April 17, 2017

Costco Travel: What You Need to Know to Save Money

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Costco Travel makes planning a vacation hassle free, but does it really save you money? We compare how it stacks up against other top travel sites.

Let's face it. Traveling is expensive and planning is a hassle.

If you are anything like us, you look high and low for travel deals. And if you are a Costco member, your hunt could be over.

Yes, the same warehouse where you shop for granola bars and toilet paper in bulk offers travel discounts. The idea is that you would save money by bundling together things like flights, hotel, car rentals, and even dining and activities.

Discounts combined with high-quality Costco service, is it the recipe for a fabulous vacation?

And does it really save you money?

In our review of Costco Travel, we will tell you what you can expect from their travel agency. Let's find out just how good the deals are.

First, The Basics of Costco Travel

Costco claims they are able to offer discounts on travel because they use their authority to negotiate the best value with hotels, cruises, etc. They buy travel deals to popular destinations around the world.

Costco Travel offers several different services:

  • Vacation packages: You can select pre-packaged vacations to the Caribbean, Mexico, Costa Rica, Hawaii, Europe, South Africa, and French Polynesia islands. Lots of packages includes extra like dining and activities.

    Did you know: The top 5 international destinations visited by Americans are (in order): Mexico, Canada, UK, Dominican Republic, and France.

  • Theme parks packages: The packages will include things like flight, hotel, and theme park tickets. Disney theme park vacations are popular.

  • Cruises: Costco offers cruises all over the world on popular lines like Carnival, Celebrity, Disney, Princess, etc.

  • Rental cars: Costco searches for rentals with Alamo, Avis, Budget, and Enterprise.

  • Hotels: Costco is partnered with Hyatt and Best Western. Costco members receive a small discount (though we'll see later if it's really true or not)

All pricing for their packages are upfront with all taxes included. So there are no surprise charges when you're ready to pay.

Note that Costco Travel does not offer individual flight bookings. It's all done as part of a vacation package. Airfare can be added to almost all vacation packages and cruises, but you can choose to book your own independently too if you want.

All Costco Travel employees are trained travel professionals. So you won't have inexperienced agents helping you book an expensive vacation. Costco Travel gives you the expertise of both a well-known price negotiator with a well-versed travel agent. They're available to help you plan the trip exactly the way you want.

Costco Membership Options

Before we dive into the specifics, keep in mind that you must be a Costco member.

However, you can see the packages and prices as a non-member. So you can browse and if you decide the membership is worth the savings, you can then join and book your trip.

There are two membership levels:

  • Gold Star membership ($55/year): With this basic membership, you don't earn any rewards. But if you can find a good deal on Costco Travel, the $55 could be well worth it.

  • Executive membership ($110/year): You get 2% cash back on all purchases. You also get more benefits on Costco Travel vacations. For example, some stays offer a $100 food credit or complementary room upgrades just for Executive members. Sometimes the extra $55 is money well spent.

    Note: As an Executive Member, you get 2% cash back on all purchases. However, Costco Travel purchases are not eligible for the 2% reward.

Now, let's get into the different offerings and see what you can stand to save.

Vacation Packages

Planning a vacation is often stressful. Costco's vacation packages make it easy by bundling everything together. You don't have to go to different websites and book things individually. It's as close to "1-click and you're done" as you can get.

Vacation packages include flights (if you wish), hotel stays, transportation (transfers or rental car), and activities. Some vacation packages include specific activities, but most will offer a tour credit.

Tip: Some vacations, such as Disney World packages, do not directly include the airport transfers. However, in this case, Costco provides discount coupons. They send it directly to your email. You then purchase the transfers directly with the transfer company. You still get the Costco discount, but you don't purchase it through Costco. I love how Costco thinks of everything, covering all of the bases for any vacation package.

Included perks: One good thing about Costco Travel is their "Included Extras." Essentially, they are bonuses. The type of bonus differs by vacation type and package. Extras you might see include:

  • Free breakfast
  • Resort credit
  • Spa discounts/credits
  • Free activities, such as a round of golf
  • Kids under 12 eat free

And if you're an Executive member, you may get extra benefits on top. Such as a resort credit per day, food and beverage credit, or even Costco cash cards.

Costco Vacations: Price Comparisons

But now, let's take a look if you save more by booking through Costco. At the same time, let's go over how to book on Costco Travel.

Example vacation package: 4 nights in Cancun, Mexico from September 6-11. Departing from Los Angeles (LAX). Two adults.

Then it will come out with a list of properties for you to choose from. You can also see at a glance what kind of extras are included in each property. For the sake of this review, let's choose the first one (the least priciest).

