Sam’s Club vs. Costco: A Comprehensive Review

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Do you want to save money shopping?

Warehouse clubs are one way to save money on groceries, gas and your other purchases. Most likely, you have a Costco or Sam’s Club store near you. Both clubs can be cheaper than your local supermarket or department store. But one of them can help you save more money.

This Sam’s Club vs Costco comparison will help you decide which club is the better option.

Membership Plans

Both clubs require you to purchase an annual membership. Students and military members can get extra discounts from either club.

Costco and Sam’s Club both offer a basic and premium membership plan. The premium plan costs more but offers extra benefits, like cash rewards and larger discounts.

Costco

You are either a Gold Star or Gold Star Executive member. College students can receive a $20 Costco gift card. Military families can receive product coupons worth up to $60 in savings.

Costco also offers business memberships, and they cost the same as personal plans. Besides, business members can purchase add-on memberships for $60 each. However, non-business membership does not have this option.

You can also use these tips to get a free Costco membership.

Gold Star

The basic Costco membership costs $60 per year. Benefits include one free household card and access to all Costco locations.

Gold Star Executive

An Executive membership has a $120 annual fee. Spending the extra $60 can be worth it if you use Costco’s other services.

Gold Star Executive benefits include:

  • Annual 2% cash reward on most Costco and Costco Travel purchases Discounts on select Costco Services
  • Extra discounts on certain Costco Travel purchases

The 2% cash reward is a great reason to become an Executive member. You will need to spend at least $3,000 per year to recoup the $60 upgrade fee. Costco gives you up to $1,000 back each year.

Special Costco service discounts include life insurance and identity monitoring. The savings from these services can be worth the annual fee alone. Executive members can enjoy larger discounts than standard Gold members.

Sam’s Club

It’s a few dollars cheaper to join Sam’s Club than Costco. College students and military families can both get extra one-time gift cards when they join.

When you join, you can either register for a personal or business plan. The cost and benefits are similar.

Club Membership

You pay $45 a year for Club membership. You get one free membership card and can add up to eight add-on memberships for $40 each. Costco only offers add-on discounts for business members. 

Plus Membership

Being a Plus member costs $100 annually. 

Special Plus member discounts include:

  • $10 back for every $500 you spend (up to $500 back each year)
  • Early shopping hours
  • Free shipping on most online orders
  • Five free prescriptions
  • Discounts on eyeglasses

EDGE: Sam’s Club. You pay less up front, and the discounts can be easier to earn.

Payment Methods

Sam’s Club and Costco let you pay for in-store purchases with cash, check, debit cards, and EBT. However, you must be careful if you plan on paying with a credit card. 

Costco

At the moment, Costco only accepts Visa credit cards online and in-store. Using the Costco Anywhere Visa lets you earn an extra 4% back on Costco Gas and 2% back on other Costco purchases.

Sam’s Club

Sam’s Club accepts Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express credit cards both online and in-store. What you use to pay at stores like Amazon or Walmart works at Sam’s Club. 

EDGE: Sam’s Club. They accept more payment methods.    

Warehouse Locations

Sam’s Club has approximately 599 warehouses, and Costco has 539 warehouses across the United States as of July 2019. Costco is adding new locations across the United States.

Your Sam’s Club vs Costco comparison may solely depend on which warehouse is closer. Although many towns have at least one Costco or Sam’s Club, other towns only have one option. Don’t forget to include commuting costs into your shopping budget and possible savings. 

For example, Knoxville, Tennessee has two Sam’s Clubs and one Costco. But a Boston, Massachusetts resident must drive an hour to the nearest Sam’s while three Costco warehouses are within a 30-minutes drive.

EDGE: Toss-Up.

Hours of Operation

Both brands are open seven days a week. Sam’s Club stores tend to be open for more hours and offer early-bird shopping to Plus members.

The on-site pharmacy and auto service centers may keep shorter hours. Of course, you can always shop online 24/7. 

Costco

  • Monday-Friday: 10:00am to 8:30pm
  • Saturday: 9:30am to 6:00pm
  • Sunday: 10:00am to 6:00pm

Costco doesn’t offer early shopping hours to Executive members at this time.

Sam’s Club

  • Monday-Friday: 10:00am to 8:30pm (5:00am to 10:00pm on Thursday)
  • Saturday: 9:30am to 8:30pm
  • Sunday: 10:00am to 8:30pm

Plus members can begin shopping at 7:00 am on Monday through Saturday. This perk isn’t available at every club, however. 

EDGE: Sam’s Club. 

Shopping Benefits

If you have access to both Costco and Sam’s Club, both stores offer similar yet different products and brands. Many people are quick to label Costco as the best store for bulk shoppers and organic produce. Sam’s Club is a better store for buying regular-sized items at discount prices.

