Beautiful Maui on a budget-under $2000 for 2 People

Maui on a budget is possible!!

Living in the Pacific Northwest means lots of wet, grey, dark days in the winter. February and March are no joke. My seasonal affective disorder manifests itself slowly. 

Dex refers to SAD as hibernation

One day, the sun will come out and I will have inspiration to move off the couch, sort through a pile of paperwork that has been sitting in one spot for weeks, and throw out dead food from the fridge. And then I look back on the weeks before that sunny day and realize that I have been in a serious funk. But I don’t see it until then. 

Preventively, I up my Vitamin D and try to walk outside each day. I can’t use the light boxes because of my migraine anxiety. 

Seeking the cure

A couple of years ago, I decided that in order to live a full life in the PNW, I may need to exit it for some time during the winter. Eventually that might encompass much of the first 2-3 months of the year, but for right now, I am trying for someplace warm and sunny at some point during those 3 months. This is the first year that I accomplished it. 

Even from the airport parking area, the palm trees beckon

The plan was: go somewhere tropical in the winter. My birthday is in February, so I thought that would be a good target. I didn’t have anything more concrete than that. 

Southwest to the rescue!

In the fall of 2021, Southwest Airlines had a flash sale. If you purchased 1 round trip or 2 one way flights to somewhere, you would get a free companion pass(CP) for January and February.

The tickets had to be purchased within a few days of when the sale was announced, we had to travel by early November, and the CP would only be good in the first two months of 2022. 

We opted to use our required flight to go to Hawaii at the end of October. We had never been to Hawaii, and Southwest had flights from PDX for $216 round trip per person. This was a great deal and really not much more than a quick run to Seattle would have been if we just wanted to go somewhere to fulfill the requirements and get the companion pass. 

Maui on a budget? Sounds like a plan!

I looked online and found advice stating that Maui is a good first island to visit, since there is a lot of beauty, it isn’t too crowded, but it still has the amenities that mainlanders are used to without too much driving involved. 

Expense breakdown

Flight 432
Activities 194.15
Clothes 153.04
Groceries 256.12
Restaurants 277.51
Souvenirs 137.92
Supplies 93.12
Ground transport 104.89
Medical 0
Cash 165
Total 1813.75

One way to see Maui on a budget? use credit card rewards points

As I discussed in another post, we used 87,507 Chase Ultimate Rewards points on the room. The nightly rate was $234. We stayed 4 nights, so with tax, the room would have cost us $1093. We used points and so had no out of pocket expense there. 

We could have transferred our points to a hotel such as the Hyatt and gotten a more expensive room or even a suite for around the same point value. We were new to the game and I hadn’t fully grasped the magic of transfer yet.

However, I also really wanted to stay in a small, quiet place with its own kitchen and a mellow vibe. Therefore, it was absolutely worth it to us to spend this amount of points on a lower-rate inn. I wouldn’t have traded our time there for anything.

A glimpse of the inn. That was our bedroom and those flowers are the treetops just outside the room. You can imagine how amazing it smelled.

We decided to attend a luau. Since we have never been to one, we wanted to experience it at least once. The one we attended was about $286, and we used Chase Pay Yourself Back(PYB) to offset some of the cost. P

YB allowed us to use some of our points to credit grocery purchases we had already made, with a 25% bonus (each point is worth 1.25 cents when used to PYB). Of course, we could do this at any time, it doesn’t have to be related to travel. But we decided to match the cost of the luau with a grocery PYB.

Chase no longer has groceries as a PYB category. Our total spent for luau was $50 after our PYB credits. 

My pics from the luau aren’t great, but here is Honolua Bay

Maui budget tip: look for free and cheap activities

We rented snorkel equipment for about $115. We were able to hold onto it for the duration of the trip. I didn’t love this even though I was excited about it before we went. It felt like a chore that we had to find perfect snorkeling beaches to maximize the use of this gear. 

By the time we found a great beach for snorkeling, the sun was at a brutal angle, glaring off the water and it was hard to get our bearings. And then we had to make sure to go back to the place and return it before we left.

There are other options besides renting. Our inn even had equipment we could borrow for free. We could have purchased masks and snorkels and borrowed fins and boogie boards. We really barely used the equipment and opted to not rent any in Kauai. 

We spent another $30 on a day pass to Haleakala and that was absolutely and totally, 100% worth it. People talk about the importance of going at sunrise or sunset, and I am sure it is stunning. But we went in the middle of the day and the colors are so incredible when the sun is directly overhead. 

Haleakala: Definitely worth it

From the summit, we could see Oahu, the Big Island, Molokai, Lanai, and Kaho’olawe. And of course, we were standing on Maui. So 6 of the 9 Hawaiian islands. I hope to visit Haleakala again some day. 

The rest of the time was spent at the beach, driving around and admiring the island, visiting downtown Lahaina, going to the hospital (!), and relaxing on our balcony. I will do a full trip report in another post and talk about what we saw and did in more depth. Everything else was free. 

Gorgeous views are free

Before we left, we ordered rash guards on Amazon. I had never heard of them before, so if you are in the same boat, I will explain. They are simply quick drying clothing that has sun protection baked in. We each got a long sleeved shirt. 

These are great for a few reasons. The sun is really strong there and it is hard to avoid a burn. 

You are spending a lot of time in the water, which intensifies the sun and can wash away some of your sun protection.

The turtles appreciate your cooperation in keeping their home clean

The reefs need less product. While Hawaii passed a law that bans two of the common sunscreen ingredients that harm reefs, there are a lot more ingredients that have adverse effects that weren’t banned and can be found on store shelves around the islands. True reef-safe sunscreen is pretty expensive and kind of hard to find.

So a rash guard allows you to cover swaths of your skin and minimize the amount of sunscreen you need. 

I packed what I thought were lightweight clothes, but as soon as I got hit with the heat and humidity, I knew I packed the wrong things. One of the first stops was to the ABC store to buy a couple of lightweight dresses and a good hat. 

Lightweight dress and a good hat

 

Of course, all of this stuff will get use beyond our Maui trip. In fact, I keep it all together in a bag so I can be ready quickly when faced with a tropical island getaway. But I put it in the Maui trip because this is when I bought it. 

We definitely went wild on the groceries and you do not have to spend this much!! I know that Hawaii can be expensive for groceries, but we found pretty good deals on groceries at the local Safeway and Foodland. Costco is always an option if you will be there for a while or have a large family.

Milk and eggs were very expensive (think $6/gallon or dozen). Meat was also spendy. But you really aren’t going to need many dozen eggs or gallons of milk on your trip, so while the prices may shock, they shouldn’t make or break your budget. 

I think we bought one dozen eggs and some meat because we had a kitchen and had dinner in our room one night.

But we were on vacation and were in splurge mode. We bought local rum, mixed drinks in a can, wine, pastries, ice cream, very beautiful fruit, and lots of snacks. 

Beachfront picnics are a great way to enjoy Maui on a budget!

We are not used to buying for only 2, nor are we used to buying for under a week. In addition to our usual tip, housekeeping had quite a bit of food and drink to take home or share. We definitely overbought groceries. 

Given all that we bought at the grocery stores, how did we also have such a high restaurant bill for a 4 night stay? Well, on the trip back, our plan was delayed and we needed to stay in San Jose, CA overnight.

Given the Dude’s food allergies, it is very difficult to find food without a lot of research, so we spent quite a bit on our overnight stay. 

During our stay on Maui, we spent $123 on restaurants. That included a very nice late lunch at Beach Bums after landing and on our way to our inn.

View from our table Welcome to Hawaii

We were tired one night and opted to stay in and order delivery, so it was Door Dash from one of the food carts. On the way up to Haleakala, we stopped for coffee.

 

Of course, we had to have shave ice at Ululani’s!!

Shave ice
Strawberry shave ice for the win.

We had dinner at the luau.

Dinner with a view

We cooked dinner in the room one night. The other meals; breakfast, lunch and snacks came from the grocery store. 

Souvenirs-bring a little of your trip home with you

Souvenirs are self-explanatory. 🙂 We tend to get magnets, postcards, and food. I am trying to implement a new thing where I buy a small beautiful item from a local artist and then when we get back home (or while there) I try to find a true tchotchke from that place at a thrift shop. After we got back from Kauai, I found this beautiful wooden tray at a Goodwill for $5. 

Makes the bathroom window sill a little nicer.

