Hawaii has a reputation as an expensive place to live or visit, and Maui is the most expensive of the seven major inhabited islands of the state.
Whether you are one of the nearly 165,000 people who call Maui home or almost 2.3 million tourists who visited the island in 2021, you know that Maui is an expensive location.
Compared with Oahu and other islands, those who spend any amount of time on Maui must earn a lot of money or budget carefully.
Despite the high costs, you cannot put a price on experiencing the beauty of the sandy beaches, impressive forests, and volcanic mountain peaks.
If you are planning a first-time or return visit to Maui, be sure to do your homework so you can budget in advance.
Here are 10 reasons that Maui is so expensive:
Why Is Maui So Expensive? (Top 10 Reasons)
1. Demand Exceeds Supply
All of the Hawaiian islands are popular tourist destinations for travelers, with the tourism industry accounting for more than one-fifth of Hawaii’s economy.
Those who visit Hawaii usually make plans to vacation on these Pacific islands for at least a week.
Maui offers visitors a paradise to enjoy since it is a sparsely populated island with incredible parks, trails, forest reserves, and mountains as well as popular beaches.
The natural beauty, surf, sunshine, and comfortable climate act like a magnet that attracts tourists from all over the United States and many other nations around the world.
Unlike most of the continental United States, those spending winters in Maui never need to worry about shoveling snow, and summertimes rarely get anywhere near triple-digits Fahrenheit.
When a large number of people want to flock to such a popular and incredibly beautiful destination, they discover that there are a limited number of resorts and hotels.
Few budget motels and cheaper accommodations exist.
On top of that, since parks, forest reserves, and volcanic mountains occupy much of the landscape, there are a limited number of places for residential communities and tourist destinations to develop.
With such great demand and only a limited supply, the operators of hotels and high-end resorts on Maui never need to worry about filling rooms at their destinations.
Instead of having to offer discounts to entice visitors, Maui hotels can raise prices, remain fully booked, and make handsome profits.
2. Off The Beaten Path
Unlike most of the Lower 48 of the United States, there are limited ways to reach Hawaii from another state, and none of them involve driving a car.
While there are remote locations that may qualify as “off the beaten path” in many states, Maui and the rest of the Hawaiian islands garnered that reputation because you must either fly or sail to reach this destination, unless you live there in the first place.
Even landing in Honolulu on the island of Oahu means you have only made it part of the way to Maui since you must still take another plane or boat ride from the most populous island to reach the more remote location of Maui.
There are three airports on Maui, but only Kahului Airport handles flights directly from the mainland United States.
Between the flights it serves from the mainland, other Hawaiian islands, and international destinations, Kahului Airport has become Hawaii’s second busiest airport.
Although there are some off-peak periods to fly, the limited number of airplane seats available still makes it difficult to find rock-bottom airfares to Maui.
Overtourism has sometimes overwhelmed this popular resort, leading to higher prices.
3. There Are Few Slower Times
Similar to a popular restaurant that never has an empty table, anyone planning to visit Maui should confirm their reservations before flying or sailing to the island.
If they arrive unannounced, they may find themselves squatting on a sandy beach overnight rather than resting on a comfortable bed.
Although there are a few slower months in the early spring and fall, these slowdowns are far from off-peak downturns.
Anyone expecting to get a last-minute bargain flight and room around times such as Spring Break, Thanksgiving, and the Christmas and other holiday seasons will be disappointed.
Even if you can get a flight to Maui, that does not guarantee the availability of a room, rental car, or other accommodations.
Be prepared to make many calls, send emails, or refresh the pages of websites to look for the perfect vacation itinerary, and have your credit card close to you when you do.
The lack of a slower season keeps the demand for tourists who visit Maui very intense throughout the year and means that cheap travel and hotel accommodations will be nearly impossible to secure.
4. A Beautiful Location
People are willing to spend top dollar to experience spectacular views and enjoy once-in-a-lifetime memories.
The second-largest of Hawaii’s islands, Maui is still a relatively small island of only 735 square miles.
Windward portions of Maui get large amounts of rain that create lush landscapes and even waterfalls.
The unique nature of the terrain on Maui limits the areas where large population centers can exist.
Attempts to overdevelop the island will harm the natural balance, diminish the beauty, and damage the very lucrative tourist industry.
