When I told people I was going to Puerto Rico, they were jealous. When I told them I booked the trip through Costco, that jealousy transformed into confusion.
"You can buy a vacation through Costco?" I was asked at least a dozen times in recent months.
My answer: Yes, and it's incredible.
I only became aware of Costco's travel deals in May, when a friend suggested checking out the warehouse store's website while planning an upcoming vacation.
I was amazed by the variety of options, from airfare and hotel deals in Europe to Caribbean cruises. Costco even has a section dedicated to safaris, with options in Botswana and South Africa.
That's right — you can book an entire week-long safari, including a guide, airfare, and a place to stay, through Costco.
The retailer launched Costco Travel in 2000.
"Following the same philosophy as in the warehouses, we offer a limited number of products in an effort to focus on partners who consistently produce high quality, exceptional value and superb service," Costco spokesperson Nikki Chellew told Business Insider. "Costco Travel adds to the overall value of the membership with savings that can exceed the cost of an annual membership."
Three friends and I settled on a seven-day trip to Puerto Rico, and purchased a trip that provided airfare, seven nights in a hotel, and transportation to and from an airport in August, for a little more than $800 a person.
Now, having returned from the trip, I can confidently say that Costco Travel is going to completely change how I book vacations.
First of all, booking the trip through Costco left me confident I was saving money. While searching for deals, I perused packages sold by airlines, which included flights at inconvenient times, and semi-questionable websites that were too sketchy to trust. Costco matched or beat both in terms of cost, with the added bonus of reliability.
Second, it was incredibly convenient every step of the way. Scanning through Costco's deals felt like browsing a diner's extensive menu — it had plenty of options, but also narrowed down my choices and spelled out the benefits of each one. Once I arrived in Puerto Rico, the bonus of having a car to take me to and from the airport included in the trip was an extra convenience I hadn't given much thought about before booking the trip.
Finally, every aspect of the trip purchased via Costco — hotel, airfare, travel to the hotel — exceeded expectations. To head off skeptics: Costco did not know I cover the retailer when the deal was purchased, this is not paid for by Costco, and there is no weird under-the-table sponsorship here. Everything was simply fantastic.
My biggest question after the trip was why everyone wasn't booking travel through Costco — and was forced to conclude that most people just don't know that they can.
"It is difficult to have travel be top of mind for members when they think of Costco as a warehouse full of tangible products," Chellew says.
However, the company is trying to change that.
Costco is now advertising its travel packages using emails, travel brochures, and deals in the Costco Savings Book. Additionally, every month the retailer publishes an article by travel expert Peter Greenberg in its magazine, the Costco Connection.
Still, Costco is primarily growing its travel business via word of mouth. Chellew says that members sharing their experiences has played the biggest role in Costco Travel's double-digit annual growth.
With that in mind, I'll add my positive experience to the public record. Next time you're booking a trip, check Costco Travel first. I know I will.