Deal hunters know that Costco Travel is an under-the-radar hit for finding travel deals. For folks who prefer to vacation at sea, Costco cruise deals can be among the most lucrative offers you can find.
That’s because low fares and value-added extras are hallmarks of Costco cruise bookings. Combine that with generally friendly service from the warehouse club’s travel agents, and you might have another way to get maximum value out of your membership.
What are the benefits of booking a cruise through Costco, and how do Costco’s cruise prices compare with cruise line pricing? I went online to road-test the booking platform. Here’s what I learned.
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Benefits of booking a cruise through Costco
First things first (because I’ve seen people misinterpret this): a Costco cruise is a sailing booked through Costco Travel. Costco does not operate its own branded cruise line where the buffet line serves Kirkland hot dogs and churros and all cabins are equipped with Lovesac beanbag chairs. (That would be epic, though.)
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The main benefit of booking a cruise through Costco is that every booking comes with a Digital Costco Shop Card and/or onboard credit.
Also, if you’re an Executive Member, you earn 2% back on qualifying Costco purchases (up to $1,000), including many travel purchases. With cruises, you’d earn the 2% back on the cruise fare but not on the taxes, fees, auto-gratuities, other surcharges and trip protection.
That’s free money for you to spend, either in a Costco warehouse or on the ship – especially as Costco cruises typically have competitive fares. It’s not like you’re paying more than you would by booking directly and getting the difference in Costco money.
This brings me to my second point. Typically, Costco Travel offers competitive rates on cruises, so you can either find a discounted deal or at least pay a similar rate offered by other travel sellers.
Finally, Costco offers “Buyer’s Choice” and “Kirkland Signature” cruise deals, which offer “exclusive savings and included extras,” according to the Costco Cruises website. The added-value perks vary by cruise line but may include shipboard credit, complimentary dinners and spa treatments on board and special wine and culinary theme cruise access with exclusive meals, tastings and demos.
My quick search through these deals revealed that Costco’s Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line cruises usually have the most added freebies. Norwegian cruises even feature free perks, such as a photo package or spa credit, that are combinable with the line’s Free at Sea value-adds offered to everyone. Celebrity cruise deals were the ones centered around food-and-wine theme cruise perks, while Costco Carnival cruise deals typically offer both onboard credit and a Costco shop card.
Related: The best cruise booking perks – and which ones are actually free
I was not surprised to see that you could book Disney cruises through Costco, but they are not eligible for either Kirkland Signature or Buyer’s Choice deals.
Costco cruise prices
Costco Travel boasts “exclusive Costco member rates,” but are you really getting a deal? I priced out three sailings on different cruise lines to see how much you could potentially save by booking a Costco cruise.
I started with a seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas, departing Sept. 9.
Costco listed balcony cabins from $784 per person. Booking perks included $50 onboard credit per room, one meal for two people in a specialty restaurant and a Costco shop card. Royal Caribbean listed rates starting from $833 per person on the same departure.
The cheapest balcony cabins where I could pick a cabin were Boardwalk-facing balcony cabins (inward-facing balconies toward the back of the ship) on Deck 14. Costco’s final price for the two-person cabin was $1,849.56, plus a $95 shop card and the dining and credit perks. Royal Caribbean’s final price was $2,197.56, with no perks.
Both prices included taxes and fees. The difference before the perks was $348, plus you get roughly $200 in value from the perks alone.
Related: Costco lovers: Consider the Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi
Next, I priced out a Carnival cruise, which didn’t offer as many extra perks.
A six-night Mexico cruise on Carnival Miracle, departing from Los Angeles Oct. 8, was listed as $584 for a balcony cabin on Carnival and $564 on Costco.
Carnival offered $50 onboard credit per room, and Costco offered a $70 shop card and possibly some shipboard credit, but it wasn’t clear the way the fine print was written.
Final prices worked out to $1,478.40 on Carnival (for two people sharing a cabin) and $1,444.40 on Costco. The Costco cruise deal was slightly better, especially if it really did come with shipboard credit.
