By: Tom Brussow, President-Sunsational Beach Vacations
So, you think you got a deal at Costco Travel. Are you sure about that?
You decided to book your vacation getaway or cruise with Costco Travel. The shiny brochure you picked up on the way out the door, the price and that Costco Cash Card for $121 was just too good too pass up.
While that may have been the right call, I’d ask you to consider that there might be more to the story when it comes to making a purchasing decision as big or as important as a vacation.
After all, vacations are not your everyday warehouse store purchase. There are many variables to consider due to the cost, the unknowns of travel and the fact that the vacation you’re booking might be REALLY important...like an intimate couple’s retreat or that big family vacation that everyone’s been so looking forward to. Knowing that, it has to be perfect, doesn’t it?
So why do I think the Costco Travel deal you booked isn't all it’s cracked up to be?
Here’s Three Reasons Why:
Reason #1-Costco Travel is not your typical professional travel agency so don’t be surprised or upset when they don’t act like one.
Yes, Costco sells some travel products along with thousands of other products and they do it in pretty much the same way as they sell toilet paper, bottled water or mixed nuts…in volume as inexpensively as they can.
Because Costco is a transaction-based travel seller, they aren’t necessarily in the business of tending to every aspect of your trip before, during and after you buy it. As a result, they may simply be scratching the surface of the many important details associated with your trip.
All of the rest…is up to you.
For example, did you know that the range of travel products and suppliers that Costco Travel sells is actually quite limited compared to your local travel agent? When you shop for your trip with Costco Travel, you are only seeing one small piece of the picture in terms of what is actually available to you. For example, you won’t find any Southwest Airlines flights or Apple Leisure Group’s many Exclusive Non-Stop Vacation Flights to Mexico or the Caribbean. And, when it comes to your hotel selection, it’s not even close. A quick comparison revealed that in Riviera Maya, MX, a hugely popular destination, Costco offers 22 resorts and just one of our proprietary supplier reservation systems offers 91. Punta Cana resorts? My exclusive travel agent system offers 84 vs. 35 for Costco… you get the picture!
Does that seem like the best way to find the very best vacation that is right for you?
How about trip insurance? Did you get all the pros and cons that you needed to make an informed decision about purchasing trip insurance? If you did not, I can tell you from experience that you are rolling the dice on a situation that could end badly and cost you lots of money.
Next, are you getting everything you paid for? For example, some friends recently “went rouge” and booked a trip via Costco Travel to the Moon Palace in Cancun which offers $1500 in resort credits as an added value along the room booking. I asked them if they were busy with the pre-planning for how these credits can be used; tours, spa, golf etc. Their response to me…”what resort credits”? They didn’t even know they were entitled to this! In our agency, failing to provide our clients with important information such as this would be considered malpractice!
Why This Matters:
To the contrary, your local travel agency has exclusive access to the complete and full range of suppliers, products, destinations, resorts, and attractions worldwide right on their desk top "agent only" reservations systems. And, not only do they have full access, but they have years of on-going training, professional certifications, first-hand expertise and feedback from thousands of clients that you’ll benefit from as they are applying this expertise to the planning of YOUR trip.
Because their livihood depends on it, agents are extremely well-versed in a wide range of issues and opportunities that impact their clients. This includes competitive prices, promotions and special offers, new products and programs, travel tips, travel advisories, local knowledge, weather and much more.
Reason #2-In the Costco Travel world of high volume transaction-based sales not everyone is going to be happy and things are going to go wrong. So, if Costco Travel loses a few customers along the way as a result, oh well, stuff happens.
Costco Travel has the luxury of countless thousands of customers on an annual basis. Inevitably, a percentage of them are going to be dissatisfied or have issues concerning their trip that require follow-up. When that occurs, I would assume that Costco does their level best to resolve the issue.
So, if by chance, you run into a situation, it shouldn’t be a problem? You can just walk into your local Costco store and meet with the agent who booked your trip and work things out, right? Wrong! You will not find your agent or any Costco agent for that matter that you can meet with or personally talk to in the local store as all of the Costco Travel bookings are transacted online or via a call center in Issaquah, WA. There is an 800# you can call, which, for most people, does not inspire confidence or bring much comfort. But how does this compare the approach of your local professional travel agent?
Why You Should Be Aware:
Far from the Costco volume-driven model, your local travel agent is in the business of developing long-term relationships with their clients through personalized service and attention to the details that really matter. So, in our world, EVERY SINGLE CLIENT and the experience that they have is HUGELY important. As most agents don’t have the benefit of giant advertising budgets or a walk-in retail store with thousands of customers, they rely on referrals, word of mouth and repeat clientele as the mainstays of their businesses.
As a result, your local travel agent will routinely go the extra mile to make sure your trip is the best it can possibly be. This means ensuring you understand how to get the most out of your trip with expert pre-planning and follow-up. As agents, it is not uncommon that we would personally contact your resort, the transportation company, or the tour company to ensure your trip goes smoothly and all the special touches are handled as expected.
And, when something doesn’t turn out quite right, we're immediately accessible and serve as your advocate to ensure your issue gets resolved in the quickest and best way possible.
While it is impossible to put a price on the value and what this could mean to your trip, your local travel agent does this as a part of their service at no additional cost to you. In the big scheme of things, I am willing to bet this, and the peace of mind that goes with it, is worth way more than that $121 Costco Cash Card!
Reason #3-Costco Travel might be in your local community but they are not a local community business.
To be sure, Costco is everywhere. They are a MEGA national company generating huge profits of which a tiny piece trickles back to the communities where they are located.
Why You Should Care:
Your local travel agency is integral part of your community. They support other local businesses like the restaurants & bars, the hair salon, the web designer, the real estate agent, and the accountant. Their kids go to school with your kids and they are the ones investing in the local community through their support of Little League teams, local community events, local advertising vehicles and much more.
When giant companies like Costco Travel take hold and capture market share away from local travel agents and other local businesses, it goes without saying that those companies are going to suffer and may ultimately close their doors if they can’t find ways to compete and convince customers of the value they bring. Imagine your town or local community without the bakery, the deli, the corner bar, or your friendly local travel agency. There is little doubt that without them, you would sadly be left to the auspices of the Costco Travels of the world.
Is that a good thing? I think not!
So then, before you once again pull the trigger with Costco Travel on your next trip, please take an extra minute to give your local travel agency a shot. They will most definitely work hard to earn your business.
In most cases, they don’t charge extra fees for access to their services and, in certain situations, they can even pull some strings to match the Costco price if it happens to be lower. You will be rewarded with the knowledge that you not only got a great deal, but you got a vacation that was designed specifically for you and your family.
And, most importantly, you will have the peace of mind of knowing that you gave a local business, who depends on you, the opportunity to earn your business.
I am willing to bet that at the end of the day, all things considered, you will be very happy that you did!