By February 2022, I had been bitten by the revenge travel bug, just like so many consumers in North America.

My small family and I had a tough time during the pandemic, as did many. Working remotely from home with two kids under five often felt isolating, even without the added pressures of lockdowns and COVID-19 fears.

Once we were all vaccinated, I started looking into a Disney World vacation. I had always wanted to experience the iconic theme park. My parents aren’t big travelers, so I never went as a kid. Now that I had my own children—and they were a “good age” to experience the Disney magic—it felt like the right time.

I (wrongly) assumed it would be a straight-forward process, and not worth a travel advisor’s time. Early on, I discovered that Costco offered a travel service. As a frequent shopper with a Gold membership, I assumed the level of customer service for travel would be on par with my past experiences in the warehouses.

It was a mistake I will not make again.

The hidden costs of Costco Travel
After some preliminary research, I found what looked like a great deal for a Walt Disney World vacation. Booking eight months in advance, I was looking at about $7,000 (CAD) total for a six-night stay for four, flight-inclusive. I paid upfront.

By the summer, the trip’s costs started to creep up. Worried about COVID-19-related cancelations, I forked out $500 for additional travel insurance. Our son’s car seat was too big for the plane, so I bought a new one. I discovered the resort was no longer offering airport shuttle service, nor was that included in the package I had purchased, so I booked that too.

There was a nationwide processing delay for passports that summer thanks to the post-pandemic travel surge, so I ended up paying extra for expedited shipping. Realizing the departure flight would require me to leave the house at about 3:00 am, I booked us a shuttle so I wouldn’t have to drive.

Then, disaster: While I was away at a work conference, I received a robocall from Costco Travel. The timing could not have been worse. After hours on the phone (when I should have been attending programming), I learned my return flight had been canceled.

Costco Travel couldn’t really help. They offered me a flight at the same rate that was a day later, but couldn’t extend my hotel stay. Feeling stressed out and pressured (and just wanting to get back to the conference), I booked whatever flight I could that was on the original departure date. I was charged an additional $400 per passenger.

At this point, I was feeling very uneasy about the trip. I had expected there would be additional costs (insurance, passports etc.) but not like this. But I was already in too deep.

Travelers don’t know what they don’t know
One of the main unsung benefits of having a travel advisor is the knowledge that only comes with experience. No matter how much online research someone does, the reality is that you don’t know what you don’t know. 

My biggest mistake was assuming that buying a Costco package deal eight months ahead would be easy and save me money. Not only did the flight change cost me a pretty penny (and a lot of stress), but I missed out on resort promotions.

I thought I knew a lot about Disney vacation planning. My aunt had planned a similar trip before the pandemic, and she gave me a ton of great information. I watched hours of YouTube videos, and I scoured Reddit boards for advice and tips. I felt prepared. I was not prepared.

There were so many details I overlooked. We traveled during October, a time of year that was supposed to be slower—but because of the surge in post-pandemic travel, and the re-introduction of Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, crowds were unbearably dense at times. I didn’t know about the special ticket event until after our dates were sold out, so we missed out on what would have been a cool bonus memory too.  

We also weren’t prepared for how far of a walk it would be from our resort room to the main building and bus stops. I love walking, so I didn’t even think about that as a potential concern—but because we had flown, we didn’t have a stroller for our youngest. He really struggled to make that journey, especially after a long day at the park.

Why I won’t book a family trip through Costco again
In all fairness, we had a great vacation. Walt Disney World has a huge global following for a reason. And I’m grateful for all of the information that this community has made available online; we found some great hidden gems, got to ride most of the attractions we wanted, and made some spectacular memories.

And I recognize that some of these issues are bound to happen. I don’t blame Costco Travel for all the little things that went wrong. Rather, I see it as a learning experience.

There will be some people reading who have had positive experiences using Costco for travel. If you like what the site offers, then you should use it. But for me, it’s not worth the hassle.

In retrospect, I was not mentally or emotionally prepared for the level of planning the trip required. Not only was this my first Disney trip, it was my first major family vacation. I had to learn about Genie+, Lightning Lanes, dinner reservations, hotel discounts, etc.—all while also figuring out how to travel internationally with my kids for the first time since COVID. It was naïve to think I could do it all on my own without investing a lot of time and effort.

When I booked the trip, I figured our total cost would be under $10,000. In the end, we spent well over $12,000 for a five-night trip—and that was after cutting back on dining experiences and souvenirs.

I wish I had reached out to a travel advisor before booking with Costco. Someone smarter than me could have pointed out that I’d be better off renting a car and skipping the pricey character dinner. That postponing my vacation by a week would have significantly reduced the crowds. Maybe I should consider just doing an all-inclusive stay in Cuba.

As an avid supporter of local businesses, I would have been happy to pay a consultation fee. And I’m sure my modest $10,000 budget would have been better spent at the hands of a seasoned professional—I might not have gotten a cheaper flight or better accommodations, but I would have had a better overall experience, and that’s what really matters.  

I’m currently in the early stages of planning our next family trip.

Have you heard similar OTA horror stories? I want to hear them:  And if you know a good travel advisor in Central Ontario who does family vacations—send them my way.  

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