Hawaii calls

(This column was written for JoeSentMe, the informative travel newsletter for professional travelers.)

I just finished a delightful vacation in Kauai with my wife and daughter. Unlike many trips this year, this one was smooth and trouble free. We were fortunate to travel on Alaska Airlines’ non-stop from San Diego. With no status or special privileges, we flew basic economy, and it was still a delightful trip. Alaska’s economy seating is quite comfortable, every seat has power, and its high speed WiFi was just $8. I used the wireless connection to watch TV using my YouTubeTV account. I simply signed in and confirmed that I was traveling away from home.

Hawaiian Airlines, on the other hand, should be avoided at all costs. Their CEO just apologized for the huge number of cancelled flights, many scrubbed with no warning over the past six months. In fact, my daughter was originally scheduled to fly from SFO to Kauai on an Hawaiian flight. It was cancelled a few months ago, yet it took many calls and a complaint to her credit card company to get Hawaiian to finally issue a refund three months later. We should give them some slack because of the Maui tragedy, but many of their their issues are self-inflicted: a failed reservation system, planes out of service, manual processing of refunds, and just overall poor customer service.

Kauai’s tiny Lihue airport lets you get to the car rental counters in less than 15 minutes once you disembark. Rental cars are still pricey, although not as bad at the $100 per day rates right after Covid. We ended up paying Hertz $350 for a full size car for a week using my daughter’s company account. I did a lot of checking on Costco.com and several of the rental car sites, including Avis where I have a corporate account. Costco.com’s best rates were about $500, except for minivans that were a surprisingly low $300. I had originally booked a car using my Avis corporate account., but at $600, it was by far the most expensive of all and, after being bombarded several times a week with reminders to buy additional insurance, I was happy to cancel.

We’ve been going to Kauai every two years for the past 15, and never tire of it. It’s lush with foliage and fun for everyone, whether it’s just relaxing by the beach or hiking through canyons and waterfalls. It’s laid back, unpretentious, with limited shopping and dining. It’s certainly not a culinary destination, and the better restaurants tend to be overpriced and underwhelming. Fortunately our hotel/timeshare, the Marriott Waiohai, has outdoor gas grills where we cooked steaks and fish from the local markets. The hotel is in Poipu, which has the best weather on the island; we enjoyed sunny 80 degree weather every day.

If you want to just get away and experience a relaxing vacation, it’s hard to do better than Kauai in the fall. With nonstop service from San Diego and Seattle, Alaska is the way to go. They are one of the few airlines that have their act together and treat their passengers like welcome guests.

by Phil Baker