Where can local travelers go for $500 and $1000?
When we asked local travel agents to describe how a kamaaina couple could visit the Neighbor Islands for a short and smart weekend, live to their heart’s content and squeeze the most out of their budget during these trying times, we didn’t expect to get one exuberant recommendation for nearly-free travel. Apparently, it’s possible. Says one agent, her tongue obviously in cheek: “Do it this way. You get free airfare if you’ve been accumulating Hawaiian Miles or Aloha AirAwards. You get a free or almost free car rental using frequent renter certificates. Likewise, your hotel room is rock-bottom or without charge if you’ve saved various hotel certificates. Also, everybody knows there’s a McDonald’s card for a free hamburger. And, the last time we looked in the This Week coupon books, Subway offered a dollar off on any foot-long submarine sandwich. See, you can do it for nothing. Well, almost for nothing.”
All right, this is no time for levity, and we imagine you don’t want to travel with a knapsack full of coupons. Still, we had heard that the kamaaina travel market was awash in beautiful weekend deals, quite remarkably priced, and available with few restrictions throughout the year. So, with serious intent, off we went to look for them.
The ground rules were concise. We asked three travel agents to provide advice and recommend packages in two price categories: $500 and $1,000. The packages for two persons would include roundtrip airfare, hotel for two nights, rental car, and, if anything was left over, advice on meals, and, perhaps, some other unexpected frills. Go light on the one-plate picnic lunches, we urged. Emphasize value and how to get the most for our money.
“Here’s the expensive plan I’ve cooked up,” says Bonnie Gutner, manager and owner of Travel Inc. in Kailua. “We get you $108.50 per person air tickets to Lanai. Then we put you up at The Lodge at Koele, or the Manele Bay Hotel. There the kamaaina rate is $247.50 per night, including tax. You don’t need a car, because the hotel picks you up at the airport. Later, to get around, you can use the hotel minivan service for about $7. There’s also a modified American meal plan for two persons for $208, for Saturday, leaving you $80 for Sunday meals.” Not bad.What did we learn? You may only be traveling to Maui or Kauai, but, nevertheless, your money goes to the ends of the earth. For the most part, $500 invested in a Neighbor Island weekend gets you a pretty good time with a decent hotel room. With a $1000, the blue skies are the only limit.
By comparison, you can have a basic plan that still serves up plenty of atmosphere. Gutner says: “We’ll fly you to the Big Island and put you up in the Manago Hotel in Captain Cook. This is a real local hotel, but it’s clean and quaint, and it costs $41 a night with tax. A kamaaina fly-drive package to get you there costs $384 for two, which leaves you a little something, but not much, for meals.”
Gutner also reminds us to keep our eyes and ears open for unexpected deals. “Watch the newspapers,” she admonishes. “Periodically, hotels announce two-for-one deals, or children-stay-free deals or free breakfasts. Or check with your favorite travel agent. When possible, we’ll let our clients know when airfares drop.”
On King Street, Rachel Shimamoto, vice president and manager of Travelways took our $500 and flew us to Hilo, put us up at the Hilo Bay Hotel and got us an economy-size car for 48 hours. All of this seemed to be an especially good deal because it added up to only $388. “In Hilo you can have a buffet breakfast at the hotel, or go to Ken’s Coffee Shop. Whatever, you still have $112 for meals,” Rachel says. For the big bucks package, she thought we’d be happy on the Big Island at The Orchid at Mauna Lani (which offers a special kamaaina room rate of $179, plus tax, including breakfast for two), the Hilton Waikoloa Village or, on Maui, the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua —all with attractive kamaaina packages the year around. “You can get an ocean view room at the Princeville Hotel for two nights for $546. You can get the Four Seasons for $746. But that doesn’t leave much in your budget for fine dining.”
She also had all-around travel savings advice: “There are lots of car-rental deals, and plenty of upgrades from economy to mid-size. This Week coupons are valuable. Some hotels have early dining rates between five and six. Ask around.”
Although travel agents have always been zestful about ferreting out money-saving deals, what they seem especially good at is sending us to places we’ve never even considered. So after Aline Steiner at Regal Travel in the Kahala Mall examined our Neighbor Island game plan, she asked the inevitable question: “Why not Oahu?” Of course, this was something we hadn’t thought much about, because if you live here you don’t consider vacationing here. “The Ihilani Resort, a J.W. Marriott property, is a 40-minute drive from Honolulu,” Steiner says. “Very relaxing, with a spa, state-of-the-art rooms, and the best brunch on Oahu. Their ‘Island Escape’ kamaaina package gets you a room for two nights for about $460, but you also get a $60 dining credit. No car, no airfare.”
Kauai, she claims, is the best value, because hotels are less expensive. No hotel except the Kona Village on the Big Island includes meals in the room rate, and here the kamaaina rate is $320 with the meals. Her recommendations: “To save money, choose a hotel with lots of activities, so you don’t need a car. Golf courses associated with hotels usually have great kamaaina rates. Remember, almost all hotels will pick you up at the airport, free or for a nominal charge.”
Steiner also reminded us that kamaaina rates are hard to beat any time of the year, often 50 percent off rack rates on packages supplied to agents by the three major travel wholesalers, Rendezvous, Roberts and Pleasant Hawaiian. “Except for Christmas, New Year’s and a few days during high season, we’ve always been able to get kamaaina rates on request,” she says. “Bring your driver’s license.”