Traveling is expensive and planning a trip can be very time-consuming and stressful. Anything that helps with any of those things I want to try. I need to say, though, that I don't mind paying for convenience or experience. Booking trips using services may not always be the cheapest, but my time is money. I've also screwed up a few trips I've booked myself because I didn't know what to look out for. Planning and booking a trip yourself may seem like it's cheaper, but I've had to pay a lot more to get myself out of my mistakes. I've found it all evens out in the end.
In this post, I'm going to talk about my recent experience booking a trip to St. Lucia with Costco Travel and compare it to booking a trip with my travel agent. I'll also give you the situations where I book myself. All these pictures are from a day trip around the island that was arranged by our butler at Sugar Beach.
Three reasons I use a travel agent:
I'm unfamiliar with a destination. If I don't know where the best place in a city to stay or the best way to get to and from the airport or the best airport to fly in and out of, a trusted travel agent can help with that and arrange for the best way (for me it is often a private driver) to get to where I'm going and the most centralized place to stay. Examples for me have been Hong Kong, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.
Complicated itinerary. If I'm spending several weeks or just have many stops on a trip, I use a travel agent. They have the experience to get you around an area as efficiently as possible. When we spent 2 weeks traveling the Amalfi Coast, my agent got us between all the cities and back to the airport in plenty of time and not at a breakneck pace. An agent will also make sure I have the proper documents and inoculations.
When I need to book something but am short on time. We have been to Maui more times than I have fingers to count. I could have easily planned a family trip there but we were taking the kids and I didn't have time to do a bunch of research on condos, etc. I turned everything over to my agent who planned accommodations and flights and all I had to do was make a phone call and do a final approval.
There has been a lot of press about Costco Travel and when we had a free week this summer to fill, I thought I would see what they had available.
My impression of Costco Travel was that it was for trips to Disney or cruises. I didn't think it was for anything very exotic. They do have Disney and cruises but they also have luxery resorts in far away places.
Creating an account an logging onto their site was easy. I had no destination in mind but I didn't want us to spend a lot of time on an airplane. There isn't a huge list of destinations, so searching was pretty easy. I like an edited list. That being said......
Pretty much everything is a big resort from what I could tell. I looked at Costa Rica and there weren't any small boutique hotels or B&B's. They were all big chains.
You won't find a place like Balenbouche Estate on the Costco site. This place is really cool and cozy and if this is more your speed you won't find it booking through them.
I had a tour of this B&B and I would definitely return.
Costco can negotiate with the bigger resorts for perks. Our package included airport transfers, breakfast and $100 credit with a tour company. With other packages you get a Costco gift card for $100.
After choosing which package I wanted and clicking the booking button, I was able to pick flights and seats immediately. They do offer first class air as one of the options and you can see the total price before booking. The only thing I had to do later was purchase trip insurance. Costco will send you MANY emails about this, so you won't forget it. Just click the link in the email and it takes you to the site to buy the insurance.
It was as simple as that! A couple of weeks before leaving, they sent an email with all the documents. Everything went as planned and we had no problems arise. That's when a travel company/agent really earns their dollar! I can't vouch for Costco's problem solving. During the process, there is a number where you can call and talk to a real person but I didn't opt for that.
Costco Travel Pros:
- Very quick one-stop shop. Very easy 24/7 booking and all the trip packages I looked at had airport transfers included.
- Value-added perks. All the packages have something added like free breakfast, Costco Gift Cards, and tour credits.
- All resorts and tour companies are vetted and edited. You can be pretty confident that any of the resorts and tour companies listed on the Costco site will be quality.
Costco Travel Cons:
- Limited to big resorts and destinations.
- Lack of multi-destination travel I didn't try to call the number and see if multi-destination travel was possible and how much customization I could do. It could be that that is a possibility with a phone call.
- Tours are still booked by you after you arrive. I tried to call and book our tour before arriving and they wouldn't let me. It ended up not being a problem but if there is something specific you want to do and it's high season or you have a big group, you may have trouble getting a spot.
When I book my own travel:
- I've been to the destination many times.
- It's a conference or the hotel is already arranged and all I have to book is air.
- I'm booking with points and miles.
I think I'll book again with Costco when it's late at night and I have a week I just want to get away, but nothing beats my travel agent! She has gotten me to and safely home from some far-flung places and has saved me time and frustration. There is no trip too big or too small and she is a phone-call or email away.
My agent is Judy Franklin at Franklin Travel, LLC.
Tell her Ginka sent you!