We rented a car the first time we stayed in Waikiki. It was a nice convenience, but when we started budgeting for our next trip to the area we realized there were very few things we really used the car for. The fact is, we used it more than we would have in another location because we had so much of our precious travel budget invested in it. In addition, rental agency insurance is an absolute must if you will be driving in Honolulu, which adds ten dollars a day to your bill. After you factor in parking fees of $10 - $20 a night, you have an investment of $400 or more for a seven day vacation. A friend of mine tried to cut the costs by omitting the insurance. She was hit by a driver who ran a red light. The rental car company charged her $3000 for loss of use on the car. She is still paying off that bit of penny pinching wisdom.
This trip we took a different approach: we chose to rely solely on public transportation.
The fact is, if you are staying in Waikiki or Downtown Honolulu, a car really isn't necessary. And if you want to spend a day exploring North Shore or Kailua and don't want the constrictions of bus schedules, several agencies have desks right in Waikiki for daily rentals. Visit the Budget desk at the Royal Hawaiian, or the Dollar desk at the Marriott, to name two. Cars can also be reserved online for pick up at these locations.
One of the reasons we had rented in the past was simply the cost of taking a cab from the airport to Waikiki. Our internet research turned up a service that is a frugal traveler's dream - Robert's Airport Waikiki Express. For a modest fee of $14 per person round trip (children under three are free), these air conditioned busses will pick you up at the airport and drop you off right at your hotel. The first two pieces of luggage are free, but extra fees of $3 and up apply for transporting surfboards, golf clubs, or other bulky items. These aren't retired school busses or vans, but full-sized tour busses. They leave every thirty minutes from the airport. Walk out of baggage claim and cross to the first median. The signs will point you to the nearest stop. Simply tell the guide where you are staying and pay your fee. Call them to arrange pick up at your hotel 24 hours prior to departure. Our hotel was the last stop on the route, and the trip took about 45 minutes.
Oahu Transit Services runs TheBus, a comprehensive public transportation system that covers nearly the entire island. At a cost of $2 per adult, we found it just as convenient to get downtown as taking a cab, and a lot more fun. The drivers we had were happy to answer our questions about the area, and even threw in some good old-school Hawaiiana stories for us tourists. Route info is available at their website, TheBus.org.
TheBus also runs express services for special occasions. For $6 each round trip, we bused it from Waikiki to Aloha Stadium for the Pro Bowl. We didn't have to pay for parking, fight the traffic, or even worse, park in some residential area and hike a mile to the stadium. The downside was that we did have to wait in line over an hour to get on a bus for the return trip, but only because we spent so much time gawking at the crowds in the parking lot that the line was already two blocks long by the time we got there.
We also took two cabs on this trip, once each way to and from the Royal Hawaiian from the Park Shore Hotel. Cost was just under $4 each way before the tip. And if you have a mai tai at their Mai Tai bar on the beach (highly recommended), you will want to cab it home, too. Trust me on this.
At the end of the trip we tallied up our transportation costs for four days and compared it to what we would have spent had we rented a $19.99 tuna can special:
Rental fee: $79.96 Insurance: $40.00 Parking: $40.00 Total: $159.96 pre-tax
Airport Shuttle for 2: $28.00 TheBus to Hard Rock Cafe for 1: $ 4.00 Pro Bowl Express: $12.00 Mai Tai Cab: $10.00 Total: $54.00
We saved just over one hundred dollars on a four day trip, and suffered no inconvenience. Of course, if you are traveling with kids this may not be the most cost effective solution, but for singles or couples staying in the heart of Honolulu, it can be a painless way to lower your travel bill.