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Many buying clubs and online services charge a monthly or annual fee. Before paying for membership, it's important to weigh the costs and benefits of joining. Cheapism.com found 10 memberships that pay for themselves through discounts and deals.
For $58 a year in the Mid-Atlantic region, basic AAA membership provides roadside assistance and discounts on travel and services. (Prices vary in different parts of the country, but are generally in the same range.) Members can call for help if they run out of gas, break down on the road, or get a flat tire. Many hotels give AAA members discounts of 10 percent or more, and the auto club provides price breaks on a wide variety of goods and services, from movie tickets and flowers to luggage and computers. A single roadside call or a few discounted nights in a hotel can easily cover the cost of this membership. Keep your eyes open for sales and discounts: Recently, Mid-Atlantic AAA was offering basic membership at a discounted price of $49 a year.
If you are 50 or over, this membership is a no-brainer. A relatively modest fee of $16 a year gives members access to hundreds of discounts and coupons, making it easy to recoup the membership cost. For example, Best Western hotels give AARP members a 10 percent discount. If a room costs $160 or more a night, the membership fee is paid for in one use. Discounts are also available at restaurants and grocery stores and for health and travel services. For a five-year membership, the cost goes down to $12.60 a year, increasing the value even more.
Costco Wholesale allows members to purchase many types of products at a reduced price, including groceries, home goods, electronics, and even automotive supplies. All three types of yearly memberships -- Gold Star ($55), Business ($55), and Executive ($110) -- offer the same access to discounts. The Business membership lets a company add up to six employees to the same account for $55 each. And the Executive membership gives 2 percent back on purchases, up to $750 a year. For the average customer, Gold Star membership usually makes the most sense. In a price comparison test, Cheapism found significantly lower prices at Costco than at other popular retailers.
BJ'S WAREHOUSE CLUB
BJ's offers two levels of membership that provide the same discounts. The basic Personal membership is $50 a year, and the Perks Rewards membership, which gives members 2 percent back on most purchases, is $100. The cost of membership can be recovered easily with a few small purchases or one large one, with electronics providing particularly good savings.
Sam's Club costs $45 a year to join at the basic membership level, and $100 a year to get cash-back rewards ($10 for every $500 in qualifying pre-tax purchases, with a maximum reward of $500 a year). In addition to offering products at wholesale prices, members can save on prescription medicines and receive free health screenings. The club also offers free repair of flat tires, even for tires bought from another vendor.
Although Amazon Prime has increased its membership price by 25 percent, from $79 to $99 a year, we found it's still a good deal. Members get free two-day shipping as well as free video streaming of thousands of popular movies and TV shows, along with other benefits. If you shop regularly at Amazon, the free shipping alone is worth the cost of membership, and special offers make the deal even sweeter. Amazon may not always be the cheapest option, but the convenience is hard to beat.
A basic Netflix streaming membership costs $7.99 a month and gives users the ability to watch video on one device at a time. For $8.99 a month, members gain access to HD quality video and can stream video to two screens simultaneously. The most expensive Netflix membership is $11.99 and gives users Ultra HD quality video that can be streamed to up to four devices at the same time. For avid TV and movie watchers, the savings add up quickly when compared with the cost of renting videos one by one. And for the growing number of people who have cut the cable cord, Netflix offers a much cheaper option for in-home entertainment.
For $15 a year, a membership at GNC provides reduced prices on vitamins and other health products. Members receive 50 percent off on qualifying products each month as well as an additional 20 percent off on already discounted items at the time of registration. Members also have access to personalized mailings and emails regarding products, nutritional details, and additional promotions throughout the year. For people who regularly buy health products, this membership can pay for itself with just a few purchases.
Ipsy delivers four or five beauty products to your door, plus a makeup bag, for $10 a month. The products typically have a retail price of $6 or $7 each, so the savings are substantial. The catch? Ipsy picks the products based on a questionnaire you fill out when you sign up, so you never know what you are going to get. But if you like to try new beauty products, this membership not only gives you a discount, it's like Christmas every month when you receive a makeup bag full of beautiful goodies.
CLUB O AT OVERSTOCK
At $19.95 a year, a Club O membership at the online retailer Overstock can pay for itself with just a few orders. Club O members earn 5 percent in rewards on every order and up to 40 percent on other items; the rewards can be used to reduce the price of future purchases. The membership also provides free shipping on every order, no matter the size. Members are also privy to early sales and exclusive deals. And if you don't recoup the annual fee in savings, Overstock will pay the difference between your savings and the cost of membership.