Is AAA Worth the Cost?

Are you a member of AAA, formerly known as the American Automobile Association? I used to be. But that was back in the day when getting travelers checks with no fee was a sought-after benefit. (Yep, that’s how long ago it was.)

Was I wrong to drop my membership? Let’s take another look at some of the benefits of joining AAA and see if they outweigh the cost. (Keep in mind that AAA is actually a federation of clubs, so costs and services may be different where you live.)

Cost of membership

  • Basic. Its’ $76 to join here in Montana. That includes a one-time $15 enrollment fee, and each additional family member costs $27.
  • Plus. It’s $113 for the primary member.
  • Premier. It’s $148 for the primary member. This is the top tier, and includes service for motorcycles, recreational vehicles and trailers.

All memberships come with free basic services, like maps, trip planning help and tour books, and four roadside assistance calls a year. Note that your membership is tied to you, not to your vehicle. So if you’re riding with someone who runs out of gas, AAA will still send someone to help you.

You can compare the services provided to each membership level here. (There’s also a student membership.)

Again, remember that costs vary across the country. AAA South, for instance, charges $66 a year for Classic membership, $100 a year for Plus, and $126 for Premier. The cost of adding other family members ranges from $30 to $65 a year, although there is a discount in the first year.

Roadside assistance

Roadside assistance is often cited as the reason why people buy a AAA membership. The service in Montana includes towing of up to seven miles for Basic membership and 100 miles for Plus and Premier (which also gets one 200-mile tow). Roadside service can also provide jump-starts, tire changes, fuel delivery (Plus and Premier get free fuel) and locksmith services. AAA in some locations also offers roadside assistance to bicyclists.

Now, let’s compare that with the roadside assistance I get with my car insurance. It covers towing for 150 miles (here in Montana, my insurance company will also reimburse for longer tows), tire changes, jump-starts, gasoline, locksmith, etc. There is no limit on the number of calls, and roadside assistance is not considered a claim and won’t increase my insurance rates. I get all of this for $4.30 every six months. The coverage is tied to my car, so it won’t help if I’m riding with someone else who has a breakdown.

To make the comparison with AAA, you’ll want to see what your car insurance provides and at what cost. While you’re at it, check to see if you have roadside assistance with your credit card. You may also be able to buy it for a small fee from your wireless company. Or it might have been included with the deal when you bought your car.

Discounts

AAA says members save on average $101 a year with member discounts on hotels, restaurants, auto parts, etc., and this does seem to be the area where you can make your membership pay for itself. AAA membership entitles you to discounts at a surprisingly wide range of attractions, retailers and other businesses. A few examples:

  • Disney, SeaWorld and Universal parks and resorts.
  • Six Flags.
  • Restaurants, including Hard Rock Café and MacKenzie River Pizza Co., and also locally owned spots with only one location. If you’re already a member, you should always ask about the discount when you eat out.
  • Hotel chains like Best Western and Hyatt, as well as local inns like Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky, Mont.
  • A $10 monthly credit for 20 months if you sign up for DirecTV. (Make sure that deals like these don’t prohibit you from getting an even better offer for new customers.)
  • 10 percent off or more on some car rentals.
  • Discounts at LensCrafters and Pearle Vision.
  • Discounts at stores like Gap, Banana Republic and Payless.

Sounds good. But keep in mind that you may already be entitled to discounts because of some other membership you have, like $16-a-year AARP. Or if you’ve signed up for emails from a business you frequent or liked it on Facebook, you may already have access to wonderful deals. You really have to consider how you spend and whether AAA membership provides real value.

Insurance and other financial products

You can buy insurance from AAA. You can also get a credit card, certificates of deposit, and an online savings account (with a 0.7 percent APY). Are these a good deal? There’s no guarantee you’re going to get better insurance rates with AAA or any other group that sells insurance to members. Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson explored that issue in a video a couple years ago.

As with all financial products, don’t buy until you compare the rates and terms offered by at least three competitors.