While none of the above claims are false, are there more reasons to join Costco or Sam’s?

Product Selection

Which store has the better product selection is the best way to make the membership fee worth it. After all, you pay an upfront membership fee to save money on purchases during the year.

Both Costco and Sam’s Clubs offer a wide range of products. Examples include groceries, clothing, electronics, books and home decor. You’ll find that you can buy almost anything you need at either store.

Which club has lower prices mostly depends on what you buy. Many products cost the same price. But Sam’s Club and Costco are better for specific ones depending on the current promotions and which brand or quantity size you choose.

Both clubs have positive feedback for their meat and produce selections. Prices are competitive on most items. However, Costco is known for having a larger organic food selection. 

Below are some of the best ways Costco and Sam’s Club can save you money.

Costco

Costco claims to offer more than 4,000 different products. Sam’s Club doesn’t disclose how many products they offer, but it’s more than Costco. According to Costco, a typical supermarket has more than 30,000 product types. Having fewer product options is one way warehouse clubs can offer lower prices.

Here are some ways you can save money at Costco:

  • Look for their private-label Kirkland Signature products
  • Costco tends to offer more bulk quantities than Sam’s
  • In-warehouse prices are cheaper than buying online
  • Large organic food selection
Kirkland Signature

In general, Costco saves you money with their Kirkland Signature private label. You might buy Kirkland Signature batteries instead of Duracell batteries. Compared to Sam’s Club, Costco sells fewer name brand items. But there are Kirkland Signature versions of most things.

The Kirkland Signature label has many positive reviews for its quality level. Their grocery and household items are competitive with the name brands, and you can pay less.

Costco also favors selling larger quantities than Sam’s. Buying more items means you must spend more upfront, but you can pay less per item. However, smaller portions are also available if you don’t think you can use the entire product in bulk.

Sam’s Club

Sam’s Club offers more name brand items than Costco. You will usually see the Member’s Mark private label and one or two name brands as well. Also, Sam’s Club tends to offer smaller package sizes for more products than Costco.

Because Sam’s Club has more name brands, you can get more discounts with Ibotta. This app lets you scan grocery receipts to earn cash rewards by activating shopping offers. 

Some of the best products to buy at Sam’s Club include:

  • Meat
  • Produce
  • Member’s Mark items
  • Comparing prices for name brands

Edge: Costco. Most people will find better savings at Costco.

Grocery Delivery

Amazon isn’t the only national retailer that delivers groceries directly to your front door. Both Sam’s Club and Costco use grocery delivery services in many cities. 

If same-day delivery isn’t available, you can shop online and pick up in-person with either club.

Costco

Instacart provides same-day delivery to homes and businesses. You can schedule your delivery time. Deliveries can happen in as little as one hour. There is a $35 order minimum.

Some items may only ship on the two-day or standard schedule from a local distribution center. Non-perishables and household supplies qualify for two-day shipping. Ordering at least $75 of items waives the two-day delivery fee.

You will need to order by noon to get two-day delivery.

Sam’s Club

Sam’s Club also partners with Instacart for same-day deliveries. Plus members get free shipping on non-perishable items, but you pay extra for rush delivery.

Regular Club members will pay for shipping on most items. The exact cost depends on your location and the shipping speed you select.

EDGE: Toss-up. 

Online Orders

It’s also possible to order non-grocery items online that can deliver to your house or business. Both clubs may only offer certain products online they don’t sell locally.

You should also compare the in-store price to the online product price. Some items are cheaper in-store before you include shipping costs. 

Using an online shopping app like Rakuten lets you earn cash rewards on Sam’s Club purchases.

Costco

Costco charges a waivable delivery fee for products that qualify for two-day delivery. Two-day delivery is currently only for non-perishables and household items. This fee is usually $3 per article. A minimum $75 order (before taxes) waives all delivery fees.

Standard shipping is free for most items and deliveries ship within several business days. You can view Costco’s online prices without a membership. 

Regrettably, their in-store prices are not available online. You must walk the aisles to see what your local warehouse charges.

Costco clearly states their two-day delivery items can be cheaper in-warehouse. If you have a large order, shopping the aisles can save you a small fortune.

Sam’s Club

The Sam’s Club free shipping for Plus members can rival Amazon Prime. There is no order minimum, and most items qualify for free shipping. Free shipping is available to all 50 states but not Puerto Rico.

Keep in mind that free shipping is only for standard ground service. Even Plus members need to pay extra for expedited shipping options.

Club members can find free shipping on a few items. For example, Plus members have 214 household essentials ship for free, but Club members only have 112 products. In most categories, only a one-quarter to one-half of products have free shipping for Club members.

On the Sam’s Club website, these items have the “Free Shipping” label. Non-qualifying items will say “Free Shipping for Plus.” 

It also appears that Sam’s Club online prices are not higher than their in-store prices.

