Front Exterior of Costco, Indianapolis, Doors Are Opened and a Few People with Carts Entering and Exiting


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Purchasing bulk goods saves shoppers 27% on average, according to a LendingTree study. The same analysis found that Costco had some of the lowest per-unit prices for common products, making it one of the best places to shop for consumers on tight budgets. But before you take the plunge and become a member, you should find out which membership (if any) is right for you.

Closeup of a Costco Executive Membership Card, Being Held By a Left HandPhoto credit: Cheapism

Types of Costco Memberships

Costco has two membership types: one for regular consumers and one for business owners. Within those two categories, the retailer has two tiers, the basic Gold Star membership and the premium Executive membership.

Gold Star Membership

  • $60/year
  • Two Gold Star membership cards

  • No additional cardholders

Costco’s cheapest membership comes with two cards, meaning that the primary account owner and a member of your household (living at the same address) can shop at warehouses and business centers worldwide. Gold Star members also have access to most of Costco’s amenities, including discounted travel packages, cheap prescriptions, top-tier gasoline, and the store’s generous return policy. You’ll be able to make purchases on without paying the pesky 5% non-member fee, too.

Put succinctly, the $60 annual membership gives you access to the best Costco has to offer, save for a few specific perks available to Executive and Business members.

Executive Membership

  • $120 per year
  • Two Executive membership cards

  • No additional cardholders

  • Extra savings on Costco services, including 2% cashback on qualified purchases (up to $1,000 a year)

  • Costco Connection magazine (monthly)

Executive members get a 2% annual reward on their purchases (including Costco Travel), which is paid in the form of an annual executive membership rewards certificate that’s mailed out at membership renewal time. They also get discounted check printing, lower prices on autos, and roadside assistance for vehicles covered through Costco’s insurance program, among other perks.

Business Membership

  • $60 per year for Business, $120 per year for Business Executive
  • Two membership cards
  • Add additional cardholders for $60
  • Can resell Costco products

If you can furnish a business license or three pieces of business ID, you can sign up for one of two Costco Business Memberships. Business Members who pay $60 a month for the retailer’s basic tier are essentially Gold Star customers who can resell products and add additional cardholders for $60. (Each additional cardholder that you add also includes a free household card for a member of their household.) The Business Executive Membership includes those perks on top of the 2% annual award.

Closeup of a Costco Metal Shopping Cart with Distinctive Red Handle and AccentsPhoto credit: Cheapism

Other Costco Membership Benefits

A huge part of Costco’s appeal is that it’s a one-stop shop for members, featuring its own gas station, tire center, food court, and other discounted services. In fact, much of the membership’s value lies in these extra perks.

Costco Tire

Costco’s Tire Centers sell and install tires at competitive prices. What’s more, tire purchases at Costco come with a five-year road hazard warranty, which includes free rotations, balancing, and flat repairs. Despite those advantages, our experiences have been mixed, largely because the website is hard to use and customer service is poor. That said, some consumers swear by the service, so it may be worth trying if you don’t have access to affordable alternatives.

Costco Gas

While not every Costco has a gas station, those that do could save you hundreds of dollars a year. According to a Cheapism analysis, members can expect to save around 61 cents per gallon when they fill up at Costco.

The retailer also uses TOP TIER gasoline, which meets higher standards thanks to extra additives and detergents. That means Costco gas leaves fewer engine deposits and prevents additional buildup, according to David Bennett, manager of repair systems for AAA.

Sideview of Costco Gasoline Gas Station, Cars Parked At the Individual Pumps Getting GasPhoto credit: Cheapism

Costco Auto Program

You can save on your next car through Costco, which boasts a no-haggle auto buying program (aka prearranged member pricing). First, the retailer connects you with a program specialist who will help you find one of over 3,000 participating dealers. Once you’ve identified a dealer, you’ll have access to low, prearranged Costco member pricing on vehicles, and throughout, you can direct questions to a member advocate. Another perk: members receive a 15% discount on parts, services, and accessories (up to $500 per visit) at select service centers.

Costco Business Services

Although Costco has pared down its business offerings, it still provides a range of discounted services: payment processing, life insurance, employee health insurance, check printing, and water delivery.

Costco Health Services

Costco shoppers at any membership level can get between 2% and 40% off medications when not using insurance coverage for prescription drugs by signing up for the Costco Member Prescription Program. Flu shots are also discounted at Costco, nabbing the top spot on our list of affordable flu immunizations.

On top of those benefits, Costco recently announced a low-cost telehealth service. Virtual primary care ($29), health check-ups ($72), and therapy ($79) are all available to members through a partnership with Sesame, which connects Costco customers with licensed healthcare providers. The program, which doesn’t take insurance, is designed for uninsured patients or those with high deductibles.

Costco Pharmacy with Lots of Stacks of Medicines and Personal Care ItemsPhoto credit: Cheapism

Costco Travel

Members get reduced rates on hotels, vacation packages, cruises, and rental cars from a number of companies. Executive members get 2% cashback on select Costco travel purchases, too.

