By Carol Pucci, The Seattle Times (MCT)
4:37 PM EST, January 31, 2012
"Who would go to Hawaii in June?" a friend asked when I talked about a trip I took to Maui last year.
A travel writer on a budget, for one.
I, too, was skeptical about the timing, but the weather was a perfect 70-80 degrees, with low humidity and evenings cool enough to sleep without AC.
By planning my trip in the first week in June — after spring break and before school let out for the summer — I found deals on airfare and hotels that weren't there for travel earlier or later.
Visiting Hawaii during the slower seasons — early February and early March, late May, early June or fall — is one strategy for making travel more affordable. But if that's not possible, don't give up. There are other ways to save:
Airfares are higher this year, so flexibility will be key.
Travel midweek, if possible, and if you're still not having any luck, try moving your dates by a day or a week or two.
To find the least expensive travel dates, consult low-fare calendars on websites such as Kayak.com and Alaskair.com.
Use Bing.com's Price Predictor to gauge whether fares are likely to rise or fall in the coming weeks.
Renting a car off-airport can save $100 or more on a week's rental. Example: Enterprise recently quoted $399, including taxes, as the weekly rate for a Chevy Aero picked up at the airport in Honolulu. The price fell to $240 for pickup at several other locations just a few miles away.
Agencies with off-airport locations can't pick you up at the airport. You'll need a cab for that. But most will take you back.
Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island have inexpensive public bus service. I rented a car in Maui, but used Maui Bus several times (www.co.maui.hi.us) At $1 per ride, I loved being able to jump off when I saw something interesting, without hassling with parking.
Fares are also $1 on the Big Island's Hele-On Bus system (www.heleonbus.org). Oahu's transit system (www.thebus.org) sells a four-day pass for $25 and single rides for $2.50. Kauai Bus (www.kauai.gov) provides service around the island for $2 per ride.
—Where to stay:
"Buyer beware" are the watchwords when it comes to sifting though advertised "deals" for hotels, rentals and vacation packages. Hidden cleaning and resort fees, parking and taxes can lift the bottom-line price higher than it first appears.
Online-booking sites can turn up deals, but check first directly with hotels. They might offer the same or a lower rate as a web special, and AAA or AARP rates might be less.
Expedia, for instance, recently advertised a three-night "early booking bonus" rate at the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel for $576, including taxes and fees. That was $5 less than the rate available on the hotel's website, but a search there also turned up an AAA / AARP rate of $523.
Package-tour operators negotiate volume discounts, but the deals may include extras that you don't need. Before paying for a vacation package upfront, figure out the cost of each component if booked separately. You'll gain flexibility and avoid extra change or cancellations fees beyond what the hotels and airlines charge.
Example: A seven-night Pleasant Holidays package for two to Maui in February came to $3,696, including taxes and a $19 per night resort fee payable directly to the hotel. The price included nonstop flights on Hawaiian Airlines from Seattle, a garden-view suite at the Kaanapali Shores Hotel, a two-for-one luau offer and a $100 food and drink credit.
Booking the same flights and hotel separately came to $3,393, with taxes and a $10 per night resort fee, a savings of $303, minus the package extras.
Other lodging tips:
—Score a room for half-price by bidding on Priceline (www.priceline.com), the website that lets you name a price and pick a hotel's star rating and location but doesn't reveal the name until after you've paid. Check http://www.biddingfortravel.com for tips.
—Find lodging in homes, cottages and condos at http://www.airbnb.com.Among its listings is a $69 room on a Big Island farm and an $85 condo with a pool near Ala Moana Beach Park in Honolulu.
—Vacation Rentals by Owner (www.vrbo.com) is a reliable site with hundreds of listings and photos for homes and condos.