Hawaii Ranked Among Destinations Middle-Class Most Struggle to Afford

According to a recent Bank-Rate article, Hawaii made the list of five dream destinations that middle-class families struggle to afford. Other destinations were Italy, The Maldives, London and Paris. Do you think Hawaii is correctly on this list with the other four? Let us know your thoughts after we share ours.

In recent years, there’s no doubt that travel expenses have surged everywhere, making once more accessible vacation spots increasingly out of reach for middle-class families. From the cost of airfare, and especially accommodations plus dining and activities, rapidly escalating post-pandemic travel costs have forced many to either adjust their travel budgets, change travel plans to reduce time away, or reconsider vacation plans altogether.

Here’s a preview of the top five destinations on the list that middle class families struggle to afford.

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Hawaii

Hawaii’s allure, including beautiful beaches, unique culture and picturesque landscapes have made it a perennial return-visitor favorite among travelers from the U.S. and worldwide. And while never cheap, it has long been moderately priced. However, the state’s popularity, among other things, has driven up prices. Increasing costs, first and foremost being hotel rates, have skyrocketed, with even once-modest accommodations commanding high prices alongside questionable value. Dining out, a favorite pastime of many Hawaiian vacationers, has also grown prohibitively expensive, with meals arguably costing more and delivering less than before. Hawaii activities also now come with surprising price tags that further impact middle-class visitors’ ability to come here.

See below for much more about Hawaii costs and what to do.

Italy

The timeless charm and rich history in part define Italy. It too has long attracted visitors from around the world. Its top visitor destinations, including Venice, Florence and the Amalfi Coast, have witnessed cost surges. Not only that, but high-season prices that used to be in effect from July through August, have been extended to start in May and end in September. Many lesser known destinations there have also had big price hikes across the board.

The Maldives.

Never cheap and known for its clear water and luxurious accommodations including those perched overwater, it has been a playground for rich and famous for as long as we can remember. This destination gets about 20% of Hawaii’s annual visitors. A vacation there now only comes with high price tags, whereas before there were far more budget-conscious options. Accommodations here too lead to high prices. Restaurants and activities have joined the pack of price increases, helping price out the middle-class. Beat of Hawaii will soon visit and write about the Maldives and how it compares with Hawaii.

European capital cities including Paris and London.

These are iconic and as or more popular than ever. Paris is about to host the Summer Olympics. Paris and London, are growing more costly to visit in spite of the strong dollar as seen in conversion rates for the Pound and Euro. Now, the cost of visiting these historic cities has become prohibitive for many middle-class travelers. Visitors are moving away from more centrally located hotels to achieve more affordability, but even those have become more costly during the now-extended summer season. Dining, museums and other activities have also risen sharply. Beat of Hawaii attended and wrote about the King’s coronation event last year in London.

What strategies can middle-class families use to make dream destinations more accessible?

Here are suggestions by us and others for making Hawaii and other costly destinations more affordable.

1. Seeking more affordable accommodations. In Hawaii, you may have the best chance of a hotel deal on Oahu. A BOH go to place in London has been the Resident Hotels for around $300 USD nightly a block from Buckingham Place. In Paris there aresimilar prices in the Montmartre neighborhood. Our point is that there are affordable (by today’s standards) places, to stay even in the highest-priced destinations.

2. Look at alternative travel dates when rates are lower. In Hawaii, the best times to visit for deals would be the end of August through early December (except for Thanksgiving) and January-May (except for Spring Break).

3. Use travel rewards with airlines and hotels to find savings potential. We used Alaska Airlines’ miles to fly to the UK for free on their travel partner, British Airways. Not only once, but three times!

4. Look at package deals, like Costco Travel. These can sometimes help offset some of the expenses and many of you have said as much in comments.

Hawaii vacation deals | Hanalei Bay Kauai

What happened to Hawaii’s affordability?

Since last year, in particular, the affordability of Hawaii vacations has become a pressing concern for many who travel here. Escalating prices across the board, including accommodations, but also car rentals, airfare, and activities, have left middle-class families questioning the ongoing feasibility of visiting Hawaii. Let’s delve further into the dynamics of this trend and explore more potential solutions.

Personal experience highlights soaring costs.

Our recent firsthand experiences traveling to Maui and to the Big Island (from Kauai) underscore the dramatic recent increase in Hawaii vacation expenses. Accommodation rates alone have surged by as much as 300% compared to pre-pandemic, presenting a significant hurdle for visitors.

Navigating budget constraints calls for creative solutions.

Amidst the challenging economic landscape, travelers are both seeking and finding innovative ways to stretch vacation budgets. Opting for an alternative school massage vs. a hotel spa and embracing local dining, for example, offers cost-effective alternatives. Diligent research and flexibility in securing a Hawaii vacation, yield substantial savings, as evidenced by recent experiences shared by us and visitors. We just saved $200 for a weekly car rental in Honolulu but continually checking all sources, and not waiting for anyone’s alerts. And we repeat customers at Quantum School of Massage in Honolulu, where an hour is priced at $45.

Realistically planning for Hawaii vacation costs.

When contemplating a Hawaii getaway, it’s best to have a reality-based understanding of today’s expenses, and not those from a few years ago. From accommodations and airfare to car rentals and dining, the average cost of a moderate 7-night vacation for two to Hawaii from the West Coast can amount to $6,000 or more. However, these estimates can vary greatly based on individual preferences, island visited, travel styles, and seasonal fluctuations.