I had also indicated that I wanted to include flights. After you have chosen the property, you will next choose the flight. Here is the included flight that they selected for me:

You can either select this and hit "Continue", or if you don't like this option, there are 129 other flight options to choose from. But they are all pricier.

So after you have selected a flight, next you select the room.

You can see that the Luxury Garden-View Suite is included in the package. If you would like another room (like the Ocean-View), it will cost extra.

If this package comes with airport transfer, it will next come up:

And that's it. The last thing to do is go over the booking recap and confirm. So for this sample vacation package, the total is $1,283.52 for 2 people for 4 nights in Cancun, including nonstop round-trip airfare.

How much does it cost if we book it ourselves? Let's see:

  • Flight for 2 from LAX to CUN (same flight as above): $743 on Google Flights
  • 4 nights in Villa del Palmar from Sept. 7 - 11: $554 on Kayak
  • Airport transfer: $40 in shared van to and from hotel.

Total: $1,337

Costco Travel comes out a little cheaper. And also, remember that this package has a $80 resort credit.

Let's compare with a couple of other popular online travel agents. Same dates, same hotel.

  • Expedia: $1,266 (does not include airport transfer or resort credit)
  • Travelocity: $1,252 (does not include airport transfer or resort credit)
  • Priceline: $1,474 (does not include airport transfer or resort credit)

In general, we find that Costco Vacation Packages tend to be a decent deal. In most cases, it does save you a bit of money. The extras they provide makes for even better value. Plus, the lack of hassle with booking things separately yourself could be worth a lot to some people. And you also have the full support of Costco travel agents to help plan the trip.

Did you know: The average airfare per traveler for an international trip was $1,237, and the average spending while overseas per travelers was $1,487

Buyer's Choice

I love booking travel on the Internet because of the access to reviews. Reading honest opinions from others often helps travelers make choices.

Costco's "Buyer's Choice" packages are top picks chosen by previous other buyers for the outstanding value and selection. Buyers rate the packages based on the special touches received throughout the vacation. These are outside of the standard Costco savings.

Take, for example, a 5-night vacation package to Maui at the Royal Lahaina Resort (from $800/person). It includes more than the hotel and rental car (flight not included in base price). Costco members also receive:

  • $500 food and beverage credit
  • $100 beach activities credit
  • Complimentary daily self-parking

Just note that the Buyer's Choice prices you see won't include airfare. If you choose to include one, of course the price could go way up.

Hot Deals

Costco's Weekly Hot Deals offer even more savings than their regular packages. You have a limited time to book the deals, but travel is often good for a while.

For example, a limited-time package to Cancun is good for travel dates through December 23, 2017. In this particular package, you receive a resort credit based on your length of stay. You get a $500 resort credit for a 3-night stay, and all the way up to $2,500 credit for 12 nights or more. The credit is good towards spa service, excursions, dining, or the golf course. And on top of that, you get a Costco Cash Card.

Theme Park Packages

Costco offers vacation packages to Disneyworld, Disneyland, Disney cruises, Universal Orlando, and Lion World. Costco makes it easy to book the flights, hotel, and theme park tickets all as a package. We all know how stressful it is when you're trying to do it all separately for your family.

Pricing wise, let's see how it compares:

Example Disneyworld package: 6-night stay at the Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace from August 2-8; 5-day Magic Your Way Tickets with Park Hopper option; transport to the theme parks. 2 adults and 2 children.

The total Costco Travel price is $2,451.57 for a family of 4 for 6 nights and 5 days of park tickets. (Note that to keep this simple, we didn't include flights.)

Let's see what it would cost if you were to book it yourself:

  • 6 nights at Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace from Aug. 2-8: $878 on Expedia
  • 5-day Disneyworld Magic Your Way Ticket with Park Hopper for 4 people (3 ages 10+; 1 age 3-9): $1,760

Total: $2,638. And this doesn't even include transport from the hotel to the parks daily.

You can really stand to save a few hundred bucks with Costco Travel's theme park packages. In about all cases we've checked, Costco comes out cheaper. And the extra benefits it offers makes the value even better. Plus, it makes it a lot more stress free to plan your family vacation.

Did you know: Domestically, the 5 most visited cities by Americans are (in order): Las Vegas, New York City, Orlando, San Diego, and Los Angeles

Affordable Cruises

Booking a cruise is even less complicated. Everything comes with the package. You just need to choose stateroom type, deck number, room location, and bed configuration. If you shop cruise prices between various travel agents and Costco, you may find similar prices. Cruise lines typically restrict the discounts they allow on the cruises.

Did you know: The most popular destinations for cruises for North Americans are: the Carribeans, Bahamas, and Alaska. Just 4 cruise firms - Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norweigian, and Disney - account for almost all cruises taken. And 3 departure ports - Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Port Canaveral - account for over 50% of departure points.

