Costco Membership vs. Sam's Club Membership: Which One Should You Choose?

| Published | LAST UPDATED .

In the world of bulk shopping, two giants reign supreme: Costco and Sam's Club. These warehouse clubs offer a plethora of products, from toilet paper to televisions, in jumbo-sized quantities. But to gain access to their treasure troves, you need a membership card. So, the burning question is, should you get a membership at Costco or Sam's Club? Let's embark on this membership showdown to help you make an informed decision.


The Battle Begins: Membership Costs

First things first, let's talk dollars and cents. The cost of your membership is a critical factor in the decision-making process. At the end of the day, nobody wants to spend more than necessary just to shop for bulk bargains.

Costco Membership:

Costco offers two primary membership tiers


  • Gold Star: This is the basic membership level at Costco and costs $60 per year. It includes one household card, allowing you and a family member or friend to shop together.
  • Executive Membership: For those who shop frequently, Costco offers an Executive Membership for $120 annually. This membership comes with additional benefits, such as 2% cashback on eligible purchases and extra discounts on Costco services like travel and insurance.

Sam's Club Membership:


  • Club Membership: Sam's Club also offers a basic membership called the "Club Membership" priced at $45 per year. It includes one primary card and one complimentary household card.
  • Plus Membership: Sam's Club has an upgraded option called the "Plus Membership" costing $100 per year. This membership provides extra perks, including cash rewards, early shopping hours, and discounts on select prescription medications.

Now, let's break this down with a real-life example:

Imagine you're a family of four looking to join one of these warehouse clubs. If you opt for the basic memberships, Costco would cost you $60 per year, while Sam's Club would cost $45. However, keep in mind that the Costco Gold Star membership allows only one additional household card, while Sam's Club's Club Membership includes a complimentary household card. This means that, in this scenario, Sam's Club is already offering better value for your family.

But hold on, there's more to consider!

Cashback and Rewards: Executive vs. Plus

If you're looking to maximize your savings, it's worth diving deeper into the rewards programs these clubs offer.

Costco Executive Membership:

  • For an extra $60 a year, the Executive Membership might seem like a splurge, but it comes with a unique perk: 2% cashback on eligible purchases. This can be a game-changer if you're a frequent shopper or planning significant purchases.

Sam's Club Plus Membership:

  • The Plus Membership at Sam's Club costs an extra $55 per year compared to the basic membership. However, it offers cash rewards on qualifying purchases, early shopping hours, and discounts on prescription medications. These perks can be particularly valuable if you have specific health needs or prefer shopping before the crowds.

Let's crunch the numbers:

Suppose you spend $3,000 annually at one of these clubs. With the Costco Executive Membership, you'd earn $60 in cashback. On the other hand, Sam's Club Plus Membership gives you the potential to earn cash rewards and access to early shopping hours, which can enhance your shopping experience.

Store Locations: Accessibility Matters

Picture this: You're craving a slice of that famous Costco pizza, or perhaps you urgently need to restock your pantry. Convenience plays a significant role in deciding between a Costco and Sam's Club membership.


  • As of my last update in September 2021, Costco had more than 800 locations in the United States. This makes it relatively accessible for most shoppers.

Sam's Club:

  • Sam's Club was also widespread, with over 600 clubs across the United States in the same timeframe. While slightly fewer locations, it's still highly accessible for most Americans.

Before committing to a membership, it's a good idea to check the store locations in your area and see which club is more convenient for you. After all, you don't want to be driving an extra 30 minutes just to grab a bulk-sized bag of chips.

Product Selection: What's on Your Shopping List?

Now, let's get into the nitty-gritty of what truly matters—the products. Both Costco and Sam's Club offer a vast array of items, but they aren't identical. Your decision might boil down to what's on your shopping list.


  • Costco is renowned for its high-quality private label products, like Kirkland Signature. You'll find a wide variety of organic and natural options, making it a favorite among health-conscious shoppers.
  • Their electronics section is a hotspot for tech enthusiasts, offering competitive prices on everything from laptops to home theater systems.
  • If you're into sampling before you buy, Costco's free food samples are a legendary attraction. It's practically a mini food festival.

