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Originally published September 15, 2012 at 7:01 PM | Page modified September 16, 2012 at 9:34 AM

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Saving on trips to Hawaii

Here's how to get deals on Hawaii hotels, flights and more.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Thinking of a trip to Hawaii this fall? The good news is the crowds will be gone, the kids will be back in school and the weather should be ideal.

"It's my favorite time of the year," says Jeff Tucker, co-owner of the travel-planning website Beat of Hawaii. "You've got this beautiful state to yourself with just the residents, so you have a much more normal experience."

The catch: Tourism is the one bright spot in Hawaii's economy. Economists from the University of Hawaii report that pent-up demand by U.S. travelers and more tourists from Canada, Australia, China and South Korea are expected to boost visitor arrivals by nearly 10 percent this year and another 3 percent in 2013.

That means higher airfares and hotel rates than in previous years. Still, with the weeks between Labor Day and mid-December being some of the slowest in Hawaii, travelers will find ways to save.

Flights

Few bargains here, with average round-trip fall fares from Seattle and Portland starting in the $400s, says FareCompare's Rick Seaney. Look for savings by taking a connecting flight through Portland instead of a nonstop, or by driving to Bellingham where Alaska Airlines competes with discounter Allegiant Air on flights to Honolulu and, starting in November, Maui.

Looking ahead to early next year, "Typically, you don't want to start shopping more than three months out," says Seaney, "but if you see a ticket priced in the low $400s, pull the trigger."

Rental cars

Do some careful shopping, and you'll likely be able to shave $100 or more off the quoted airport rate for a rental car.

A check on the cost of a Chevy Aero for week in October through Enterprise Rent-A-Car yielded a quote of $436 for pickup and drop-off at the Honolulu airport versus $231 at the company's Ala Moana Boulevard location nine miles away.

Hotwire.com had an even better deal for those willing to pay in advance and find out the name of the car-rental agency only after a nonrefundable booking. The site showed the Aero available at the airport for $245.39.

When it comes to parking, "you could drop $30 a day," says Beat of Hawaii's Jeff Tucker.

His website lists places where parking is free: a lot near the Honolulu Zoo near the end of Waikiki beach, for instance, and another along Honolulu's Ala Wai canal.

If you're planning to drive in downtown Honolulu, be aware you can use your cellphone to add time to new solar-parking meters installed around town this spring. The smart meters automatically reset when you drive away.

Lodging

The outlook for more visitors gives hotels little reason to offer deep discounts. Bargain hunters looking to splurge should consider "free night" specials offered by some of the higher-end hotels.

The "Seventh Heaven" special at the Napili Kai Beach Resort (www.napilikai.com) on Maui, for example, includes a sixth and seventh night free after five paid nights, through Nov. 30. The offer brings the price of a studio, ocean-view room down from $355 to $253, plus taxes.

The resort's 2-5 p.m. happy hour is one of the island's best values, with $5-$6 appetizers served at oceanfront.

On the island of Lanai, the Four Seasons is offering a third-night free at its Lodge at Koele (www.fourseasons.com/koele). Rates start at $310.

On Oahu, the Aulani Disney resort and spa, starting work on an expansion, is offering five nights for the price of three through Dec. 18, lowering the cost of a standard room from $399 to $239, plus taxes and resort fees. Details at www.disneyaulani.com.

Budget travelers and families will do well to check out apartments on a site such as Vacation Rentals by Owner (www.vrbo.com), or rooms in private homes and condos available through Airbnb (www.airbnb.com).

Keep in mind that cleaning and/or parking fees can boost rates above initially quoted prices.

Packages that include airfare, hotel and a car are tempting because they're easy to book, but the savings may not be great and refund/cancellation policies are strict.

Check offerings by Pleasant Holidays (www.pleasantholidays.com) or other travel-company websites, then price each component separately.

Weigh the value of whatever savings you find against the flexibility to choose your own flight times and hotels.

Activities

Look for hotels and resorts that sweeten their fall room rates with credits for special services, including spa and adventure activities, or try substituting a community dance or theater performance for a pricey luau.

Join the "rubba slippa" crowd at Honolulu's 42-year-old Kumu Kahua Theatre (http://kumukahua.org).

The company performs "One Comedy of Erras," a Hawaiian rendition of Shakespeare's "Comedy of Errors" in September. Tickets are $20, general admission; $16 for seniors.

For what could be the best zip-lining deal of the year, plan to be on Maui's Mount Haleakala volcano on Saturday, Nov. 3, for a "Zip for the Trees" community fund-raiser and tree-planting event.

Skyline Eco-Adventures plans to offer zip-line rides for $30 per person from 8:30 a.m.- 4 p.m. First-come first-served, with the proceeds going to a community charity. Details at www.zipline.com.

Contact Carol Pucci at travel@carolpucci.com Web/blog: www.carolpucci.com. 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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