An assessment of Costsaver’s ‘Cossack Explorer’

By Lynn Remly
This item appears on page 24 of the July 2019 issue.

When I booked the Costsaver trip “Cossack Explorer,” April 14-27, 2018, it seemed it would satisfy my desire to visit cities like Veliky Novgorod, Smolensk and Minsk. Though I had visited nearly all of the other cities on the itinerary several times before, I was willing to see them again on the general theory that there’s always something new to experience.

I found the tour listed in a Costsaver brochure at an AAA Travel office, where an agent booked my trip. The total cost was $4,065, which included a single supplement as well as air from Cleveland to Copenhagen and from Hamburg to Cleveland. (I returned from Hamburg rather than Warsaw, the tour’s final destination, since I had decided to spend a few days in Germany after the tour’s conclusion.)

That cost also included trip insurance and an extra night that I had requested at the AC Hotel Bella Sky Copenhagen, with an airport transfer. Costsaver and Trafalgar are sister tour companies, so, as a returning Trafalgar tour member, I also received a $40 voucher for optional tours.

On top of that was the cost for the Russian visa ($450, not counting the cost of expedited handling) and the Belarus visa ($75), costs that were clearly emphasized in the description of the trip.

I am an experienced traveler, having visited over 100 countries over the past 53 years, and it’s not often that I’m surprised and disappointed by a trip.

In general, my concerns with this trip were as follows.

First, as a Costsaver, the tour itself was relatively inexpensive. However, after a couple of days, it became apparent that the optional excursions were to be the itinerary. The basic touring was minimal; to see the real sights, such as the Hermitage in St. Petersburg or the Kremlin in Moscow, optional excursions were necessary.

Since I had been to almost all of the cities on the itinerary several times, I didn’t want to spend time and money on the optional excursions, but there wasn’t really a way of going my own way unless I could manage to find a taxi to meet the group after each optional excursion.

Our tour director, Colette, encouraged everyone to buy all of the excursions, which would have increased the cost of the trip by nearly $1,000. I purchased five, including, in Moscow, the “Metro And Red Square By Night” (37), which I enjoyed.

Second, I found the itinerary to be misleading. Towns were named which did not get a visit, like Tver, just visible off in the distance on our drive from Novgorod to Moscow, and the actual scheduled visits were so short as to make them of little value.

For our visit to Veliky Novgorod, we arrived at 5 p.m. After quickly depositing our bags at our hotel, we hustled back onto the bus for only a one-hour tour of the Novgorod Kremlin, then headed back to the hotel.

For me, this was a great disappointment. The description in the Costsaver itinerary gave no indication that so little time was to be spent there. (It read, “Cross the vast Russian plains to the ancient city of Novgorod where you view* the Kremlin Fort, Millennium Monument and St. Sophia Cathedral.”)

Overall, the focus of the “Cossack Explorer” tour was on covering ground, not really seeing anything but the landscape. It seemed that there was so much time spent in a bus and little time spent in most destinations on the schedule.

Third, as a cost-saving measure, the hotels on the itinerary — while perfectly comfortable — were each well outside the center of town, making it difficult to head out to see any sights on my own outside of the usual tourist venues. In any event, after eight to 12 hours a day in the bus, there was little time to even try to explore. Again, it made the optional excursions a necessity if you wanted to see anything.

Based on my experience, I would never book a Costsaver trip again. For tourists who just want a glimpse of places they’ve heard about, such a trip might be fine. For me, it was a waste of time and money.

Hudson, OH

ITN emailed a representative of the public relations firm for Costsaver (866/617-3751, and received the following response.

Thank you for giving Costsaver the opportunity to respond to Ms. Remly’s concerns because it appears her expectations were not met. Please know that Costsaver was unaware of any issues at all regarding Ms. Remly’s experience, as your note to us was the way in which the matter was brought to the client’s [Costsaver’s] attention. They will be reaching out to her directly, and, again, we thank you for making that possible.

Meanwhile, we’ve reviewed the letter, and we think it may be an issue of branding. Costsaver is a company focused on value, offering the travel essentials such as accommodations and transportation but allowing the guest to tailor their experience with suggested options or on their own.

Its sister company, Trafalgar, offers a different guided experience, aimed at bringing travelers closer to “the good life” by deeply delving into destinations and offering incredible and exclusive moments with locals.

We wonder if perhaps Ms. Remly may have confused the brands during the booking process.

Again, we appreciate your bringing this to our attention.

Vice President
The Decker/Royal Agency, New York, NY

Ms. Remly informed ITN that no Costsaver representative subsequently contacted her.

*In many tour operators’ tour descriptions, the term “view” does not mean the same thing as “visit.” In the tour descriptions on both Costsaver’s and Trafalgar’s websites, some have the term “view,” while others say “visit,” only the latter indicating an actual guided tour of the site.