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Originally published September 14, 2013 at 7:07 PM | Page modified September 16, 2013 at 5:21 PM

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Travel Wise | How to save on a Hawaii trip

Finding discounts on flights, rental cars and hotels in Hawaii.

Special to The Seattle Times

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The bad news about planning a trip to Hawaii this fall or winter: You’re not likely to stumble across a bargain on airfares, rental cars or hotel rooms. Everyone’s favorite vacation destination is on the rebound as it attracts more visitors.

The good news: No need to let anyone kick sand in your wallet. Try custom-creating your own deals. I’ve been experimenting while planning a two-week trip to Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii for this fall. A few ideas:

Saving on flights

A flight to Hawaii is an excellent way to use an Alaska Airlines’ companion fare. I don’t normally sign up for credit cards with annual fees, but I did last year to qualify for a $99 companion fare. Now I’m cashing in.

Two tickets for nonstop flights in late September would have cost me about $600 each, round-trip. Using the companion fare, the total was $814, including $39 taxes on the companion fare and the $75 Visa card fee.

Lesson learned: Maximize the value of companion fares by using them for expensive flights.

Keep in mind that flight to Hawaii from either Bellingham or Vancouver, B.C., sometimes cost less. Whether the drive is worth the savings depends. A recent check showed an Alaska Airlines nonstop to Oahu on Dec. 6, returning on Dec. 13, was $537 from Seattle versus $437 out of Bellingham.

For an inter-island flight on Hawaiian Airlines, I saved $22 off the best price that showed up on the meta-search site, Kayak.com, by rechecking prices on the airline website.

Hawaiian Airlines’ inter-island prices vary depending on the time of day. I found flights ranging between $125 to $179 on one-way flights between Kona (on the Big Island) and Lihue in Kauai, with the bulk of prices at $145, the lowest fare to show up on Kayak.

Hawaiian’s website, however, revealed a $125 flight not shown on Kayak.

Lesson learned: Kayak, which doesn’t sell tickets directly, but rather links buyers to airline websites for purchases, is generally reliable, but not 100 percent foolproof. This was the second time in a few months that I found a better fare by searching directly on an airline website.

Rental cars

Searching for a 10-day car rental for pickup in Kona (on the Big Island), I checked prices at the major national companies’ off-airport locations (usually cheaper than renting at airports) as well as quotes from Hotwire.com and other discount sites.

Several surprises: By going to Enterprise’s website and shifting the pickup time at the Kona airport from 1-2 p.m., the price on an 11-day rental for a compact dropped from $406 to $356, slightly less than its off-airport price and less than anything I found on Hotwire or other sites.

The compact was slightly less than the price of a smaller economy car, reflecting more demand for smaller cars because of gas prices.

Hotels

It’s not cheap to stay at Hawaii hotels. Occupancy and room rates are rising on all the islands, reports Smith Travel Research. Average daily hotel rates on Oahu rose 13.4 percent to $221 in July compared to last year.

Not everyone can afford a week at a luxury resort in Hawaii. Perhaps one or two nights are doable, and then mix it up with lower-priced stays.

I like to sample different types of accommodations when I travel, both for the variety of experiences and the chance to cut costs.

We’ll stay with friends on Kauai for a few nights. Then we’ll divvy up our time on the Big Island with two days at a beach resort; stays at B&Bs on a working coffee farm and former sugar plantation; an Airbnb rental apartment near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park; and two nights “couchsurfing” (couchsurfing.org) with a retired couple near Hilo.

Carol Pucci is a Seattle freelance writer. Contact her at travel.carolpucci.com. Web/blog: www.carolpucci.com. Twitter: @carolpucci.

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