Can Costco Travel Save You Money On Your Next Trip?
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
Hardcore Costco fans -- myself included -- agree on one thing: Costco doesn't carry every brand or item, but if Costco carries what you're looking for, it almost always has it at an incredible price. So a natural question for Costco fans who like to explore the world is, can you save money with Costco Travel?
Of course, planning a trip for your family is a lot more complicated than buying humongous boxes of cereal, but Costco Travel -- an arm of the big-box chain -- has plenty to offer. It's a bit like being a treasure hunter roaming the aisles: You'll need to work a little to find out if Costco has the best deal -- but we've done some of the legwork for you.
Let's take a look:
Costco Travel currently partners with the following hotel brands:
For the purposes of this article, I started with Fairmont for comparisons. I chose the Fairmont Mayakoba Resort in Riviera Maya (just south of Cancun). The Costco Travel website displayed the cheapest room type as a Deluxe Casita King. A three-night stay, with breakfast included, in November priced out at $844.97.
On the Fairmont website, the same stay priced out at $859.96 but did not appear to include a $22 per night resort fee. In a live chat session, a Costco Travel rep noted the resort fee was included in their price.
However, Fairmont is part of LeClub Accor Hotels. Accor offers up to a 10% discount to members of its loyalty program. In the case of Fairmont Mayakoba, it offers a 5% discount, which would knock about $50 off the reservation, bringing the direct booking cost relatively close to that of Costco Travel.
It's also worth noting that this specific property has a number of different room types. If you're looking for the cheapest room rate at this property, Costco Travel didn't actually have it. Fairmont's website displayed a cheaper room type with a rate that included breakfast like the Costco Travel rate. This is a good example of why you need to check multiple sources to verify you're getting the best deal.
Related: The Best Hotel Chains for Families
Hyatt is a different story. In the past, TPG had found that the Costco discount with Hyatt was 10% at most properties. A customer service agent at Costco Travel told TPG for this story that the discount varies by property -- which we found in our search results as well.
Like Fairmont, we started our search around Cancun. Costco Travel showed significant discounts at Andaz Mayakoba Resort Riviera Maya. The Hyatt website quoted us a rate of $2,214 for a three-night stay. Costco Travel clocked in at $1,992.90. On top of that, you'd save about another $75 on that stay if you have the Costco Executive Membership plus the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi. (Of course, spending 25,000 World Of Hyatt points per night to stay there will sometimes be the best deal of all.)
Priceline, which we checked to see where it stacked up against booking directly with Hyatt or through Costco Travel, came in about $100 cheaper than booking direct with Hyatt but $100+ more than Costco Travel. Hyatt and Costco Travel had much more flexible cancellation policies than Priceline.
We also decided to dig in to the New York market with Hyatt. At the Hyatt Union Square New York, Costco Travel presented a rate of $1,308.66 all-in; I could book the exact same room type from Hyatt on the same flexible booking terms for $1,279.82 for the dates in question. Hyatt also offered a members an advance purchase rate that was another $10 or so cheaper per night. A quick check of Priceline had its rate at almost $1,400.
We also looked at Hyatt Place New York/Midtown-South. Our sample dates showed booking directly with Hyatt resulted in the exact same price as Costco Travel. You could save a few bucks if you have an Executive Membership and the Costco credit card, but keep in mind that as of late 2018, Hyatt Place no longer offers free breakfast unless you book directly with Hyatt.
As with hotels, Costco Travel is not a guaranteed-cheapest, one-stop shop when it comes to car rentals, but it can be a winner if you are looking to rent with Alamo, Avis, Budget or Enterprise. It can also be a winner if you are looking for an included authorized driver. Mommy Points and her dad just used the heck out of that perk on a recent multi-generation trip to Hawaii. (Make sure you pay for the rental with a card that offers primary rental car coverage such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve.)
Our first search was in Miami for a three-day weekend. Costco Travel presented Avis as the cheapest for our sample dates, at $171 all-in for a full-size car rental. The Chase Ultimate Rewards portal clocked in at $192.01 with the cheapest option being from Dollar.