For these reasons, the potential locations to develop hotels and other commercial establishments are very limited.
You will not find ample tourist destinations similar to those in the Miami area near the Everglades or those in towns and cities within a short drive of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Maui is different than many other tourist destinations, with an impressive natural beauty, limited locations to support tourism, a year-round welcoming climate, and consistently high demand for those wanting to visit.
Families and honeymooners alike flock to Maui, and when they do, they bring lots of cash and credit cards to pay for their vacations.
5. Unbelievable Beaches
Most of Maui’s hotels and resorts occupy prime spots near the beach.
Unlike most beaches in the United States, the volcanic activity on the Hawaiian islands has created locations where some of the beaches have black sand.
Maui has a few breathtaking black sand beaches that attract a lot of tourists.
In addition to the droves of tourists who pay handsomely to visit Maui’s beaches, these sandy getaways have received attention from people who study beaches and their aesthetic beauty.
For more than three decades, Dr. Beach has used his criteria to select the best beaches in the world.
Since then, other Maui beaches have held this honor.
Beautiful beaches with a limited number of hotels equal an unforgettable—but quite expensive—vacation.
6. Pricy Resorts
When you visit Maui, expect to pay more to stay at a hotel.
With the limited number of facilities available, you will find few no-frills options or cheap rooms to book.
A few hotels do offer more basic amenities, but many have transformed into full-service resorts that have much more than a soda vending machine and ice dispenser down the hall from your room.
When vacationing on the Hawaiian islands, staying on Oahu is the least expensive, while enjoying a comparable amount of time on Maui is the most expensive.
Adding in food and transportation, the difference is noticeable to your pocketbook.
A November 2021 report by the Hawaii Tourism Authority found that the average daily hotel room rate in Oahu was $225, compared with $530 for a similar room in Maui.
Based upon a typical itinerary, one should plan to spend $2,000 more each week while staying in Maui than they would to enjoy time in Honolulu.
Along with the beachfront hotels, you will find some rental possibilities in condominium units on the island.
However, be prepared to pay, since the condo owners certainly know that their properties occupy the hottest market in one of the most expensive places in America to vacation.
You may get a better deal on a condo, apartment, or smaller house if one is available during your planned visit, though expect these accommodations to be away from the beach.
According to one survey, the costs of hotels, rental cars, and the fees and taxes in the state of Hawaii have grown by approximately 40% since 2012.
Since Maui is the most expensive island, this price increase comes with an even higher sticker shock.
7. Higher Taxes And Utilities
The cost of staying in Maui hotels recently increased due to new tax hikes.
The legislature recently permitted Hawaii counties to levy an additional 3% tax on rental properties and hotel rooms above the already existing 10%.
Under this plan, counties like Maui keep the 3%, and the 10% goes into the state’s coffers.
Although Gov. David Ige vetoed this increase, the legislature overrode his veto and the “transient accommodations tax” went into effect.
A person who now spends $1,000 on a hotel room will also have to pay almost $150 in taxes on that amount.
The expensive lifestyle of Maui affects residents as well as visitors.
Hawaiian homeowners average electricity bills of more than $168 per month, the highest in the nation.
Unlike most of the Lower 48 states, Hawaii is not connected to a larger electric grid that can assure uninterrupted coverage if local transmission plants go offline in an emergency.
Although long periods of sunshine make solar power a great option, the high cost of shipping oil and other products used by many power plants puts the Hawaiian islands at a disadvantage.
With fewer people than Oahu, islands such as Maui incur greater expenses to provide utilities.
These higher expenses are passed on to residents as well as visitors through the higher prices businesses must charge.
8. Expensive Attractions
During your Maui experience, you will have many tourist attractions and recreational activities available to make this a memorable vacation.
As you consider your options, also consider dipping into your bank account or retirement funds to pay for them.
Whale-watching cruises, horseback riding tours, sunrise experiences at Haleakalā, surf lessons, and helicopter rides do not come cheap.
Be careful of the promotions that tout themselves as “for-tourists-only” and promise special bargain prices.
Those promotions may promise—and deliver—an unforgettable experience, but they often come with a price you will not soon forget.
Similar to any well-planned vacation, consider less expensive options as part of your travel itinerary.
