We think that renting a car is one of the most important things you can do to get the most out of your trip to the Big Island. Over 90% of our visitors agree and rent a car during their stay!
It is possible to make your way around the Big Island using our limited public transport options but it is both more time efficient and convenient to rent a car. Our guide explains how you can find the best deals and takes you through the most frequently asked questions about renting a car.
A quick summary: the best way to find a good deal on a rental car on our island is to book early and preferably through a local rental agency.
VERY Important note about booking rental cars in 2023: Due to a persistent shortage in rental cars throughout the state that may last into 2023 we STRONGLY advise that you book your vehicle as soon as possible.
Frequently asked questions about renting a car on the Big Island
To save you some time we have compiled a few frequently asked questions about car rentals below. All questions below are answered in our guide, but now you don’t need to read our whole guide to find an answer to your question!
Local rental agencies are our secret to getting good deals. These agencies negotiate guaranteed discounts with the biggest rental car companies (Hertz, Europcar, etc.), and some pass part of these discounts on to their customers! You can get especially good rates if you are willing to be flexible about the make and model of your car.
You can find our current favorite local car rental company on our website.
All rental car companies allow their cars to be taken up as far as the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy (a.k.a. the visitor center), but Harpers (now closed) and Big Island Jeep Rentals (4 day minimum rental, website) are the only companies that allows you to take their 4WD rentals all the way up to the Maunakea summit.
A good way to go to the summit without renting a 4WD is by joining a stargazing tour. For most people, however, a visit to the visitor center is more than enough to satisfy their curiosity. Read more about how to visit Maunakea on our website.
In general, yes. The island is big, our public transport is not well suited for tourism purposes, and taxi or shared ride services are expensive. Renting a car also gives you a lot of flexibility and peace of mind.
If you plan to spend a significant part of your stay at one place (the beach) and don’t mind relying on (and paying for) tours to see our island highlights you can do without a rental car, but keep in mind that this will add considerable cost to your vacation.
All car rental companies on the Big Island prohibit you from taking your rental car on the road to Green Sand Beach. You can take the car as far as the end of South Point road, from there it is a 2.7 mile (4.3 km) hike to the beach. Note that the rides offered from the parking lot to the beach are operating illegally, without the consent of the landowner.
It is best to book as far in advance as possible, for example directly after you buy your flights. There is a hard limit on the amount of cars that can be rented, and this scarcity can drive prices up especially close in time to our most popular events such as the Ironman Triathlon (mid October) and the Merrie Monarch festival (mid to late April).
Make sure to book a fully refundable fare and check again a few months before your trip to make sure you got the best deal.
Please drop us a line if you have another question about renting a car on the Big Island that is currently not answered on this page.
How to find the best rental deals
The price of a rental car depends on many factors. The two most important things that influence price are  availability and  how soon you need a rental car.
As for the time of booking the most important tip we can give you is the following: book early if you are going to be on the Big Island during popular events such as the Ironman triathlon (mid-October) or the Merrie Monarch Festival (mid-April). Christmas is also a notorious period if it comes to renting a car.
We recommend the following strategies to get the best price:
Our best tip: book at a local car rental agency (lower prices for almost everyone)
Book early and update your booking when prices drop (also good results but more work)
Rent your car for an extended period (typically only works for 30+ days rental periods)
These points are explained in more detail below.
1: Get the best price with a local agency (no prepayment, no cancellation fees)
The best way to find a good deal often is to check with the bigger local booking sites as they negotiate discounts for their customers with all major rental car companies that serve Hawaiʻi (Budget, Alamo, Enterprise, etc.). You can get especially good rates if you are willing to be flexible about the exact details of the make and model of your car.
The following local booking site offers discount rates on car rentals in the state of Hawaiʻi.
Our favorite local car rental website for low prices
The Discount Hawaii Car Rentals website is our first stop for a quote when we need an extra car or travel to a different island. We like them because they require no prepayment and charge no cancellation fees, and because they offer additional benefits such as free extra drivers and reduced young driver rates.
They always get back to us quickly with good rates. Besides, if you can choose, why not go local?
