Is a Costco Membership Actually Worth It? (2023)

The research

  • What’s the difference between the Costco Gold Star and Gold Star Executive memberships?
  • Does the membership extend to Costco.com?
  • How do you pay for purchases?
  • Is a Costco membership worth it if you don’t shop in bulk?
  • What services can you use without a Costco membership?
  • Is there any way to shop at Costco without a membership?
  • So, is the price of a Costco membership worth it?
  • Frequently asked questions

What’s the difference between the Costco Gold Star and Gold Star Executive memberships?

You have two Costco membership types to choose from: Gold Star and Gold Star Executive. The standard Gold Star membership is $60 annually, while the Gold Star Executive is $120. Both memberships come with one household card, valid at all of Costco’s 760-plus locations across the US; they also offer access to Costco gas stations and other member-only perks. (Note: Though each Costco membership can have only one primary member, a secondary cardholder can be added for free.)

Gold Star Executive members get additional benefits, including an annual 2% reward (up to $1,000) on qualifying Costco, Costco.com, and Costco Travel purchases. The ability to book rental cars and hotel stays for less via Costco Travel likely makes the Executive membership worth the extra $60, provided you use the perk. (To make back your $120 membership fee with the annual 2% reward, you have to spend $6,000 throughout the year.)

Costco’s Executive members receive greater discounts on services like check printing and identity theft protection (which monitors your credit and alerts you to suspicious activity), as well as free roadside assistance for vehicles covered through Costco’s auto insurance offering. If you’re waffling between the two memberships, ask yourself how much you usually shell out at Costco on any given visit. If you spend more than $250 per month ($3,000 in a year), you’ll get back at least $60 with the Executive membership’s annual 2% reward. That means you’ll at least break even on the cost of the standard Gold Star membership.

Costco also offers student and military memberships, both of which cost the same as the Gold Star membership ($60). But each one comes with a sign-up bonus of sorts: College students get a free Google Nest Mini and a $20 Costco gift card (valued at $45), while military members and veterans receive coupons for free products and other savings (valued at more than $60).

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Does the membership extend to Costco.com?

If the idea of circling for a spot in Costco’s typically crowded parking lots drives you mad, you can still reap the benefits of the warehouse club’s low prices online: Both Gold Star and Gold Star Executive memberships can be used at Costco.com. While anyone can purchase select Costco items online without a membership, they’ll be met with a 5% fee at checkout. Free shipping isn’t guaranteed, either: Though it’s often complimentary, shipping can run anywhere from $3 to $5 per item, even for high-dollar products.

A membership may not be worth your money if you shop at Costco.com infrequently enough that the 5% fee adds up to less than the yearly cost of a membership. But if you spend more than $1,200 on Costco.com without being a member, you’ll lose money—that’s when it’s time to shell out the $60.

(Video) Is a Costco Membership Worth It? How to Save at Costco

Costco accepts only Visa credit cards. (Its store-branded card, the Costco Anywhere Visa Card, gets you 2% back on your Costco purchases.) If you have a Mastercard, a Discover, or an American Express, you’re out of luck, at least when it comes to shopping at Costco. So if you don’t want to apply for the Costco credit card or another Visa, you’ll need to carry a wad of cash, a debit card, or a check to pay for your 24-pack of toilet paper.

Though you can’t use any credit card besides a Visa at Costco, you can use your Costco Anywhere Visa at other retailers. Wirecutter Money staff writer Sally French primarily uses hers as a gas card.

Is a Costco membership worth it if you don’t shop in bulk?

Shopping for supplies in large quantities is a huge part of Costco’s appeal, and buying in bulk often means nabbing better per-item prices when you do the math. But if you don’t have the means to store your stuff (or the mouths to feed before the perishable goods go bad), a Costco membership might not be for you. Consider what your space can hold before you sign up—the alternative is realizing you don’t have anywhere to put the toilet paper and tissues you’ve already stocked up on.

If you live by yourself or don’t personally need things in bulk, you can still take advantage of Costco deals by splitting a membership (and the things you buy in large quantities) with a couple of friends who are also interested in saving a few dollars. Only members are allowed to make purchases, though, so keep in mind that the person who acts as the primary cardholder has to pay at checkout and get reimbursed afterward.

