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Is It Worth Joining Costco if You Never Visit in Person?

Woman accepting a delivery of groceries.

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Most stores don’t require you to pay an annual membership fee to shop there — but Costco is a bit different. To access Costco’s members-only deals, you’ll pay either $60 per year for a Gold Star membership or $120 per year for an Executive membership (with this one, you’ll earn 2% back on most Costco purchases). To make a Costco membership worthwhile, you need to save at least as much money as you spend on the membership.

The most obvious way to benefit is to visit a warehouse location and purchase items there, such as bulk groceries with a lower unit price than you’d see at a grocery store. But what if you live far away from a Costco warehouse, or just plain hate big crowds when you shop? (Guilty on both counts.) Here are two good ways to make a Costco membership work for you — even if you avoid visiting in person.

Costco Travel

Did you know that Costco basically has a built-in travel agency for members? Ever since I learned about it, I’ve been thinking about joining Costco so I can book a vacation this way. Costco Travel doesn’t do flight bookings without other travel, but you can book vacation packages, hotel stays, cruises, and rental cars there (and if your trip requires flights, you’ll do that through Costco alongside the rest of your trip).

I decided to explore cruise bookings, and picked out a cruise that interested me to see if Costco Travel was cheaper than a direct booking. In this instance, it was. I found a price of $539 per person for an inside cabin on a seven-night New England and Eastern Canada cruise sailing in October 2024. The price with the cruise line was $649 per person. That savings alone more than covers a basic membership — and if you take a friend, you’ll cover the Executive membership cost, too.

And when you book travel with Costco, you often get a Costco Shop Card as a thank you (it’s basically a Costco gift card), and this cruise was no exception. So Costco Travel can be a viable way to earn back your membership fee without shopping in person.

Costco.com

Another good way to capitalize on your Costco membership while avoiding the crowds is to shop online. Plus, you’ll actually find a bigger selection of items on the website than you will in stores. It’s important to note that Costco.com’s prices are often higher than what you’ll see in stores, though — but the convenience factor can’t be beat, especially if you live far from a Costco location. It’s also easier to comparison shop via the internet. And unlike visiting a warehouse, you’re allowed to use Mastercard credit cards at Costco.com, rather than being limited to only Visa for credit card purchases in store.

While you can buy furniture, appliances, and beyond at Costco.com, let’s hone in on electronics specifically. I found that I could score a 13″ iPad Pro with 512 GB of memory for $50 less at Costco.com than buying it directly from Apple, for example. While $50 off isn’t enough to completely cover the cost of a $60 membership (let alone a $120 one), Costco is constantly running deals on all kinds of big-ticket items, and if you make some strategic online purchases over the course of a year (or even all at once), you could easily make your membership fee back and then some.

And when you buy a big-ticket item from Costco, you get some pretty sweet perks besides the money savings. Costco has a stellar return policy — with a few exceptions (like alcohol and tobacco purchases), it’ll take nearly anything back, even if you’ve just decided you don’t like the item, and there’s nothing actually wrong with it. Worth mentioning however, electronics (like that iPad) are only eligible for a 90-day return window. But that’s still more time than you might get from some vendors, like Amazon. Plus, Costco extends the manufacturer’s warranty to give you two years of protection on TVs, computers, and more.

Is it worth joining Costco and then never visiting in person?

Honestly, yes. You might not get to take advantage of that famous $1.50 hot dog combo deal at the food court, but Costco has a lot to offer even if you never set foot inside a warehouse. And if you see yourself making big-ticket purchases and/or booking travel through Costco, it might even be worth springing for the $120 Executive membership — getting 2% back on electronics, new furniture, or a sweet vacation can be beneficial for your budget.

Top credit card to use at Costco (and everywhere else!)

If you’re shopping with a debit card, you could be missing out on hundreds or even thousands of dollars each year. These versatile credit cards offer huge rewards everywhere, including Costco, and are rated the best cards of 2024 by our experts because they offer hefty sign-up bonuses and outstanding cash rewards. Plus, you’ll save on credit card interest because all of these recommendations include a competitive 0% interest period.

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We’re firm believers in the Golden Rule, which is why editorial opinions are ours alone and have not been previously reviewed, approved, or endorsed by included advertisers.
The Ascent does not cover all offers on the market. Editorial content from The Ascent is separate from The Motley Fool editorial content and is created by a different analyst team.John Mackey, former CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Amazon, Apple, Costco Wholesale, Mastercard, and Visa. The Motley Fool recommends the following options: long January 2025 $370 calls on Mastercard and short January 2025 $380 calls on Mastercard. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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