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Originally published Saturday, January 21, 2012 at 7:02 PM

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Ways to save on your next trip to Hawaii

Visiting Hawaii during the slower seasons — first few days of March, late May, early June or in the fall — is one strategy for making travel more affordable. But if that's not possible, don't give up. There are other ways to save.

Seattle Times travel writer

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Great article on saving big while in Hawaii! I'm a transplant from the Green Lake area... MORE

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"Who would go to Hawaii in June?" a friend asked when I talked about a trip I took to Maui last year.

A travel writer on a budget, for one.

I, too, was skeptical about the timing, but the weather was a perfect 70-80 degrees, with low humidity and evenings cool enough to sleep without AC.

By planning my trip in the first week in June — after spring break and before school let out for the summer — I found deals on airfare and hotels that weren't there for travel earlier or later.

Visiting Hawaii during the slower seasons — early February and early March, late May, early June or fall — is one strategy for making travel more affordable. But if that's not possible, don't give up. There are other ways to save:

Getting there

Airfares are higher this year, so flexibility will be key to coming in under $500 for a Seattle round trip.

Travel midweek, if possible, and if you're still not having any luck, try moving your dates by a day or a week or two. A recent search turned up a low fare of $396 for a Seattle-Honolulu round trip, departing Feb. 2 and returning Feb. 9. The fare jumped to $473 to go the same days a week later and $780 for travel two weeks later around the Presidents Day holiday.

If you're going to Oahu, consider driving to Bellingham, where Alaska Airlines runs a nonstop popular with Canadians. Prices are sometimes lower, and airport parking is $9 per day (www.portofbellingham.com).

To find the least expensive travel dates, consult low-fare calendars on websites such as Kayak.com and Alaskair.com.

Use Bing.com's Price Predictor to gauge whether fares are likely to rise or fall in the coming weeks. If fares drop on your exact flights and times between the time you buy your ticket and the time you leave, Alaska will issue a credit good for future travel. Hawaiian Airlines will do the same for price drops of $100 or more.

Getting around

Renting a car off-airport can save $100 or more on a week's rental. Example: Enterprise recently quoted $399, including taxes, as the weekly rate for a Chevy Aero picked up at the airport in Honolulu. The price fell to $240 for pickup at several other locations just a few miles away.

Agencies with off-airport locations can't pick you up at the airport. You'll need a cab for that. But most will take you back.

Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island have inexpensive public bus service. I rented a car in Maui, but used Maui Bus several times (www.co.maui.hi.us) At $1 per ride, I loved being able to jump off when I saw something interesting, without hassling with parking.

Fares are also $1 on the Big Island's Hele-On Bus system (www.heleonbus.org). Oahu's transit system (www.thebus.org) sells a four-day pass for $25 and single rides for $2.50. Kauai Bus (www.kauai.gov) provides service around the island for $2 per ride.

Where to stay

"Buyer beware" are the watchwords when it comes to sifting though advertised "deals" for hotels, rentals and vacation packages. Hidden cleaning and resort fees, parking and taxes can lift the bottom-line price higher than it first appears.

Online-booking sites can turn up deals, but check first directly with hotels. They might offer the same or a lower rate as a web special, and AAA or AARP rates might be less.

Expedia, for instance, recently advertised a three-night "early booking bonus" rate at the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel for $576, including taxes and fees. That was $5 less than the rate available on the hotel's website, but a search there also turned up an AAA/AARP rate of $523.

Package-tour operators negotiate volume discounts, but the deals may include extras that you don't need. Before paying for a vacation package upfront, figure out the cost of each component if booked separately. You'll gain flexibility and avoid extra change or cancellations fees beyond what the hotels and airlines charge.

Example: A seven-night Pleasant Holidays package for two to Maui in February came to $3,696, including taxes and a $19 per night resort fee payable directly to the hotel. The price included nonstop flights on Hawaiian Airlines from Seattle, a garden-view suite at the Kaanapali Shores Hotel, a two-for-one luau offer and a $100 food and drink credit.

Booking the same flights and hotel separately came to $3,393, with taxes and a $10 per night resort fee, a savings of $303, minus the package extras.

Other lodging tips:

• Score a room for half-price by bidding on Priceline (www.priceline.com), the website that lets you name a price and pick a hotel's star rating and location but doesn't reveal the name until after you've paid. Check www.biddingfortravel.com for tips.

• Find lodging in homes, cottages and condos at www.airbnb.com.Among its listings is a $69 room on a Big Island farm and an $85 condo with a pool near Ala Moana Beach Park in Honolulu.

• Vacation Rentals by Owner (www.vrbo.com) is a reliable site with hundreds of listings and photos for homes and condos.

Have a travel question or comment? Contact Carol Pucci at cpucci@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @carolpucci.

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About Travel Wise

Travel Wise is aimed at helping people travel smart, especially independent travelers seeking good value. Drawing on her own experiences and readers', Carol Pucci covers everything from the best resources to how to tap into the local culture. Her column runs each Sunday in the Travel section.

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