EDGE: Sam’s Club. The free shipping policy is more flexible.

Return Policy

What happens if you have a problem with a recent purchase? You can try to return your item for a refund or exchange it.

Costco

You can return or exchange your items at any Costco warehouse. Online orders can be exchanged at a local store, or you can start the process online.

Electronics have a 90-day return window. 

Sam’s Club

Sam’s Club return policy is very similar to Costco. Even electronics purchases have a 90-day return policy. In-store purchases can only be exchanged in-person. But you can exchange online orders in-person or shipped back.

EDGE: Tie. Both clubs have almost-identical policies.

Travel Discounts

If you like to travel, you might join either club for their travel service discounts. These savings alone can be worth more than the membership fee.

Costco

Costco probably offers more travel discounts. One of the best is for rental cars as they waive the second driver fee. Most rental agencies charge $13 per day for a second driver. 

You can also get special onboard food and beverage credits or Costco cards when booking a cruise. These credits can be more than what you get by booking directly through the cruise line.

Discounts are also available for vacation packages and select hotel brands like Hilton and Marriott. 

Don’t forget that Executive members earn a 2% cash reward on Costco Travel purchases. 

Sam’s Club

You can save up to 60% on hotels and 25% on rental cars. Discounts for theme parks, concerts and movies are available too. For example, you can save over 20% on admission to the Georgia Aquarium. Or you can save up to 40% at Legoland.

Plus members should also be able to earn cash rewards from their travel bookings.

EDGE: Costco. Deeper discounts and rebates are available. 

Other Services

Optional services can add more value to your membership: 

Each club has its unique discounts and service partners. For example, Sam’s Club Plus members can get five free prescriptions. Costco has more optional services than Sam’s Club.

Many Costco and Sam’s Club warehouses have an on-site gas station. Members can usually get a small discount. Sam’s Club members get a 5% discount, for example.

Sam’s Club vs Costco: What Others Say

So what exactly are others saying about these two warehouse clubs? You will find many loyal Costco and Sam’s Club members. Plus, their Consumer Affairs rating is almost the same.

Costco has a slightly higher Consumer Affairs rating of 3.79 of 5 stars. Sam’s Club is 3.53 out of 5 stars. 

Maybe your preference already tilts toward a specific club. Below are some opinions about what makes Costco and Sam’s Club worth joining.

When Costco is Better

You might consider joining Costco for these reasons:

  • Wide range of private label products and competitive prices
  • Large selection of organic products
  • Costco Travel discounts for vacations, hotels and rental cars

Carolyn of Deer Park, Washington on February 7, 2019, states: “Costco is the best place to shop for great deals. Always offers quality products at reasonable prices. Easy return policy. Great selection of items in all departments.”

Cecilia of Northville, Michigan on December 10, 2018, recommends buying electronics from Costco because of the 90-day return policy. Most retailers only offer a 30-day policy. 

Finally, Pradeep of Herndon, Virginia on August 23, 2019, likes Costco Travel. He’s been a Costco member for over 20 years and has been booking travel deals for the last five. Pradeep states vacation packages and hotel deals are good and reliable.  

When Sam’s Club is Better

  • Want multiple name brands for each item
  • Free shipping for Plus members with no order minimum
  • High-quality meats and produce

Katharine from Columbia, South Carolina on February 11, 2019, likes Sam’s Club for groceries. She states the cheese, meat and produce departments are usually a good deal.

Kristine from Villa Ridge, Missouri on December 16, 2018, uses Sam’s for buying bulk items and paper products. She also uses their convenient free shipping for Plus members often.

Ann Marie from Rochester Hills, Michigan, on December 25, 2018, likes that her store is clean and has friendly customer service. Her largest criticism is the lack of vegan food options.

Positives and Negatives

There are several pros and cons of each store.

Pros of Costco

  • Large selection organic foods
  • Kirkland Signature private labels save money and have good quality
  • Flexible return policy
  • Costco Travel offers good travel discounts

Cons of Costco

  • More expensive to join than Sam’s Club
  • Only accepts Visa credit cards (not Mastercard, Discover, or American Express)
  • Must spend $75 to avoid a delivery fee for two-day shipping

Pros of Sam’s Club

  • More name brands than Costco
  • Free shipping on all items for Plus membership
  • Lower membership fees than Costco
  • Accepts all credit cards

Cons of Sam’s Club

  • Prices may be slightly higher overall
  • Smaller organic food selection than Costco
  • Optional services discount may not be as good

Summary

Both Costco and Sam’s Club can help you save money today. Costco tends to be the better option as they have a fuller selection of organic food and private label products. 

But the best choice for you will depend on your shopping habits and maybe which club is closer to you.

Have you tried Sam’s Club or Costco? Which one do you and your friends prefer?

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