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Costco is a veritable wonderland for shoppers who love reaping the benefits of buying in bulk, but after you’ve made the decision to join, you face another decision: Which membership is better: Gold Star or Executive? Read on to figure out which one makes the most sense for you.

Costco Executive Membership cost

Costco offers two main membership options: Gold Star, which costs $60 annually, and Executive, which costs $120. (Businesses can also opt for the Gold Star Business or Business Executive memberships, also $60 and $120, which allow card holders to make purchases for resale and add additional people to the membership for a fee.)

Costco Gold Star membership vs. Costco Executive Membership

So what, if anything, justifies the doubly expensive price tag of the Costco Executive Membership for the typical Costco shopper?

Let’s start with the similarities between the Gold Star and Executive memberships. Both cover all the basics, granting you access to Costco’s hundreds of warehouses. You’ll be able to make purchases on without paying any pesky non-member fees. You’ll also be able to use Costco’s many member services, which include everything from discounts on insurance to identity theft protection, and fill up at a discount using Costco’s gas stations.

Costco Gasoline PumpPhoto credit: slobo/istockphoto

The list of differences is much shorter. In fact, there are only two: Executive members get a 2% annual reward on their purchases, which is paid in the form of an annual executive membership rewards certificate that’s mailed out at membership renewal time. They also get “additional benefits and greater discounts on select Costco services,” according to Costco, which we’ll touch on later. Gold Star members are out of luck on both counts.

Costco Executive Membership rewards: How much do I get?

First, let’s take a look at the more tangible benefit, the 2% annual reward. Costco bases the reward on “qualified Costco,, and Costco Travel purchases” and caps the amount at $1,000. If you’re wondering what purchases don’t qualify, it’s the usual suspects, like gasoline, alcohol, and gift cards. Sadly, the exclusion also applies to those food court meals, so you won’t be earning rewards on that coveted $1.50 hot dog and soda.

So how much do you have to spend at Costco to earn back the extra $60 you’d be spending on the Executive Membership? The magic number is $3,000 a year. That might seem imposing, but it works out to $250 a month, which most Costco devotees will agree is not hard to spend if you’re buying regularly for a family, stocking up on things like jumbo packs of diapers, massive boxes of cereal, and bulk bags of dog food. It’s an even easier number to hit if you make a major purchase at Costco, like appliances, a new furniture set, a set of tires for the car, or even a sweet golf simulator for the basement.

Also, just because we know you’re wondering: To max out the potential $1,000 annual reward, you’d have to spend a whopping $50,000 at Costco. That’s a lot of toilet paper, but we’re sure it’s been done.

Additional Costco Executive Membership benefits

As for those “additional benefits and greater discounts on select Costco services,” Costco has said that they might include “lower prices on check printing and identity protection, and free roadside assistance for vehicles covered through the auto insurance program.” Insurance may be a particularly good place for Executive Membership perks: They also include glass repair reimbursement, home lockout service, lifetime renewability, and even food spoilage protection (because it would be tragic, indeed, for a fridge full of Costco finds to go bad thanks to a power outage).

Executive Membership perks also include bonuses on trips booked through Costco Travel, which could be anything from free breakfasts at select resorts to tour credits to bonus Costco Shop Cards. Because Costco Travel purchases also count toward the annual reward, the Executive Membership is probably a no-brainer for anyone who is going to book some serious travel through Costco.

Are there special Costco Executive Membership hours at warehouses?

For the record, special shopping hours are not among Executive Membership benefits — all members receive the same access to stores. (Costco did offer exclusive early shopping hours for executive members several years ago, but the practice has been long discontinued.) Because of the pandemic, it continues to offer priority shopping hours for shoppers 60 and older and anyone who has a disability or is immunocompromised, no matter their membership tier.

People with shopping carts fillPhoto credit: krblokhin/istockphoto

Bottom line: Is the Costco Executive Membership worth it?

If you can answer “yes” to either of these questions, the Executive Membership is probably going to be worth it for you:

  • Will you spend more than $250 a month (or $3,000 a year) at Costco? If so, you’ll come out ahead with your 2% annual reward, even after spending the additional $60 to upgrade your membership.
  • Will you book significant travel through Costco? Even if you don’t snag a travel bonus that’s exclusively for executive members, the big bucks you’re spending on flights, accommodations, rental cars, or vacation packages will count toward your annual reward.

It’s also worth noting that if you splurge on the Costco Executive Membership and find that you didn’t use it enough, Costco’s customer service desk can come to the rescue. The chain says it will downgrade your membership and refund the extra $60, minus any reward you did receive. In that sense, there’s not much of a risk in trying it out.

Not a Costco member yet? You can sign up here for both the Gold Star Membership ($60) and the Gold Star Executive Membership ($120).

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