Travel is expensive, especially if you don’t have enough rewards points and miles to satisfy your wanderlust. So when you’re planning a trip, it’s important to shop around. And whether or not you’re a Costco member, Costco Travel should be on your list when you’re price shopping.

Even if you’re not a member, paying the annual fee can be well worth it, even if you travel only a few times per year or less. Here’s what you need to know about Costco Travel, how it works, and the pros and cons of using the platform.

What is Costco Travel?

Costco Travel is an in-house travel agency run by the membership-only warehouse club, and it’s designed to provide savings specifically to Costco members.

To use Costco Travel to book some or all of your next trip, you need to be a member. There are four membership options available:

  • Gold Star: $60 annually
  • Gold Star Executive: $120 annually
  • Business: $60 annually
  • Business Executive: $120 annually

Once you’re a member, you can book flights, hotels, rental cars, cruises, vacation packages, theme parks, and select experiences. You cannot, however, book a flight on its own through the service; it needs to be part of a package.

When booking your trip, you can run a search on the website just like you would with Priceline or Expedia to compare options and prices from several travel providers.

Because of Costco’s buying authority, it can manage to score savings on different aspects of your trip — or the whole thing — that you might not be able to find on your own, even with intense research.

In July 2019, for instance, there was a limited-time offer on a vacation package that included five nights at Ka’anapali Beach Hotel on Maui, a full-size rental car, a $50 dining credit, an ocean-view room upgrade, and a daily breakfast buffet, starting at $779.

When I searched for a five-night stay at the hotel during the same promotional period for just the room, the price tag was more than $1,560.

Costco Travel is likely best for two types of travelers: Those paying for their trip out of pocket and those who have a general travel credit card that allows for erasing travel-related purchases. It won’t be a great fit, however, if you have enough credit card rewards to book your vacation and want to avoid paying for anything big in cash.

How Costco Travel compares to other booking methods

While Costco Travel can furnish discounts and savings you might not be able to find on your own, it’s still a good idea to research all of your options. That includes using other third-party travel websites such as Priceline and Expedia or booking directly with airlines, hotels, cruise lines, and so on.

Other travel websites

While Costco has the negotiating power to provide savings on its vacation packages, it’s not the only travel agency that can do that. Depending on what you’re trying to do, you may be able to find a similar package on a website like Priceline, Expedia, or Orbitz for less than what you’d pay through Costco Travel.

Also, you may find certain features on other discount travel sites that you won’t get with Costco Travel and vice versa.

For example, Priceline and Expedia allow you to book a flight without bundling it with a hotel or vacation package. You may also have a different selection of airlines, hotels, rental car companies, experiences, and more.

In contrast, one nice feature about Costco Travel is that you see the full price from the start. With some booking websites, the initial pricing may not reflect taxes and fees, which can make for an unpleasant surprise when you get to the checkout stage.

Booking directly with travel providers

While travel agency websites like Costco Travel can provide significant savings, they don’t give you access to every airline, hotel, or rental car company.

For example, Costco Travel provides rental car quotes from only four brands: Alamo, Avis, Budget, and Enterprise. As a result, it’s essential to shop around to make sure you’re not missing out on savings Costco Travel can’t show you. Comparing car rental options on Autoslash makes it easy to check prices and make sure you’re getting the best deal. If you have a favorite airline or hotel brand, you should also check with them directly to price shop.

How to save even more on Costco Travel

On its own, Costco Travel can offer incredible savings. But there are some things you can do to maximize your savings when using the website.

1. Get a Costco Executive membership

As an executive member, you’ll earn 2% cash back on every eligible purchase you make through Costco Travel, which is on top of the rewards you’d earn using your credit card. There are, however, some exclusions, such as travel purchased through a third party, trip protection, gratuities, taxes, and fees.

Also, executive members may get special perks with Costco Travel vacation packages, such as resort credits.

2. Consider using the Costco Anywhere Visa Card

The Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi is one of the best store credit cards on the market. Not only can you use it anywhere Visa is accepted but it comes with an impressive rewards structure.

You’ll earn 4% cash back on eligible gas and EV charging purchases (up to $7,000, then 1% thereafter), 3% on restaurant and travel purchases, 2% on all other purchases from Costco and, and 1% on all other purchases.

If you use the Costco Anywhere Visa Card and have an Executive membership, you could earn 5% cash back on most of your purchases through Costco Travel. The only downside is that you get your rewards only once a year in the form of a certificate you can cash or use to make purchases at Costco warehouses.

3. Pay with another rewards credit card

While Costco only accepts Visa credit cards and debit cards at its warehouse clubs, you can use a Visa or Mastercard credit card to make payments through Costco Travel. Also note that if you’re booking a rental car, you can reserve your car without providing credit card information upfront.

With this in mind, you may be able to get more value out of another rewards credit card. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers 3X points on worldwide travel, and points are worth 1.5 cents apiece when you redeem them for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

That gives you an effective 4.5% rewards rate on travel purchases you make with Costco Travel, and you could potentially get even more value if you transfer your points to one of Chase’s travel partners.

Another option is the Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Card, which also offers 3X points on travel. The card doesn’t offer bonus value when booking travel or access to transfer partners, but it doesn’t charge an annual fee and offers bonus rewards on a lot of other everyday spending categories.

The bottom line

Costco Travel provides access to vacation packages and other travel bookings through its members-only website. Depending on your travel plans, you may be able to score savings through Costco Travel that you can’t get anywhere else.

Before you finalize things, however, be sure to compare prices with what’s available elsewhere. And be sure to take advantage of rewards from the best travel credit cards and store cards to maximize the value you get when you book your next trip.

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