Let's look at one example:

Example cruise package: 11-night Caribbean cruise on Celebrity Cruises. Departing from Miami on September 25, 2017. Inside stateroom for two adults. Prices also reflect a slight discount for being a California resident.

  • Costco Travel: $2,123, includes a $120 Costco Cash card
  • Vacations to Go: $2,127 , includes a $125 onboard credit
  • Cruise Direct: $2,123, includes 10% off excursions and $50 on-board credit
  • Celebrity Cruises: $2,131, no included extras

Costco's prices come out on par with other cruise sites. Where Costco could stand out, however, are the extras they provide. They offer onboard credits and/or Costco Cash Cards on almost every cruise. Figure these bonuses into your comparisons if you shop around.

You can also add an airline ticket. Do some comparison to see if Costco's airline prices are lower than purchasing them elsewhere.

Kirkland Signature Options

Costco also offers Kirkland Signature vacation and cruise options you will not find anywhere else. With these options, you usually receive a Costco Cash Card as well as other exclusive benefits. For example, on a Winery Cruise from Sydney, Costco offers:

  • A hosted reception on board
  • A private, four-course luncheon with wine tasting
  • Two additional private wine tastings
  • Two private behind-the-scenes shipboard tours

Add to this the included beverage package and you receive many benefits you would not receive elsewhere.

Costco Car Rental

Costco finds pricing from Alamo, Avis, Budget, and Enterprise. And as an added bonus, you get one additional driver for free (which usually costs about $13/day).

Besides the additional driver, Costco may also give you extras like coupon savings and possible upgrades. Also, there are no cancellation fees, which is great if you happen to find a better deal elsewhere.

Watch out: Costco car rental does not include any kind of insurance coverage. If you do book through them, make sure you use a credit card that gives you car rental coverage. This means that even without the agency's optional insurance, you can still be covered for the damage, theft, or loss of eligible vehicle rentals.

Let's see if you stand to save with Costco Car Rentals. For the scenarios, we have picked the cheapest pricing and did not select any insurance coverage.

Example car rental #1: A 7-day car rental in Los Angeles; pick up and drop off near LAX

  • Costco Travel: $207
  • Expedia: $158
  • Kayak: $134
  • Priceline: $158

Example car rental #2: A 5-day car rental in Miami; pick up and drop off near MIA

  • Costco Travel: $165
  • Expedia: $126
  • Kayak: $117
  • Priceline: $134

Surprisingly, Costco's rates are the highest. Kayak is the clear winner when it comes to car rentals. Costco doesn't search for as many rental companies as other online travel agencies, so often, the pricing is not the best.

But if you do need an additional driver, then Costco's car rental is worth considering since it won't cost extra.

Discount Hotel Rates

Costco is partnered with Hyatt and Best Western. Members receive 10% off (or more) at these hotels. Let's see if this is true:

We are looking at the Andaz Wall Street in NYC (part of Hyatt), for the night of Friday Sept 8, 2017. The cost is $275 for Costco members, while Advanced Purchase is $290. It seems like that Costco members do save a few bucks.

However, at the same time, the AAA discount rate is the same as the Costco rate.

This is also true for Best Western. And sometimes, Costco pricing isn't even the lowest.

As a whole, the hotel partners don't save you too much money, especially if you already have AAA. It's worth looking at just for comparison shopping, but this isn't where you'll find most value.

Notification of Issues

Costco has the reputation of providing quality in everything they offer. They stay apprised of all issues occurring at the hotels and other amenities they offer. If they know of any inconvenience, such as hotel maintenance, they provide a pop-up during the booking process. By clicking "I understand," you acknowledge the slight inconvenience you may experience. If the issue is serious, Costco may even change your reservations for you. You can expect even better accommodations or benefits in cases like this.

Why We Choose Costco Travel

Overall, Costco Travel offers good benefits. Even in cases where I could find the cost of the vacation slightly lower, I choose Costco Travel. I love the benefits they offer. I also trust their guarantee.

Booking a vacation to a place I have never gone is nerve wracking. What if I choose a bad hotel or miss an incredible activity? Booking with Costco Travel leaves those worries behind. I feel they leave no stone unturned with their program. They stand behind their quality choices and offer great options. I always go on my vacations knowing exactly what to expect.

Don't forget about the added bonus of resort perks, Costco Cash cards, and specific member benefits. There is something satisfactory about using a $250 onboard credit on a cruise. I also love receiving a room upgrade that I could not otherwise afford. These perks make Costco Travel worth it for me. And best of all - it's about as stress free as you can get. That fact alone could be priceless to some people.

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