AAA no longer advertises travelers checks, but it has a prepaid debit card and also will sell you 75 different types of foreign money. An order of $1,000 or more in foreign currency has free shipping! When I checked, you could get 1,000 euros for $1,427.14. That day, a euro was worth $1.31. I’d rather wait until I arrive in the euro zone and get a better rate using my debit card in an ATM machine.

What do you think? Is AAA membership worth the cost? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page.

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Comments & discussion

We welcome your opinions, but let’s keep it civil. Like many businesses, we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. In our case, that means those who communicate by name-calling, racism, using words designed to hurt others or generally acting like an uninformed bully. Also, comments that include links to email addresses or commercial websites typically aren't posted. This isn't a place to advertise your business.

  • MNUSN

    Luv AAA

    • gail

      I called AAA to book a room at an airport hotel for the Park and Fly Plan. I was quoted one price. I looked up the hotel online, and found the same offer for $18 less. I booked online, and called AAA back to say how disappointed I was that AAA was more expensive. All the rep could say was that she was also disappointed.

  • Robert Pugh

    Seems like you haven’t done all the research. AAA provides DMV service (car registration, transfer, license plates, vanity plates, moving permits, etc), identity theft protection,a car-buying service, a Home Improvement and Repair network, approved auto repair facilities, discounted movie and attraction tickets, notary services, passport photos, and a full service Travel Agency with specific member benefits, It does depend a bit on the club you belong to, but you’ve grossly oversimplified the offerings of the Auto Club.

  • Kerd9999

    AAA is awesome! Claims service is rated way higher than Geico, Progressive, All State et al.

  • Karen Lea Hinson

    You forgot to mention the most important thing in your article (in my
    opinion) and that is the level of SERVICE you get from AAA. If you have
    ever been broken down, waiting on the side of the road, then you know
    that knowing that you can call AAA, talk to a real person whose job it
    is to find out exactly where you are, if you are safe, if you need to
    contact someone (perhaps your cell is dying, or you need to call your
    boss, AAA will do that), and so much more. I could really care less if
    AARP or some other Roadside is used if I have call some number and only
    God knows who is coming. AAA is a TRUSTED brand a members-first company
    and worth every penny even if the other services are never used.

  • Setsunafse

    AAA is worth every penny for its discounts and other benefits, and especially its basic DMV services. Th DMV services alone, along with the convenience, and shorter lines twice a year, and the time savings is worth its membership.

  • Clay

    AAA isn’t cheap, at $118 annually for the mid-tier level (AAA Plus) for me and my wife. But their customer service is tops, and we got to drop the over-priced LifeLock thanks to AAA’s free ProtectMyID. I had no idea of DMV service cited by Robert. I don’t find anything about that on my AAA website.

    • BigDog40

      I was not aware of the AAA’s free ProtectMyID and will check on it Monday. Thanks.

    • Patrick Seitz

      My local AAA (Central California) does have DMV services but I didn’t know about the identity theft protection. I’m definitely going to look into that, thanks!

  • Allan Levy

    When my wife broke down in Montgomery County, it took two hours. When I needed a jump after leaving a car light on, the battery truck arrived in ten minutes but insisted I needed a new battery. The next truck insisted all was well. AAA would not accept any blame . I do not trust them.

  • John

    Something I don’t like is Waiting 1 hours for help…….

  • Sharon Richardson

    I love my AAA and will never drop it. In Calif my membership for me and my daughter is about $100 and well worth it. We get DMV services and their roadside assistance is amazing. I wouldn’t give AARP one dime of my money.

  • Eugene Ackerman

    Like some of the others, I was not aware of the ID protection program. I will look into that. I wouldn’t give up on my AAA. We just had our free passport photos done there, I always get maps etc prior to traveling. When my battery quit six months ago they were to me in 15 min. The replacement was comparably priced and the warranty will be easier to utilize. Many people don’t realize they also sell movie tickets at up to $4.00 off.