With so many online travel agencies claiming to have the best offers and prices out there, it’s almost impossible to pick one over all others. Costco, the big box store, also happens to have its own online travel agency as well. Aptly named Costco Travel, it brands itself as the service that gives its members savings on brand-name vacations. A good way to measure this, of course, is by checking how much one would save by booking a series of travel services like a vacation package and car rental.

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First things first, getting with Costco Travel. Since the company caters to members, you obviously need to be one in order to experience anything. It takes about $55 per year to become a Gold Star member, which covers an additional card for a fellow household member. Executive membership, on the other hand, costs you about $110 annually with 2% cash back on most purchases with Costco (not including the ones from Costco Travel). After getting a membership, getting started with Costco Travel is as easy as creating your own login.

Note: The Costco Travel login is different from the Costco login. You have to make a separate one for the online travel agency.

Also note: Costco doesn’t take American Express cards anymore. Make sure you use a Visa, like the Costco Anywhere Visa Card (or any other branded Visa card).

Costco Travel lets you book car rentals, cruises, vacation packages, guided vacations, and even packages for Disney and Universal Studios. Unfortunately, you can’t use the service to just book flights – it has to be a package. For those who want to book a hotel room, Best Western or Hyatt prove to be useful alternatives.

Costco is quite well known for having one of the cheaper car rental rates out there. U.S. drivers are given driver fee waivers for Avis, Alamo, Enterprise, and Budget, among other savings. These, however, do not cover insurance payments, so make sure you have a card you can use to pay for that bit.

The thing you need to remember with Costco’s car rentals, however, is that its search engines are limited to Alamo, Budget, Avis, and Enterprise. Other search engines will yield results from other sites as well, but a comparative search shows that Costco appears as one of the cheaper choices, albeit not always the cheapest, in terms of car rental rates.

If you think the car rentals are good, Costco Travel is particularly good with netting its members savings on theme park packages.

For starters, booking the packages – from the flight to the hotel and the actual park package – is quite easy. They even include a lot of extras like resort credit, breakfast, and shuttle or transportation services from the airport to the hotel. Below are some of the packages that have saved people the most money.

- Five nights at the Orlando World Center Marriott; tickets for 5-Day Magic Your Way at Disney for two adults and two kids (10 years and above) with car rental and a resort view guest room. Save up to $600.

- Four nights at the Holiday Inn and Suites, 3-day park tickets for two adults and two kids (10 years and above). Save up to $300.

- Five nights at the Dolphin Resort with 5-day tickets at the Magic Your Way and a Park Hopper option for two adults and two kids (9 years and below).

In some cases, Costco Travel has been able to get members saving up to $1,000 when they book the same hotels and tickets compared to booking them directly with Disney.

Hyatt and Best Western are the best hotels to book when using Costco Travel. The company gives a 10% flat discount on Hyatt’s daily rates (not including the park properties) as well as a discount of 10% or more on Best Western’s flexible rates for the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean.

Booking can be done through the Costco Travel website portals for Hyatt or Best Western. The Hyatt website auto-populates the search with a corporate code. Best Western, on the other hand, can be accessed with your Costco membership number.

You don’t save more using Costco Travel than other services, though. A quick comparison with other sites shows that Costco’s 10% and above discounts are mostly the same as with other search engines insofar as Hyatt and Best Western as concerned. But the 10% flat discount is always there, so it’s always a good thing until you can find something cheaper.

You have to be a bit more careful with the details when comparing cruise rates. This is because people tend to forget extras like the pre-paid gratuities, drink packages, dining packages, and onboard credit. But with Costco Travel, you get to see a breakdown of the total price for two passengers (with taxes and fees), which is pretty convenient. In some cases, Costco will throw in a Costco Cash Card as part of the total cost.

Most searches for cruises will yield more or less the same prices. It’s actually the extras that come with the bookings that set one travel agency apart from the rest. Comparing Costco Travel with some of the more popular search engines for cruises, the company is actually able to stand out in three out of four searches. This makes Costco Travel highly recommended for discounted cruise searches.

Costco Travel seems to be as promising with its vacation packages as with its theme park packages. In fact, the company has been known to yield rates that are better than the likes of Expedia and Travelocity and even compared to booking directly.

All in all, Costco can save you money, especially since you get lower rates compared with direct purchases. There might be a problem with accumulating points from separate loyalty programs, but if that’s not something that you’re keen on, then Costco Travel is definitely your go-to site for booking packages.

(Last Updated on 3-10-2018)