Costco, the behemoth membership-only warehouse club, can provide great savings for those who use their services regularly. Most people, members or not, know about their discounted grocery items, but many don’t utilize the discounts available outside of the busy warehouse aisles. This article highlights some of the top ways a Costco membership can practically pay for itself, often without even needing to actually enter a Costco store.
I have used Costco to rent cars twice in the past year and they were both significant savings over anything I could find elsewhere. Costco has a partnership with four well known car rental agencies (Alamo, Avis, Advantage, and Enterprise). You make your search and book your reservation on the Costco Travel website, and then pick up your car at the normal car rental agency location. Most recently, I needed a one-day, one-way rental from West Palm Beach to Ft Lauderdale. Rates on other aggregate sites were going for well over $50 for the lesser known car agencies, and over $70 for the top brands. On the Costco Travel website, however, I was able to rent with Alamo for only $22. The other time was during our honeymoon, and we were able to save around $25 on the cost of a convertible for six days. These savings alone more than made up for the annual fee of a Costco membership. Two other advantages, that some other sites charge extra for, are that you do not need to prepay to get their discount rate, so cancellations are a breeze, and the price always includes a second driver.
Credit: Eric TurnerI don’t have personal experience here, but the vacation packages are listed on the same Costco Travel website as the car rentals, so every now and then I check them out and they seem like very good deals. The packages usually include airfare, lodging and car rental, and come with extra perks such as dining credit, free breakfasts, free valet, or a Costco gift card. The destinations seem to be heavy on the warm weather, island locations (for example, the Caribbean, Hawaii, and Fiji), but also include Vegas, Orlando, and many cities in Europe and Mexico. If you’re thinking about a trip to one of these areas, it is certainly worth checking out. One of my best friends booked their Hawaiian honeymoon through one of these packages and said it was an excellent value, and was happy it reduced some of the stress of planning by packaging everything together.
Gift cards sold at Costco typically are discounted 20% off the cash value of the cards, and can be even better value for specialized attractions. The list of partners is extensive and covers chain restaurants, movies, and activities and also some local attractions. In the Los Angeles location that I frequent, in addition to the typical chain restaurants and theaters, the also have discounted tickets to Universal Studios and California ski resorts. My wife and I bought a two day ski lift ticket package for two to Mammoth Mountain this past winter, and the discount off the resort’s listed prices was enough to offset the entire year’s membership fees by itself. Definitely worth keeping in mind if you visit the same restaurants or movie theaters frequently, like giving gift cards as presents, or are planning a trip to a local theme park or attraction.
My local Costco is not quite close enough to make a trip just for gas, but I will sometimes plan my grocery trips based on how empty my tank is. If I’m shopping at the warehouse, I definitely want to stop at the pump too as their gas tends to be around 30 cents cheaper than other competitors.
$1.50 for a large hot dog and a soda or $10 for a large pepperoni pie are pretty cheap meal options, and the food's not bad either. Although they don't have an extensive menu, they do have several other affordable items including sandwiches, salads, smoothies, and desserts. It may depend on the location, but most don’t ask for proof of membership to make purchases at the food court.
Additional Benefits of an Executive Membership
Costco has two tiers of membership, Gold and Executive. The Executive level costs $55 more than the Gold level, but does come with access to a few additional benefits. The main one that is advertised is that it comes with an 2% annual cash-back reward on all purchases at Costco. You would need to average $230 of Costco purchases per month for this upgrade to pay itself back over the Gold Membership, so this is geared more toward the regular Costco shoppers. However, the higher level does come with a few other benefits that can make it an even stronger consideration. I'll admit that I don't have direct experience with any of these, and am just reporting it for informational reasons. I didn't even know they existed until I was researching for this article, so thought many others might be in the same situation and might be interested. The extra perks include lower prices on check printing, auto financing, one-year free roadside assistance for vehicles covered through the Auto Insurance program and additional travel benefits.
There is really no risk in upgrading though, because Costco will refund the extra $55 for the higher membership and downgrade you to Gold at any time if you are not completely satisfied.
These are just a few of the many discounts you can get from Costco without needing to navigate the warehouse aisles. It is definitely something to keep in mind if you are already a member. And if you do not currently have a membership because you thought the fees were too high to be worth it, perhaps one or more of these additional benefits could make enrollment a better value to you. Then again, if none of these are of interest to you, remember you can always get a great deal on an 80-pack of toilet paper too.