Photo (cc) by paul.orear
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 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.
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.