For my last cruise, I looked at a seven-night Hawaii cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America, departing May 27.
Starting prices were similar: $2,649 per person for a balcony cabin through Costco and $2,549 on Norwegian’s website. Both included Norwegian’s Free at Sea perks (complimentary beverage package, specialty dining, Wi-Fi and shore excursion credit).
However, Costco also offered the following valuable perks:
- Photo package.
- $50 spa credit for two people.
- 200-minute Internet Package.
- $50 arcade credit for one guest.
- One bottle of wine and chocolate-covered strawberries (per room).
On the other hand, Norwegian listed additional Free at Sea perks – free airfare and free third and fourth guests – that Costco did not mention on its site.
Ultimately, this sailing priced out the same at $6,375.28 per balcony cabin, based on double occupancy. Norwegian might have the edge if you can take advantage of the airfare offer. Otherwise, the Costco deal could be better value with all the extra inclusions.
Things to know when booking Costco cruises
I noticed a few things as I road-tested Costco’s booking tool and compared it to the cruise lines’ versions.
You can click on Kirkland Signature or Buyer’s Choice deals to see featured offers, but they don’t necessarily account for all of Costco’s best deals. Sort by destination or cruise line to see more options.
Costco wasn’t always clear about whether all sail dates and cabin categories were eligible for deals. The links that prompted you to click them to determine eligibility never gave me that information. Because I was not actually booking cruises, I could not see if these details became clearer just before you gave Costco your credit card information.
Lead-in rates were occasionally for guarantee rooms (where the cruise line picks your cabin), even when I thought I was choosing a regular cabin type. If you’re not given a cabin number and you want control over your stateroom location, click the link to choose another room or cabin category.
Costco only accepts Visa and MasterCard for cruise booking payments. You will not be able to use your American Express and earn Membership Rewards points for your vacation purchase.
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You can, however, use a future cruise credit from a cruise line to pay for all or part of your Costco cruise. Your shop card amount will be determined by the cost of the cruise fare, not how you pay for it. So, if you use FCC to pay for your entire sailing, you will still get the shop card based on the invoice price.
Ultimately, savings will vary based on the specific itinerary, departure date and room you choose. The more you spend, the higher the shop card amount will be. Some deals were only available on close-in sailings or specific sail dates. In general, though, pricing was competitive with the cruise lines, and often the value-adds gave Costco the edge.
Costco cruise cancellation policy
Costco Travel operates like a typical online travel seller. Its cruise change and cancellation policies are simply what the cruise lines put in place themselves. They aren’t different because you booked through Costco.
If you need to change or cancel your Costco cruise, you may be subject to fees or forfeit your deposit or portion of your cruise fare, according to each cruise line’s rules.
You cannot get a rate reduction once you pay in full for the cruise, usually 90 to 160 days before departure. “Exceptions to this policy, if any, are at the full discretion of the cruise line and are outside of the control of Costco Travel,” according to the online terms and conditions.
Are Costco cruises a good deal?
Costco cruises are priced competitively, especially when you factor in the shop card or shipboard credit available with every purchase. Some cruises will be exceptionally good deals, especially ones that come with lots of complimentary extras. Others will be roughly the same value as you’d find elsewhere.
You can spend a lot of time searching the site for the most amazing Kirkland Signature or Buyer’s Choice steal, but it isn’t always simple to assess the value. Still, if you’re flexible, focus on these featured offers, especially ones with lots of freebies.
Travelers generally report having good experiences with Costco, either booking online or using one of their agents. You can use future cruise credit to book cruises with Costco. You will still earn cruise loyalty points toward status and can earn points, miles or cash back for your purchases made with rewards-earning credit cards like Visa and Mastercard.
It’s likely not worth joining Costco just for its travel services. However, if you already have a membership and are planning a cruise, it’s definitely worth seeing what the warehouse club is offering in terms of pricing and perks for the sailing you’re contemplating. You might find a great deal and get a shop card to spend when you return home from vacation.
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