One strategy to get a good deal on a rental car is to book early at the local rental agency mentioned above, and then to check back in at a later time to look for lower prices. About 6 weeks before your departure is a good time to try to find a better deal. For this strategy to work it is important to make your first reservation with an agency that allows cancellations without a penalty.
For example, a mid-sized 8 days car rental might cost $450 the first time you book 4 months before you arrive at Hawaii. Typically, this price will start declining down to say $240 at 1 or 2 weeks before arrival. The last days before arrival, prices can suddenly jump up to ridiculous prices again. We have seen examples where a car that was at its lowest $240 suddenly jumped up the $900 in the last days before arrival.
Using this method can potentially save you a couple of hundreds of dollars but does require that you invest extra time in booking and re-booking. It works best for people that like to plan ahead.
3: Better prices for long term car rentals
If you are staying for more than 30 days and want to rent a car on the Big Island, have a look at e.g. island discount rentals (only in Hilo). This company rents out used cars and offers very competitive prices on longer term rentals.
Convenience and price are important things to pay attention to when renting a car. Knowing that the pickup location of your rental car is close to your point of arrival often gives the peace of mind that the start (and end) of your time on Hawaii go as smooth as possible. Here are the most important pickup locations on the Big Island:
Where to pick up your car in Hilo
Getting to your rental car in Hilo is straightforward whether you arrive by airplane or by cruise ship. The following seven rental car companies are represented at the Hilo Airport (last checked January 2023 from source):
Pickup locations: the offices of all these agencies are located on the side of the road opposite to the arrival and departure terminal. Harper’s and Enterprise are not represented at the airport, but offer a shuttle service. Especially Harper’s might be of interest for you if you are looking to rent a 4WD car that can take you to the Mauna Kea summit.
There is no public bus service to or from Hilo airport. If you don’t have a rental car your transport from the airport would have to be either by taxi or personal pick up. Hilo International Airport (ITO) is located on the edge of Hilo, about 3 miles east of the downtown area.
Where to pick up your car on the Kona coast
Getting your rental car near Kailua Kona is easiest directly at the airport. You can find the check-in counters for all major car rental companies directly across the street from the luggage claim.
You can find more offices of rental car agencies in the town of Kona at the King Kamehameha hotel (important for people arriving by cruise ship) and scattered through the resorts on the north Kona / Kohala coast (important for people staying at the resorts that only want to rent a car for a few days of their stay).
You can find more information on what rental car agencies can be found at different locations along the Kona coast (in Kona, at the airport, and at the resorts) below.
Rental car agencies at the Kona International Airport (KOA)
Kona International Airport is located about 8 miles north of Kailua-Kona and 19 miles south of the Kohala resorts. The rental car agencies servicing the Kona airport are (last checked January 2023 from source):
All car rental companies maintain check-in counters away from the arrival and departure terminals and are served by free shuttles. These shuttles stop at the center median located across the street from baggage claim areas A and B.
Rental car agencies in Kailua Kona
The rental car offices in Kona are all centered around the Kailua pier at Aliʻi drive. This is to facilitate the cruise ship passengers that arrive in Kona at the Pier.
Thrifty, Hertz and Dollar all have set up shop in the King Kamehamea Hotel (source), across the street from the pier.
Enterprise has its office a bit further away, at a 20 minute (1 mile) walk from the pier ( at 74-5583 Luhia Street).
Rental car agencies at the Kona and Waikoloa resorts
North of Kona, at 19 miles north of the airport, you can find the Waikoloa resorts. The following rentals car agencies have an office in one or more of the resorts:
At 27 miles from the airport (32 from Kona) there is an Enterprise office that services the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.
South of Kona, there is a Hertz office at the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay.
“Drive with aloha” is the best advice we can give people when they ask if driving on Hawaii is different. Be considerate, drive slowly in residential neighborhoods and take your time.
footnote on booking your car with Discount Hawaii Car Rentals
We are part of the affiliate program of Discount Hawaii Car Rentals, meaning that we receive a small fee for every completed booking we send their way at no extra cost to you. We recommend them because we think they are the best at what they do, and being part of their program helps us cover the costs to update, host, and maintain this website as a bonus.
Read more on our participation with affiliates here.