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Costco has 3 ways to shop without a membership, but the math still favors paying the fee

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  • Costco has been clamping down shoppers using membership cards that don’t belong to them.

  • There are still ways to shop without a membership: online, with a gift card, or as a member’s guest.

  • The extra charges and hassle of workarounds can quickly add up to more than the annual fee, though.

Costco’s Netflix-style crackdown on unauthorized membership sharing over the past year raises a perennial question about how to access the jumbo packs of toilet paper, tubs of peanut-butter pretzels, 40-pound bags of dog food, and other staples without signing up for a membership.

Access to the warehouse club and its bulk-price deals is primarily reserved for card-carrying shoppers with Gold Star, Executive, or Business memberships, which start at $60 per year and include two access for two shoppers who live in the same household (or work for the same business).

Still, there are a few ways to shop Costco’s selection without paying the fee. Here are three:

1. Shop online without a Costco membership

While some of Costco.com is reserved for members, non-members are able to buy items through the site’s Same-Day option, on Instacart, or with a brand new partnership with Uber Eats, where about 2,000 fresh, frozen, grocery, and household items are available for delivery.

The best prices on those platforms are reserved for members only, so the savings compared to another retailer, like Walmart or Amazon, might not be as substantial for non-members. Uber says members will pay 15% to 20% less than non-members, and non-members may be assessed a 5% surcharge on some orders processed through Instacart.

Analysis from Insider’s Reviews team found the best prices on Costco items are found in-person at a warehouse, while online member pricing was slightly higher, and non-member prices were higher still.

For example, a 30-roll pack of toilet paper was available in-store for $19.99, but on Instacart cost $21.85 for members and $24.87 for non-members.

The Insider team created a sample shopping cart of popular items that totaled $131.10 for a non-member shopping via Instacart, but just $96.60 for a member shopping in-store, a savings of $34.50. In that scenario, the $60 membership fee basically pays for itself after just two trips to a warehouse.

2. Use a Costco gift card without a membership

Another popular workaround is to use a Costco gift card, known as a Shop Card, which allows shoppers to access the warehouse to use the funds.

The hitch with this approach is that Shop Cards are only available for members to purchase and have a minimum value of $25.

That $25 would quickly be used up in one visit, and could be a useful hack for helping friends and family stock up on back-to-school supplies, though you might catch some pushback trying to buy $200 more stuff than your gift card is loaded for.

It’s an easy a way to let someone explore the club on their own, without the commitment of a membership, and if they do decide to sign up, the Shop Card funds are redeemable toward the annual fee.

3. Visit the Costco warehouse as the guest of a member

Costco’s policy allows members to bring two guests with them to the warehouse, but once again there is a hitch: technically only the member is allowed to pay for purchases.

As with the Shop Card hack, this approach depends on a fair amount of trust between the member and the non-member, not to mention coordinating schedules to make a trip to the warehouse and sort everything out on Venmo afterward.

Bottom line: It probably makes sense to just pay the fee — it’s refundable anyway

Given the costs and complications of trying to avoid shelling out the $60 membership fee, it actually makes financial sense to just pay the charge for shoppers who will make more than a couple Costco trips per year.

An Insider’s Reviews team found, the prices of bulk-size items can add up quickly, and shaving a few percent off in fees means the breakeven point comes after just a few trips.

As the company puts it, “rest assured that the cost of membership can be recovered quickly thanks to massive price savings once you start shopping.”

The math starts to get even more interesting when considering whether to upgrade to the $120 Executive level.

Either way, the real kicker is even simpler: if you don’t think the membership is worth it, you can get a refund.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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