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The shopper's guide to Amazon Prime: Benefits, prices, plans

Everything you need to know about an Amazon Prime membership — and whether you qualify for a discounted rate.
Hands holding boxes
Amazon Prime members can shop Prime Day deals as well as take advantage of dozens of other benefits throughout the year.PURPLE MARBLES / Alamy Stock Photo

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Amazon Prime Day is roughly a month away, set to take place sometime in July, and experts recommend preparing for the sales event starting now. One of the best ways to do so is to sign up for a Prime membership. Only Prime members get full access to the sale and other exclusive perks during the event.

Beyond Prime Day itself — which has evolved over its history — Prime members get a handful of other benefits, among those a new Buy with Prime checkout option at participating online stores. The plethora of benefits Prime members have access to incentivizes new membership sign-ups, explained Amanda Bourlier, who oversees global retailing research at market research company Euromonitor International.

SKIP AHEAD Prime membership cost | Prime membership benefits

Whether you’re considering a Prime membership for yourself before Prime Day 2022 or you and your family already have one, make sure you’re aware of the price tag before signing up or renewing. To help you decide whether to invest in an Amazon Prime subscription, we break down the membership below. It’s worth noting that Amazon also offers loyalty programs in the form of a store credit card and an Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card — here’s what to know before signing up for Amazon’s credit card.

What is an Amazon Prime membership and how much does it cost?

An Amazon Prime membership includes various perks, including free delivery (two-day, one-day and same-day delivery options), streaming, shopping and reading benefits on its site. Prime members can also share their Prime benefits with one other adult for free, including free Amazon delivery, streaming access, free shipping at Shopbop and free upgraded shipping at Zappos.

“A Prime member probably doesn’t just shop from Amazon,” Bourlier said. “In addition to shopping on Amazon, they can buy groceries from Whole Foods, listen to audiobooks with Audible, subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, watch Amazon Video and use Amazon Echo speakers.”

Amazon Prime membership cost and special Prime Day savings

With the new price increase, an Amazon Prime membership costs $15 a month (up from $13 a month), or you can pay $139 annually (previously $119). The yearly Prime membership includes a 30-day free trial.

Amazon also offers two discounted Prime memberships: Prime Student and an option for those who qualify for certain types of government assistance programs.

  1. The Prime Student membership recently increased in price from $59 a year to $69 a year. The student membership typically comes with exclusive offers like Amazon Music Unlimited for $1 a month and discounts on textbooks. A Prime Student membership also comes with a free monthly Grubhub+ Student membership with unlimited delivery and up to 10% off flights and hotels through StudentUniverse. Prime Student also recently partnered with LinkedIn to offer new and existing Prime Student members six months of LinkedIn Premium for free. Students can get a six-month free trial before they have to start paying for their Prime membership. To purchase a student membership, you’ll need a valid .edu email address.
  2. For those who qualify for certain types of government assistance programs, like EBT and Medicaid, Amazon offers a discounted Prime membership that’s about half the price of a standard membership. The discounted option is $7 a month and you have to verify your qualification every 12 months. Members get the same benefits as those who pay the standard Prime membership rate. If you’re currently paying full price for a Prime account but qualify for the discounted rate, you can apply online by selecting a verification method. Once approved, your membership automatically switches over. And Amazon also now accepts SNAP EBT for eligible groceries and free shipping options are available.

What else is included in a Prime membership?

Multiple members of a family can also share Prime benefits like Prime shipping, video, photos and more through Amazon Household, which allows for up to 10 memberships:

  1. 2 adults (18 or older), each with their own Amazon account
  2. 4 teens (ages 13 to 17), each with their own Amazon login, which is different from an adult account in that adults can share digital content with teens and set viewing restrictions.
  3. 4 children (while children can’t shop on Amazon, adults can share content like eBooks, apps, and games with children).

Benefits of Amazon Prime memberships

According to James Thomson, a partner at marketing agency Buy Box Experts, “the most important thing Amazon can do is drive loyalty to the Amazon marketplace.” He said the retailer does so through its Prime membership and the variety of benefits it offers, many of which are designed to offer shoppers convenience. “The company wants to get consumers to say, ‘I’m not going to walk into a physical store because it’s so much easier to buy on Amazon,’” he said.

Fast delivery and shipping

  1. Free one-day shipping: A variety of items are eligible for next-day delivery with no minimum purchase for Prime members (cutoff time for eligible orders varies by zip code). When you’re shopping, filter items by “Get it tomorrow” to see which ones you can receive by 9 p.m. the next day.
  2. Free two-day shipping: This is available to Prime members who live in the contiguous U.S.
  3. Free same-day delivery: In select cities and towns — from New York City to San Francisco — Prime members can shop for items eligible for delivery on the same day they were ordered. Same-day delivery is available without a Prime membership for up to $13 per order for eligible items. Prime members get same-day delivery for free on qualifying orders over $25, and they can pay a delivery fee of up to $3 per order for those under $25.
  4. Free release-date delivery: Prime members can have eligible pre-order items delivered on their release date for free when they select Two-Day shipping
  5. Free no-rush shipping: Members who select no-rush shipping — which delays delivery on orders — can earn rewards to use on future purchases.