Instead of paying for a high-priced snorkeling tour, if you have a snorkel in hand and are an experienced swimmer, check out some of the secluded beaches where the locals go for their adventures.
Something true in most vacation destinations is the best discount coupon in Maui: talk to locals and find out what they enjoy.
Avoid the tourist traps and discover fun options that cost nothing or much less than the high-priced options they pressure you to select at the courtesy desks of resorts and travel kiosks.
Some of the best things you can do are free of cost, such as sunrises and sunsets on the beach, searching for whales from the shoreline, and walking along the coastal landscape.
Hikes, picnics, and art strolls through the galleries are cheaper alternatives than their high-priced counterparts.
Even though your rental car and putting fuel in it is much more expensive than on the mainland, if you have a sense of adventure and are willing to skip the tour group options, you will save money and get more out of your Maui adventure.
9. Price Of Food And Other Items In The Supply Chain
All of us have to eat, and unless you expect to consume nothing more than pineapples and locally grown tropical fruits and vegetables, expect to pay a lot more than you would at your discount grocer on the mainland.
Perishables, food, and other products harvested elsewhere must arrive by plane or, most likely, cargo ships that transport them to Maui.
While air transport gets items to Maui faster, this convenience comes with a very high cost.
All of the ingredients you use to prepare a dish, or that a restaurant needs to create a magnificent meal, cost more to bring to Maui than they do in most places in the United States.
Expect to pay more for everything from a fast food meal to a fine dining experience.
The same oceans that surround you and mesmerize you as you admire their beauty represent the long-distance routes by which most consumer items must travel to get to Maui.
Since there are no shortcuts to take, cargo shipments sometimes take a lot of time.
During the summertime hurricane season, tropical weather in the Pacific may affect the arrival of shipments, even when the storm is nowhere near Hawaii.
While major companies offer some overnight delivery to the island from the West Coast of the mainland, expect to pay a little more than you would for home delivery from a mom-and-pop shop down the street.
Business operators on the island of Maui must anticipate supply-and-demand needs in a way that is more complicated than their counterparts in places like Minnesota, Texas, or Idaho.
Adding to this expense is that the largest commercial shipping port on the islands is Honolulu Harbor.
While Kahului Harbor on Maui handles some commercial freight as well, most of it comes on smaller steamships and cruise ships rather than larger vessels.
The already expensive prices for shipping most items to Honolulu incur additional freight expenses as they make the shorter trip from Oahu to Kahului Harbor.
The Pacific is the world’s largest ocean, and the links of the supply chain have to stretch a very long distance to reach the shores of Maui.
10. The Jones Act
Cargo shipments to all Hawaiian ports fall under the Jones Merchant Marine Act, a law that went into effect more than a century ago.
Officially known as Section 27 of the Merchant Marine Act passed in 1920, the law regulates the way maritime commerce takes place within the United States.
Under the Jones Act, cargo that merchants ship between ports within the United States must only occupy vessels that are built, operated, or owned by citizens or permanent residents of the United States.
Congress passed the Jones Act shortly after the end of the First World War.
This protectionist legislation was sponsored by Wesley Jones, a U.S. Senator for Washington State at the time.
Jones had moved to Seattle in 1917, and he became very familiar with the value of shipping to the economy of Puget Sound and that city.
Back then, he saw the act as a way to provide shipping companies in Washington access to the lucrative market in the territory of Alaska and to eliminate foreign competition.
Although the Jones Act certainly benefited shipping interests and voters in his state, it had the effect of increasing shipping costs and raising prices for Americans who lived outside of the Lower 48.
People in the states of Hawaii and Alaska—along with those who call Guam, Puerto Rico, and other American territorial lands home—have fewer shipping options because of the Jones Act.
As the demand for consumer goods continues to grow, residents of all Hawaiian islands must dig deeper into their pockets, in part due to the Jones Act.
Shipping companies often charge much higher costs to ship materials to Hawaii from American ports.
According to one study, it costs approximately $1,500 to $1,800 to transport a 40-foot container across the Pacific Ocean from Los Angeles to Shanghai in China, yet it’s almost three times as much to send that same container to Hawaii.
On top of that, expect to pay even more as the goods within that container make a short jaunt from Honolulu to Kahului and their final Maui destination.
As long as the Jones Act is the law of the land, those who live in or visit Maui can expect more money to go out of their hands.