Supplies

We bought dry pouches from Amazon before we went. These fit around the waist and let you carry your keys, wallet, and phone into the water without worrying about them being swiped. You can also take photos underwater because your camera is safe. We didn’t really use them because we didn’t do much snorkeling, but now we have them. 

Sunscreen cost us a bit. We bought a smaller (but still expensive) bottle at Target, and it was empty within a day. We bought a bigger bottle and then couldn’t even bring it home with us because we had carry-on bags only.

And of course, I thought that because of the law in Hawaii, all sunscreen would be reef-safe. But actually, most of what is sold on the shelves there is only “reef friendly” and still contains questionable ingredients. 

 

I purchased a tin of zinc oxide/reef safe stuff in Kauai. I will be able to easily pack it in my bag and it is TSA-friendly as well as reef-safe. I will be able to use it on multiple vacations. 

Transportation

Ground transport includes rental car for 5 days, gas while there, and our Uber to the airport in San Jose.

The total for the car (cost and tax) was $291. We were able to use PYB to offset some of the cost and spent about $80 total on the car. Gas was $52 (Yay Costco!).

We had purchased SW Early Bird check in since I wasn’t sure if we would have reception in the mountains 24 hours before check in, but they refunded that after our flight was delayed. 

Medical expenses

We had a quick trip to the hospital one night (everyone is fine! The story will be in the trip report) and at first we were charged $75 for the ER visit, but the hospital later sent us a refund. So that was zeroed out. 

At least it makes for a good story. Stay tuned for the trip report to learn more.

Cash

We took out $200 for tips and anyplace that didn’t take cards. We spent $165. 

Flight delay-Yes, we do know the way to San Jose!

Some notes on the flight delay. Since we were flying SW, there were two flights each way. Our first flight was delayed by 4 hours and unfortunately that made us late enough arriving to San Jose that there were no other flights for us back to PDX that night. None of the other routes would work either. 

Some people switched up their flights, hopping to another island or using another airline, but I was not willing to jeopardize our companion pass eligibility. 

The airline was keen on getting us back to the mainland and figuring out the rest later. They paid for our room overnight and got us a ride to the hotel, but we were on our own after that. We spent the day wandering San Jose and actually had a pretty nice time. 

We stayed in a hotel in downtown San Jose and spent the day exploring the San Jose State University campus

 

When I subtract the San Jose costs, our trip to Maui cost $1683 for 2 people for 4 nights. 

Southwest gave us $600 in total vouchers for the inconvenience. If I subtract the vouchers from the total cost of the trip, our time to Maui with an extra night in San Jose cost $1214 for 2 people for 5 nights. 

I don’t subtract it though, because San Jose was indeed part of the trip and part of the risk of flying SW. And in subsequent trip expense reports, I will not include airfare that was purchased using vouchers, so that is a future savings. 

Future travels=more views like this

We submitted a trip delay claim to our credit card, but Southwest was so backed up with claims that they took a very long time to reply. I needed a few pieces of info from them. First try, they sent the wrong info and the second just took a really long time. I am assuming that the claim is closed out. If we received that reimbursement, the San Jose expenses would have been removed. 

Lessons learned, tips, and takeaways

  • Always pay attention to airline sales
  • Be flexible and open when thinking about destinations. We had no plans to go to Maui last fall, but the opportunity was there
  • If you want to use trip delay or interruption coverage, read over your credit card benefits because some of them include it.
  • Make sure to pay for part of your plane ticket with the credit card so that the trip is covered with trip protection.
  • If you need to file a claim, start the process immediately, pay attention to deadlines, and stay on top of everything.
  • Leave room in the budget for new clothes or supplies, especially if you are going somewhere with an unfamiliar climate 
  • Grocery shop with a list, even on vacation.
  • But also be okay with spending a little extra to buy things that are unique to the location you are visiting. 
  • Keep a little flexibility in your budget in case of things like a derailed flight plan! 
  • Be choosy about things like Pay Yourself Back
    • Although Pay Yourself Back was a great way to jumpstart the vacationing phase of our lives because it offset some of the costs, it is not the best bang for your buck and we aren’t likely to use it very often. Transfer points are the way to go. 

Also, shorter vacations are okay!

A lot of people say you need at least a week at a destination. I prefer taking lots of shorter trips and always having something to look forward to. As you will see in my trip report, we did a lot of vacationing in 4 days. 

 

And the sun sets on another beautiful Maui day