What you need to know about using Costco to book your next vacation

Did you know that in addition to being able to bulk shop for peanut butter and toilet paper, a Costco membership also gives you access to a travel agency?

it’s the truth. Costco has an extensive travel program for its members, largely focused on packaged hotels, cruises, and car rentals. And before you say these types of vacations aren’t for you, keep in mind that they can offer really good value.

“It’s a big world out there, and if travelers can’t find the time to plan their perfect trip, packaged tours or vacations are a great way to ensure you get to all the highlights,” said Alex Howard, senior editor at Lonely Planet’s homepage and interests, CNBC Make It says.

In fact, if you’re on a budget, Costco offers a rotating selection of “$499 and under” deals where you can get an entire vacation for less than $500 per person. Currently, Costco is offering a four-night cruise to the Western Caribbean aboard the Norwegian Pearl in an ocean-view hall for $449 per person.

But before you hit the “Book Now” button, here are eight things you need to know about planning your next trip with Costco Travel.

1. You need to be a member

You can browse Costco’s travel deals, but to book one through the website or call center, you’ll need to provide your Costco membership number. A basic wholesale club membership will cost you about $60 a year, according to the retailer’s website.

If you plan to shop and travel with Costco frequently, you may want to consider an Executive Membership, which is $120 per year. Executive members receive 2% cashback on all Costco travel purchases. This is an interest of up to $1,000 per year.

Executive members also get access to exclusive travel deals and perks. For example, if you were to book a nine-night Moselle-Rhine river cruise starting at $3,999 per person, Executive members get a $50 credit per person on board.

A customer displays his membership card within Costco Wholesale Corp.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

2. Vacation packages can save you a lot of money

For budget-conscious travelers, vacation packages are usually a “very good deal,” Pauline Frommer, of Frommer’s travel guide company, tells CNBC Make It. When Frommer’s was recently looking at Cancun, Mexico, and the Mayan Riviera, the team found that people were saving, on average, 30-40% by booking a package for that destination.

Frommer says packages work best if you’re traveling to resorts, theme park destinations, or a tourist-friendly metropolis with a large number of hotels. But if you’re going somewhere like Cleveland, you probably won’t save much with the package because the competition among local hotels is less.

3. Bigger companies may offer better prices and options

When it comes to getting the best prices on vacation packages, size matters, Frommer says. “The discounts depend on the influence of the broker,” she says. Negotiated rates usually come down to the number of rooms, airline seats or cabins that the travel operator can guarantee if they get a good discount.

So in that regard, Costco may be at a disadvantage, as the wholesale club may not have the scale of companies like Expedia. “I haven’t seen any evidence that the packaging is better at Costco,” Frommer says.

Costco works only with a select number of airlines, cruise lines, hotel chains, and car rental companies. So, if you’re looking to rent a car with Hertz, for example, you might not be so lucky. Or if you want to book an airline with a low-cost carrier like Norwegian Air Shuttle, you’ll need to do it separately.

4. You may not get all of your loyalty points

If you collect loyalty points for airlines and hotels, you may not get them when you book through Costco Travel. Costco notes that you can only enter loyalty numbers for Avis, Budget, and Enterprise.

Little boy wearing a superhero mask while eating.

Darby S | twenty 20

5. Look for other valuable add-ons and perks

Frommer says the most valuable part of Costco’s packaged vacation deals may be the extra free offers it offers.

These perks can include complimentary breakfasts, activities, and resort or onboard credits. Frommer says an extra like “kids eat free” could be worth several hundred dollars for a family, depending on the flight duration and destination.

For a rental car, Costco really shines. The Wholesale Club offers a free additional chauffeur at US locations in Alamo, Avis, Budget and Enterprise for any rental car booked through Costco. Additionally, if you make your reservation through the Low Price Finder, you can cancel without any penalty fees.

6. Traveling to theme parks can be a challenge

It’s hard to get a budget-friendly vacation at the theme parks these days. “The problem is Disney, and to a lesser extent Universal, has made it difficult to get a break,” Frommer says.

Frommer recommends reading your itinerary closely if you’re booking a theme park vacation. You may sign up for a ride that includes entry to the theme park every day you’re in Orlando, even on your first day when your flight doesn’t land until 4 p.m.

“You really have to look very carefully at what you want to see and do, so you have to make sure you’re not paying for things you don’t use,” she says. And if you want to visit both Disney and Universal in Orlando, it can be more cost-effective to book things separately, since the majority of vacation packages do not include admission to both parks.

A shot of Cinderella’s Castle in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

RandomEye Photography | twenty 20

7. Compare before you buy

You should shop to ensure you get the best price. Frommer recommends checking flight costs for your travel dates and destination on Momondo and Skyscanner, which Frommer found usually offer the best rates. For hotels, she recommends checking prices on Booking.com. For cruises, CruiseCompete is usually the biggest online travel agent in the game.

If a Costco package is less than the total cost of booking all components of the trip separately — or more or less equal, but offers additional amenities — you can feel good about booking it.

8. Check back often

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