Costco Travel vs. AAA—Experts Share Which Gives the Best Deals
Thinking about getting a membership and taking advantage of travel deals?
The internet may have made traditional travel agents far less necessary, but there are still a couple of travel services that are big in the game—namely Costco Travel and AAA. These membership-based programs offer promotions on hotels, flights, vacation packages, and more. But are they going to save you more in the long run? And is one better than the other? To find out, we consulted travel experts. Read on for their thoughts on Costco Travel versus AAA and which has better deals.
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First, choose a membership.
To take advantage of either of these travel programs, you'll need to be a member, so you'll want to decide if the travel savings warrant the membership cost.
"To get a AAA membership, you have to pay between $40-$160, while a Costco membership is $60," says Jon Stephens, director of operations at Snowshoe Vacation Rentals.
Depending on the tier, a AAA membership gets you roadside assistance, towing services, and complimentary rental cars. A Costco membership allows you to shop at the warehouse store and use their gas stations.
You can book flights and hotels through the AAA website without a membership, but you won't get special discounts.
Decide if you want personal assistance.
A big way these programs differ is in the way you book. Costco Travel is a search-based website that allows you to peruse vacation packages, hotels, hotels and flights, rental cars, cruises, and theme parks. You can narrow it down by your destination, local airport, and dates. You can also look through popular packages and limited-time deals.
The AAA website allows you to do basically the same, with the addition of being able to search flights separately. But AAA also gives you the option to connect with a travel agent via email or phone. In some cases, you can even visit a local branch and meet with an agent in person. If you're not a frequent traveler and want to ask questions and get a personalized experience, this is probably a better option.
However, it's worth noting that "Costco Travel offers a 24/7 concierge service that can assist with any travel-related questions or concerns," says Carlos Hunt, founder of Traveling Traces. This won't be a personalized experience, though.
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Consider if you want to book a whole package.
Perhaps the biggest difference between these two travel services is whether they allow you to book hotels and flights separately.
"Costco Travel does not offer flight-only bookings. Flights are only offered in package bookings," explains Marie Clark, editor of shopping and retail site CostContessa. "AAA, on the other hand, does offer standalone ticketing for flights."
"For Hawaii and international travel, Costco only offers travel packages," Clark adds, which means you can't even do a hotel-only booking. "So if you're planning to use miles for part of your international travel, booking on Costco Travel won't likely work for you."
In some cases, Costco's package deals could save you money (enough that it makes sense to save your miles or points for another trip), but in other instances, you may want the flexibility to only book a hotel or flight through the service.
And because Costco focuses on packages and has limited partnerships, nearly every travel expert with whom we spoke agreed that they have fewer options overall.
Weigh the pros and cons when it comes to hotels.
When it comes to hotels, both membership programs work with certain chains, meaning you're not going to get a great deal on just any hotel.
For domestic hotels, Costco mainly contracts with Hilton and IHG, but also Fairmont and Swisshotels (and Marriott if you're booking a package), explains Clark. AAA contracts with these chains, too, as well as Radisson, Wyndham, Best Western, and more.
"The upside to AAA is the selection, the upside to Costco Travel is that by striking deals with just a few chains, I find that they negotiate better discounts," says Clark.
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Remember that extras can add up.
Depending on who you're traveling with and what your needs are, travel perks can add up and make a higher base price a better deal in the end.
"You're more likely to find meaningful extra perks on Costco Travel, like shop cards, free breakfast, kids eat free, resort credits, and more," shares Clark. "You will also see some of these on AAA, but in my experience, the better offers are on Costco."
Adeel Khan, product manager at BusinessClass.com, on the other hand, points out how AAA offers emergency roadside assistance (important if you're renting a car or taking a road trip) and "exclusive discounts on attractions and theme parks." If you're traveling outside the U.S., Stephens adds that you can get a free international driving permit through AAA.
At the end of the day, compare prices.
When it comes down to it, both Costco Travel and AAA have certain pros and cons. It really depends on where you're traveling and how the prices stack up.
As Clark notes, AAA's advertised prices don't include taxes, whereas Costco's do. "Travel in general carries high taxes, so it's important to make sure to compare apples to apples in the hunt for a good travel deal."
You can then run a price comparison on both sites. As an example, Clark compared a trip for two adults to the Xcaret in Riviera Maya for March 1-8, leaving from LAX. "Using the same room type and flights, the total cost was $1200 cheaper on Costco, plus Costco was offering a $580 shop card which (assuming you shop regularly at Costco and could use that like cash) nets out to nearly an $1800 price difference."
Of course, it won't always be the case that Costco is so much cheaper, but this goes to show how much of a difference there can be between the two services.