Priceline found a rate of $120 from a company called Easirent, which I've never heard of. If you're comfortable renting directly from Sixt (I would be), its rate was $152.
On a search at LAX, we found similar results. Costco Travel had the lowest rate of $170 from Avis for a full-size car rental. The Chase Ultimate Rewards portal found a much higher rate of $219.62 for a full-size car from Dollar.
If you include booking direct from Sixt in the mix, Priceline found a $136 rate for a full-size car rental on our sample dates. Last, we put a request into AutoSlash. It does a great job of not only finding excellent prices on car rentals but also tracking your car rental to find lower prices after you book. AutoSlash found that cheap Sixt rate that Costco Travel didn't have access to. Bottom line, Costco sometimes has the best rate for those rental companies it offers, but those rental companies aren't always the cheapest in a given market.
Costco Travel can help you save money at Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando, as well as at Disneyland in California. As a self-avowed Disney nerd, even I was surprised by the savings on park tickets and hotel rooms. Costco Travel also sells vacation packages for Disney World, both with and without flights.
Related: Best Credit Cards for Theme Parks
For our sample package, we chose a package of a hotel and theme park tickets. We also chose one of the Marriott-affiliated properties, the Dolphin -- though Costco Travel does have other a good mix of other options both on- and off-site.
While you may give up some perks, staying off-site at Disney World and using your hotel points can save you a bunch of money on a Disney World vacation. (Here's our full report on the best hotels you can book using points for your Disney World vacation.)
But if that's not an option, Costco Travel can save you a lot of money over normal cash rates. On our sample dates, Costco quoted us $3,452.89 for five nights at the Walt Disney World Dolphin resort and five days of Park Hopper tickets for two adults and two kids ages 3–9. When we priced that separately, the hotel would have cost $2,301 and the park tickets would have cost an additional $2,200.34, for a total of $4,501.34. A savings of more than $1,000 for a Disney World vacation? That's a lot of extra cash for Dole Whips and Hei Hei cones.
Costco Travel offers more modest (but still meaningful) savings at Universal Orlando. We priced out five days at the Loews Portofino Hotel, one of the hotels at Universal that include Express Passes, Universal's version of FastPass. The hotel rates are on the expensive side, but if you plan to visit Harry Potter's domain or other popular parts of Universal, the Express Pass benefits are something to strongly consider.
Costco Travel priced out five nights at Loews Portofino with two-park, park-to-park tickets for all five days of the stay at $2,880.75. This price included two adults and two children ages 3–9. Booking directly on the Universal Orlando website was $230 more, for a total of $3,116.52. (Though we have to point out that if you have The Platinum Card® from American Express and book Loews Portofino via the Amex Fine Hotel and Resorts program, you get perks like free breakfast, late check-out, etc.)
Cruises are the one category of travel where you can still reliably save money using a travel agent. That's because most travel agents will rebate you a portion of the total price of your cruise in the form of an onboard credit to spend on the ship. Costco Travel is no different, though its rebate is in the form of a Costco Cash Card.
Costco Travel has a long list of cruise partners. Popular options such as Carnival, Disney, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean are available, along with some more boutique cruise operations like Azamara Club Cruises. Since our own Mommy Points recently returned from a Disney Cruise and I booked a Disney Cruise a couple of months ago via Costco Travel, I focused my attention there.
Disney Cruise Line pricing is fairly standard across most sites. This may give the impression that you're better off booking directly with Disney. However, Costco offers a Costco Cash Card with every Disney cruise we researched. The amounts vary, but generally weigh in at about 8% of your total spending. That's one of the better "rebates" available on a Disney Cruise.
About two weeks after we returned from our Disney cruise this year, we had a Costco Cash Card in the mail for the amount promised. Obviously, if you're not a big spender at Costco, it could take you a while to burn through a big cash card -- but that's not a problem in our household.
In addition to the Costco Cash Card, you can still earn the 2% and 3% discounts, respectively, for Executive Membership and the Costco credit card. With the prices of some Disney Cruises, this can definitely add up. Last, you can save additional money with a Disney cruise when you book through Costco Travel because it allows you to pay with a Disney gift card. There are a number of ways to purchase Disney Gift Cards at a discount.
