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TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Richard Kerr takes an in-depth look at whether Costco Travel offers the best prices when it comes to booking theme parks, cruises, hotels and more.
The number of online travel agencies — each claiming to offer the very best prices — is almost impossible to count. One of the OTAs we’re most frequently asked about is the big-box store Costco. The chain runs Costco Travel, which offers “everyday member savings on brand-name vacations.” Today, let’s find out exactly how much those savings can amount to and see if booking a car rental, vacation package, hotel or cruise with Costco Travel will actually save you money.
Costco Travel Basics
To use this travel service, you have to be a Costco member. A Gold Star membership costs $55 a year and includes an additional card for a member of your household. An Executive membership will set you back $110 per year and entitles you to 2% cash back on most Costco purchases (unfortunately, Costco Travel purchases are specifically excluded from earning cash back in the Costco Travel terms and conditions). Once you have your membership number, you can easily create a Costco Travel login (separate from your regular Costco login).
As of June 20, 2016, Costco no longer accepts American Express cards; instead, you’ll need to use a Visa such as the new Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi (though you definitely aren’t limited to this co-branded option). Through the end of 2016, you can earn 5 Ultimate Rewards per dollar on up to $1,500 in combined purchases spent at wholesale clubs like Costco with the Chase Freedom Card, but note that Chase’s terms and conditions state that travel purchases are not covered:
Does not include gas, fuel, wholesale club specialty service purchases such as travel, insurance, cell phone and home improvement. Check with your local wholesale clubs to see if your Chase Freedom card is accepted.
Costco Travel allows you to book vacation packages, cruises, rental cars, Disney and Universal packages and guided vacations. You cannot use the service to only book flights (rather than a package), though if you just want to book a hotel room, you can do so with either Best Western or Hyatt.
With the basics covered, let’s look at a few categories and compare Costco Travel prices to other well-known online travel agencies as well as to the rates you’ll get when booking directly with hotels and ticket providers.
Costco has a reputation for offering some of the cheapest rates for car rentals. US drivers receive one additional driver fee waived for Alamo, Avis, Budget and Enterprise on top of any other savings. Note that Costco prices don’t include any kind of insurance coverage, so make sure you pay for the rental with a card that offers primary rental car coverage — options include the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and The Platinum Card from American Express.
It’s important to note that Costco only searches for Alamo, Avis, Budget and Enterprise rental cars, whereas other search engines include more companies. In the chart below, I compared Costco rental car prices with those from other well-regarded sites. I searched for the lowest prices that included unlimited miles.
|Rental Car Period/Location||Costco Travel||Chase Travel Portal||AutoSlash.com||Kayak.com|
|5 Days Honolulu, HI||$374.00||$215.90||$239.08||$323.00|
|7 Days Charleston, SC||$193.00||$222.58||$158.00||$239.00|
|One-way, LAX-SFO 4 days||$190.53||One-way not allowed||$302.18||$200.00|
|3 Days Miami, FL||$96.00||$90.79||$126.68||$59.00|
|Houston, TX (IAH) 1 day||$83.00||$72.39||$78.04||$64.00|
Out of five searches, Costco only had the cheapest rental car rates once. Regardless of which site you book through, I recommend entering your reservation into Autoslash.com, which will continually look for cheaper rates for your rental and automatically rebook when it finds a lower rate.
Costco makes booking flight, hotel and Disney and Universal theme park ticket packages rather easy. The packages often include a few extras like breakfast, resort credit and/or shuttle transportation between airports and your hotel. Out of all the Costco Travel services, these packages seem to save you the most money. Here are a few examples:
Package 1: Two adults and two kids ages 10+ for five nights at the Orlando World Center Marriott with Walt Disney World 5-Day Magic Your Way Tickets with Water Park Fun & More option. Also including Resort View Guest Room and rental car.
Costco Travel: $2,776.33 with resort fee included
Booked Separately: $3,395.66 excluding resort fee (Marriott.com: $1,508.62; Disney tickets: $1,721.04; rental car: $166)
Package 2: Two adults and two kids ages 10+ for four nights Holiday Inn & Suites Across from Universal Orlando, 3-Day Park to Park Tickets and a Standard Deluxe Room
Costco Travel: $1,201.63
Booked Separately: $1,506.76 (IHG.com: $586.60; Universal tickets: $919.96)
Package 3: Two adults and two kids ages 0-9 for five nights at the Dolphin Resort, 5-Day Magic Your Way Ticket with Park Hopper Option and a Resort-View Room
Costco Travel: $2,769.71, including kids eat free
Booked Separately: $3,073.06 not including dining for kids (SPG.com: $1,373.30; Disney tickets: $1,699.76)
Booked via Disney: $3,702.26
Hyatt and Best Western Hotels
Costco offers a flat 10% discount on Hyatt daily rates (excluding Park Hyatt properties) and a discount of 10% or more off the flexible rate at Best Westerns in the US, Canada and the Caribbean. To book, you click through the Costco Travel website to either Hyatt or Best Western. The Hyatt site auto-populates with the corporate code for Costco members, while the Best Western site asks for your Costco membership number before letting you start a search.
