How to book a Hawaiian vacation for free

Kauai is probably our favorite travel destination so far. After our first trip, we seriously contemplated moving there. We went two years ago with some friends, and several of us used credit card hacks to keep costs down. Between a couple credit card bonuses, it’s pretty simple to get flights and fancy hotels covered.

Here’s how we did it:

  1. Flights – We typically fly on Delta. Points are easy to come by, and they have the most flight options from SLC. There are roundtrip SLC ↔ Kauai flights in May and September for 45,000 SkyMiles.
  2. Hotels – We stayed at the Kauai Grand Hyatt for 4 nights for pretty close to $0. This place is awesome! Nice beach with a daunting cliff jump, huge pools, nice rooms, amazing views, etc. We saw whales while standing 10 ft off our patio. We used points when we went, but the cash price was $550/night. We even got upgraded and had parking fees waived because of our membership status from the Hyatt Credit Card. Last time we went, we used points for the Kauai Marriott Resort. There are several other options, that I’ll get to.

Earning the Points:

Let me preface this by saying you should never get any credit cards if you don’t have the cash to cover your purchases. Pay your credit cards off in full each month, and never pay interest! Also, it’s best to open these cards over several months, because most of them require you to spend $2,000 – $3,000 within 3 months of account opening to receive the bonuses. If you open 3 cards at once, you may have to spend unnecessarily just to receive your bonuses. My links are for the best deals I could find online (at the time of writing this), and some of them will give me referral bonuses if you sign up.

  1. Flight Points – I recommend either the AMEX Platinum Delta SkyMiles or the AMEX Gold Delta SkyMiles card. For most, I’d probably lean towards the Gold card. At the time of writing this, after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, you’ll receive 60k SkyMiles. Get a $50 statement credit after your first Delta purchase. No annual fee the first year, $95 afterwards. If you go with the Platinum card, you’ll get 70k bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. $100 statement credit after first Delta purchase, but has a $195 annual fee. After your first year, you receive a domestic companion pass every year, so someone can fly with you for free after paying for your own ticket. Use my links to sign up, and I’ll get a 10k point bonus. If you and your spouse/friend both want/need the points. Apply then refer your significant other. That way the first applicant will get 10k bonus points for the second applicant.
  2. Hotel Points – The Chase Hyatt Credit Card provides 40k bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. Spend another $3k in the first 6 months and get an additional 20k bonus points. Again, have one person apply, then refer the second applicant, and the first applicant will get 10k bonus points. So 2 cards with $6k in spending each, plus 1 referral bonus = about 142,000 points. The Kauai Grand Hyatt will run you 25k points per night. Those 2 credit card bonuses will get you 5 free nights. Back when I first signed up for it, the bonus was 2 free nights at any Hyatt worldwide AND no annual fee for the first year. I wish that was still around to refer you to it. Another option is the Sheraton Kauai Resort, it’s 12,000 Starpoints per night. Get 25k bonus Starpoints after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months on the SPG credit card. If you refer a friend on this card, you’ll get a bonus 5k Starpoints. Starwood merged with Marriott awhile back, so I recommend getting this card before it goes away. At worst your points will get combined with Marriott at a 1:3 ratio. The points programs merged, so SPG points are no longer relevant really.

And if you need a few more points for another hotel or car rentals, there’s always the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. I’ve talked about the perks of this card on my Products I Use page, but you can basically get $750 worth of travel credit with their sign up bonus. IF YOU WANT THIS CARD, SIGN UP FOR IT BEFORE ANY OF THE OTHERS. Chase does not like giving this card to people like me that have applied for a bunch of other credit cards recently. If you get declined and otherwise have good credit, you may consider calling them up and ask Chase if you can allocate some of your credit limit from one card over to this one (worked for me).

If Kauai isn’t your destination, using these same cards couple probably get you to just about anywhere. The Kauai Hyatt uses a lot of points, and they’d probably even go further in most other cities.

Why we love Kauai

If you do decide to make your way to Kauai, here are some reasons it’s amazing! Lush forests (called The Garden Island), amazing waterfalls (like the entrance to Jurassic Park), remote beaches, lots of scenic hikes, sea caves, slower pace, dolphins, shaved ice, and easy going atmosphere.

Some highlights:

  1. Secret Falls – Rent a kayak, hike through some mud, and see a huge secluded waterfall. We didn’t want to kayak for hours, so we rent from the Hawaiian Village place about 1/4 mile from the start of the trail. Secret Falls hike
  2. Na Pali Coast – Awesome views from either the boat tour or open-door helicopter ride. We saw hundreds of dolphins the first time on the boat tour. In good weather you’ll pull into the sea caves as well. The open-door helicopter was one of the most amazing scenery I’ve ever seen. Much of the island is not reachable by car or hiking, so helicopter is about the only way to see it. Pricey, but definitely glad we splurged for it. Kauai Boat tourHelicopter Ride
  3. Wailua Falls – Make sure you get around the fence and hike down to the bottom. In this photo, we’re standing by the pool at the base of the waterfall. All the other suckers are getting an obstructed view from the road on the left side.Screen Shot 2018-04-09 at 11.25.25 PM
  4. Queen’s Bath – Beautiful tidepools on the north side of the island. You gotta be careful though, we caught some rogue waves after jumping in and got a little smashed up against the rocks. The next day, big waves pulled a tourist out into the sea and wasn’t found for several days!Queen's Bath Jump
  5. Ono’s Restaurant and Shaved Ice – We stopped here several times for shaved ice. Make sure you try Macadamia Nut ice cream at shaved ice stands. The Macadamia, banana, coconut pancakes with coconut syrup were incredible. We haven’t tried a lot of the local flavors, but this one was a great breakfast/lunch option.
  6. Waimea Canyon State Park – You at least have to drive thru this and stop at some of the lookouts. Go all the way to the top and you’ll see down into the Na Pali Coast. We enjoy hiking out to the waterfall in this picture and having lunch near the top.Waimea Canyon

I could list a lot more, but that should be enough to get you excited about Kauai.

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