Costco Citibank Card

Members don’t have to pay an annual fee when they sign up for Costco’s Anywhere Visa rewards card. Since it boasts hefty 3% and 4% rewards on travel and gas and doubles as a Costco ID card, it’s a no-brainer for new members who want a free rewards card.

Costco Food Court

If you want to order the inflation-proof $1.50 hot dog combo, a $1.99 slice of pizza, or another one of Costco’s popular food court items, you’ll have to pay the annual fee. As of 2020, access to Costco’s junk food paradise is a members-only benefit.

Costco Cafe Pizza Piece on a Paper Plate, Hot Dog and Churro on Brown Serving PaperPhoto credit: Cheapism

Is a Costco Membership Worth It?

If you regularly shop at Costco and take advantage of the warehouse’s many benefits, then, yes, it’s worth paying the yearly fee. But that’s a big if.

Say, for example, that you live alone in New York City. Hauling a bulk bag of rice and 30 rolls of toilet paper onto the subway probably isn’t going to work. And if you don’t own a car, then you’ll miss out on a number of Costco benefits: installation at the tire center, cheap fuel at the gas station, etc.

On the other hand, Costco makes a lot of sense for a large family that lives in the suburbs. Not only will you actually go through the bulk goods, but you’ll use services like Costco Travel and the tire center more often.

We encourage you to ask yourself if Costco fits into your lifestyle, and if it does, the membership is likely worth the extra cash.

How To Decide Which Costco Membership Is Right for You

Deciding which Costco membership is right for you is an easier calculation. For more infrequent Costco shoppers, the basic Gold Star membership is the more economical option, as it’s unlikely your annual rewards will pay for the $60 upgrade. Of course, business owners should always opt for the business membership given that it comes with more perks at no extra cost.

If you anticipate spending $250 a month ($3,000 per year) or more at Costco, you’ll make back the extra $60 it costs to upgrade to the executive tier. But keep in mind that some purchases — food court meals, gasoline, alcohol in some states — won’t earn you cash back.

Monthly Spending
Annual Spending
Executive Member Annual Rewards
$4,170$50,040$1,000 (maximum reward)

How To Sign Up for a Costco Membership

Costco makes it easy to sign up for a membership. You can apply online, over the phone by calling 1-800-774-2678, or in person at a warehouse.

Left Hand Holding a Costco Membership Card, Slightly TiltPhoto credit: Lacey Muszynski/Cheapism

Alternatives to Costco

As much as it might seem like Costco has a monopoly, especially on the West Coast, the warehouse store has two worthy competitors: Sam’s Club and BJ’s Wholesale Club.

Sam’s Club

  • Club Membership ($50/year)

  • Plus Membership ($110/year)

While we have a stand-alone Sam’s Club vs. Costco analysis, the upshot is that Costco has the Walmart-owned store beat when it comes to selling premium goods and services at cut-rate prices. But Sam’s Club does some things better. The checkout experience, for example, is far more streamlined and high-tech thanks to curbside pickup and scan and go payment, both of which Costco lacks. The latter feature, integrated into the Sam’s Club app, lets consumers scan groceries themselves and pay without having to go to a register.

BJ’s Wholesale Club

  • The Club Card Membership ($55/year)

  • The Club Card+ Membership ($110/year)

With its own tire center, gas station, and healthcare services, BJ’s is a lot like its competitors. What makes the chain unique is that its 249 locations are almost all located on the East Coast. But if you have a BJ’s and a Costco in your area, you’re more likely to save money at Costco.

According to one analysis, most Costco products are cheaper, including items from the store’s in-house Kirkland Signature Brand. Similarly, a 2023 U.S. Grocery Benchmark Study found that consumers said that Costco offered better value than BJ’s and Sam’s Club.

Shoppers Browse the Clothing Selection At a Costco, Chicago, One Man Is Inspecting a Pair of Beige Pants, People in Foreground Are BlurredPhoto credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you shop at Costco or without a membership?

You can shop at without a membership, though you’ll pay a 5% non-member surcharge. Since Instacart has a deal with Costco, you can also shop through the grocery delivery service. But again, prices will be higher than if you shopped in-store. Finally, you can ask to shop alongside an existing Costco member, but they’ll have to pay at the register.

Can you see Costco prices without a membership?

To see some prices on, you have to log into the site, which requires a membership.

Is there a free Costco membership?

No. There’s no free Costco membership, nor is there a trial. However, Costco will refund your membership if you aren’t satisfied.

Is there a membership specifically for seniors?

No. There are only four types of membership: Gold Star, Executive, Business, and Business Executive.

How much money do I need to spend at Costco for the Executive membership to be worth it?

You need to spend $3,000 a year (or $250 a month) for the Executive membership to be worth it. At that point, the 2% cashback reward you receive on select Costco purchases equals $60, making up for the $60 fee you pay for the upgrade. Keep in mind, however, that some Costco purchases — gasoline and cigarettes, for example — won't count toward your annual reward total.

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