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Fair warning, Hawaii is again packed with tourists

March 24, 2021
5 min read
Fair warning, Hawaii is again packed with tourists
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Fair warning if you are headed to Hawaii. Business is booming once again, and you won't get the hotels, beaches, pools and hikes to yourself anymore.

On Saturday, March 21, for example, according to Hawaii News Now, Hawaii saw 28,000 arrivals - that's the highest number since the pandemic began in earnest a year ago.

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Hawaii beach on the Big Island in March 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

I'm just back from a quick vacation to Oahu and the Big Island of Hawaii. Unlike in January when I was in Kauai, it was packed with spring breakers and other tourists. The contrast couldn't have been greater. I nearly had Kauai to myself when I was there checking out its resort bubbles earlier this year. I honestly thought that I'd see similar empty streets and hotels when I went back to Hawaii in March. It was the complete opposite. Waikiki especially was packed.

Related: 10 reasons to visit Timbers Kauai

Hilton Waikiki Village March 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

I stayed at the Hilton Waikiki Village, where check-in lines were over an hour.

The line for Starbucks at Hilton Waikiki Village in March 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

The line for Starbucks was 45 minutes!

During my stay at Beachcomber Waikiki by Outrigger, the hotel appeared fully booked. The hotel did do a good job with social distancing, even requiring reservations for the pool and limiting the attendance to eight guests. Everyone was wearing masks.

Waikiki Beachcomber by Outrigger in Oahu, Hawaii, in March. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

The streets around the hotels were full of visitors and restaurants that were open were full. In fact, I had trouble getting dinner reservations on a random Tuesday night.

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Waikiki street scene in March 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

Many of the activities I did were totally sold out, including the popular Kualoa Ranch and its Jurassic Valley and ATV tours on Oahu. Be sure to make advanced reservations if you are planning a trip to Hawaii.. no matter which Island you plan to visit.

Local reports also suggest many tourists aren't wearing masks and state leaders are trying their best to educate arrivals that masks are required.

Jay Talwar, chief marketing officer for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau told TPG:

“As we looking forward to welcoming more travelers during the upcoming spring and summer months, we’re asking visitors to join our efforts to help keep Hawaii safe, which includes participating in the Hawaii Safe Travels program as well as following our state mandate to wear a mask or facial covering in public at all times. Doing so will help malama (care for) Hawaii and our island communities.”

In my experience, mask compliance was very good. I'd be lying, however, if I didn't admit to being uncomfortable among the large groups, especially after a year of social distancing.

Interestingly, Hawaii tourism officials say hotel occupancy and home rental rates in February were down substantially year-over-year as coronavirus continues to impact the islands. That may change for March. There is also a lot less inventory on the market which makes the hotels that are open more crowded.

Seattle Airport, March 21, 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

The other note I would add is that flights are full again. During my time flying over the past year, only the past few weeks have I seen serious crowds again at airports across the country. Seattle was seriously mobbed. The flights to and from Hawaii were also full again. Thankfully, I was flying Alaska Airlines, which is still blocking middle coach seats in its premium class cabin.

Boarding for flight to Hawaii in Seattle on March 11, 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)
Honolulu Airport. March 18, 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

I really thought the hoops visitors have to jump through to go to Hawaii would have kept the crowds away. Apparently, tourists have figured out how to get tested and fill out the safe traveler forms in order to make the trip. Spring break season is also contributing to the surge of visitors. The increasing numbers of folks with vaccinations are also boosting crowds. That, and the fact many international destinations remain off-limits for Americans.

Related: I spent 3 days quarantining in Kauai’s resort bubble

We’ve covered the full run-down of what you need to know prior to visiting Hawaii, and despite the crowds and the prearrival testing requirements, I still recommend visiting Hawaii. Just be prepared for the crowds and for the idea you won't have the islands to yourself.

Featured image by (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees