One of my favorite things about my experience running JohnnyJet.com is the community we’ve built together and I love hearing from readers and getting your tips and advice that you pick up as you travel. A reader, Charlie, recently submitted his advice for anyone traveling to Hawaii, specifically Oahu. He’s provided some great information so be sure to read his tips below if you have any plans to visit the islands:

1. Arrival
We found the COVID test requirements and the associated entry process at HNL to be extremely well done by the State. The only suggestion I would make is that you get off the plane as quickly as possible and into the COVID line.

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2. Follow the Hawaii “safe travels” requirements to the T.
If you do, admission will go smoothly and without quarantine. I watched several families get very ‘hung up’ because they didn’t have the QR codes ready when they got online at HNL. I recommend having paper copies of BOTH the QR code and negative test results in addition to what is on your phone. Phone/digital is primary, but they took the paper when a phone wasn’t available. You will need the same QR code (with two green checkmarks) to check-in at your hotel. Without the QR code, you will have a tough time checking into a hotel without being forced to quarantine. In our case, we were also interrogated by the AA agent at check-in at PHL. She insisted on seeing our proof of negative test results before she would check our bags. At 4 AM, it was just easier to dig up the proof and give it to her rather than argue. The fact is, the AA agent was wrong, and you can absolutely travel to Hawaii without a negative test, or even a QR code. However, you will need to quarantine for 10 days and the Hawaiians are very serious about you doing that. I subsequently spoke with AA and they admitted that the agent misinterpreted the notes on her screen at check-in. I would not be surprised if the same thing happens to other travelers.

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3. Dining reservations were an issue, especially for families with children.
There were very, very few dinner reservations available anywhere on the island during the entire week, at any price. We made all our reservations in advance, thank God. Several times I heard guests get upset with the concierge…. like it was their fault. We met several families that were forced to do take-out food every night or hit Burger King because they couldn’t get reservations and didn’t want to deal with putting their name on a list and having to wait an hour with their children. I would recommend folks make a reservation (Open Table, Resy, etc.) every night they are on island ASAP and weeks before they travel if they want a reasonable selection. Reservations can always be cancelled or changed. We were told the dining situation will improve dramatically over the next few months as establishments staff-up and/or reopen.

4. The transportation stuff was a pain
But it was something most people seemed to be able to live with or work around. Rental cars were like hen’s teeth. Unless you were willing to rent one of those Magnum PI replica Ferraris for $650 per day, folks were out of luck. Two people we met at the pool were renting U-Haul vans as a work around. Pretty darn creative.

5. Uber and Lyft sometimes are NOT good options right now
Once we were stranded at our restaurant for 45 minutes because there were no drivers available at 9PM to return us to the hotel. When there are drivers available, both Uber and Lyft and quick to use surge pricing at popular times (like between 5PM and 9PM). On Friday night, we paid $60 to get back to the hotel (it was $17 to get to the restaurant). Also, currently the State is limiting Uber and Lyft to 3 people in all cars but the largest ones. It actually worked out that we used taxicabs many times. Usually cheaper, faster, and more reliable when the hotel could hook us up.

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6. Beach chairs need to be reserved and are pretty much sold out within 7 days.
We were able to reserve and pre-pay for chairs/umbrella (two chairs and an umbrella cost $50-$60 for the day). Last week, chair sets on the beach, in front of our hotel, were sold out for all days. Also, at our hotel, chairs at the pool had to be reserved at 8AM on the day-of (but they were free). I think it’s a good idea to plan out/reserve all the beach stuff before traveling.

7. Ask before booking tours
We like to take guided tours and booked two: One for the Arizona Memorial and one for the Missouri Battleship. We paid a large premium over self-guided tours. Unfortunately, it seems guided tours have pretty much all been suspended during COVID. Both our tours ended up being self-guided. The tour company was quick to refund the difference when it was pointed out. Probably a good idea to ask questions of the concierge or tour operator before booking. I am not saying this was intentional, just odd, since the pandemic is not new.

8. Book/reserve your Luau before you go
Yes, very touristy thing to do, but great fun if you have never been to one. For the same reason there are very few rental cars to be had, the Luaus were also all sold out. We did a Chief’s Luau on the suggestion of our concierge and thought it was a wonderful show and great fun (but … don’t go for the food). I got the impression there are many hotels and companies doing good Luaus.

9. Don’t underestimate Hawaiian traffic at rush hour!
It felt like home on several occasions. Leave enough time for tours, reservations, and transfers.

10. Bring more money
Travelers should be prepared for almost everything to cost more than they are probably accustomed to on the mainland. In some cases, a lot more. Then again, we spent most of our time in Waikiki.

Overall, I think Hawaii was a great trip and great value! I can’t think of any other place we could have traveled to, where we would have felt as safe. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was always masked and socially distanced. All restaurants even require contact tracing information. They are doing a better job with COVID than any other place I have been in the last year (Las Vegas, San Francisco, NYC, Fort Lauderdale). I don’t think Hawaii gets enough credit for what they are doing.

Thanks for all the great tips, Charlie!

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6 Comments On "10 Tips for Traveling to Hawaii During COVID"
  1. Ari|

    Your comments are very specific to Oahu. Should probably mention that.

  2. Fiona Nash|

    Tourists may also want to consider food trucks as compared to sit down restaurants. There may be a line, but it will go much quicker than a sit down restaurant.

  3. Cindy B|

    I found getting dinner reservations in advance on the Big Island was a good idea, too. Flying Alaska Airlines, they pre approved me at the check in counter to skip the covid line upon arrival at Kona airport, but a second covid test was required upon arrival. My suggestion is pay the extra for premium coach, so you get in the front of the second testing line at the Kona airport. My whole Big Island experience was fantastic. You can buy your Tommy Bahama Beach chair at Costco for $59 instead of renting.

  4. cynthia F cohn|

    WHAT IS THE QR CODE THAT YOU WRITE ABOUT? IF YOU HAVE PROOF OF 2 VACANATIONS
    AND THE COVID NEGATIVE TEST DO YOU ALSO NEED THE QR CODE?
    THANK YOU

  5. Mark B|

    Having just arrived in Kona, I’d like to share important information. The State of Hawaii not only requires a negative test within 72 hours of arrival in Hawaii AND registration and uploading of test results to their web site, but requires visitors to enter flight data not only for an arriving flight but also every connecting flight to another island. Hawaii does not state that requirement on their site. A QR code is required for each flight.
    So arriving HNL with a QR code for that flight, when we landed at KOA we were asked for the QR code for that flight which we didn’t have. There we were stuck at the arrival gate re entering the same information previously entered except with the addition of the flight info for the flight HNL to KOA. Remember to add a separate registration for every flight to save time and a hassle at your final destination.

    1. Johnny Jet|

      Thanks for your tip! We will probably run it tomorrow and ask readers to submit there are Hawaii tips for travel during COVID-19

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