A vacation to visit Maui Hawaii can be done on a budget, even during the holiday season. It’s fair to say that pretty much everyone dreams of visiting Hawaii during Christmas and the New Year. We all imagine escaping the cold weather of the lower 48 and opening the curtains in the morning to blue skies, palm trees, and dramatic landscapes.
Visit Maui on a Budget | How to Plan a Christmas Vacation in Hawaii on the Cheap
Visiting Hawaii will never be considered a “cheap” vacation. This is because it’s located in the middle of the Pacific ocean. Therefore, everything costs more, including airfare, lodging, food, and car rentals. However, it still can be considered affordable if you stay flexible and make a few adaptations to your trip. Click here to see the best places to stay in Maui.
When Is the Best Time to Book Airfare to Maui
When booking airfare to Maui try to depart and arrive during the middle of the week, this is when airfare tends to be the lowest. During the busy holiday season, you may be able to find cheaper flights by flying during December 24, 25 and January 1.
Lately, we’ve really been enjoying the search features on Skyscanner’s website where you have the ability to search the entire month for the cheapest flights. For example, Maui during the holiday season, you could search for the cheapest flights departing in December and returning in January.
We ended up staying in Maui for one week, arriving in Maui on December 21, and departed on December 28. We were able to spend Christmas in Hawaii! Fun fact: we spotted Corey Feldman walking along the beach and he gave us a hang 10!! Goonies Never Say Die!!!
Some booking tools won’t include certain airlines like JetBlue or SouthWest airlines in their search. Go to the Kahului Airport website to verify who’s currently operating out of the airport. Finally, you may find cheaper flights by flying into Honolulu and transferring to Maui.
In other words, you’d fly with one airline back and forth between the lower 48 and another airline for the inter-island flights. Depending on your route and prices, this may be a viable option.
Car Rental is a Must in Maui
The island of Maui is fairly vast so plan on renting a car when arriving at the airport. We’ve recently been using AutoSlash to find amazing deals on rental cars. Having a vehicle will make the trip much more convenient and enjoyable for you. Don’t get more car than you need. Booking a smaller car will save you money.
A rental car will provide you with additional flexibility in your itinerary. It will allow you to easily jump around the island in order to score the cheapest accommodations. Of course, it will also allow you to see and do more things and trust us, there are tons of things to see and do around Maui.
Finding Budget Accommodations in Maui
This will probably be the most difficult and frustrating part of booking a budget trip to Maui, especially during the holiday season. However, with the arrival of Airbnb, VRBO, and Booking.com the increased competition and availability of rentals have increased dramatically.
Most people don’t realize that guests on these rental sites can negotiate with the host about the price. The longer you stay in the unit the more negotiating leverage you have. For example, we were recently able to bring the “MSRP” price on Airbnb down from $1,800 to $900. We were able to do this because the host didn’t want to turn away a fair offer and because he didn’t want to deal with cleaning the unit multiple times in between guests.
The most expensive day of the year to rent any accommodation, anywhere in the world is December 31. If you can find somewhere affordable to stay, immediately book it! For example, a hotel may charge three or four times as much for staying the night of December 31. Ridiculously enough, the rates will go back to normal on January 1. It’s worth checking out for one night and returning the next day to save a lot of money.
The hotel we were staying at during the holiday season tripled their price on December 31. We decided to checkout for one night and return the following day. We saved a ton of money by finding a much cheaper alternative.
In these types of situations, you may need to find a smaller hotel or motel to stay or something in a less popular area. Many times, hosts on rental sites (like Airbnb) don’t increase their price for December 31 or don’t raise it as high as current market prices. This type of situation may allow you to find a good deal for New Year’s! We’ll discuss more where we stayed in the itinerary below.
Maui Itinerary on a Budget
By staying at a few different areas on the island you’ll be able to see more, drive less, and have more affordable options. For example, many people will drive the “Road to Hana” from the west side part of the island, which takes about three hours one-way, only to return on the same day.
This is a ton of driving to do in one day. Although a beautiful drive, there’s simply just not enough time to enjoy the scenic spots along the way. Also, what you don’t read about is the great number of people who get ill along the way.
Many passengers end up with terrible cases of motion sickness due to the 620 curves and 59 bridges along the way. Although they offer a great meal set right on the ocean, starting off your trip with lunch at the famous Mama’s Fish House could easily worsen the motion sickness.
Based on the long drive and the yearning to explore the charming and quiet side of the island we decided to divide our time between East and West Maui.
