Did you know you can book cruises at Costco Travel?
You won’t find much info about it in Costco warehouses beyond a flyer, but Costco Travel has a huge website with an array of vacations and cruises at your fingertips.
While Costco Travel provides vacation packages, hotels and car rental bookings, for this review we focus only on cruise vacations. Can you save money on cruises by booking through Costco Travel? Let’s find out.
Table of Contents
- How to Access Cruises at Costco Travel
- What Cruises Does Costco Travel Offer?
- Can You Get a Discount Off the Cruise Line Price?
- Costco Travel Perks and Bonuses
- Transfer Your Booking to Costco
- You Can Book Flights, Hotels, Transfers
- They Sell Shore Excursions, Too
- Costco Travel Offers Travel Insurance
- Good Customer Service
- Costco Travel Isn’t Without Some Problems
- Would We Recommend Costco Travel?
How to Access Cruises at Costco Travel
First, Costco Travel services and products are only available to current Costco members residing in the US and Canada.
Current membership prices:
- Gold Star: $60 per year
- Gold Star Executive: $120 per year
- Business: $60 per year
- Business Executive: $120 per year
All Costco membership levels include access to Costco Travel, but the Executive levels receive 2% annual cash back from Costco purchases, including Costco Travel.
Second, simply visit Costco Travel’s website and search for cruises. Make sure you’re logged in to the site with your Costco membership or prices may not show up.
What Cruises Does Costco Travel Offer?
Costco Travel sells cruise itineraries for Uniworld River Cruises as well as most major American cruise lines, including:
- Azamara Cruises
- Carnival Cruise Line
- Celebrity Cruises
- Crystal Cruises
- Cunard Line
- Disney Cruise Line
- Holland America Line
- Norwegian Cruise Line
- Princess Cruises
- Regent Seven Seas
- Royal Caribbean
You can search by date, destination, cruise line, specific ship, departure port or duration. In addition, Costco Travel offers several categories to choose from:
- Last-minute cruises – 90 days or less
- Kirkland Signature – Exceptional quality and value
- Voyage to Alaska
- $799 and under per person
- Getaway cruises – 5 nights or less
- Exotic adventures – Extraordinary locations
- Where land meets sea – Cruise tours
- Cruise through the holidays
- Grand voyages and world cruises
Can You Get a Discount with Costco Travel?
While Costco Travel’s cruise fares are similar to the cruise lines and other travel agencies, cruise planners may find more value with Costco Travel in the form of extras or perks for most sailings. These extras can add up to big savings in the long run:
- Costco Cash Cards
- Onboard/Shipboard Credit
- Costco Added Values
- Hot Deals
- Buyer’s Choice
- Kirkland Signature
- Executive Members
Costco Travel Cruise Perks and Bonuses
All of the perks are pre-approved by the cruise line’s marketing department.
Important to note, bonuses and perks may be exclusive to a particular room type, such as interior, oceanview, balcony or suite.
Costco Travel cruise prices also reflect any promotions currently run by the cruise lines. For example, Norwegian has perpetual “Free at Sea” addons with every cruise, so Costco includes them, too:
Here you see the Costco Cash Card that most cruises offer, and the Costco Added Values which are actually the NCL Free at Sea promotion. Here you can see the Free at Sea promotion increases based on the room type.
If you’re familiar with current promotions run by cruise lines, you can easily identify which cruises offer standard promotions, and which offer added value above the cruise line.
Costco Travel Bonus: Costco Cash Cards
Most cruises at Costco Travel offer Cash cards.
In lieu of onboard or shipboard credits, Costco refunds a portion of their commission back to you in the form of a Cash card, usually around 5-8% of your total cruise fare.
They are mailed 2-3 weeks after the completion of the cruise, and range from $10 to hundreds of dollars, depending on the cost of the cruise fare.
You can spend Cash Cards in the warehouse or gas station. Unfortunately, Costco does not accept redemption through their website, mail order pharmacy or towards a future trip booked through Costco. So, don’t save up your cards hoping to make a free cruise–it’s not permitted.
Fortunately, the Costco Cash cards are transferable, so you can give it as a gift or sell it. The recipient does not need a Costco membership to use a Costco Cash card. However, if you don’t live near the warehouse and would rather have cash money, you can sell them on eBay, often for more than face value.
Costco Travel Bonus: Onboard/Shipboard Credit
Some cruise lines like, Holland America and Princess, don’t allow Costco Cash card promotions, but permit Costco to offer onboard credit/shipboard credit (OBC/SBC). You can use it for anything on board: dining, excursions, gratuities, shopping.
