Score Great Costco Deals Without Paying the Membership Fee

Rancho Cordova, California, USA - December 1, 2016: Late evening shot of people walking in and out of a Costco Wholesale warehouse in Rancho Cordova.
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Warehouse clubs such as Costco are known for offering low prices on a wide variety of products. However, you have to pay an annual membership fee of $60 to $120 to have access to Costco’s value-priced products. Or do you?

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There are several ways you can take advantage of Costco’s deals without a membership. That said, the membership does have its perks. And the warehouse club will refund your membership fee if you’re not satisfied.

But if you want to find out what all the hype about Costco is, you can use these hacks to score some of their best deals and decide whether you want to spring for a membership.

Shop With a Member

Unlike Sam’s Club, Costco doesn’t offer a day pass to let you check out the club before joining. However, you can always shop with a member, said Jim Wang, founder of WalletHacks.

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Your friend will need to use his membership card at checkout, but you can split up the transaction and pay for your purchase so your friend isn’t stuck paying for your items, Wang said.

“I’ve done it multiple times to separate business and personal expenses since I use different cards,” he said. Be aware, though, that the only credit card Costco accepts is Visa.

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Use a Costco Shop Card

You can also shop Costco without a membership if a member buys you a Costco gift card. It can be used to buy all items in the warehouse, said Kyle James, founder of Rather-Be-Shopping. The gift card — called a Costco Shop Card — can be bought in denominations from $25 to $2,000.

If your purchase exceeds the Shop Card value, no worries. “That’s because Costco accepts partial payment from a gift card and the remainder of payment from an accepted method, including cash or a Visa debit or credit card,” said Kendal Perez, a former savings expert with Coupon Sherpa.

Be aware that you’ll likely be able to use this hack only a couple of times. A Costco customer service representative said that non-members could be flagged for taking advantage of Shop Cards to regularly shop at the warehouse club.

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Shop Online

Another way to shop at Costco without a membership is to take advantage of its website.

“All non-members can shop on Costco.com,” James said. “But be aware that if you’re not a current member, you’ll be hit with a 5 percent surcharge.”

If you plan to buy something that costs more than $1,100, you’re better off getting the $60 basic membership than paying the surcharge. “Otherwise, you’re losing money on the whole deal,” said James.

Also, some items sold on Costco.com are available to members only — and are marked as such. So not every deal online will be available to you.

Buy Alcohol

Costco is known for its quality wine sold at great prices. In fact, it’s one of Costco’s best deals. You don’t necessarily have to be a member to buy wine, beer or other spirits at this warehouse club.

A handful of states — such as California — have laws that prohibit establishments from requiring a membership to purchase alcohol, James said. Call your local Costco to see if you can buy alcohol without a membership. If you can, you might be required to make alcohol purchases at the membership desk rather than the checkout, a Costco customer service representative said.

Make Your Money Work for You

Get Immunizations

“Costco offers flu shots and other immunizations throughout the year to members and non-members,” Perez said. And no appointment is necessary. You just have to fill out a consent form.

“Those without insurance will likely find Costco’s rates for immunizations to be quite competitive,” Perez said. For example, the prices for all immunizations offered by Costco are lower than the same immunizations offered at CVS Minute Clinics.

Have Your Eyes Checked

Most Costco locations have an independent optometrist in, or near, the warehouse. You can schedule an appointment to have your eyes checked without a Costco membership, James said.

“But you’ll need a membership or gift card to buy contacts and glasses,” he said. Call to compare prices with other optometrists in your area to see if the one at Costco is the best option.

Get Prescription Drugs

According to Costco, membership is not required for pharmacy purchases. Costco often offers competitive prices on prescription drugs, Perez said.

“Tell the greeter that you’re picking up a prescription, and they’ll let you through,” Perez said about the strategy you should use to get in the door without a membership card.

However, a Costco membership might pay for itself if you regularly get prescription drugs. Members can get lower prices on medications by joining the Costco Member Prescription Program. The discount is determined at time of purchase but can be as much as 40 percent.

Eat at the Food Court

You can get an inexpensive meal at the Costco food court without being a member. One of Costco’s great food court deals includes a hot dog and 20-ounce soda for $1.50, James said.

“If your local Costco has an outside food court, you can absolutely take advantage without official membership,” James said. “If your location lacks an outside food court, just tell the card checker you’re there to get membership information and head for the food court. Be sure to bring cash, as that’s all they’ll take.”

Buy Gas

You can fill up at Costco’s fuel centers if you pay with a Costco Cash Card. So if you have a friend who is willing to buy the warehouse club’s gift cards for you, you can take advantage of Costco’s low-priced gas. “It’s much cheaper than other gas stations,” Wang said. Costco’s gas prices are usually 20 cents a gallon less than the national average.

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About the Author

Cameron Huddleston is an award-winning journalist with more than 18 years of experience writing about personal finance. Her work has appeared in Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Business Insider, Chicago Tribune, Fortune, MSN, USA Today and many more print and online publications. She also is the author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk: How to Have Essential Conversations With Your Parents About Their Finances. U.S. News & World Report named her one of the top personal finance experts to follow on Twitter, and AOL Daily Finance named her one of the top 20 personal finance influencers to follow on Twitter. She has appeared on CNBC, CNN, MSNBC and “Fox & Friends” and has been a guest on ABC News Radio, Wall Street Journal Radio, NPR, WTOP in Washington, D.C., KGO in San Francisco and other personal finance radio shows nationwide. She also has been interviewed and quoted as an expert in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Forbes, MarketWatch and more. She has an MA in economic journalism from American University and BA in journalism and Russian studies from Washington & Lee University.
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