How much money should you budget for a Hawaii vacation?

We’ve updated Hawaii vacation cost estimates and created a Hawaii trip budget calculator. For the update, click this link.

Gulp! AAA says Hawaii vacations cost $793 per couple per day. Um – who on earth is compiling this data and have they ever been to Hawaii? Somebody is smoking some wacky backy if they think it’s going to cost a couple $793 per day for food and lodging alone. Honestly, in all our trips to Hawaii, we’ve never even come close to spending that amount per day. If you are staying at the Four Seasons on Maui or the Big Island, you could approach nearly $800 a day, but that is by no means near an average stay in Hawaii.

AAA based their estimates on hotel rack rates. Nobody pays rack rates.

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Once again, please note that the following data is from 2008, we have updated more recently in late 2012 with more recent data — click this link to see the more recent post on what to budget for Hawaii.

The following information is for reference purposes only:


Let’s use some real data to estimate an average lodging and food budget. According to the latest hotel data, the average cost of a hotel room in Hawaii is $199 per night. For reference, we paid $150 per night for a nicely furnished, fully equipped, two-bedroom condo on the luxurious Kohala Coast of Hawaii’s Big Island less than two months ago. It’s not too difficult to find hotel rates for under $200 per night. You can save a bundle on accomodations, see my article, Save Money on Hawaii Vacation Accommodations.

For meals, I’d estimate an average cost per couple as follows:

  • Breakfast – average of $18 per person based on ordering breakfast in a resort from an a la carte breakfast menu. So the total cost per couple would be $36. You can definitely get breakfast for well under $18 per person. Check out these tips for saving money on breakfasts in Hawaii.
  • Lunch – average of $20 per person, which would be $40 per couple. Again, this is basing the cost on resort hotel restaurant prices. If you’re out and about sight-seeing, you can definitely find deli sandwiches or a good local spot for lunch for under $10 per person.
  • Dinner – average of $50 per person, which would be $100 per couple. I’m assuming resort prices for at least an entree each and sharing dessert. You might even be able to squeeze in some cocktails, too. You’ll find the most variation with dinner pricing. To save money while having a very special  dinner, make plans for a sunset picnic on a Hawaii beach.
  • Find several more tips and tricks for saving money on dining in Hawaii.

Of course, you could spend more or less, but I’m putting an average cost based on what I think is easily achievable at resort hotel prices. You can eat much cheaper than these prices outside of the hotel. From our travels to Hawaii, we would rarely spend that much money on meals.

So now let’s look at the total cost for lodging and meals:

Lodging: $199 per day
Meals: $176 per day
Total: $375 per day per couple (not per person)

So, $375 per day is a far cry from $792 per day. Wouldn’t you agree?

On top of lodging and food, remember that you have to get to Hawaii. Flights to Hawaii will definitely vary from person to person depending on your departure city and fluctuating fuel costs. Use these tips to help you save on airfare to Hawaii.

Rental cars are relatively inexpensive in Hawaii. For budgeting purposes, I’d estimate $35 per day for rental car. See these strategies for saving money on rental cars in Hawaii.

To round out your vacation, you might want to go to a luau or take a helicopter tour, so check out these tour expense trimming ideas: Saving Money on Hawaii Vacation Tours & Activities

I’ve written many articles on how to save money on your Hawaii vacation. My  money saving strategies that will have you laughing at AAA. To find those articles conveniently packaged in one spot, see  Top Tips for Saving Money on Your Hawaii Vacation. You’ll find strategies that will help you make the most of your vacation budget and time. Hawaii definitely doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

I often post excellent deals here at Go Visit Hawaii, which will help you achieve a Hawaii vacation for far less than AAA’s estimate. (If you haven’t already, consider subscribing to my free updates via e-mail or RSS so that you’ll stay on top of the best deals.) Since I’ve been to all the islands, I’ve got a good perspective on where the nice places are and where you might want to steer clear of. Rest assured, I’ll never suggest you stay at the YMCA or a roach motel.