Shipboard credit can only be used during the cruise, not for deposits or final payments. If you don’t use it, most cruise lines allow you to cash it out on board at the end of the cruise.
Costco Travel Bonus: Costco Added Values
Some cruises offers dining credit, spa credit, drink packages or additional on board credit. You’re more likely to find these promotions off peak season itineraries, when they have more inventory to sell.
Take a look at a spa credit promotion for a Royal Caribbean cruise.
First, notice the price of a balcony room is less than the cost of an Interior or Oceanview room. Nice!
Second, this particular offer for Symphony of the Seas has 4 different types of Balcony rooms: Boardwalk, Central Park, Oceanview and Spacious Oceanview. This offer does not specify the category of room, only that it’s a balcony, so it’s safe to assume the offer stands for any balcony room. Of course, it’s best to double check with Costco before booking.
Third, I checked Royal Caribbean’s website for the spa promotion and it does not exist. So, we know this is a Costco-exclusive bonus.
All Royal Caribbean Boardwalk and Central Park balcony rooms come with a “Dine-Drink-Discover” (link to another article) promotion on every sailing. This is a promotion sponsored by Royal Caribbean.
Boardwalk balconies include:
- Complimentary meal for up to four guests at Johnny Rockets
- Unlimited soda package for two guests
- Rock climbing wall session for the entire family
Central Park balconies include:
- Complimentary lunch for two at Jamie’s Italian, Sabor or Johnny Rockets
- A complimentary bottle of red wine
- Casino gaming lessons from an onboard expert
Therefore, if you chose the 9/25/2019 sailing date and a Boardwalk or Central Park balcony, you can enjoy the Dine-Drink-Discover promotion, the spa bonuses, and Costco Cash Card. That’s quite a nice cruise value. Between 2 people, that’s over $400 in savings, on top of the already discounted balcony price!
Costco Travel Bonus: Hot Buys
Occasionally, Costco Travel offers Hot Buys, which are short-term sales on specific itineraries. At the time of this review, the Hot Deal for cruises featured Royal Caribbean and offered spa amenities and $25 dining credit, along with a Costco Cash card.
Hot Buys are only valid for new bookings made during the promotion period.
Costco Travel Bonus: Buyer’s Choice
Costco Travel Buyer’s Choice typically provides additional value beyond the Costco Cash Card. However, these promotions are typically for new bookings only. Transferred bookings are not eligible for Buyer’s Choice promos, even though most other promotions are eligible.
Here’s an example of a Buyer’s Choice promotion:
This promotion offers a Costco Cash card, specialty dining for four guests at Giovanni’s or Chops Grille, soda package for two, and lunch for four guests at Johnny Rockets.
Since this promotion is limited to certain room categories, and the fact it includes the soda package and Johnny Rockets dining, it’s obvious this promotion is for a Boardwalk balcony promotion (mentioned earlier). However, it adds on a very nice specialty dining bonus, worth about $30-40 per person.
While the suite class offers a spa treatment bonus, that particular offer is not part of the Buyer’s Choice promotion.
Costco Travel Bonus: Kirkland Signature
The Kirkland Signature promotions are also unique to Costco Travel, and offer exceptional amenities like extra onboard credit, private meals, cooking classes, tours and excursions.
Here’s an example of a Kirkland Signature promotion:
This deal on Celebrity Edge includes a $330 Costco Cash card, beverage package for two, $300 shipboard credit, private hosted welcome reception, private 4-course luncheon, private culinary demo and private behind-the-scenes tours. This is well over $1,200 in value.
In this case, the Kirkland Signature promotion only applies to balcony room categories E4, E3, E2, E1 (Infinite Verandah) and C3 (Concierge Class).
Before you check out, make sure that the room you selected shows the promotion. When I selected an E4 room, it did not show the promotion, but an E3 room did.
Worth noting, we also checked Expedia, AAA and VacationsToGo for the same cruise and cabin and the price came about $800 less, but they didn’t offer anything extra except $75-$125 onboard credit. While the price might be lower, the value doesn’t even come close to what Costco Travel provides.
Costco Travel Bonus: Executive Members
If you look carefully, Costco also provides additional perks for Executive Members above and beyond the Cash cards. It might be extra onboard credit or similar bonus.
This Uniworld River Cruise includes a Costco Cash card between $380 and $805, and an Executive Member benefit of $50 shipboard credit per person. Gold Star Costco members would not be eligible for the latter.
