact at AATPA, Bud Arenz, shared a problem that seems to be sneaking up on people. They inadvertently book non-refundable, paid-in-full rates without knowing it. If they complete their stay as booked, that’s not a problem, but if they have to cancel their trip or want to change their plans, they lose the money.

Note the inconsistent use of non-refundable rates from this Expedia screen grab shared by Bud Arenz.

Some vacation rentals may make you sign a rental agreement. Be sure that you read it before committing to the rental.

Check for renovations

Hotel renovations are wonderful after they’re complete, but can be a disturbance while in progress. How can you find out if a hotel is undergoing renovations?

  • Most hotels will be open and transparent about renovations with a statement on their website. So skim through their website and/or use the hotel’s own booking engine for your desired dates to see if any renovation disclaimer is made.
  • Call the hotel directly to ask about upcoming renovations.
  • News of hotel renovations are usually shared on Pacific Business News. Search their site for the hotel(s) of your interest.

When to book a Hawaii hotel

From our observations, Hawaii hotel rates don’t vary a great deal, with the exception of the Christmas and New Year holidays. We tracked and analyzed Hawaii hotel rates a few years ago. With the exception of the December holidays, average Hawaii hotel rates only fluctuated about $47 throughout the year. The lowest rates were for stays in April/May and September/October/November. (See our article on the cheapest times to visit Hawaii.)

With Hawaii hotel rates being driven more by when you stay rather than when you book, we recommend booking as soon as you find a reasonable rate for your desired location. If you make a booking that can be cancelled, you can always periodically check for lower rates after you’ve secured your booking. If you find something better, cancel and secure the lower rate.

When to book a Hawaii vacation condo or villa

Because vacation rentals are more unique and usually individually owned, we recommend booking your desired rental as soon as possible.

More articles to consider:

5 important points to consider before booking a Waikiki Hotel

Waikiki hotels with the best pools

Best Hawaii hotels for families

Tips for selecting a Hawaii vacation rental

Hawaii hotels with adult-only pools


About Sheila Beal

Sheila Beal is the founder and editor of Go Visit Hawaii. You can connect with Sheila Beal on Twitter, Go Visit Hawaii on Facebook, or Sheila Beal on Google+.

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