When Cathi White books a trip, she always checks Costco Travel first. For over a decade, she has booked a range of vacations with the wholesale retailer, from theme parks to island getaways with her family.
"Places like Disneyland are very, very expensive, but they've always got some kind of deal going," said White, 50, who lives in Indianapolis.
On a trip she booked through Costco to Grand Cayman in 2019, she estimated she saved $2,000 by using the service.
Much like packs of paper towels or jumbo jars of mayonnaise, Costco Travel can offer shoppers deals on everything from cruises to rental cars. But travelers and travel experts say the service has some limitations as well.
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How does Costco Travel work?
Costco Travel offers a range of options for travelers looking to book a trip. "We use our buying authority to negotiate the best value in the marketplace, and then pass on the savings to Costco members," the service said on its website.
Those include curated vacation packages to select destinations around the world, which may include combinations of flights, hotel stays, car rentals and more, according to Assistant Vice President and General Merchandise Manager Chris Hendrix.
"In these bundled packages, our buyers vet and hand pick each resort and component. … We limit our selection to ensure the best quality and value," he said in an email.
What can you book through Costco Travel?
Travelers can also book cruises, rental cars and build their own trips to various U.S. cities, booking hotel stays or bundling them with flights and car rentals, according to Hendrix. Those making bookings can do so online or by phone, and the service has reservation agents that can assist travelers before, during and after their trip, he said.
Can Costco Travel replace a travel agent?
Brian Ayers and his wife booked a Costco Travel package for their honeymoon in Greece in part because of the convenience. The 2019 trip, which took them to Athens, Santorini and Mykonos marked his first time out of the country, and he said it "was going to be much too complex for us to measure it out, just because booking ferry times and hotels, there were just so many choices."
Even when their plans hit a snag after a ferry was canceled, leaving them "hanging out at the ferry station for a couple of hours," the 29-year-old said, Costco Travel was a helpful intermediary. Ayers, who lives in Lewisville, Texas, and works for a semiconductor chip manufacturer, called the service, which confirmed with the ferry provider that their tickets would be valid on the next one available.
However, Kerry Mooneyham, owner of Midwest Travel Solutions said booking through Costco Travel is not the same as working with a travel agent that can offer more personalized guidance.
"You're going to have the same cruise whether you book it directly with Carnival, you book it with Costco, or you book it with me," she said. "The cruise is exactly the same. ... It's behind the scenes that we do things to make it better."
She said booking with Costco Travel may make more sense for some trips than others.
"I think maybe when you're not exactly sure what is the best option for you is really a time when you should be reaching out to an expert that understands the differences between cruise A and cruise B," Mooneyham said. "But if you know exactly what you want, that's a time where you might only be looking at, you know, 'What's the best value for me?'"
However, Hendrix said the company has more than 1,000 Costco Travel employees with experts in various focus areas, including cruises, Hawaii and Europe.
But travelers may not always find what they are looking for. Hendrix said Costco only offers car rentals with Avis, Alamo, Budget and Enterprise, for example, and it has a limited selection of hotels and hotel brands. Certain destinations may also not be available for their vacation package and build-your-own-trip options.
Can you book flights with Costco Travel?
"Flights are available as part of our vacation packages or our build-your-own options," Hendrix said. However, travelers cannot currently purchase flights alone through Costco Travel.
Do you have to be a Costco member to use Costco Travel?
Yes. Travelers must be active Costco members to use the service. Depending on the tier, Costco memberships cost between $60 and $120 per year – before any applicable sales tax – according to its website.
"Many of our programs offer Costco Travel members an exclusive Costco Shop Card for their travel purchase, which they receive once their travel is completed, and can be used in the warehouse or online at Costco.com," Hendrix added.
Costco Executive members also get an annual 2% reward – up to $1,000 – on qualifying purchases made through Costco Travel.
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Is Costco Travel a good deal?
Some travelers have found significant savings using the service. Ayers booked a 2022 trip to Spain with Costco Travel after pricing the trip out themselves.
"The cost for just the airline tickets would have been the cost for the entire Costco package," he said, which included flights, hotels and more.
White also noted that resort fees have always been included when she has booked through the service. When possible, Hendrix said Costco Travel's buyers work to include those fees "or negotiate the waiving of those fees."
And despite its budget-friendly reputation, White has booked luxury hotels such as the Ritz-Carlton through the service.
When she doesn't book with Costco, she said it's usually just because they don't have what she's looking for. "But they do have an amazing selection," White said.
Nathan Diller is a consumer travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Nashville. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What is the benefit of Costco Travel?