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Choosing the best warehouse club membership for you

Costco, BJ’s and Sam’s Club offer solid value (in bulk) and various perks to members.
Nanette Ammon, of Longmont, walks the aisles during the grand opening of Sam's Club at Village at the Peaks Thursday morning
When determining whether a Costco, BJ’s or Sam’s Club membership is right for you, consider factors like each retailers' return policies and membership pricing.MediaNews Group/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images / Contributor

Buying groceries in bulk can net you huge savings in the long run — warehouse clubs like Costco, BJ’s and Sam’s Club regularly offer steep discounts per unit when you buy large quantities of items. However, these stores require memberships with dues up to $60 per year for a basic membership (you may be able to shop online as a non-member but without access to the same discounts). We looked through each wholesaler’s membership tiers and summarized the main takeaways below, so you can decide which membership is best for you.

SKIP AHEAD Choosing the best warehouse club membership for you

Choosing the best warehouse club membership for you

Ultimately, your ideal membership depends on what services you need and how much you’re willing to pay. Costco’s memberships are the most expensive across the board, but they also have a robust benefits package. Sam’s Club is more affordable, however, you don’t get as many perks. BJ’s price and benefits are comparable to Costco, though the chain has a more restrictive return policy and exclusively operates in the eastern half of the U.S. (and has considerably fewer locations than the other two wholesalers). Chances are, the membership you choose may have more to do with what warehouse club operates in your area. But all three wholesalers are likely to offer you solid value for your money. And they each have their own generic brands that offer solid value on groceries and more (Kirkland Signature for Costco, Member’s Mark for Sam’s Club and both Berkley Jensen and Wellsley Farms for BJ’s). Here is an overview of each membership:

Costco Membership

Costco has two memberships available to the general public: The Gold Star membership for $60 per year and the Executive membership, which costs $120. The Gold Star is the first tier that gives you and one other member of your household access to the warehouse and online deals. Double the price, the Executive tier offers perks like additional savings on Costco Travel and 2% back on qualified purchases. There’s also a business membership available for $60 per year — you need to show a valid business license/identification to qualify for this tier. You can also purchase the Business Executive membership for $120 per year (the same qualifications apply)

All Costco members have access to the following:

  • Food and grocery discounts (including Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand)
  • Discounts on Kirkland Signature gasoline
  • Clothing and home goods discounts
  • Travel and auto discounts
  • Insurance discounts
  • Access to Costco Pharmacy
  • Home product installation discounts
  • Access to Costco’s Photo Center
  • Access to the Costco Visa Anywhere Card

Costco’s return policy is exceedingly shopper friendly — you can return most items for any reason at any time for a full refund, save for a few exceptions like these:

  • Most electronics need to be returned within 90 days
  • If you return diamonds 1 carat or larger, you can receive a credit for other jewelry
  • Some mobile devices have carrier-specific return policies
  • Products like tires or batteries (that have a finite usable life) can have their own warranties
  • Alcohol and cigarettes cannot be returned

BJ’s Membership

BJ’s has similar membership tiers as Costco, though their annual dues are slightly cheaper. The Inner Circle and Perks Rewards memberships are $55 and $110, respectively. The Inner Circle membership gives you access to the warehouse and member services (like access to the tire center), whereas the Perks Rewards tier also provides 2% cash back, double and/or triple cashback events and travel benefits. There’s also a Business version of each tier that offers “tax-exempt and resale privileges.” BJ’s also allows you to use manufacturer's coupons on their bulk items — which makes it unique among the warehouse clubs —so you can net even more savings.

All BJ’s members get access to exclusive services including the following:

  • Food and groceries from Wellsley Farms
  • Home products from Berkley Jensen
  • Access to BJ’s Tire Center
  • Access to BJ’s Optical
  • Discounts with BJ’s Travel
  • Home improvement projects by BJ’s contractors
  • Free installation and assembly (furniture, TV mounting, etc.)
  • Discounts on rental cars
  • Special discounts on AT&T mobile service
  • Access to BJ’s Photo

BJ’s will generally accept returns on most non-grocery items within one year of purchase, though there are some exceptions, including:

  • Returnable within 90 days: computers, electronics, home theater displays, patio sets, TVs (if undamaged)
  • Returnable within 30 days: large appliances like dishwashers, washers, dryers, ranges and refrigerators
  • If “damaged upon initial inspection,” home theater displays, laptops, tablets and TVs are returnable within 14 days
  • Some items cant be returned at all, like tobacco, alcohol, lottery tickets, gift cards, items with gas or fuel included or opened DVDs and video games

Sam’s Club Membership

Sam’s Club has the lowest priced membership, with two tiers — Club and Plus — that cost $50 and $110, respectively. The Club tier is the standard membership that provides access to the store and certain benefits. The Plus membership offers 2% back on qualifying purchases (up to $500 a year), free shipping for online orders, plus pharmacy and optical savings, you’ll need the Plus membership.

All Sam’s Club members get access to these benefits:

  • Savings on Member’s Mark products
  • Access to special discounts
  • Curbside pickup ($4 for Club, free for Plus)
  • Access to the Sam’s Club Mastercard
  • Fuel savings
  • Access to the tire and battery center

You can return most items to Sam’s Club at any time, though there are some exceptions:

  • Returnable within 90 days: electronics and major appliances
  • Returnable within 30 days: motorsports items and commercial heavy equipment
  • Returnable within 14 days: mobile phones
  • Non-returnable: gift or prepaid cards, custom-made items, Sam's Club Wholesale Trading Program purchases, tickets and prescriptions

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