Sam's Club:

  • Sam's Club is known for its excellent meat and produce selection. If you're a carnivore or love fresh fruits and vegetables, this could be a deciding factor.
  • They also have a solid electronics department and frequently run deals on big-ticket items like TVs and appliances.
  • Sam's Club might have a slight edge in terms of snack foods and bulk junk food options. If you're stocking up for a party or have a family of snackers, keep this in mind.

Remember, your shopping preferences should guide your choice. Take a look at your typical shopping list and see which club aligns better with your needs.

Services and Perks: Beyond Shopping

Warehouse clubs aren't just about buying in bulk; they offer additional services and perks that can sweeten the deal.


  • Travel Services: Costco Travel is a well-regarded service that offers vacation packages, cruises, and rental car discounts for members.
  • Pharmacy and Optical Services: You can fill prescriptions and get eye exams at Costco, potentially saving you money on healthcare.
  • Tire Center: Costco offers competitive prices on tires and provides services like balancing and rotation.

Sam's Club:

  • Fuel Stations: Many Sam's Club locations have fuel stations that offer members-only discounts on gasoline.
  • Tire and Battery Center: Similar to Costco, Sam's Club has a Tire and Battery Center for your automotive needs.
  • Instant Savings: Sam's Club often offers instant savings on various items throughout the store, making it easier to snag a deal.

Customer Service and Return Policies

Nobody likes encountering a problem with their purchase, but it happens. When it does, you want a smooth and hassle-free resolution.


Costco is famous for its generous return policy. They have a satisfaction guarantee, which means you can return items for a full refund if you're not satisfied, with some exceptions.

Customer service at Costco is generally highly regarded. They prioritize member satisfaction and strive to resolve issues promptly.

Sam's Club:

  • Sam's Club also has a robust return policy, allowing most items to be returned within 90 days of purchase. However, some electronics may have a shorter return window.
  • Customer service experiences can vary by location, but Sam's Club is known for addressing issues satisfactorily.

Making the Decision

Now that we've compared Costco and Sam's Club in various categories, it's time to make a decision. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you choose between the two:

Step 1: Determine Your Shopping Needs

Take a moment to think about what you buy most frequently. Are you looking for high-quality organic groceries? Do you need a wider variety of electronics and appliances? Identifying your primary shopping needs will guide your decision.

Step 2: Evaluate Your Budget

Consider your budget for a warehouse club membership. Sam's Club has a lower entry-level fee, which might be appealing if you're looking to save on membership costs.

Step 3: Assess the Store Layout

Think about your shopping preferences. Do you prefer a spacious and minimalist layout (Costco), or are you okay with a more cluttered environment (Sam's Club)?

Step 4: Compare Perks and Services

Review the perks and services offered by each club. Are you interested in cashback rewards and extended warranties (Costco), or do you value free shipping and early shopping hours (Sam's Club)?

Step 5: Read Reviews and Ask for Recommendations

Before making your final decision, read online reviews and ask friends or family who are members of either club for their recommendations.

Step 6: Visit Both Stores

If possible, make a visit to both stores to get a feel for their atmosphere, product selection, and overall shopping experience.

Step 7: Weigh the Pros and Cons

Make a list of the pros and cons of each club based on your specific needs and preferences. This will help you make an informed decision.

Step 8: Make Your Choice

After careful consideration, choose the club that aligns best with your needs and budget. Remember that both clubs offer a satisfaction guarantee for their memberships, so you can always make a switch if you find you made the wrong choice.

Georgetta F. Palsen

Georgetta F. Palsen

About the author

Georgetta F. Palsen spearheads the Loyalty Programs Project, aiming to unravel the global impact of loyalty programs. Leading a dedicated team, she adopts an interdisciplinary approach to explore these programs' influence on consumer behavior and capitalism, offering critical insights for academics and businesses navigating the complexities of today's societal dynamics. More info