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Not everything at Costco comes in bulk, though. For instance, Costco sells Fage yogurt in tubs large enough to feed you breakfast for a week; its rotisserie chickens, like the ones at your local grocery store, are the perfect size for dinner (and for lunch the next day). A six-pack of Kirkland’s brown rice and quinoa blend, meanwhile, can help make Sunday meal prep a cinch.

Another way to make a Costco membership worth the price of admission without buying in bulk is to take advantage of the warehouse club’s other services. Costco’s prices on tires, for instance, are wholesale and include shipping and handling fees; the installation package comes with lifetime maintenance services such as pressure checks, balancing, rotations, and flat repairs. You could easily make back your $60 membership fee if you end up replacing even one tire.

Yet another good way to make the most of your membership is to take advantage of Costco Concierge Services after you buy a big-ticket appliance or make another qualifying electronics purchase. If something isn’t quite right with your item (or if you just can’t figure out how to get it to work), you can call the concierge service—essentially a tech-support center—for help. Over the phone, a service agent will walk you through how to solve the issue. New tech and updated appliances can sometimes be confusing; this service, which is free for Costco members, helps close the learning curve. You can also maximize your membership by using Costco’s grocery delivery service—CostcoGrocery. If you like the idea of skipping checkout lines, do your shopping from the comfort of your couch instead.

And if you’re an avid coffee drinker, Costco offers a great deal on Peet’s Coffee gift cards ($80 for $100 worth of gift cards, enough to pay for around 40 cups o’joe, depending on the price of your usual order). You’d have to spend only $300 at Peet’s to make a Costco membership worth it—which isn’t particularly hard for the caffeine-dependent to do.

What services can you use without a Costco membership?

Though you have to be a member to get good deals on most things sold at Costco, there are a few areas of the store that nonmembers can still access:

  • The pharmacy. Because prescription drug sales can’t be limited through a club or membership, anyone can fill a script or buy over-the-counter medications at Costco. You can also take advantage of other health services there, like flu shots or ear and eye exams. You’ll need a membership to buy glasses or hearing aids, though.
  • The food court (maybe). Food-court fanatics could once feast on Costco’s ever-affordable hot dogs, pizza, and addictive frozen yogurt without a membership. We’re not sure whether that’s still the case. According to the Internet rumor mill, you needed an active membership card to purchase items from the food court effective March 16, 2020. However, when contacted by Wirecutter, a PR rep for Costco said that “management has no comment at this time.” If you want to visit the food court membership-free, it’s at your own risk.
  • The liquor department (maybe). Depending on where you live, you may be able to buy alcohol at your local Costco even if you’re not a member. In some states, it’s illegal to require a membership for alcohol purchases, meaning you can take full advantage of Costco’s discounted liquor prices. However, check your state’s laws surrounding the sale of alcohol before you head to the warehouse: In some places, Costco is permitted to sell only beer and wine, while other states ban the sale of any alcohol from the retailer.

Is there any way to shop at Costco without a membership?

If your in-store visits are too infrequent to warrant getting your own membership, here are two ways to buy stuff at Costco without it:

  • Tag along with a friend. If you know someone with their own membership who shops at Costco often—a friend, parent, or sibling, perhaps—ask if you can go with them. Members are allowed to bring up to two guests whenever they go to Costco. Remember, only members can make purchases, so you’ll have to pay them back for whatever you buy.
  • Use Costco Shop Cards. Similar to gift cards, Costco Shop Cards are available in denominations ranging from $10 to $100, but only members can buy them. You’re better off getting one in person than you are online, though: Customers have complained about how long the card takes to arrive in the mail, as well as how the tracking number isn’t provided after purchase. (You’ll also have to reload the card in store, as there’s no way to do so online, which can be inconvenient.) If you have your eye on something specific or need to stock up for an upcoming party, ask someone with a membership to grab you a handful of Shop Cards so you can go on your own.

Nonmembers can use these cards to purchase cheap gas at Costco gas stations, a privilege usually reserved for members. Because Costco warehouses are typically found in more suburban areas, driving miles out of the way for cheap gas may not be the most cost-effective way to fill your tank, which is something to consider before you stock up on Shop Cards.

