The cost of a Hawaiian getaway is dropping to reflect the economic downtown, translating to the best buyer's market in a decade. Some strategies:
•Consider a package, but price components separately to ensure it's a genuine bargain. "Often the best value hotel packages use higher-end hotels where there is more room to maneuver," or apply to low-end places where you wouldn't want to stay anyway, notes the deal-oriented blog BeatofHawaii.com.
•Condo and home vacation rentals offer extra space and privacy, complete kitchens and such free amenities as high-speed Internet. On Rentalo.com, a two-bedroom, two-bath condo in Kauai's Princeville Resort costs $110 a night until March 31, a 12% discount. What's more, some agencies and private owners are reducing or waiving minimum-stay requirements, cleaning fees or other extras.
•Sharpen your negotiating skills. Hotel offers abound, from third night free (now the "new norm," says John Lindelow of Travel-Hawaii.com) to generous spa and restaurant credits. Check online, then call the hotel directly to see if they can do better. Hoping for an upgrade? A plethora of empty rooms (particularly on Kauai and the Big Island) means asking nicely when you check in can pay off.
•Take advantage of new construction and recent hotel revamps. On the Big Island, the venerable Mauna Kea Beach Hotel reopened in December after a two-year, $150 million renovation; rates start at $385 a night with a $50 resort credit. On Maui's Kaanapali Beach, the just-opened Honua Kai has an introductory special from $195 a night for condo suites, plus $25 resort fee.
•Try your luck with Priceline or Hotwire, particularly for resorts. Even with hotel-imposed resort fees of up to $25 a day, the savings can be eye-popping: Last month, a Priceline bid of $140 a night for Kaanapali scored the Westin Maui, where posted rates start at about $500.
•Sign up for hotel frequent-visitor programs. Even entry-level membership gets you late checkouts, free coffee, possible upgrades and other extras. For example, Starwood Preferred Guest members in Hawaii get double points, 35% discounts on rooms, $100 dining credit and fifth night free.
•Look for last-minute airfare specials. According to Farecast.com, current fares to Honolulu are running 3% below last year; they're up 20% to Maui. But, adds Farecast.com's Mike Fridgen, "we're seeing great deals within 14 days" of departure, such as $334 round-trip from Los Angeles to Honolulu and $408 from Phoenix to Maui.
•Catch the bus. Rental car rates have gone up statewide in recent weeks (check for discount coupon codes on such sites as Rentalcarmomma.com, Fatwallet.com and Discounthawaiilinks.com), and on Oahu, hotel parking can cost $20 or more. An airport shuttle is $15 round trip to Waikiki, and Oahu's reliable public bus system — a favorite of President Obama when he lived there as a teen — covers the island for $2.