What to know about a Costco membership


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Costco is one of America’s most beloved membership warehouse chains — there are fan Facebook groups and some devout fans have even gotten married inside the store. With more than 830 locations in eight countries and nearly 117 million cardholders, Costco is also one of the largest membership warehouse chains worldwide. But how does the whole thing work? Is it a grocery store? Do they sell couches? Can I get my tires rotated there? The answer to all these questions is, “yes.”

Below, Select broke down everything you should know about Costco, from annual membership fees to the store’s various offerings. I’ve been a Costco member for several years, and I’ve personally used and enjoyed many of these services.

What is Costco?

Costco is a warehouse club, which means it sells goods in bulk in order to provide discounted prices. Well-known for its grocery offerings, it also sells clothing, toys, electronics and more. When Costco opened its first store in the 1970s, it sold only to small businesses but expanded to cater to individuals in the 1980s.

Do you need a membership to shop at Costco?

Yes, you need a membership in order to shop at a Costco. If you know someone with a membership, they can bring you with them to the store, but the primary cardholder will have to actually make all purchases.

It is possible to shop via Costco’s website without a membership, but non-members have access to only select deals, and online prices are often higher than in-store.

How much is a Costco membership?

There are three types of Costco memberships, all of which give you access to every Costco location worldwide.

  1. The Gold Star Membership is the cheapest option for customers who aren’t affiliated with a business. The annual membership fee is $60, and a total of two people over the age of 18 living at the same address can use the membership.

  2. The Business Membership also costs $60 a year, but is exclusively for business owners to buy products for business, personal and resale use. The membership comes with two cards total, with the option to add additional cardholders for $60 each annually. (This is the only membership type that allows you to add additional members.) In order to qualify for the Business Membership, you have to show some type of business identification, like a business license or three types of business ID.

  3. The Executive Membership costs $120 a year and comes with a total of two Household Cards. This tier offers greater savings on Costco services and select Costco Travel packages, as well as an annual 2% reward on qualified Costco purchases. With some strategic shopping, the higher fee may be worth it. For instance, if you spend $3,000 annually on qualified purchases like groceries, furniture and electronics, you’ll receive $60 back, which is the cost of the tier upgrade. To get an Executive Membership, you first need to buy a Gold Star Membership and then upgrade your account.

Related: Using expert guidance, we rounded up highly rated coffee makers that are less than $180.

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.

Food and grocery discounts

Costco is perhaps best known for its bulk discounts on groceries and other household essentials, with deals ranging from a two-pack of 1 ½-liter bottles of Listerine to a 30-pack of Lorna Doone Shortbread Cookies.

Costco also has its own popular in-house brand, Kirkland Signature. Some of Costco’s best deals are on Kirkland Signature products: A 120-pack of Breakfast Blend K-Cup Pods, for instance, is $33, while a 48-pack of Folgers K-Cup Pods — less than half the quantity — is $28. And Kirkland Signature offerings go well beyond food and groceries — under the Kirkland name, Costco alsosells clothing, vitamins, beauty and skin care items, pet food, pans and more.

Costco members in certain areas have access to same-day delivery via Instacart to have perishables delivered to their door. But if you’re taking home your own groceries (or anything, really), you need to bring your own bags. I personally prefer to bring large boxes since they’re easier to carry up the stairs to my condo.

Gas discounts

Outside of groceries and home essentials, Costco is known for its comparatively low gas prices. The conglomerate sells its own Kirkland Signature Gasoline, which is designed with deposit control additives to help clean your car’s engine and keep it running smoothly, according to the company. You can find nearby locations with gas stations via Costco’s website.

Clothing and home goods discounts

Whether you need a couch, an air fryer, a TV or running shoes, Costco has a vast selectionof clothing, furniture and other home essentials from popular brands like Adidas, Casper, and LG. With a Costco membership, you also get in-home delivery and installation on major appliances as well as a two-year Costco extended warranty. Costco also constantly offers additional markdowns on certain brands and products, so make sure to check its website for promotions.

Travel discounts

Through Costco Travel, members can book car rentals, vacation packages, cruises, hotel stays and more, but only with Costco’s travel partners — when booking a car, for instance, you can only choose from Alamo, Avis, Budget and Enterprise. And Costco’s prices aren’t always the cheapest available, so compare across booking sites before making reservations.

Auto discounts

A Costco membership can score you discounts on new and pre-owned vehicles. The Costco Auto Program will connect members to local, pre-vetted pre-owned-vehicle dealers offering prearranged pricing for Costco members. If you already own a car, Costco also sells discounted tires (which come with a five-year Road Hazard Warranty) and batteries and offers services like rotations, balances, nitrogen tire inflation and more.

Insurance, optical and other health discounts

Costco provides discounted home and auto insurance to members through CONNECT, powered by American Family Insurance. Like other insurance providers, CONNECT offers additional discounts for students, safe drivers and more. Costco also sells health and vision insurance, life insurance and pet insurance, and certain plans are available for business owners as well as individuals.

Pharmacy and medication discounts

Anyone can fill their prescriptions at a Costco Pharmacy, often at a competitive price compared to other pharmacies. Costco also offers the Costco Membership Prescription Program to members at no additional charge — it gives access to savings on prescriptions, though you cannot use it on top of your health insurance.

Home product-installation discounts

If you’re remodeling your house, redoing the floors or looking to install some new shelves, members can book these and other home services through Costco. When you work with one of Costco’s partners, you receive a Costco Shop Card worth 10% of the cost of the service. I worked with Costco to install new shelves, for instance, and got a $350 gift card that paid for a month’s worth of groceries.

Photo printing discounts

Costco has a Photo Center where you can print posters, photo books, calendars, cards and more.

Costco Anywhere Visa card

Costco members have exclusive access to the Costco Anywhere Visa card, a Citi credit card with a robust rewards program. In addition to 2% cash back on eligible purchases from Costco, cardholders also get 4% cash back on eligible gas purchases up to $7,000 per year, 3% cash back on restaurants and eligible travel purchases and 1% cash back on everything else, distributed annually. Keep in mind that your Costco membership has to be active and the rewards can only be used at Costco. There are some other credit cards with great rewards for Costco purchases to also consider, like the Chase Freedom Unlimited card and the Wells Fargo Active Cash Card.

How does Costco’s membership compare to other wholesale warehouse memberships?

If you are currently weighing the pros and cons of a Costco membership, then it’s likely that you’re also considering what other warehouse clubs like BJ’s and Sam’s Club have to offer. Here are two of the biggest differences to consider:

  • The BJ’s Inner Circle Membership is similarly priced to Costco’s Gold Star Membership at $55 a year. Unlike Costco, though, BJ’s accepts manufacturer’s coupons and you can stack them on top of the store’s built-in savings.

  • Sam’s Club’s basic membership is also similar in price at $45 a year. However, it has more limited service offerings than Costco — it doesn’t include pharmacy savings, optical savings or free shipping online, for example.

Related: Everything you need to know about an Amazon Prime membership — and whether you qualify for a discounted rate.

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