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So, is the price of a Costco membership worth it?

Maybe. There’s really no definitive answer: The bottom line is that a Costco membership can be worth it, depending on how often you go and what you buy. If you love Costco but only visit for its affordable eye exams and bottles of wine (which you can buy without a membership), you should probably take a pass. But as long as you shop at the superstore often enough that your annual savings outweigh the cost of a membership, the fee is worth the price of admission—especially when you consider just how possible it is to eat at least $60 worth of free samples in a year.

Frequently asked questions

How much is a Costco membership?

There are two types of Costco memberships:

  • Standard: Costco’s base membership tier, called Gold Star, is $60 annually.
  • Executive: The Gold Star Executive membership is $120 a year. Executive members get an annual 2% reward (up to $1,000) on qualifying Costco, Costco.com, and Costco Travel purchases.

What are the different Costco membership levels?

The standard membership is Gold Star, which comes with one primary household card and a second card for a qualifying person living at the same address. Your membership card grants you access to all of Costco’s 760-plus US warehouses as well as Costco gas stations.

Gold Star Executive membership offers additional perks, including an annual 2% reward on qualifying Costco purchases, lower prices on check printing, and free roadside assistance for vehicles covered through the warehouse club’s auto insurance offering.

What credit cards can you use to pay for purchases at Costco?

US Costco warehouses and gas stations accept only Visa cards.

For purchases at Costco.com, you can use any Visa, Mastercard, or Discover credit card (including JCB and Diners Club cards).

Costco stopped accepting American Express cards in 2016.

Is a Costco membership worth it if you don’t shop in bulk?

In many cases, yes. One Wirecutter writer justifies his membership almost entirely because of the money he saves booking rental cars through Costco Travel.

And not everything sold at Costco comes in bulk. You can shop for things like headphones, iPhones, engagement rings, Legos, and plenty of other items.

As far as food goes, Costco’s rotisserie chickens are large enough for a family dinner, and—if you eat yogurt every day—you can get through that huge tub of Fage in less than a week. You should also explore Costco’s other benefits, which include discounted gift cards, photo printing, optical services, and tire installation packages.

What services can you use without a Costco membership?

There are a few areas of the store that nonmembers can access:

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  • The pharmacy: Because prescription drug sales can’t be limited through a club or membership, anyone can fill a script or buy over-the-counter medications at Costco. You can also take advantage of health services like flu shots and ear exams.
  • Alcohol (in some states): Some states prohibit requiring a membership for alcohol purchases, so depending on where you live, you may be able to shop Costco’s vast selection of discounted liquor. In some places, though, the club is permitted to sell only beer and wine, and certain states ban the sale of alcohol there completely.

Is there any way to shop at Costco without a membership?

Here are your options for shopping at Costco without an active membership card:

  • Shop with a friend: Costco typically allows members to bring up to two guests with them per visit. Only members can make purchases, but they can flash their card and pay for you at checkout (and you can hash out how to pay them back later).
  • Use Costco Shop Cards: Costco Shop Cards are essentially gift cards, but only members can buy them. Ask someone you know with a membership to purchase onefor you. You can use it to gain entrance and pay at the register.
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FAQs

How much do you have to spend to make Costco membership worth it? ›

The $120 annual fee for the Executive card is worth it if you spend more than $500 a month, or $6,000 a year total at Costco on eligible purchases. This is the exact amount to break even on the extra yearly membership fees. Most purchases online and even the trips and bookings you make via Costco Travel qualify.

Is it worth getting a Costco membership if you're single? ›

Ultimately, if a single person can comfortably afford the $60 membership and has the room to store items purchased in bulk, then it makes sense for them to become a Costco member. Those short on spare storage shouldn't slink away from the store just yet, though.

What is so great about Costco membership? ›

Benefits of a Costco membership. Every Costco member has access to benefits like discounted contact lenses, travel packages and more, with greater savings on Costco services and select travel packages available to Executive members.

Is a Costco membership worth it for a couple? ›

You only feed one or two people. Bigger is not necessarily better—especially when it comes to grocery shopping. While buying in bulk is a no-brainer for families, “if you are single and live alone, a Costco membership is not likely to save you money,” says Steven Millstein, editor of CreditRepairExpert.