East Maui | Hana-Kipahulu-Haleakalā
We were able to save a lot of money by booking a few nights in a charming cottage on the East Coast near Hana. It was much more affordable than most of the hotels on the West Coast. Also, it allowed us to save money on dining out because it came with a full kitchen and outdoor grill.
Specifically, we stayed three nights at Hana Paradise Cottages, although we don’t think the cottage we stayed in is available anymore. However, perhaps there’s now something even better out there now!
East Maui is the lush tropical side of the island, it’s also much quieter. During our time here we didn’t need to feel rushed and were able to appreciate nature and our surroundings.
During the day we would explore the surrounding area by hiking, relaxing at Hamoa Beach, and grabbing fruit and lunch at the roadside stands. Some of the best things to see and do in East Maui are located on the road to Hana or near Hana, including:
- Piʻilanihale Heiau & Kahanu Garden
- Three Bear Falls
- Wai’anapanapa State Park (Black Sand Beach)
- Hike To Fagan’s Cross
- Hamoa Beach
- Seven Sacred Pools (Pools of Oheo Gulch)
- Charles Lindbergh’s Grave
- Red Sand Beach
Following our stay on the East Coast, we decided to return to the West Coast by heading south, in order to complete a full loop. Passing Kaupo, we drove along the base of the steep south ridge of Haleakalā.
We enjoyed soft rolling hills and views of the ocean to our left and waterfalls trickling down the side of Haleakalā to our right. For us, this section of Maui was the most impressive to drive through, absolutely stunning! Also, there was almost no one else on the road.
UpCountry | Maui Wine-Kula
The drive back from Hana passes the Maui Wine winery. It makes for the perfect pit stop. The cozy and charming tasting room named the “King’s Cottage Tasting Room” is the perfect place to sample wine from Maui’s only winery. Like everything else in Maui, it’s wonderful and worth trying. We purchased a bottle to enjoy later on at the hotel!
Following Maui Wine, we continued our tour passing through the town of Kula. During much of this drive, you’re gaining altitude, climbing to nearly 4,000 feet above sea level. The views were spectacular and the drive down was a lot of fun too. Put your vehicle into neutral to save gas!
Sadly, we never made it to the top of Haleakalā. Simply put, we never had the time because we were enjoying the ocean and hotel life. Many people rave about the views during the sunrise, which I’m sure is breathtaking. Others, enjoy memories of their time biking/cruising down from the top, which can be booked with Bike Maui. This is supposed to be quite the thrill. Maybe next time.
West and South Maui | Kaanapali-Wailea-Kapalua
We continued our journey to the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, where we stayed for four nights, including Christmas day. We were a bit nervous about the hotel because it is on the older side and a little outdated. Perhaps it’s been updated since we visited. However, the rooms were large and the location was great. We loved it!
They market themselves as “Hawaii’s Most Hawaiian Hotel,” as they provide many cultural activities onsite. The best part for us was the price and the location. Special Christmas activities here include holiday entertainment, an outdoor candlelight Christmas Eve service, and a popular Christmas banquet. Extra special touches include candy canes placed on guests’ pillows and Christmas caroling by the hotel staff, as well as nightly Hawaiian music and dancing.
Compared to hotels right next door it was easily half the cost, if not less. Also, it’s located next to Black Rock Beach, which makes it an epic place for swimming and snorkeling.
From Kaanapali, we were easily able to explore the best parts of West and South Maui including:
- Snorkeling on Turtle Beach at Maluaka Beach
- Watching Surfers at Honolua Bay
- Nakalele Blowhole
- Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice
- ʻĪao Valley State Monument
- Makena Beach
- Molokini Crater
Have you ever visited Maui? What were some of the highlights from your trip? Share in the comments section below.
Disclaimer: We took this trip to Maui prior to selling everything we own to travel the world. As a speech therapist who worked in an elementary school, Audrey needed to take vacations around the school calendar. Outside of summer, this only gave us a few options to travel and unfortunately, these are always the time of year that is the most expensive. Realistically, as “backpackers” we could never afford to take this same trip at the same comfort levels, and definitely wouldn’t be renting a Mustang convertible.
Taking a look at the updated cocktail prices at Mama’s Fish House shocks us! A Mai Tai which costs $20?! However, if this a trip that you’ve always dreamed of doing, it is possible and not outrageously expensive if you can allow for flexibility in your time.
We are not affiliated with any hotels, booking agencies, airlines, etc., and receive no money or commission from anything stated here. Sadly, this is our unpaid opinion!