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Is a Trip to Thailand Really CHEAPER Than one to Hawaii?

This post was born from a bit of frustration. Furthermore, this post really doesn’t have much to do with award travel. Rather, it’s more of an open letter to those who make comments like “must be nice”, “wish I could afford that” or “someone is spoiled” in response to any Insta/Facebook posts coming out of Asia. Frequently, these comments lead to an awkward defense of the journey. I’ll often try to explain that a trip to the Far East really isn’t that expensive. Further, I’ll commonly make the research-less claim that the aforementioned trip is likely cheaper than a similar one to Hawaii. These claims often land on skeptical ears. That’s the real reason I’m here today, to prove that Asia is CHEAPER than Hawaii!

The Plan

For our hypothetical vacation, we’ll be spending a cool 10 days in each of our destinations, starting in Bangkok, Thailand and Honolulu, Hawaii. I chose 10 days because its about the shortest amount of time one would want to spend in a place that can take more than a day to get to. After all, who wants to spend half their vacation on a plane? Just to make things interesting, we’ll also take a look at budget vs. luxury itineraries. We’ll be skipping the hostels, taking an inter-region flight and going on some guided tours. Finally, we won’t be skimping on food.

Asia Hawaii Plane

1.1 Getting There

Here’s the big ticket item. Or at least it’s perceived to be. As is the case with cars, houses and taxes, people have a tendency to look at the big number first. They then proceed to mentally sweep the other costs under the rug. The flight is the thing that creates the notion that a trip to Phuket or Bali is reserved for those with cash to burn. Of course I’m here to prove otherwise, but this win will probably go to Hawaii. Too keep things relatively simple, I’ll assume we’re starting off in LA. A quick query over on Google Flights gives us the following results:

One Way Airfare to Honolulu/Bangkok
Budget – Economy 249.00 405.00
Luxury – Business 684.00 2,273.00
Average $466.50 $1,339.00

Of course, one will always want to maximize their return on spend for any travel related purchases. That $2,273.00 business-class ticket would earn 6,819 Ultimate Rewards if purchased using ones Chase Sapphire Reserve. This is worth $149.33, according to our most recent currency valuation.

WINNER: Hawaii

Part 2.1 – 5 Days in Metropolis: Lodging

This is going to get a bit subjective. We can’t really  compare two identical hotels. Moreover, foreign hotels don’t necessarily fall on the same rating scale as their American counterparts. In other words, 3-star to 3-star isn’t always an equal comparison. In an attempt to remain objective, we’ll limit our searches by star-level and only 8.5+ user ratings on Hotels.com. Experience tells me that Asia is about to make up a lot of ground.

Five Days Lodging
Honolulu Bangkok
Budget – 3-star 1484.37 280.57
Luxury – 5-star 2126.07 1,040.90
Average $1805.22 $660.74

WINNER: Thailand, to the surprise of no one

Though lower in value, hotel points are much easier to earn. Anyone using the excellent, and recently reviewed Starwood Preferred Guest Luxury Card from American express will earn 6 points per dollar spent at Marriott or SPG properties. Assuming that $1,805.22 figure used above was a covered hotel, that points haul would be worth $108.30. That’s in addition to any you might earn as a Marriott Rewards member.

Part 2.2 – 5 Days in Metropolis: Nourishment

I’m struggling here. How does one quantify the cost of food with no direct comparisons? I know Asian street food is cheap, but many will(incorrectly) shy away. Furthermore, restaurants are as much a personal choice as anything else.

So, here’s how we’re going to measure this one. I’ll head over to the ever-useful TripAdvisor, and average prices from the first three restaurants that pop up. To delineate between our budget and luxury categories, I’ll limit searches to “cheap eats” and “fine dining”. Taking a look at the menu, I’ll grab an app and a main course. If the restaurant does not have a menu available online, we’ll just go down the list until we find one that does. Lets go.

Average Cost For Five Nights Dinner
Honolulu Bangkok
R1 R2 R3 R1 R2 R3
Budget 63.75 65.00 72.50 51.30 17.65 28.85
Luxury 1,025.00 425.00 395.00 681.05 240.40 416.65
Average $341.04 $239.32

WINNER: Thailand – But not by as much as I would have imagined

Part 3.1 – 5 Days in a Resort Town: Intra-Region Flight

Most who visit a destination will want to move around a little bit. In general, I don’t recommend changing locations too much. Often, the desire to see as much as possible in the shortest amount of time can make the vacation seem rushed. Keep in mind, every location change all but eats the day. When I travel, the personal limit is about one new hotel every 3 or four days. Preferably more. With this in mind, we’ll leave our region’s metropolis after 5 days and move on to a smaller town. In Hawaii, we’ll head over to Kauai, in Thailand, Phuket sounds great.