Can you really save money shopping at Costco? ›

As he showed, many items are priced lower at Costco than at competing stores and if you can shave even a little bit off your grocery bill each week by buying them there, the savings can add up. However, Ramsey also explained that while you can save money, there's no guarantee you will.

Is Costco actually cheaper? ›

Costco is known as a low-price leader, but as the big-box and warehouse store landscape becomes more and more competitive, it's getting harder to find unbeatable deals. Despite this, Costco still has some major purchasing power, which helps it keep costs way low.

Can I use my wife's Costco card without her? ›

The Costco membership card is non-transferable, but there are several ways to share the experience with family and friends. Anyone with a card can bring up to two guests to the Warehouse during each visit. Keep in mind that purchasing items is exclusive to Costco members.

Is Costco membership worth it for gas? ›

Key points. Costco is known for its cheap products, including gas. Getting gas at Costo may not be worth the savings based on a number of factors. Costco's notoriously long wait times, inconvenient locations, mandatory credit card use, and membership fee may not be worth the price.

Is Costco cheaper than grocery stores? ›

Here's Exactly How Much. We break down the cost of buying groceries in bulk at Costco compared to a typical supermarket. The savings are major.

Which is better Sams or Costco? ›

Does Costco or Sam's Club Have Better Prices? Overall, the prices at Costco tend to be cheaper. However, Sam's Club has a greater selection of name-brand products and a cheaper membership fee.

Can you get a 1 day pass for Costco? ›

Costco does not offer free shopping passes. When you visit a Costco warehouse, you'll discover all the valuable savings we have to offer. As a nonmember, you may still purchase prescriptions from a Costco pharmacy with cash, debit, Costco Shop Cards or a Visa® card.

Is Walmart or Costco cheaper? ›

Costco is known for its ultra-low prices on bulk items. But Walmart offers really low prices, too. As such, it's very hard to say which of the two stores offers the best deals, because often, that will boil down to the specific things you're looking for.

Can two friends split a Costco membership? ›

A total of two people can be on a Gold Star Membership (either regular or Executive): one Primary Member and one free household member who is over 18 and lives at the same address.

Is Costco worth it for food? ›

"It really depends on what you're shopping for, but usually yes, it's a great idea to buy groceries and food at Costco," said Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst at DealNews. "Mostly you'll want to focus on purchasing groceries that you use often as that'll be where you're most likely to see significant savings.

Can a normal person get a Costco card? ›

In fact, membership to the private club is normally reserved for traders and businesses such as small grocery stores and corner shops and restaurants and takeaways. People working, or have retired from certain professions can also become members of Costco.

What items are not worth buying at Costco? ›

With that in mind, here are 10 things to think twice about before picking up on your next Costco run.
  • Spices. With the exception of salt, every spice and seasoning has a limited shelf life. ...
  • Condiments. ...
  • Flour. ...
  • Baking powder. ...
  • Oil. ...
  • Coffee. ...
  • Detergent. ...
  • Personal care items.
May 3, 2022

What does .99 mean at Costco? ›

If you're looking at a Costco item and the price ends in . 99, there's no rush to buy the item unless you need it now. The . 99 numbers signify that it's a full price item not likely to be discontinued anytime soon.

How much do you have to spend at Costco to make the executive card worth it? ›

A Costco executive membership costs twice what a regular membership costs. It also puts cash in your pocket that could make that higher fee worth paying. If you spend at least $3,000 per year at Costco, an executive membership will pay off for you.

Why is food cheap at Costco? ›

The reason why is quite simple: Costco receives a cheaper price for buying items in bulk, and then sells them back to the customer at a higher price than what they paid for the items. Luckily for consumers, buying in bulk works to our advantage, too.

Who is cheaper Costco or Target? ›

Costco is king for bulk purchases

Target does offer some items in larger quantities. But if you're loading up on bulk essentials, Costco is probably going to be your best source for the lowest prices.

