Many families know of the great savings that can be found at “big box stores” (also known as “warehouse stores”) such as Sam’s Club, Costco and BJ’s Wholesale. Some know them for deals on clothing and electronics, while those with the storage space know that a lot of money can be set aside when one can buy condiments by the pound and paper products by the pallet.
What you may not know is that these same merchants who have been saving parents money by offering bulk shopping are also busy at work helping people book vacations, still with eyes on big discounts and attractive offerings. There was recently a thorough write up in the New York Times that offers a comprehensive overview.
There are two main things to note up front, before even discussing the quality of the deals:
- Buying a vacation from a big box store, just as buying physical goods from them, requires a membership. There are different levels, and some variation between chains and locations, but expect a minimum of around $50 for a year. If you plan on using it for multiple types of shopping this may be nothing, if you simply want vacation deals you may have trouble justifying this expenditure.
- Don’t expect much in the way of person to person service. As of now, these stores are not offering in-store booking of travel. By visiting a location you will only be able to find some literature and direction to a website. For some this lack of a personal touch can be off-putting. It is our experience that this type of online booking requires a little bit of know how as hidden fees can creep in if you don’t know where to look for them.
Research When Booking Vacations
As with many not-specifically-travel companies, the featured offerings will typically be vacation packages. These sort of all inclusive deals provide airfare, lodging and sometimes more. They have the attraction of comparatively lower prices and the simplicity of a single booking. The things to look out for with the big box stores are the same things you should look out for with any place you may book a package deal: lower flexibility in selecting options or making changes, as well as a potential for hidden fees both related to booking and any customizations of the package. A bit of research is required to determine how good the savings really are for any of these, but the right package at the right time may net you time and money that you couldn’t keep otherwise.
When it comes to hotels, the big box stores offer some savings in the form of discounts, and others as rebates (in which you lay out the full cost and receive some back later). With some chains you can search by location and others you can only search by hotel chain and see where featured offers lie. You must again be wary of potential fees and, when in doubt, ask. Rental cars similarly have some discounts directly from booking online through a big box site, and some offers in the form of coupons purchased online and applied to rentals you book elsewhere.
The bottom line when it comes to the big box vacation movement is that it isn’t better or worse than other ways to book. For those who hold membership in one of these club stores, you now have a fourth option alongside booking through a travel agent, booking directly and booking through an online travel discounter like Kayak, Orbitz or Priceline.
It pays to do your research and ask questions when it comes to fees or anything you might not understand. As with most discounters it is also easier to save money if you are more flexible about when and where you go. Big box vacations cannot guarantee you the best deal every time, nor are they a waste. Check what you club has to offer next time you book. You may just come out with a great vacation for less.