Given the Executive membership is only $60 more than a Gold Star membership, it’s a no-brainer to upgrade. Remember, Executive members enjoy more than ship credit. They also enjoy annual cash back including Costco Travel expenses.
Transfer Your Booking to Costco
If you got a sweet deal by booking directly through the cruise line (online, phone, on a previous cruise, etc.), you can double down on perks and transfer your booking to Costco Travel. As a benefit, Costco Travel will honor all the perks you received through the cruise line, and in addition to their own bonuses on top of that (except promotions for new bookings only).
However, the transfer process requires a bit of babysitting since it can take up to 2 weeks for your booking to finally transfer. You’ll receive an email but must still call Costco to finalize it. We are not a fan of micromanaging bookings. Keep in mind that there may be a limited period of time after making the deposit to transfer.
You Can Book Flights, Hotels, Transfers at Checkout
Similar to cruise lines, Costco Travel can book airfare at the time of initial booking or purchase.
Choose your airport of departure and Costco provides a list of suggested flights. They don’t get special discounts on airfare, so it’s the same cost to buy it directly from the airline. Costco Travel can manage it for you, but since it’s non-refundable, you’re stuck with it if you purchased it many months before your cruise. You might prefer to buy airfare on your own so you can watch prices.
By default, Costco Travel schedules flights on embarkation day and debarkation day, but you can choose other dates if you wish to spend extra time pre- and post-cruise in the port city. Costco Travel works with Hilton, Hyatt, Fairmont, Swissotel and Raffles to negotiate lower prices and bonuses for members. In addition, you can book rental cars with Costco Travel.
When you book airfare at checkout, it makes sense to also book transfers at the same time. If you’re not a fan of ridesharing companies like Lyft and Uber, pre-purchased transfers can save you hassle and time. If you prefer to rent a car instead, Costco Travel can book that for you also, but separately from the cruise.
They Sell Shore Excursions Too
Booking shore excursions through cruise lines can be very expensive, but Costco Travel partnered with Shore Excursions Group to provide tours. They have a limited variety of options, but better prices than the cruise lines. When you purchase a shore excursion through Costco Travel’s partner, they receive a commission.
Alternatively, you can book your own shore excursions directly with tour operators or create a custom excursion booking. Take a look at our other posts to learn more about planning shore excursions.
Costco Travel Offers Travel Insurance
As you see, Costco Travel doesn’t stop with transportation bookings. They also sell travel insurance.
Costco’s white-label travel insurance is with AIG Travel Guard. It has decent medical and evacuation, but the medical is low if you’re traveling farther than a few hundred miles off the US border. And it’s expensive.
We always recommend taking travel insurance for a cruise, even if it’s just to the Bahamas or New England. You never know what sort of unexpected catastrophe can happen, and if you’re without travel insurance, you could end up paying off the debt for decades.
Savvy DIY cruise planners can find better coverage for a lower cost through one of the travel insurance marketplaces. We recommend shopping around and skipping the Costco travel insurance.
Costco also receives a commission for the insurance you purchase through them.
Good Customer Service
Costco Travel agents are very helpful and offer the same great service you expect from Costco. Unfortunately, they often cannot solve your problem directly and must call the cruise line on your behalf. Since they use a special travel agent line, they can reach the home office quickly.
Make sure you know what the perks are before you call into customer service. We’ve occasionally spoken with agents who are unaware of perks and don’t add them to the booking unless you point it out to them.
Costco Travel Isn’t Without Some Problems
While Costco Travel can offer a lot of value, it also has a few aspects that can make you think twice about booking through them.
You’ll have to do some micromanagement that the small travel agencies typically handle, and the website is in dire need of redesign and lacks important features.
Costco Travel Doesn’t Initiate Fare Price Checks For You
Traditional travel agents make a habit of price checking fares for clients when new sales go live. If there’s a reduction in cost, the travel agent often contacts you to get permission to rebook at a lower rate, or does it automatically.
Costco Travel does none of this. However, the attentive DIY planner is always checking fares for lower prices. So, if you find a lower price on the cruise line website weeks or months after making your deposit, simply call Costco Travel. Usually, they call the cruise line directly to update it for you.
Normally, after you’ve made the final payment, the cruise line cannot adjust your rate if the rates drop, but might offer some onboard credit. Costco Travel also honors that if the cruise line does.
Difficult to Reach Costco Travel
Good communication is one of the most important factors when working with a travel agent.