Once again, be sure to check our updates for Hawaii vacation cost estimating.

  1. It depends… Like I would most likely stay in a Hostel and that brings the cost of room to 35-50 bucks a night for a private 2 person room. Not because I’m cheap but I like the experience better. Rental car is 50 a day, and food you can do 60 a day… Gas, 10 bucks a day I think.

    So I think I could do it 200 bucks a day and be pretty well off… however, that’s not most people 🙂

  2. Hi Joe – thanks for sharing how much you’d budget. That’s pretty good going!

    I don’t know if you picked up on this, but the AAA estimate is just for food and lodging. It doesn’t include rental car. Sheesh!

  3. I think you can buy whatever they were smoking up on the top end of Maui.

    Our recent 3 week trip to Maui cost us about $270 a day. That’s for everything, airfare, condo, car rental, food, gas, gifts and so on.


    1. How? that seems like a really good price for three weeks.
      Could you give me some examples of places you visted, and where you stayed at?

  4. I saw that… IMO… It’s very misleading. The way I read the report… That’s how much people spend… NOT how much it costs. (BIG Difference)

    For example… If you’re on a honeymoon, you’re likely going to spend some extra cash to create that perfect memory at romantic restaurants and beachfront luxury hotel rooms with a view, etc. Versus – Staying at a budget hotel a away block from the beach and eating fast food.

    Sure… You could live like a rock-star and spend a fortune on your Hawaii vacation if you wanted to but it’s not a requirement.

    I’m sure Las Vegas would be the most expensive if gamboling losses were figured into the equation. But there again… You don’t “Need” to spend money on that if you don’t want to.

  5. @ David – you did very well on your trip! Thanks for sharing your budget with us.

    @ Dave – I think the whole report is misleading. It’s ok for comparing the relative cost difference ofvarious destinations, but that ends its usefulness. They’ve grossly over estimated the cost based on using rack rates. I’m bothered that AAA is continuing the perception that Hawaii is too expensive for the average American.

  6. Holy cow! That estimate is way off our budget! We spent a total of about $5500 for 15 days on our first (an only thus far) trip to Hawaii. That includes air, inter island air, car, accomodations, cars, luau, helicopter, Trilogy, PCC & food. Add a bit more for gas & all the stuff I bought. We didn’t eat fancy every.single.night though. I was happy w/ Da’ Kitchen! Breakfast was in the condo and sometimes we’d just make sammy’s for lunch. I, for one, usually only have either lunch OR dinner.

  7. Lissete – Thanks for sharing how much you spent. You guys did a lot for way less than AAA estimates!

    I’ve struggled with how to list the food budget. Someone would have to have a very healthy appetite in order to have an $18 breakfast, $20 lunch, and then $50 dinner.

    1. People do have healthy appetites. Especially when they are being fed. We live on Kauai in the winter. We have lots of visitors. We spent nearly $2500 last month “entertaining” guests (food and booze). Some guests like going out to eat, which is OK, but very expensive with entrees in the $25-35 area. Add a bottle of wine and dinner is at least $100/couple. Eating in? Prepare to pay $15-27/pound for fresh local fish.
      Next year – no visitors. We just can’t afford it.
      In all fairness, some guests offer to help pay until they see how expensive food is. This is an island. Everything has to come in by air or sea. If you only eat organic, be prepared. A dozen organic eggs costs over $8 at Foodland. Seriously!
      We once hosted a family of four for a week. Between eating out (nothing fancy) and eating in, we spent $1500. Thank god they were not big drinkers. This alone prompted us to join Costco.
      So, if you are a guest, do your host a favor and send them a check in advance so they can stock up. For us, Costco is on the other side of the island and not a trip I like to make during a visit with friends.

  8. Well, let see this years vacation (2009) is going to be Molokai for a full 31 days.

    We are set a budget of 6K and these are the expenses broke down.