Intra-Region Flight
Budget – Economy 70.00 24.00
Luxury – Business 140.00 221.00
Average $105.00 $122.50

WINNER: Hawaii

Part 3.2 – 5 Days in a Resort Town: Lodging

Pretty much a carbon copy of our methodology used in part 2.2. Hotels.com three and five stars. Trying to stay objective, just picking the first option in both locations.

Five Nights in Resort Town
Lihue, Kauai Phuket
Budget – 3-Star 1,277.40 266.45
Luxury – 5-Star 3,679.40 410.00
Average $2,478.40 $338.25

WINNER: Thailand, by a landslide

Part 3.3 – Day Excursion

I’m a big fan of SCUBA diving. It’s usually one of my go-to activities when on holiday. Luckily, it will make a great apples to apples comparison for our day excursion. We’ll be diving 2-tanks, which is a pretty standard number of dives for a vacation day. Unlike some of our other entries, this really isn’t a budget/luxury thing.

SCUBA Diving

2-Tank SCUBA Boat Dive Tour
Lihue Phuket
$176.80 $108.90

WINNER: Thailand, hmm, I remember diving being a bit cheaper in Asia

Part 3.4 – 5 Days in a Resort Town: Nourishment

Repeating our methodology from part 2.2 above, I’m taking a look over on TripAdvisor. Earlier, I was pretty surprised to find food prices so comparable in both locations. Let’s see if that result repeats itself in Lihue and Phuket. For the record, finding a restaurant with a usable online menu in Thailand is quite the chore.

3.4 Average Cost For Five Nights Dinner
Lihue Phuket
R1 R2 R3 R1 R2 R3
Budget 54.75 46.25 40.00 49.65 23.70 22.40
Luxury 245.00 190.00 202.50 293.10 136.15 148.95
Average $129.75 $112.33

WINNER: Thailand, But again, just barely

Part 4.1 – Getting Home

Our hypothetical vacation is just about over, now it’s time to get home. Instead of breaking the flight home into two parts, we’re going to fly home directly from our resort town. You know, just to keep things interesting.

One Way Airfare to LAX
Budget – Economy 354.00 692.00
Luxury – Business 618.00 2050.00
Average $486.00 $1371.00


Yes, a trip to Thailand is CHEAPER than a trip to Hawaii. Furthermore, it’s a lot cooler. Nobody cares to hear about your Hawaiian vacation. Everyone has been, or knows enough people who have, that tales from the island are now white noise. Thailand, on the other hand, is semi-exotic. Most are familiar with the food, but don’t know much beyond that. People will ask questions and be genuinely interested to hear about an area of the world they’re not familiar with.

With that, let’s dive into the numbers. I go ahead and dissect the reasons why a trip across the world will set you back less than a trip that doesn’t leave the United States.

It’s interesting here to see how the two locations’s total spend break down. When watching the wallet in Hawaii, one will likely spend more on lodging than transportation. The opposite is true when travelling to Thailand.

Budget Travel
Hawaii Thailand
Outbound Flight 249.00  405.00
Metropolis Lodging 1,484.37 280.57
Metropolis Food 67.08 32.60
Intra-Region Flight 70.00  24.00
Resort Town Lodging 1,277.40 266.45
Day Excursion 176.80 108.90
Resort Town Food 47.00 31.92
Return Flight 354.00 692.00
Total $3,725.65  $1,841.44 

For those spending more lavishly, the phenomenon above repeats itself. Hawaiian vacationers will spend more on lodging. Those visiting Thailand, will once again spend more on flights.

Luxury Travel
Hawaii Thailand
Outbound Flight 684.00 2,273.00
Metropolis Lodging 2,126.07 1,040.90
Metropolis Food 615.00 446.03
Intra-Region Flight 140.00 221.00
Resort Town Lodging 3,679.40 410.00
Day Excursion 176.80 108.90
Resort Town Food 212.50 192.73
Return Flight 618.00 2050.00
Total 8,251.77 6,742.57
Average Travel
Hawaii Thailand
Outbound Flight 466.50 1,339.00
Metropolis Lodging 1,805.22 660.74
Metropolis Food 341.04 239.32
Intra-Region Flight 105.00 122.50
Resort Town Lodging 2,478.40 338.23
Day Excursion 176.80 108.90
Resort Town Food 129.75 112.33
Return Flight 486.00 1,371.00
Total 5,988.71 4,292.00

The numbers speak for themselves. A vacation in Thailand is cheaper than a vacation in Hawaii. Interestingly, I didn’t see the large price delta between food and activities as I would have expected.

Looking above at our average travel costs, we can draw one overriding conclusion. Getting to Asia can be expensive, but it sure is reasonable once you’re there. I think this will hold true when comparing Hawaii with most of Southeast Asia.

That’s it, go to Asia, skip Hawaii. Aside from the now-quantified price advantage, you’ll simply have a better time. Personally, the further I get from the US, the more intimate the surroundings feel. Nothing connects American’s more than meeting on foreign soil. If less money, better food, more interesting stories and no TSA doesn’t convince you, I’m not sure anything ever will.