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Costco Travel: How to Save Money When Booking a Vacation
Costco can help you save big on your next getaway, but only if you're a member of the wholesale club.
Costco Travel offers deals on everything from cruises to rental cars.(Getty Images)
Bulk shoppers who buy groceries and household supplies at their local Costco store have access to another savings tool many don't even know about. With Costco Travel, you can secure deep discounts on hotels, airfare, cruises, vacation packages and rental cars. Better yet, you can qualify for special incentives like Costco gift cards or onboard cruise credits.
Before diving in, it's important to note that you do have to be a Costco member to use the Costco Travel website. There are four membership options to choose from: two for individuals and two for businesses.
The basic Gold Star membership costs $60 annually and it's available at all Costco locations. You can pay more for a Gold Star Executive membership for $120 that comes with an annual 2% reward on qualified Costco and Costco Travel purchases, as well as extra benefits on select Costco services.
The two Costco business memberships are also $60 and $120, with tiered benefits set up to appeal to businesses instead of families. The $60 Business membership comes with the same benefits as the personal Gold star membership, but you can also pay to add additional members to your account, and you can purchase items for resale.
The Business Executive membership, on the other hand, allows those benefits plus the annual 2% reward on qualified Costco purchases and Costco Travel, as well as special benefits on select Costco services.
The Best Ways to Save with Costco Travel
While you have to pay for a Costco membership to take advantage of travel perks, this may not matter if you shop at Costco anyway. And really, the $60 membership fee could be worth it if you travel a lot and know how to leverage this travel savings site to the hilt.
So, how can you make the most out of Costco Travel? U.S. News spoke with experts and Costco Travel enthusiasts to find out all the best ways to save.
Always Check Pricing for Rental Cars
Vicki Cook, a Costco Travel enthusiast who writes about personal finance for the website Women Who Money, says she religiously checks Costco Travel before she rents a car, and she finds better pricing almost every time.
"We took a trip to Germany and Italy in the fall of 2019 and saved big on a car rental with Costco Travel," she says.
Not only did Cook and her travel companions get a medium-sized SUV for nine days for less than $250, but they also locked in a one-way rental without any one-way rental fees.
Fortunately, Costco Travel makes it easy to compare pricing just like you would on a website like Expedia.com or Travelocity.com. All you need to do is enter your pickup and drop-off destination and dates, and you can compare rental options with multiple agencies in one place.
Book Rentals with No Upfront Deposit
Another benefit of booking rental cars on Costco Travel is that you can reserve a rental car without paying upfront. This allows you to lock in a price you like without necessarily having to commit.
"Because there's no upfront payment or deposit, you can check for price drops and book the lower rate when you find one," says cruise expert Melissa Lagerquist of Cruise Frugal. "Even better, their search engine automatically applies relevant coupons to applicable bookings, saving you both time and money."
Get a Free Second Driver
Lagerquist also says that Costco Travel lets you add an additional driver to your rental car reservation for free, which is a perk you don't get with every rental agreement.
Ruby Escalona, a blogger who writes about travel on A Journey We Love, says having the additional free driver is a huge bonus for her travel plans since she and her husband travel together and they both like to drive. In that sense, using Costco Travel helps them save money while offering some added flexibility.
Compare Cruise Pricing and Keep an Eye Out for Freebies
When it comes to cruising, Lagerquist says Costco Travel is hard to beat, but not because the pricing is lower. Cruise fares tend to be consistent whether you book directly or with a travel agent, she says. What sets Costco Travel apart from other travel agencies is that it provides more to its customers.
"Not only can Costco Travel book the same promotions cruise lines are offering, but they also rebate a portion your cruise fare in the form of a Costco Shop Card sent approximately three weeks after you return home from your cruise," she says.
If you browse cruises on Costco Travel, you can also find options that come with freebies like free Wi-Fi packages, room upgrades, drink packages and more.
Look for Special Incentives on Vacation Packages
Also consider the prospect of booking all your travel in one place with a vacation package. This typically means booking your airfare and hotel in a single package in order to score a discount, but you can also book vacation packages through Costco Travel that include a rental car.
"Costco had a bundled deal that included the hotel, rental car and free breakfast at the hotel buffet every day, and a $200 resort credit," he said. Amazingly, the breakfast benefit was worth $100 per day because breakfast was so pricey at this hotel, which was the Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui, a luxury oceanfront property.
"That deal was significantly better than any deal offered by the resort itself, or through any other booking site and even places like American Express [Travel's] Fine Hotels & Resorts," says Farrington.
The bottom line: If you're shopping for a vacation package, make sure to see if Costco Travel throws in anything extra. You never know what kind of perks you can get for the same price as booking elsewhere.
Sign Up for a Costco Executive Membership to Earn 2% Back
As mentioned previously, signing up for an Executive Costco membership (individual or business) sets you up to earn an annual 2% reward on all qualifying Costco and Costco Travel purchases.
While this membership costs $60 more per year, this benefit could pay off quickly if you can use Costco Travel to score hundreds of dollars in resort freebies or Costco Shop Cards (cards with preloaded funds to use toward a membership and merchandise at Costco) for booking a cruise.
Watch for "Hot Buys"
Check Costco Travel's Hot Buys section, which includes a wide range of special travel sales and last-minute deals for resort stays, vacation packages, cruises and more. These deals usually include special savings and discounts, as well as perks like Costco Shop Cards, drink packages and resort credits.
Make sure to check the Hot Buys page on Costco Travel frequently since these deals change all the time.
Check for Member Exclusives
While Hot Buys from Costco Travel are normally available for a limited time and on select travel plans, Costco Travel also offers featured experiences that are curated for Costco Travel members. These can include cruises with an array of excursions or even guided tours throughout the world.
Either way, member exclusives from Costco Travel are meant to provide good value and come with plenty of extras you can't get when you book travel elsewhere.
Sign Up for the Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi
If you want to maximize your Costco Travel purchases even further, consider the Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi. Not only does this card give you 4% back on eligible gas purchases (including Costco gas purchases) on up to $7,000 in spending per year (then 1% after that), but you also earn 3% back on dining and eligible travel purchases, 2% back on Costco and Costco.com purchases and 1% back on everything else.
Costco Travel purchases are considered eligible travel purchases and you can also stack this with the annual 2% reward you can earn with a Costco Executive membership, although those savings will be doled out separately.
You can also use this card and earn rewards in conjunction with all the other savings tips offered in this piece.
Remember You'll Lose Out on Some Loyalty Program Benefits
Finally, keep in mind that you'll miss out on some loyalty perks when you book travel with a third party, including Costco Travel.
If you book a Hilton or Marriott hotel through Costco Travel, for example, you won't earn points on your booking with the respective Hilton Honors or Marriott Bonvoy programs. You will also miss out on any elite benefits you may have, such as complimentary breakfast or executive lounge access.
In those cases, you may be better off skipping over Costco Travel and booking your travel directly with hotel programs instead.
[Read: The Best Travel Rewards Programs.]
As a side note, you will typically earn airline miles when you book flights through Costco Travel. All you need to do is link your frequent flyer account to your reservation when you make your booking. You can also go in after the fact and add your reservation to your frequent flyer account.
The bottom line: Costco Travel can help you save money on hotels, cruises, vacation packages, car rentals and more, but make sure to consider if booking through Costco is worth giving up any perks you may receive when booking directly.
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