    2- People (husband and myself)

    2- RT tickets First Class = $1190 (woldperks miles used plus cash) – Already paid

    2 – RT tickets – Interisland fare from HNL- to MKK = $211.00 – Already paid

    1 month car rental at Budget car rental (economy) $747.21 – Reserved locked in

    30 night condo stay (Oceanfront 1-bedroom) = $2.250 (incusive of all taxes) – Partial paid.

    Cash on hand – $1,600 (food, will cook most of our own – we are not heavy eaters) entertainment, sitting at beach with a couple cocktails, just driving around looking at scenery. Maybe play around of golf)

    We might go over alittle budget depending if we want to splurge and go like on a whale watch or something – but all in all, we think this should do rather well for a month stay. We will be working during the day at our home/condo office so we will not loose out on any work income during the time. Have laptop’s will travel and cell phone. We are set!

    Molokai March 2009 HERE WE COME!


  9. Hi Laurie – Wow! Looks like your budget will come in well below AAA’s inflated average. Have a great time in Molokai and try a Mocha Mama decadent iced coffee drink at the Coffees of Hawaii on Molokai. Also try to visit Purdy’s Macadamia Nut farm.

  10. Um, I might have something to do with the AAA numbers, but not that high. 🙂

    We’ve always saved up and paid for the oceanfront rates in Maui because we’ve been totally addicted to the views at the Sheraton. We’re literally 20 feet from the water.

    Admittedly, hindsight is 20/20 and we haven’t been very smart about those things (other than helping out Maui’s economy!). I joke to myself that if we’d been smarter the past 4 trips to Maui, we’d have a pretty nice down payment for a part-time place in Kihei. 🙂

    This September, though, we’re heading there for the Maui Photo Festival and getting a crazy low rate at the Hyatt Maui Regency since we’re attending the workshops. After that, we’re looking for a week in February, and will likely be much smarter than we have been in the past.

    No worries, though. We’ll probably spend the extra money we save to help the Maui economy some other way. 🙂

  11. @ Kris – Hawaii should recognize you, Cindy, Andy and I for supporting the travel economy. Perhaps they could give us honorary kama’aina status. 😉

  12. Honorary kama’aina status, eh? I like the way that sounds.

    I’m sure we’d be in some pretty good company, too.

  13. steve mcgarret would be APPALED at these prices per day of enjoying hawaii !!

  14. It’s interesting to see everyone’s take on vacationing in Hawaii. I was there with family early last year for two weeks and I have to say we did pretty well in terms of spending. We stayed in a $130/night hotel (not gonna give away that secret, haha) and we ate very well for dinner at local hole-in-the-wall restaurants in Honolulu/Waikiki (see Da Smokehouse: On our previous visit, we ate at a Chinese restaurant each morning, but that got to be a little too expensive and filling, so last year we generally skipped breakfast or ate bananas that we bought from Kmart. We had tasty, healthy wraps for lunch, each about $5 or $6. Everything else was purely discretionary, so really, if you can afford the flight over and be mindful of your food spending, Hawaii’s just like home – except moved to paradise.

  15. So the rates must be published based on average cost, and when some rich people like Gates’ or Obamas go to Hawaii they have big budgets to throw the mean way higher than the median. Remember how Gates reserved the entire island of Lanai? That includes the town, airport, all the public roads (for which there was some uproar), everything.

    An ordinary person will spend much less.

    1. Kamaaina — the AAA rates were based on the “rack rates”, which is the top rate that people very rarely pay.

      I tend to trust the weekly survey results from Smith Travel Research. They’re rates are much more “accurate” and “normal” versus the AAA reports.

  16. What would be some ideal places to get married? I’m looking for a wedding and honeymoon

  17. Spent a total of 9k for 3 people for a week in Hyatt Regency Maui including car week rentals and tours in July 2016. It was totally worth it!

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