Americans love Costco. The warehouse chain has more than 116 million card-carrying members.
A membership with Costco is not free, but here’s a little secret: It turns out you can enjoy some aspects of Costco without paying for a membership.
Consider some of these methods that allow anyone to shop at Costco:
1. Shop online
Anyone can shop Costco.com, although there are two hitches for nonmembers:
- You will be charged a 5% surcharge, so you’ll pay 5% more than the product prices you see on Costco’s website. Generally, the only exception is for prescription drugs.
- You cannot redeem offers designated as “Member-Only Savings.”
Additionally, some items sold in Costco clubs — like many foods — are unavailable on Costco’s website.
Still, if you prefer to shop online or you spend less than $1,200 a year at Costco, paying the nonmember surcharge might make more sense than buying a membership. As long as you spend less than $1,200 a year on Costco’s site, the 5% surcharge would amount to less than the cost of a $60 annual Gold Star membership.
2. Use a gift card
Costco gift cards are known as Costco Shop Cards. They have no expiration date and are available in amounts from $25 to $2,000.
Only members can buy Costco Shop Cards or add money to them, but anyone can use them as payment.
Specifically, according to the card terms, this means the following:
“Nonmembers, as well as members, may use Costco Shop Cards to shop at any Costco location in the U.S., Canada, or Puerto Rico, as well as online at Costco.com and Costco.ca.”
As we have pointed out, nonmembers who have a Costco Shop Card can even buy gas at Costco.
If you don’t shop at Costco often, a Costco Shop Card might make more sense than a membership card. So consider asking a friend or relative who is a Costco member if they’d buy you a card and let you pay them back or pay them upfront for it. You may also be able to find these in online gift card marketplaces like Raise.
3. Go as a guest
Here’s another option for folks who want to shop at a Costco club but won’t do so often.
Costco allows members to bring up to two guests every time they visit a club. Only members can purchase items, but you could offer to pay back the member you accompany for anything you pick out.
4. Use a Household Card
If you live with a Costco member, you might be able to get a free membership card in the form of what Costco calls a “Household Card.”
Costco’s individual membership comes with one membership card for the primary member as well as one free Household Card. The latter card can be used by anyone who is over the age of 18 and lives at the same address as the primary member.
Costco’s Business Membership also comes with one free Household Card for every paying member, meaning the primary member and any add-on members (aka affiliates).
5. Use a delivery service
These services aren’t available in every city and generally aren’t free, though. On top of the cost of your purchases, you’ll usually pay a delivery fee, presumably a tip and possibly an additional fee if you are not a Costco member.
6. See the optometrist
In need of an eye exam? Nonmembers can see on-site optometrists at Costco clubs.
Nonmembers cannot purchase optical items, however. So it might be wise to first check out “Lookin’ Good! How to Get a Killer Deal on Eyeglasses.”
Not all Costco clubs have optical departments. Visit the “Find a Warehouse” page to look up specific locations, and click on “Store Details” to find out whether a location has an optical department.
7. Buy prescription drugs
Prescription drugs are the one exception to Costco’s 5% surcharge for nonmembers who order online.
Additionally, nonmembers can use the pharmacies in Costco clubs. According to Costco:
“You don’t need to be a Costco member to purchase Costco Pharmacy prescriptions online or at our warehouses. Our Pharmacy counter will accept several different forms of payment, including cash, debit/ATM cards, Costco Shop Cards, and Visa.”
Not all Costco locations have pharmacies. So nonmembers might want to call ahead before using a brick-and-mortar Costco pharmacy for the first time. Again, visit the “Find a Warehouse” page to find out whether a location has a pharmacy.
If your prescription drug costs are limited to copays, and you don’t frequent Costco, you’re probably better off using your nearest pharmacy. But if you pay out of pocket for prescriptions, compare what you currently pay with what Costco charges for your medications.
Costco pharmacies also carry medications for your pet.