7 Ways to Shop at Costco Without a Membership

Here's how to walk the aisles of Costco without paying to join the beloved warehouse club.

7 Ways to Shop at Costco Without a Membership Photo by Trong Nguyen / Shutterstock.com

Americans love Costco. It has dominated the American Consumer Satisfaction Index for three years running, outranking not only other warehouse clubs but other retailers in general as well.

Perhaps it’s no wonder the chain has more than 92 million card-carrying members. Still, Costco memberships have become more expensive in the past year — and it turns out you can enjoy some aspects of Costco without a membership anyway.

So, if you let your membership lapse or are unsure whether it’s worth joining Costco, consider some of these methods for shopping the beloved wholesale chain without paying for a membership:

1. Shop online

Anyone can shop Costco.com, although there are two hitches for nonmembers:

  • You will be charged a 5 percent surcharge, so you’ll pay 5 percent more than the product prices you see on Costco’s website. The only exception is for prescription drugs.
  • You cannot redeem the “Members-Only Savings” offers.

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 percent surcharge would amount to less than the cost of a $60 annual membership.

2. Use a gift card

Costco gift cards are known as Costco Cash Cards. They have no expiration date and are available in amounts from $25 to $1,000.

Only members can buy Costco Cash Cards or add money to them, but anyone can use them as payment.

Specifically, according to the card terms, this means “nonmembers may use the Costco Cash Cards to shop at any Costco location in the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada and online.” The 5 percent nonmember surcharge will still apply to online purchases, however.

If you don’t shop at Costco often, a Costco Cash 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.

3. Go as a guest

Here’s another option for folks who want to shop in 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 picked 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

Some third-party delivery services, such as Instacart and Google Express, will pick up what you want from Costco for you and bring it to your home. There’s no waiting in line and no membership necessary on your part.

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, though. 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 percent surcharge for nonmembers who order online.

Additionally, nonmembers can generally use the pharmacies in Costco clubs. Just note that this can vary from state to state due to differences in state laws. Costco states that pharmacies are open to nonmembers “where required by state law.”

Also, 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 co-pays 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 to what Costco charges for your medications.

Costco pharmacies also carry pet medications.

For more tips, check out “6 Ways Warehouse Stores Get You to Spend Too Much.”

What’s your favorite way to save money at warehouse clubs? Share with us by commenting below or over on our Facebook page.

Karla Bowsher
Karla Bowsher
I’m a freelance journalist and former newspaper reporter who has covered both personal and public finance. I've worked for a top 50 major metro daily and a community newspaper as well as ... More

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