Is Costco meat cheaper? ›

As to the cost of the steaks themselves, in general, Costco meat prices will be cheaper per pound than at specialty butcher shops and many higher-end grocery stores like Whole Foods, but potentially on par with or even more expensive per pound than what you'd pay at, say, Safeway or Wal-mart (especially when those ...

How much is a Costco card for seniors? ›

Different Costco Membership Options For Seniors

Gold Star memberships, available for $60 per year, grant shoppers access to Costco Warehouse locations as well as all merchandise available on Costco.com. Gold Star members also gain access to Costco Gas, Costco Travel, Costco Tire Center, Costco Optical, and more.

Can I use my mom's Costco card if she's not there? ›

The person with the card must be present, though “payment” can come from anyone else. Essentially, if you want to shop at Costco, you need to be with a member.

How much is Costco renewal 2022? ›

$60.00 Annual membership fee* Includes a free Household Card. Valid at all Costco locations worldwide.

Do Costco members get 2% back on gas? ›

You'll get 4% back on eligible gasoline purchases for the first $7,000 per year and then 1% thereafter. You'll also earn 3% on restaurants and eligible travel purchases, including Costco Travel.

Does Costco limit gas to $100? ›

A: When fuel is purchased with a PIN debit card or Visa card, Costco requests a "pre-authorization" from the card issuer before beginning the fueling process. This is a temporary hold that assures Costco will be paid for fuel dispensed. The "pre-authorized" amount is approved by the card issuer and may be up to $150.

How much does a Costco membership save you on gas? ›

And since Americans use an average of 656 gallons of gasoline every year, which—according to our calculations—means switching to Costco fuel could save you around $137 per year. This more than makes up for the cost of the $60 “gold star” membership.

How much does the average person spend at Costco? ›

The average Costco shopper spends $114 a trip and goes every two weeks. That's more than $2,700 a year spent at Costco. Even the pandemic didn't slow down spending, with net sales reaching $163 billion in 2020.

Which is cheaper Aldi or Costco? ›

Costco is the overall “winner”, having the lower prices on the most items, however the margin is small. Costco has lower prices on 38 items, Aldi has lower prices on 30 items, and the stores were the same on 18 items. Costco is the clear winner for pantry/dry good items.

Why is Costco premium so cheap? ›

There are several reasons why Costco can charge less. One is that its business model on all of its products is to take a lower margin. Second, because Costco sells so much gas so quickly, it does not have to sit on inventory.

Who has cheaper groceries Sam's Club or Costco? ›

Best for cost savings: Sam's Club. Best for organics: Costco. Best for non-bulk purchases: Walmart.

Can I use my Costco card at Sam's Club? ›

Costco members can now use their Costco cards to shop at Sam's Club.

Why do people prefer Costco over Sam's Club? ›

Costco shoppers find that their local stores are more open with higher ceilings and better lighting compared to Sam's Club stores. There is also more space for navigating aisles and finding additional items. In general, Sam's Clubs tend to be a bit smaller, coming in at an average of 134,000 square feet.

How to get into Costco without a membership? ›

8 Ways to Shop At Costco Without a Membership
  1. Opt for a Costco Shop Card. ...
  2. Accompany Family or Friends to Costco. ...
  3. Place an Instacart Order. ...
  4. Shop Online. ...
  5. Purchase Some Alcohol. ...
  6. Head to the Pharmacy. ...
  7. Schedule an Eye Exam. ...
  8. Fill Up at the Food Court.

Can a Costco member bring a guest? ›

Members are welcome to bring children and up to two guests into the warehouse; members are responsible for their children and guests. Children should not be left unattended. Only Costco members may purchase items.

How do I get a Costco membership for free? ›

Costco doesn't offer free memberships, but there are several ways you can still save. If you have a friend with a Costco membership, ask them to buy you a Costco Shop Card.

How much does the average Costco member spend? ›

The average Costco shopper spends $114 a trip and goes every two weeks. That's more than $2,700 a year spent at Costco. Even the pandemic didn't slow down spending, with net sales reaching $163 billion in 2020.

What is the minimum spend at Costco? ›

Prices are higher than your local warehouse & include service & delivery. The order minimum is $35. You must be present for delivery. To receive the best pricing on same-day delivery from our walk-in warehouse, always visit Costco.com and search Same Day.

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