Big box store Costco sells everything, including travel packages. But are they any good?
Costco is famous for its hot dog and soda deal, for its roasted chicken that feeds a family for less than $10, and for its oversized jars of everything from olives to peanut butter. Bottom line: If you want something inexpensive, Costco probably has it in bulk. Plus, they promise and stand by their vow to accept any and all returns, which has tempted some to buy engagement rings there, just in case.
But what about their travel packages? They seem good. The prices appear to be low. But how does Costco stand up against all the other low-cost competitors? We did a deep dive.
Flexible Payment Options
Costco members have options when it comes to payments, including setting up recurring payments to cover the entire cost, says Nick Mueller, the director of operations of HawaiianIslands.com. After you’ve paid your initial deposit, you may set up your payments–unless your trip is too close to your reservation date.
Build-Your-Own Travel Package
Costco also offers a hotel-only option for purchase, though they don’t offer a flight-only option, says Chris Hendrix, the general merchandise manager for Costco Travel, which is based in Issaquah, Washington. Choose from more than 8,000 hotels in 2,000 cities throughout the United States and Canada, plus some international spots, and then add a flight and car (or just a car) to navigate the package.
Recommended Fodor’s Video
Executive Members Earn More
Are you an executive member? A regular membership costs $60 per year, while an executive membership costs $120 per year–but you receive 2% off purchases annually. As a family of four, we spend enough at Costco to justify the executive membership (and we get even more money back), so if you plan on traveling, you may want to upgrade your membership. Note: Executive Costco members earn the 2% annual rewards only on travel up to $1,000, and receive other perks such as shipboard credits, spa credits, and other discounts.
Costco Is Usually Inexpensive
Costco travel packages usually beat other travel packages in terms of price–but this isn’t a given, says Jon Stephens, the director of operations at Snowshoe Vacation Rentals. Since Costco doesn’t partner with all airlines, such as JetBlue and other budget airlines, there are times when Costco doesn’t have the least expensive travel option.
“If you’re looking for convenience with booking a trip, Costco excels in that regard,” he says. “It is incredibly easy to curate a trip to your unique liking and book everything simply in one spot, eliminating much of the trip-planning stress.”
Costco Is Not a Travel Agent
Gloria Miller, a senior account executive, booked a trip with her husband to Cabo San Lucas to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday. She purchased her flight, hotel, and transportation via Costco Travel online six months prior to an all-inclusive, adults-only Secrets resort, which Costco upgraded with a swim-up patio and airline seats. For the four-night trip, the total price was $3,200. But leading up to the trip, the flights were changed at least three times, and Miller’s flight upgrades didn’t carry over.
“We had to call Alaska and Costco separately multiple times before we finally had our upgraded seats back and the correct layover flight,” she says. “We had four other couples flying with us, all of who booked through Costco–and each of us had to call Costco and Alaska airlines multiple times before we finally had our upgraded seats and flights changed to the same flights as one another,” Miller says. When she phoned the Costco travel department, they referred her to the airline, though she purchased the seats through Costco. Meanwhile, some people in her party were told the opposite: That they needed to go through Costco. “It was basically just a run-around,” Miller says.
Costco Travel limits its offerings to four brands in the rental car space: Alamo, Avis, Budget, and Enterprise. They offer exclusive member rates on rental cars, which often include an additional driver. If you don’t need the additional driver, however, you may find a lower-cost option with other brands.
Costco offers 11 cruise lines with itineraries that span the globe. The lines include Azamara, Carnival, Celebrity, Cunard, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, Regent Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean, and Uniworld. Cruises are big business for Costco, and one major plus is that the Costco phone reps don’t sell by commission. While they do charge prices that are similar to what you’ll see on other travel sites, Costco tends to offer refundable onboard credit that equals about 8% of your fare plus any additional specials from the cruise, such as beverage packages or gratuities. You can use the 8% credit to book spas or excursions, to buy drinks–or you can opt to get the credit back on your credit card.
If you’re flexible on dates, itineraries, or cruise lines, search the Costco site for its Kirkland Signature deals, which tend to be about 20% better than other travel deals. These are definitely a steal, and if you can snag one, you should do it. For example, a recent Kirkland Signature deal offered was an 11-night Holland America cruise through Alaska, leaving in May 2023 and starting at $1,562 per person (while you may find this price on other sites, it tends to be for earlier in the year when it’s cooler in Alaska).
Cassie Alongi recently used Costco Travel for a cruise to Alaska aboard Holland America in September. She paid $2,082 for two people for a package that included drinks less than $11. Costco also gave her an onboard credit for $60 and a Costco gift card for $95.
“What I noticed is that the prices are almost the same as on the cruise line’s site, but you get the extra perks like the gift card and shipboard credit,” Alongi says.
Bottom Line: Is Costco Travel a Better Deal?
We spent way too long sorting through Costco packages and comparing them with other sites, including Travelocity and Expedia, and even pricing each individual hotel/flight/tour option individually. Usually, Costco was about the same price or within $200 of the other sites. But Costco almost always tosses in extra perks such as gift cards, upgraded rooms, spa credits, or fancier tours, which makes Costco nearly always the better option. If you’re really in a budget crunch, however, it will be less expensive to book your trip on a budget airline.