I had a wonderful time on Big Island! This is the first trip that I planned on my own, and it was quite a learning process. I’ve compiled my Big Island travel tips and tricks below, and hope that I don’t make these mistakes again!
Paying with cash
As mentioned in my itinerary post, my flight was part of the Expedia package that I created on my own. The price of our round-trip flights on United was $641.74 CAD per person. The price was OK, as flying Kona is always $100 – $200 more expensive than flying to Honolulu. However, the best time to visit Hawaii is probably March and April when the winter season ends. Many seasonal flights end in March or April, so it is probably easier to get a cheaper price when airlines want to clear out the seats.
Paying with points
Another good way to get cheap flights to any Hawaii islands from a west coast city is to use British Airways Avios. British Airways is a member of the airline alliance OneWorld and partners with Alaska Airlines, so its frequent flyer miles (Avios) can be used to redeem American Airlines or Alaska Airlines flights to Hawaii. A round-trip flight to Hawaii costs only 25,000 Avios, which is lowest among all airline reward programs. Both Canadians and Americans can be obtained easily with credit card welcome bonuses.
The only catch is that for Vancouver residents is that only Air Canada and WestJet fly to Hawaii, and neither can be redeemed by British Airways Avios. To use this method, we have to go to Bellingham or Seattle airports, which can be a hassle.
The stay at Hilton was completely over my budget. I didn’t do a lot of research on hotel types and the prices, and thus I spent more than I anticipated. I noticed the resort fee ($35 USD per day) and the parking fee ($27 per day) when I book it, but I still think it is outrageous. Another mistake is that I didn’t book directly with the property, and thus I didn’t earn any reward points.
The 2-night stay at Shaka Shak Garden Inn was OK. However, I think I will only choose a B&B if the hotels are too pricey or badly rated.
To sum up, please remember the following when booking accommodation.
- Compare different types of properties, including hotels, resorts, and B&Bs
- Watch out for hidden fees, such as resort fee, parking fee, or cleaning fee.
- Location is important for staying on the west coast. I think I will choose a hotel in Kona city center next time so that I can drive less.
- Book directly with the hotel to get maximum benefits, including a slightly cheaper price, reward points, etc.
We ended up spending about $500 on car rental. This includes a 7-day regular car rental from Alamo and a 1-day rental of a four-wheel drive from Harper Car and Truck Rental.
Knowing the insurance coverage is very important when picking up the vehicle. The agents will try to push you to buy optional coverage, and you don’t want to double pay. I didn’t remember any coverages I had, but I declined all of the optional coverage. This might not be the best decision, but thank God that I didn’t have any accidents.
Agents will also try to sell vehicle upgrades and a full tank of fuel. I said yes to both, which was a big mistake. It was hard to decide when to fuel up so that the tank was empty when returning. We ended up returning our car with the tank half full. For vehicle upgrades, I chose the smallest one when booking. At the counter, the agent persuaded me to upgrade to “Toyota Camry or similar,” and I agreed. When I walked to the parking lot, I didn’t see any small vehicles. This means I would still get the same car without an upgrade!
Things to remember:
- Know the insurance coverage for your own vehicles and the coverage from the credit card. Use the right credit card to pay for it.
- Decline a full tank of fuel
- Accept or decline vehicle upgrades based on the number of people and luggage
Even though I saw advice on not to squeeze all destinations in the itinerary, I still made this mistake. In my actual itinerary, we visited a lot of beaches on Day 2 and Day 3, and a few of them were not that great. We missed the chance to fully explore some parks. Thus, don’t plan to go to all the beaches. Select a few good ones such as Hapuna Beach State Park or Kiholo Bay and spend more time there.
The other tip to remember is the arrangement of the destinations in a day. When we were on the west side of the island in early September, it was hot and sunny in the morning and cloudy in the afternoon. Thus, it is not a good idea to visit historic parks when the sun is burning at noon. I think it is the best to snorkel in the morning and visit other destinations in the afternoon.
I learned a lot from this trip. This will be my guide for my future Hawaiian trips. I hope that you learn from the post and have a wonderful Big Island vacation!