Guest Post: Jim Byers' Insider's Guide to Maui

Jan 6, 2016
Welcome to our second installment of Jim Byers' Insider Guides: This time Jim gives us an exclusive look at how you can save money on the beautiful island of Maui.


A Maui vacation can be affordable if you follow these money-saving tips.

The Canadian dollar is just slightly more valuable than a handful of dryer lint. But you absolutely adore the sun and sand of Hawaii and crave a Maui vacation this year. So what are you to do? Go anyway. But keep your costs under control. A Maui trip can be reasonable if you follow a few tips from a guy who’s been a couple dozen times over the years.

When to go

Mid-week fares are often better than weekends, so keep that in mind. Travel experts tell me frequently that it’s best to depart for a trip on a Tuesday or Wednesday, versus Friday afternoon or Saturday. Keep that in mind. For Hawaii, it’s critical to keep the high seasons in mind. It can be very expensive on Maui in winter, when Canadians like to get away from the cold and many Californians like to get away from what they THINK OF as cold. January, February and March or Easter might be tough if you’re on a strict budget. But things quiet down in April when the weather warms up in the places most Hawaii tourists come from. Prices often pick up again in summer, when kids are out of school. But the in between months of April and May can be pretty good for deals. Ditto for September and early October. I rented a car on Maui last September for 10 days and I think it was about $150 USD. That’s an absolute steal.
The Hale Napili has affordable units on fabulous Napili Beach on Maui

Where to stay

I love the Fairmont Kea Lani and the Four Seasons down in Wailea. I’m also crazy about the Napili Kai Beach Resort on west Maui. But they can get awfully pricey, especially in high-season. You can almost always save a bundle by renting a hotel or condo in a lesser-known spot, or by staying a block or two from the beach in more popular areas. One solid option for folks who want to explore the funky town of Wailuku and the Iao Valley is the Wailuku Inn at Ulupono. It’s fine B & B and they do a great job at breakfast, and there’s a large porch where you can relax and enjoy the garden views. There’s a nice beach about 10 minutes down the road in Paia if that’s your thing. Condos in the Kihei area are some of the best bargains, often well under $200 USD a night. If you squeeze two couples into a two-bedroom unit, you can make it work pretty well. Kihei beaches are nice but it can get a bit windy, and it’s also a little on the touristy side. One option I like is to try a couple of the smaller hotels on Napili Beach, pound for pound the best beach in Hawaii for my money. Hale Napili has many units that face the water and has a cute, homey feel. There’s no pool, but they have shuffleboard and BBQ’s (another great way to save money on Maui) and you’re a 17.5 second walk from the beach. 18 seconds if you ate too much at breakfast. Also worth trying is the Plantation Inn in Lahaina; just steps from lively pubs and restaurants.
Jawz is one of many food trucks you'll find on Maui. Most offer very good food at very reasonable prices

Where to eat

You’ll find tons of food trucks all around the island, many of them trackable via Facebook pages or food-related apps. I love Big Beach BBQ, often found south of Wailea near Makena Beach. They do great fish tacos and also pulled pork sandwiches on bread with purple taro root. One of the co-owners, Linda, was born in Regina and they have a cute dog named Bully, too. Up past Napili Beach and Kapalua, on the gorgeous north shore road, you’ll often find a truck named El Taco Borracho. The owner grew up in Los Angeles and is of Mexican heritage, so you can expect pretty authentic food. Take your taco down to lovely Honolua Bay or park above the water and watch the snorkelers (in summer) or surfers (in winter, when the waves are up). For established restaurants, you can’t get a better value than at Sam Sato, a low-key, long-standing Asian place in an industrial area of Wailuku. Back over on the west side of the island, south of Lahaina, you’ll find Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop, where they make fantastic pies and huge, New York-style deli sandwiches. A great spot to go if you’re tired of fish tacos and blackened mahi mahi sandwiches. If you want to splurge on a lovely restaurant (and this is true the world over), try going for lunch instead of dinner. You can often get the same food but for considerably less at noon than at 7 p.m. It’s also good to look for happy hours. Hey, this is the US. They not only invented happy hour, they’ve perfected it.
Take in the culture with a free hula show. Photo courtesy Kaanapali Beach Hotel

What to do for free

Maui is filled with great things to do that don’t cost you a dime. They do a free keiki (Hawaiian for children) show every week at the Napili Kai Beach Resort, with young girls and boys dancing in grass skirts or pounding their chests and flexing their muscles as if they were a fierce warrior going to battle. It’s adorable, and the accompanying musicians are very good. They do free hula shows with folks of all ages a couple days a week at the Cannery Mall in Lahaina. The Kaanapali Beach Hotel, itself a pretty good deal most of the time, has free hula shows ever night that are open to guests and non-guests alike. Other hotels on the island also have free entertainment, although it might cost you a couple bucks for a nice rum drink on the patio. Walking the beach is free, of course. Snorkeling won’t cost you a dime if you buy your mask and snorkel in advance or if you stay at a hotel or condo that has them already.
Discount flyers and magazines found on Maui contain valuable coupons to save money on snorkel trips and other adventures. Photo Courtesy Trilogy Maui

How to save

There are hundreds of copies of free tourist magazines and brochures available in racks a few feet from the baggage claim areas at the Maui airport. You’ll find a mind-boggling number of coupons and ads for discounts on everything from ziplining and whale-watching trips to restaurants offering free appetizers and desserts. Be sure to check the Internet for hotel or restaurant specials, too. For food, the best deal on the island is Costco, located near the airport. They have great meat and, locals tell me, the cheapest gas on the island. If you like to snorkel, bring your own from home and save rental fees. Or, if you’re at a hotel or condo, see if they have some you can use. If you don’t own your own, it’s sometimes cheaper to buy inexpensive snorkel gear at Costco or the nearest Safeway or ABC store. Snorkel trips can set you back a good deal of cash. They’re a lot of fun, but sometimes the fish you find just a few feet off the beach in Ka’anapali or Wailea are as pretty as you’ll find on a $50 excursion. When I was last at Kapalua Beach, I spotted a huge turtle on a quiet morning just 10 feet offshore.
The Bay Course at Kapalua and other Maui golf spots usually offer substantial discounts for folks who tee off later in the day

If you’re a golfer, I highly recommend the Pukalani course on the slopes of Mt. Haleakala (House of the Sun). It’s a good bargain. Even better from a scenery standpoint, although not in the greatest condition, is the municipal course at Waiehu, about 10 minutes past Wailuku. You’ll only pay about $50 US for a round, and the course has more holes on the Pacific Ocean than any layout on the island. Fun locals and a great place to take young golfers, too. If you want to play one of the big boys such as Kapalua, aim for an afternoon or twilight tee time for substantial savings.

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About Jim:

Jim was the travel editor for 5 years at the Toronto Star and has his own travel blog, He also writes destination stories for several publications, including the PostMedia network, Zoomer magazine, The Australian newspaper, Air Canada rouge and now the Travelzoo Canada blog.

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