Related: How to Book a Cruise Using Miles and Points
Cruise Critic and CruiseCompete can be great resources when trying to compare fares that travel agencies are offering, though you generally won't find Costco's pricing advertised on those sites, so check Costco Travel directly.
Royal Caribbean is another popular cruise line I would recommend, both for families and couples. I took a peek at how Costco Travel’s pricing for Royal Caribbean compared to other choices. Since an Alaska cruise has been on our family’s wish list, I priced out a seven-night cruise from Vancouver to Seward in July 2020 on Radiance of the Seas.
For a family of four with two children ages 3 and 9, Royal Caribbean’s website quoted me a price of $4,393.72 for a room with an ocean view. Although I have elite status with Royal Caribbean, I did not include any discounts that status might offer. However, Royal Caribbean was offering a $75 onboard credit if booked directly with them. Royal Caribbean has been running more promotions lately, but I don’t generally find their cheapest price all-in via its website.
CruiseDirect.com quoted me the exact same price as Royal Caribbean’s website but its price included a $175 onboard credit. (This is typically how I see Royal Caribbean’s pricing. It mandates that all travel agencies sell at the same price but don’t get too picky if those travel agents offer a rebate in the form of onboard credit.)
Costco Travel’s website initially quoted me a price of $4,488.72. That puzzled me, so I used the excellent live chat feature. An agent confirmed that the pricing was a glitch and should be exactly the same as the Royal Caribbean website. Costco Travel's price also included a $260 Costco Cash Card.
If you value the Costco Cash Card as cash (I do), then Costco Travel's price was $85 cheaper than CruiseDirect and $185 cheaper than booking with Royal Caribbean direct. As a general rule, I've seen onboard credit as high as 10% of the booking price of our cruise as a rebate from travel agents when booking Royal Caribbean.
Saving On Travel at Costco Beyond Costco Travel
If you have a Costco membership, Costco Travel isn't the only way to save on travel. You'll also find deals at Costco.com and your local warehouse.
Right now, Costco.com has two interesting Universal Hollywood deals. The first is a three-visit pass for $139.99. One-day tickets to Universal Hollywood range between $109 and $129 for a single day without Express Passes. Although this deal has a few blackout dates (essentially the week between Christmas and New Year's), this represents a phenomenal saving opportunity. You have 12 months from your first visit to use the additional two days in the park, which is plenty of flexibility.
Costco is also selling discounted 18-month passes that allow unlimited access with some blackout dates. The passes are $219.99 on the Costco website right now. Universal Hollywood doesn't sell this exact pass on its website, but their Gold Pass, which allows for 12 months of access and has similar blackout dates, sells for a higher $319. Check the blackout dates on Costco.com, but this pass can be a great deal for Universal Hollywood regulars.
Warehouse deals are generally geared to regional or local attractions. Living near Washington, DC, we've scored discounted tickets to Hersheypark and lift tickets for nearby ski mountains.
Keep an eye out around the holidays for Gaylord and other hotel gift cards. Marriott owns the small chain and the gift cards are generally valid at most Marriott hotels.
Costco Travel isn't always the cheapest option out there and doesn't have every travel booking partner you may be interested in, but there are times when it does offer the best publicly available deal we could find. We found the best values were on hotel bookings, travel to Disney World, Disney Cruises and on car rentals when you wanted to use one of the brands available via Costco.
It's also worth a mention that in our tests, the live chat feature was extremely helpful and staffed by Costco Travel reps who know their travel. In most cases, you'll probably want to start your booking searches elsewhere, but be sure to compare Costco Travel before you commit. In the case of Disney Cruises, Costco Travel may be the only stop you'll need.
Savings from Costco Travel can absolutely pay for a Costco membership, currently $60. Remember that it's also possible to earn up to 5% off any of Costco Travel's listed prices. Costco Executive Members earn a 2% rebate on travel while Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi cardholders earn an additional 3% rebate on eligible travel expenses.
Edward Pizzarello covers family travel for TPG Family and also blogs at Pizza in Motion. You can find him podcasting at Miles to Go and eating doughnuts on Twitter and Instagram.