You know the situation all too well.
It’s late-afternoon Saturday in the summer and the supermarkets, gas stations and convenience stores are packed with tourists. It’s not just Hilton Head Island. It’s places in Bluffton and Beaufort, where a lot of tourists will stop before reaching paradise to avoid the “island up-charge.”
What’s the “island up-charge”? It’s the commonly held belief that certain products and services are more expensive on the island than in nearby areas.
The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette wanted to know if there was any truth to it, so we researched some typical purchases, services and outings to determine average prices on Hilton Head Island and in Beaufort and Bluffton.
This isn’t an exact science — to give us an idea of which businesses and services to check, we used the review website Yelp.com to create a list of common purchases, wants and needs. The findings give a general estimate of what you’ll pay in each area.
Here is what we found.
When it comes to services, you might do better staying off the island.
Errands you need to run, like getting an oil change, having an eye checkup, boarding your dog in a kennel for the weekend, and dry cleaning have some serious markups on Hilton Head Island.
For instance, the average quote for a synthetic oil change we recorded in Beaufort was $65.39, while the same was $76.50 on the island.
If you want to book your pooch for the weekend on the island, the bill was nearly $20 more compared to boarding your pet in Beaufort.
The average estimate for dropping off your laundry for dry cleaning (four blouses, four mens dress pants and four dresses) was about $93.56 in Bluffton, $96.52 in Beaufort and $109.16 on Hilton Head.
And exercise can start getting a little costly on the island. The cheapest price for a drop-in yoga class (without a membership) was $14.67 in Bluffton, but the average was $18.33 on Hilton Head. With a CrossFit drop-in class, we noticed something similar; the average price in Beaufort was $15, $17.50 in Bluffton and $20 on the island.
A quote for weekly pool cleaning service with chemicals was more than twice as expensive in Bluffton and on Hilton Head than it was in Beaufort.
The average out-of-pocket yearly eye-checkup cost $133.33 in Beaufort but the price was $158.33 on the island for the same service.
The only service we didn’t find an up-charge for was quarterly preventative spraying from an exterminator for a 2,000-square-foot home. The lower average price among the companies we surveyed for this service was on the island.
There are many factors to consider why these services might cost more on Hilton Head than in neighboring locations, including labor and real estate costs, but the prices tend to speak for themselves.
If we were able to track the origin of the “island up-charge” myth, it probably began with groceries.
Tourists regularly swamp grocery stores in Beaufort and Bluffton in the summer tourist season believing that they would pay extra in a store right next to the beach.
But our findings for this category might be the most surprising; there seems to be no up-charge for groceries on the island.
For this comparison, we used the same grocery list for Walmart, Publix and Bi-Lo locations near Beaufort, Bluffton and Hilton Head to determine an overall average for grocery shopping.
There were price differences between grocery brands, but the average cost from our list for each area rang out at about $148 each.
This items included produce, meats, dairy products, snacks, bread, and a few meals for the family. There were fun items like Funfetti mix, Strawberry Pop-Tarts and frozen pizza, but we also remembered to check necessities, such as pain killers, diapers, laundry detergent, shampoo, toilet paper and toothpaste.
Despite our list covering most daily needs, we didn’t see any kind of significant difference. In fact, Hilton Head actually had the lowest average cost: the average in Beaufort was $148.67, $148.70 in Bluffton and $147.89 on the island.
You’ll tend to pay more for a dinner out on the island, but dining in Bluffton and on Hilton Head is typically pricier than in Beaufort.
A review of common menu items at sit-down restaurants in each location showed the differences. The average price for a meal for four—with orders of a rib-eye steak, roasted chicken, a salmon entree, shrimp and grits, and one Caesar salad and piece of key lime pie— was $99.14 in Beaufort, $107 in Bluffton and $109.95 on Hilton Head, not including extra charges for taxes or a tip.
Hilton Head has a significantly higher percentage of restaurants that are considered“pricey,” according to reviews from the public submitted to the website Yelp. In Beaufort, for example, 43 percent of restaurants given a price estimate on the website were considered “inexpensive” compared to 31 percent in Bluffton and 19 percent on Hilton Head.
The island upcharge in dining-out can also be seen in different prices for the exact same menu items at restaurants with multiple locations on and off the island.
Though not all such restaurants charge more on the island, Truffles Cafe, Red Fish and the British Open Pub are among those that charge $1 to $2 more for some menu items at their Hilton Head locations than they do in Bluffton.
There were also small changes in prices at fast-food restaurants with locations throughout Beaufort County, with most chains charging slightly more for menu items in the southern part of the county, and a few charging even more on the island.
We compared typical fast-food combos at seven fast-food restaurants that have branches in all three locations and found that the difference amounted to an average bill of $5.54 in Beaufort, $5.89 in Bluffton and $5.97 on Hilton Head.
Some items had more than a dollar difference in price. A Subway 6-inch Italian sub, for example, costs $3.75 in Beaufort and $4.99 in Bluffton and on Hilton Head. Many items at Wendy’s, McDonalds and Dairy Queen cost between 20 and 90 cents more in Bluffton and on Hilton Head than they did in Beaufort.
It turns out gas prices aren’t all that different in the three areas of Beaufort County.
The average price for regular gas as recorded over one week on the price-tracking website gasbuddy.com showed little difference in average prices in each area with $1.92 on Hilton Head, $1.93 in Bluffton and $1.96 in Beaufort.
There was much more fluctuation in prices between different stations within each area, with a few stations in each that regularly charge more than 20 to 30 cents more a gallon above the median price. The pricey stations were mostly located in high-traffic thoroughfares in each area including near Coligny circle on Hilton Head, off U.S. 278 in Bluffton, and on Boundary St. in Beaufort.
But the cheapest gas in each area was typically nearly the same, so you should be able to find a good price in each area of Beaufort County.
Average prices across Beaufort County
Grocery and personal care items
Green bell pepper
Turkey deli meat
Gallon of 2% milk
Creamy peanut butter
Honey Nut Cheerios
Funfetti cake mix
Gerber baby food
Lean Cuisine frozen meal
Digiorno frozen pizza
Nyquil Cold & Flu
Tylenol Extra Strength
Shrimp and grits
Roasted chicken entree
Slice of key lime pie