Sometimes you can call and reach a Costco Travel agent immediately. Other times, it can be downright hard. What good is a travel agent if you cannot reach them?
If you are booking a new reservation, you can chat with Costco Travel reps through their website. However, if you already booked and need to make changes, you cannot chat with an agent online. There is also no way to email Costco Travel for service.
Your only option is to call and it can take a long time to get through.
During business hours, you can schedule an automatic call back, but if you call within 2 hours after opening or 2 hours before close, Costco Travel disables the call back system.
It can often take 30-50 min to reach an agent during the day. Other times you might get through on the first ring. Once you reach an agent, most calls last 15-60 minutes long, depending on your needs. This is because Costco Travel agents must call cruise lines directly to make changes, so it’s no wonder the phone lines get backed up with long wait times.
As a result, the agent puts you on hold to call the cruise line. Costco Travel doesn’t have many agents, so other callers behind you have to wait for those long calls to end before they get through.
Website is Outdated and Not Mobile Friendly
With more DIY cruise planners researching websites, frequently on phones, mobile friendly browsing is a must.
Disappointingly, Costco Travel’s website is neither contemporary nor mobile friendly site. Researching is a slow and torturous activity.
Get with the times, folks! People buy vacations on their phones, and Costco Travel’s website is in dire need of an update. Users must constantly zoom and scroll to read what’s on the site.
The maps showing cruise itineraries are useful, but the entire interface is crowded and antiquated.
Get with the times, folks! People buy vacations on their phones, and Costco Travel’s website needs an update from 10 years ago. Users must constantly zoom and scroll to read what’s on the site. The maps showing cruise itineraries are useful, but the whole interface is crowded and not modern. Costco Travel shows only the total price for all travelers, but not the breakdown of per person fares and taxes.
Can’t Search Multiple Cruises by Cheapest Cabin
Many times I like search cruises by cheapest cabin to find the lowest price and maximum value. Unfortunately, this is not an option offered by Costco Travel.
For example, if you want to take a cruise to Alaska using the least expensive option, you’ll have to do research elsewhere.
The only way they can sort cruises is by date or cruise line.
Forget About Upgrade Offers from the Cruise Line
If you are booked directly with the cruise line and opt in for upgrade offers, you might get a call or email. Unfortunately, you’ll never get this call or email if you’re booked through Costco Travel.
Because Costco does not check their communication with cruise lines very often, they cannot guarantee that people will get upgrades, therefore they do not even offer it. Therefore, if you win the cruise line lottery for upgrades, you will get skipped because you’re booked through Costco.
Example: You booked a less expensive class of state room, and 3 weeks before sailing, the cruise line sends out offers to upgrade to a balcony for $100. Costco Travel does not pass on these upgrade offers to the booked passengers. In addition, most cruise lines can wait list you for a suite if none available at time of your booking. However, with a Costco booking, this will not happen. You will never receive an offer for an upgrade or notice that a sold out class is available.
Fortunately, you can re-fare if the cruise line has a sale that will save you money. However, if you’re booked through Costco, you must call them to enact changes, since most cruise lines prohibit customers from making changes without the travel agent’s knowledge.
Would We Recommend Costco Travel?
Costco Travel’s greatest feature is its additional perks and bonuses. You can add a lot of value to your vacation without any extra cost. The agents are helpful and will go above and beyond to help you.
There are some advantages and drawbacks of using Costco Travel for DIY cruise planning. Although Costco Travel can supply cruise value few travel agents can match, there are also factors that make Costco Travel frustrating. Carefully consider the pros and cons before booking or transferring a booking to Costco Travel.
That is, if you can reach them.
Without a doubt, our greatest complaint with Costco Travel is how difficult it can be to reach an agent. They need to improve the means of contact and implement a site-wide chat system to help new customers and booked travelers alike. Favoring communication with only new bookings really shows already-booked customers they’re not important, and even unwelcome.
In addition, Costco Travel’s booking site needs a total overhaul. It requires major interface redesigns and it must be mobile friendly. There’s no excuse for a major company like Costco not to have a mobile friendly travel site.
Would we recommend it?
Yes! Costco Travel promotions can offer access to things you may not otherwise have or experience on a cruise, such as specialty dining or spa treatments. You can spend your Costco Cash card in the warehouse on things you need (or gear for your next cruise) or exchange it for cash money on eBay.
Have you booked through Costco Travel?
Let us know about your experience in the comments, or post any questions you’d like answered.