Amazon also recently launched Buy with Prime, a new service that allows Prime members to order items through other retailers’ websites using payment and shipping information stored on their Amazon account. The service also extends the free and fast delivery options members get through Amazon — the retailer said Prime members will see the Prime logo on eligible products in merchants’ online stores, which signals that the item is available for free delivery (sometimes even next-day delivery) with free returns. Buy with Prime is currently available by invitation only to some Amazon merchants, but the retailer said it will become more widely available in the future.

Other delivery perks include Amazon Day, which allows you to order items throughout the week and select up to two days to get everything delivered in fewer boxes. Additionally, Prime members who live in certain zip codes can get eligible items delivered inside their home with Amazon’s Key Smart Lock Kit (currently paused due to Covid), or inside their garage with Amazon’s Key Smart Garage Kit. You can monitor the delivery through the Key by Amazon app, and get notifications about packages while the delivery is in process.

Deals and discounts

In addition to Prime Day itself, Prime members are eligible for Prime Early Access, which gives them 30-minute early access to Lightning Deals on Amazon that typically last four to six hours. Beyond Prime Day deals, members get access to deals and discounts through Amazon Family, like 20 percent off diapers, baby food and more through Subscribe & Save, and 15 percent off eligible products from baby registries.

Groceries

In 2017, Amazon bought the grocery store chain Whole Foods Market, leading to exclusive savings both in stores and online for Prime members. Eligible Prime members with the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Card get 5 percent back on purchases at Whole Foods — other credit cards incentivize via deals with Amazon and its affiliates, too.

Prime members were previously entitled to free two-hour grocery delivery through Whole Foods Market and Amazon Fresh. However, in Oct. 2021, delivery from Whole Foods Market started to include a $10 service fee, and additional rush fees apply on one-hour delivery orders. Prime members get free grocery pickup on orders over $35. In select cities, you can order food and household items and receive items within two hours, or on another date and time you select.

Streaming and entertainment

  1. Prime Video: Prime Video offers unlimited streaming of movies and TV episodes for Prime members. It’s available for non-Prime members as a standalone streaming service for $9 a month.
  2. Amazon Channels: Prime members can watch shows and movies from channels like HBO, Showtime and STARZ through their Prime membership for $5 to $15 a month each without a cable subscription or additional apps.
  3. Prime Music: Prime Music offers members access to over two million unlimited, ad-free songs, as well as playlists and stations.
  4. Amazon Music Unlimited: Prime members can get discounted Amazon Music Unlimited monthly plans, and they have access to exclusive annual plans.
  5. Prime Gaming: Prime members have access to free games, in-game content and a free channel subscription on Twitch.tv every month. Additionally, Prime members can play a rotating selection of games for free through a dedicated channel on Luna, Amazon’s cloud gaming service. Luna recently launched in the U.S. for anyone to use, but Prime members get exclusive benefits through the platform.
  6. Prime Reading: Prime members have access to over a thousand books, magazines and more, which they can download onto their Kindle or Fire tablet, as well as read through the Kindle app. Prime Reading includes books with Audible narration, too — Kindle’s proprietary Whispersync helps you pick up where you left off while reading across devices, and Whispersync for Voice allows you to switch between listening to an audiobook and reading on your Kindle. Other reading perks include Amazon First Reads, which gives members early access to a new book for free every month.

Other Prime membership benefits

  1. Amazon Photos: A Prime membership gives you unlimited full-resolution photo storage and 5GB for video storage on Amazon Drive for you and the members of your Family Vault — this is especially notable as Google Photos ended its free storage plan in June 2021.
  2. Audible Premium Plus: Benefits include unlimited access to thousands of audiobooks, podcasts, originals and you can keep one premium title of your choosing each month.
  3. Prime Try Before You Buy: Get seven days to try on the clothing at home and only get charged for the items you keep — this includes shoes. Additionally, Prime members in select regions can pay an additional monthly membership fee to receive a monthly styling service.
  4. Amazon Elements: With a Prime membership, you have access to the retailer's exclusive line of everyday essentials, ranging from vitamins to baby wipes.
  5. Amazon Pharmacy: Get free two-day delivery and can take advantage of savings offers when you fulfill subscriptions with Amazon Pharmacy.

Amazon Prime: A short history

Amazon Prime launched in 2005, and it originally offered members benefits like two-day free shipping — the retailer charged an annual $79 for a membership initially. At the time, Bourlier said, this seemed like a pipe dream, and it has remained a substantial factor in motivating people to become Prime members. But over the years, Amazon has greatly expanded what members get when they join, like entertainment, fashion, savings and other perks.

Amazon Prime membership grew significantly during the pandemic. In a letter to Amazon shareholders in April 2021, executive chairman Jeff Bezos (who stepped down as CEO in July 2021) said there are more than 200 million Prime members worldwide — the retailer has not provided updated membership numbers since. In January 2020,Amazon had more than 150 million Prime members globally, according to marketing research company Digital Commerce 360 Thomson partially attributes the approximate 33-percent increase in members to the pandemic. Not only were people forced to stay home and increasingly depend on delivery services — like Prime Delivery — to shop for everything from office supplies to food, but they could also utilize Prime Video, Music, Reading and more to stay entertained. “Quite frankly, if Covid didn’t encourage people to get a Prime membership, I don’t know what will,” Thomson said.

Amazon hosted Prime Day 2021 from June 21 through June 22, which was the earliest the event had ever been held. Prime members in 20 countries participated in Prime Day 2021 and purchased over 250 million items worldwide, the retailer said. Amazon announced that Prime Day 2022 will take place in July in more than 20 countries.

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