For the Best Western properties I searched, the advanced purchase rate was always the cheapest, and the AAA rate, CAA rate and Best Western Rewards rate matched the Costco rate. In other words, there aren’t any real savings with Best Western.
For Hyatt, I did find the Costco rate to usually be a few dollars cheaper than an advanced purchase or the new Hyatt Gold Passport Member rate. Note that the Member Discount rate did not show any time I searched for the Costco rate.
There were a few times when the search did not make much sense, like with the Grand Hyatt New York, where the Costco Standard rate was actually significantly higher:
While the Costco discount for Hyatt won’t always save you money, it’s definitely worth a quick search to investigate. As with Best Western, the AAA rate for Hyatt matches the Costco rate.
Comparing cruise prices can be tricky if you’re not paying attention to extras like pre-paid gratuities, onboard credit, drink packages and specialty dining. Costco Travel tends to do the following when delivering cruise search results: It shows the total price for two passengers including taxes and fees, and many times Costco includes a Costco Cash Card based on the total cost of your cruise.
Usually, searching for cruises across various sites produces prices in the same ballpark. It’s the extras included that set different travel agencies apart. The following chart shows results of Costco cruise prices and extras compared to some of the most popular online cruise travel agencies. To simplify the comparison, I looked for the cheapest balcony room from each travel agency for a given cruise:
|Cruise||Costco Travel||Vacations To Go||CruiseDirect||CruisesOnly|
|October 2, Liberty of the Seas 7 Nights||$1,768.56||$1,769.56||$1,859.56||$2,321.56|
|Extras||$95 Costco Cash||$50 onboard credit||$75 onboard credit||$100 cash back|
|July 22, Celebrity Solstice 7 Nights||$3,619.00||$2,994.00||$3,618.62||$3,518.62|
|Extras||$235 onboard credit||None||$125 onboard credit||Pre-paid gratuities + $150 cash back|
|July 11, MS Veendam 7 Night||$2,903.60||$2,903.60||$2,903.60||$2,963.60|
|Extras||$190 onboard credit||None||$100 onboard credit||$125 cash back|
|July 9, 2017 Disney Dream 5 Night||$4,167.12||$3,828.56||$4,008.56||$4,008.56|
|Extras||$355 Costco Cash||None||$175 onboard credit||None|
Including the extras, Costco cruises came out on top in three of the four itineraries I searched. Based on these results, I may come to Costco from now on to see how the Costco Cash offered on a cruise compares with the onboard credit offered from other sites. I also recommend heading to CruiseCompete.com when you’re trying to search multiple cruise agency offers on the itinerary of your choice.
Like with the theme park packages, Costco seems to offer competitive prices for vacation packages, but they’re not always the best deal. I searched for a variety of destinations around the world and Costco sometimes came out ahead of Travelocity and Expedia in addition to the prices found when booking directly. Other times, the prices were significantly higher. Often, Costco adds in things like airport transfers and tour credits while still offering lower prices than the competition.
Here are a couple examples of the good and the bad of Costco vacation packages:
Package 1: Costa Rica Andaz Penninsula Papagayo, six nights, two adults with flights from DCA
Costco: $2,688.07 including round-trip flights, hotel transfers, daily breakfast and a $60 tour credit
Travelocity: $2,809.18 including flights and daily breakfast
Booked via Hyatt and United: $2,713 for flights and hotel, no breakfast
Package 2: Starhotels Splendid Venice, three nights, two adults with flights from IAD
Costco: $3,871.79 with breakfast and airport transfers
Travelocity: $3,060.36 with daily breakfast
Booked via Starhotels and Turkish Airways (cheapest flight): $3,293.00 with daily breakfast
Is Costco Travel Best?
On top of saving money, you need to think about the opportunity cost of booking via Costco over other providers. If your package includes a hotel that’s part of a loyalty program, you may not be eligible to receive any elite benefits, accrue points or have nights count toward elite status.
You also may not earn any bonus points on a credit card that offer bonus categories for airfare or travel — especially when you’re paying for a package that costs a few thousand dollars, you could really be missing out! American Express Travel and the Chase Travel portal offer bonus Membership Rewards or Ultimate Rewards, respectively, when you book through their services and the ability to discount your travel by using a mix of points and cash to book (though I don’t recommend this as a best use of your points).
Based on my research, I can’t definitively say that Costco Travel will save you money, but it should be on your list of places to check if you’re interested in a vacation package or a cruise.
Have you saved big dollars using Costco Travel?
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