Challenged Hawaii tourism landscape.

Multiple factors contribute to the escalating costs of Hawaii vacations, including rising operational costs for businesses. Moreover, attracting and retaining employees in Hawaii’s tourism industry is an ongoing challenge, exacerbating service gaps, operational inefficiencies, and costs.

Navigating dynamic pricing of Hawaii airfare and accommodations.

While airfare prices are on the rise, particularly for premium offerings, certain routes benefit from intense competition, resulting in more affordable fares. Travelers are advised to prioritize finding accommodations and explore value options there before finalizing travel plans and buying airfare, as hotel rates in Hawaii continue to rank among the highest in the United States.

Exploring Alternative Vacation Options.

In conclusion, while the allure of Hawaii’s pristine landscapes and rich cultural heritage remains undiminished, the rising costs of vacations pose real challenges for budget conscious visitors. Exploring creative solutions, via thorough research and exploration, travelers can navigate the landscape of Hawaii travel and still enjoy an island vacation while sticking to the lower end of the spending spectrum.

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17 thoughts on “Hawaii Ranked Among Destinations Middle-Class Most Struggle to Afford”

  1. My wife and I have been to various islands in Hawaii numerous times over the past 3 decades.
    We now look elsewhere , such as Mexico and Costa Rica , for our tropical vacations. We get a very good bang for the buck.
    Lodging in Hawaii has risen to double or triple what we usually spend.
    Airfares are double, food and dining out have risen dramatically, and rental cars are no bargain either.
    In addition, Hawaii is about to charge tourists for entry, they already charge for parking and beach use at certain beaches, and plan to nickel and dime us even more.
    In closing, I wish we could return to Hawaii.
    We miss it. My wife and I eloped on Kauai, my daughter got married on Maui. Hawaii means a lot to us .

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  2. Locals aren’t benefitting from these higher prices. It’s just large hotel/entertainment corporations and bloated state and local governments.

    Locals may get what they’ve wished for.

    7
  3. My wife and I are time share owners so for us, at least the accomodations dont really change price wise. We try to use our Hawaiian Airlines air miles to get cheaper or free flights, and we use the concierge at our time share who helps us with better pricing for certain excursions on the big island. We do eat some meals in our unit, and we always travel in late September or early October. We have never experienced any hostile or negative attitudes towards us, and we hope that we will continue to visit about every 2 years.

    1
  4. I just received an “alarmed” email from our Vacation Rental Manager, forwarding a notification from VRBO.

    They are asking their owners to testify at a hearing scheduled for this Friday 15th on SB 2919, which if passed would expand the zoning powers of counties to amortize or phaseout transient accommodations in residential and agricultural zones. They link the current version of the bill:

    capitol.hawaii.gov/sessions/session2024/bills/SB2919_SD2_.pdf

    If you think Hawaii vacations are expensive now, watch what happens if this passes

    7
  5. If you decide to move and live in Hawaii, you must embrace the New Age Slavery, or be rich enough to not need to work…

  6. I work in retail here. I can tell you from first hand experience. There is no shortage of people from all economic backgrounds still vacationing here.

    4
  7. We just returned from two weeks based in Kailua-Kona. Been doing this for 15-20 years. We are probably not the “target tourists” as we prefer to snorkel, bird, and generally seek out nature. Having been on the island for many visits we have places to go, things to do, and most are not pay to play. Wouldn’t know much about how dining costs have escalated as we have a few favorite places to visit a few times and costs aren’t scary. We shop a lot at Farmer’s Markets. We have noticed the climb in rental unit costs. Perhaps more breathtaking were increases in rental car cost but Costco helps. The really big kicker has been the parking fees ($12-15/hr) and such. It in the “nickel and dime” stuff that you don’t plan for.

    3
  8. We have vacationed in Hawaii many times. For years it was our go to for a winter get away. But for the last 5 years due to the cost and open hostility of locals we now vacation in Mexico and the Caribbean.
    If Hawaiians do not want tourists the answer is to keep increasing the price and making visitors feel unwelcome and the problem will soon be solved.

    13
  9. This is everywhere in America.
    Daily living is unlivable for so many people.

    Alos, businesses are trying to recoup their losses from Covid and jacking up prices.

    Going out to eat is very expensive even when it is not in a popular vacation place. Then they charge you to use your credit card on top of it. Then a service charge. Then the high tax.
    Groceries are horrible.

    6
  10. BOH, do you have it in your AI configuration to avoid mentioning short-term rentals? That is a definite way to reduce the cost of these destinations, but it’s not mentioned anywhere in your article.

    1. Hi Pat.

      Our articles are original, by the same BOH editors who have been writing this for nearly two decades.

      Aloha.

      5
      1. My sincere apologies. AI is becoming so widespread that I just assumed.

        Do you two, then, have a policy of not promoting short-term rentals?

        1. Hi Pat.

          Not at all. We have written about them countless times as an alternative to hotels. Thanks.

          Aloha.

          4
    2. STVRs have been hugely suppressed, in all Hawaii counties (to the delight, and profit, of the hotel industry). I used to travel inter-island, staying exclusively at short term vacation rentals (STVRs) and/or BnBs; however byzantine bureaucracies/ permitting/ draconian fines (5K daily for unpermitted BnB, etc, on Big Island), have made most affordably priced STVR owners sell, or stop hosting. I no longer travel inter-island – like many of my Hawaii resident friends. Same issue plagues visitors, too.

      2
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