My $20,000 PCS to Hawaii Guide: Flights, Hotels, Rental Cars

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Aloha from Hawaii! My wife and I recently PCS'd to the beautiful island of Oahu to continue my Air Force career. Along the way we learned some things that I wish I had knew before we moved here.

Please note that I am writing this from the perspective of a early thirties, dual income, no kids (DINKS) married couple. If you are single, younger, older, have kids, you may have a total different experience and perspective.

Two very important things to note up front:

  • Moving to Hawaii is VERY EXPENSIVE.
  • The reimbursement process takes a long time. You need SAVINGS.

You need to set aside several thousand dollars, depending on whether it's just you PCSing or your family of six. I would budget at least $2000 per person of savings before you PCS to Hawaii.

Cost of Moving to Hawaii

There are unavoidable costs that even the most frugal or smart person is going to have difficulty avoiding. Our estimated total cost of moving:

  • $3562 2x airfare from previous assignment to Honolulu
  • $5264 28 nights of hotel lodging
  • $1500 Food for 2 adults for 28 days while in hotel with no kitchen
  • $2505 Rental car from Turo while waiting for our car to get delivered
  • $3900 first month's rent
  • $3900 security deposit

Total cost of moving to Oahu: $20,631

Total Reimbursement Received: $8820 TLA (28 days x $315/day)

Out of pocket or non-reimbursed costs so far: $11,811

Note that the hotel lodging (TLA) took 5 weeks from when we checked out to get reimbursed. We checked out June 10 and received our final TLA reimbursement in my July 15 pay.

Airfare, Dislocation Allowance ($3100), and PCS per diem is still not reimbursed 62 days after submitting voucher. There was an “administrative” error on my orders which required 4 weeks of correction from Air Force Personnel Command (AFPC).

We took circuitous travel when we PCS'd from our previous assignment. We also self-procured our own tickets, so we collected the credit card reward points and booked flights at more convenient times for us.

However, we made sure we had the cash on hand before booking the circuitous travel tickets. We knew, from previous experience, getting reimbursed from a PCS voucher can take weeks if not months.

We paid off the credit cards months ago so we're not carrying any debt while we wait for our PCS voucher to pay.

The increased spending of a PCS to Hawaii is a great time to meet the minimum spend on one of my top recommended credit cards for servicemembers. One of the cards I used the most during my PCS was my annual fee waived Amex Gold card:

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Temporary Lodging Allowance (TLA)

The Temporary Lodging Allowance (TLA) for OCONUS moves, including Hawaii, is $315 per day for an active duty servicemember plus one dependent.

The rate changes based on how many dependents you have, the age of any children, and whether your TLA approved lodging has a kitchen or not. Check out my full Oahu TLA article for all the details.

If you're lucky to stay off base in Waikiki while you are collecting TLA, make sure you use one of the fee waived best hotel credit cards for military servicemembers.

Housing: On Base or Off Base

Live on base: they will take all your BAH. Live off base: good luck finding a place and dealing with traffic. Housing is tough on Oahu, have no doubt about that.

Even though Hawaii is OCONUS, they use the BAH system instead of the OHA system. That means you can keep the difference if your rent is less than your BAH.

For all my previous assignments, our housing costs were usually $500-$1000 below BAH, allowing us to pocket the difference. In Hawaii though, we went over our BAH to get a place that we really enjoy.

We're still saving 40% of my military income in our quest for financial independence, but we're loosening the purse strings a bit with our housing costs. But I mean, comeon…when is the next time your going to live in Hawaii? Hawaii has really highlighted for me the importance of spending money to enjoy life now and not to over save for the future.

Some of the popular places to live include Ewa Beach, Pearl City, downtown Honolulu, Waikiki or Kaka'ako. Kailua is also a popular spot, with the easy H3 highway access to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

If you are at Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH), Kaneohe is very convienent. If you are at Schofield Barracks, Mililani might deserve a look.

The best advice I have is to talk to people already on island that you know. Or ask people in your new unit where they live.

You will notice trends, like all the young, single guys live in downtown Honolulu. Everyone with more than 1 kid lives on base. Find out who is in a similar family situation to you and ask how they like living where they do.

Rental Car for PCS to Hawaii

The US government DOES NOT reimburse you for a rental car when you PCS to Hawaii. Factor this in to your TLA calculations.

We sent our car ahead a month before we left my last duty station. However, the car was not delivered to me until 56 days on the island.

To save money, I rented 2 rental cars through Turo. (You can save $25 off your next Turo rental by using my referral link here. Thanks!) The first one was a 2018 Honda Fit. It had less than 20,000 miles on it and was in real good shape.

Renting Peter's Honda Fit

The next car I rented was a 2010 Toyota Prius. I really don't like how the Prius's drive, but beggars can't be choosers.

Total cost of renting 2 Turos for 56 days: $2505, or $45 per day. That price includes standard protection insurance, which is a full coverage insurance policy with only a $500 deductible.

Turo Rental Receipt
Turo receipt for the first 43 days

I chose to add the insurance option because it's unclear to me if my USAA auto insurance covers Turo rentals. Since I rented I learned that my Chase Sapphire Preferred rental insurance covers Turos.

The annual fee on both Chase Sapphire cards is waived for military. I recommend you get either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

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So…is a Hawaii PCS worth it?

I say yes, living in Hawaii is worth it! So far we love living in Hawaii. We can walk to the beach, go snorkeling, SCUBA diving, paddle boarding, kayaking: there's so much to do! The weather almost always supports being outside all the time.

I ran my first triathlon since moving to Oahu. It's so easy to be active all the time when the weather is so nice.

Hawaiian Buddhist Temple
Just one of the magical places you can visit in Hawaii!

The food is so “ono” (Hawaiian for delicious). Poke, grilled chicken, Hawaiian BBQ, all kinds of Asian food, fresh fruit, nuts, and access to a Costco makes life delicious and easy.

The easy going lifestyle is a nice change of pace from the mainland.

Hawaii PCS FAQ

How long does it take to PCS to Hawaii?

Well, the flight is actually pretty short at only 6 hours from California. But the actual process of moving into your new house and receiving your household goods can take weeks or sometimes months.

Can I PCS to Hawaii?

Yes! There are over 40,000 active duty military troops stationed in Hawaii. It's a fantastic assignment in an amazing location.

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