Wondering how to get a free Costco membership? Here are some tips to help you shop at Costco for free or save on the cost of your membership.
Costco is well-known for its low prices on bulk items such as toilet paper, packaged snacks, dry goods, organic items, cleaning supplies, and other household items.
Costco can offer these low prices because you must have a membership to shop there. Costco memberships begin at $60 per year.
If you’re not used to having to pay to shop, you might be hesitant to sign up for a membership. You might be wondering, “Can’t I just try it out for free?”
How to Get a Costco Student Membership for Free
You can actually get a Costco membership for free. Here are 26 legitimate ways to get a Costco student membership for free:
1. Use a Costco Shop Card
To truly shop at Costco for free, you’ll need a little help from a current Costco member. Costco’s customer service webpage states that a Costco Shop Card may be used by nonmembers as well as members to shop at any Costco location in the U.S., Canada, or Puerto Rico, as well as online.
Sounds great, right? But here’s the catch: Costco Shop Cards can only be purchased by current members. So, you’ll need to grab your card-carrying member friend and head to your nearest Costco customer service desk where they can purchase a Costco Shop Card for you.
You might be able to find Costco Shop Cards available for purchase online at eBay or other retailers. The Costco Shop Card is a gift card that has a minimum load of $25 and a maximum load of $2,000. It can be reloaded, but only by a Costco member and only in person at the store.
This option is probably best for those who don’t plan to visit Costco regularly. Also keep in mind that you’ll need to keep your Costco Shop Card safe – especially if it has a lot of money on it – because if you lose it, it’s like losing cash.
Another catch: You can use the Costco Card to purchase items online at Costco.com or Costco.ca, but you’ll need to pay a 5% surcharge over the price advertised for members.
2. Shop with a Costco Member
Remember that willing friend or family member who could purchase you a Costco Shop Card? Well, you could just tag along with them as they shop.
Maybe you’re being a bit of a mooch, but for the occasional Costco shopper, or for someone who just wants to check it out, it’s a perfectly by-the-book option.
Members are allowed to bring up to two guests into the warehouse (it says this on their website), but only Costco members may purchase items
You could have your transaction rung up separately and reimburse your friend later or just use your payment card to pay.
PS – Interested in a Sam’s Club membership instead? There’s a fantastic Sam’s Club New Member Promo currently available! Get a FREE $45 Gift Card when you sign up for a new membership for $45.
3. Place an Instacart Order
There’s another workaround for shopping at Costco without a membership. As with most, if not all, with Instacart orders, items are priced higher than what you’ll find in store.
And of course, you’ll have to pay service and delivery fees as well as leave your shopper a tip. There is a $35 order minimum, and new customers get their first delivery free.
But it is possible to get Costco goodies through Instacart. I just tried it and didn’t need to enter a membership number at checkout.
However, you will get extra savings through Instacart, and earn Costco Rewards if you add your Costco membership number at checkout.
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4. Shop Online at Costco.com
You can purchase items online at Costco.com, even if you’re not a member. Do note that some items will be marked as “Members Only,” and members will also only get access to the monthly coupons and savings.
Plus, online items at Costco.com and Costco.ca are already priced higher than what you’ll find in the store. (Costco even says this on their website.)
And when you order online, you’re not getting the full selection of what Costco offers in stores. For example, you can’t purchase fresh items online for delivery since shipping takes several days.
Oh, and one more thing: you’ll need to pay a 5% surcharge over the member price. Still, it might be worth it if the items you’re looking to buy are still priced cheaper than you’ll find elsewhere, or if they’re specialty items that are exclusive to Costco.
If you do the math, as long as you spend $1,200 or less a year at Costco.com (paying the non-member surcharge, of course), you’ll still save over the cost of buying Costco’s lowest-priced membership at $60/year.
5. Buy Alcohol
Costco’s prices on alcohol are deeply discounted compared to normal retailers. Their Kirkland store brand offers the best deals and may be manufactured by your favorite well-known companies.
They also offer a very impressive selection of wine, with a lower markup than you’ll find elsewhere.
So, if you’re looking to stock up for your next party or even just fill your own minibar fridge, you’ll definitely want to give Costco’s liquor selection a second look.
And there’s good news for people who live in certain states: local laws may prevent Costco and other membership clubs from only selling alcohol to members.
That means that if you live in one of the following states, you’re allowed to purchase alcohol without a membership:
- New York
Your Costco location may have a separate entrance to the liquor department, so it shouldn’t be a problem for you to just walk in and shop.
If you live in another state, it’s worth a call to your local Costco to see if they allow alcohol sales for non-members, too.
6. Buy Prescriptions and/or Immunizations
Got a prescription to fill? Whether it’s a one-time thing or a regular prescription, you’ll want to check out the low prices at Costco Pharmacy.
They offer prescriptions for pets, too! Due to state and federal laws, Costco is required to offer these low-priced prescriptions to all people.
This means you do not need a membership to purchase prescription drugs at Costco, and you can buy prescriptions both at their warehouses and also online.
Their Pharmacy counter accepts several different forms of payment: cash, ATM/debit cards, Costco Shop Cards, and Visa.
You may also be able to order your prescriptions online for delivery via mail and auto-refill, if necessary. How convenient!
However, Costco does offer members an extra benefit on prescriptions: the Costco Membership Prescription Program.
Also, you can get discounted immunizations and vaccinations at Costco without a membership. For example, flu shots currently start at just $19.99.
Walk-ins are welcome, but they do recommend you reserve your time in advance which you can do so online. Be sure to bring your insurance card as many insurance companies will cover the price of your shots.
7. Get a Costco Shop Card When You Sign Up
Right now you can get a Costco Shop Card just for signing up for a new member! You’ll need to purchase a Costco Membership Activation Certificate, then bring it in to the store.
When you active your membership at the customer service desk, you’ll need to enroll in auto renewal on a Visa card at the time of sign-up.
Once you do that, you’ll get a $10 Costco Shop Card if you sign up as a Gold Star Member or a $20 Costco Shop Card if you sign up as a Gold Star Executive Member.
8. Check Online Deal Websites
Usually once or twice a year, Groupon and/or LivingSocial will have a fantastic Costco student membership deal that offers a gift card or freebies along with the price of the membership.
You’ll still have to pay for the membership, but the freebies typically offset most – if not all – of the cost.
For example, in August 2020 there was a Groupon deal that offered a Costco student membership along with a $40 gift card and $40 off an online purchase of $250+ for just $60, which is the normal price of a Costco Gold Membership.
You can check Groupon periodically to see when they offer the deal again. Keep tabs on popular websites like Slickdeals that help you find the best deals online, including on Costco memberships.
9. Get a Bonus Gift Card Because of Your Job
If you’re employed in a particular field, you’ll get a $30 Costco Shop Card when you join (with verified ID). This discount is currently available to first responders, nurses, medical providers, military, and teachers.
College students can also get a $20 Costco Shop Card when signing up for a membership. Truth be told, I don’t know what a college student would do with a Costco membership, but hey, the savings are nice!
10. Find a Friend for a $10 Gift Card
Costco is offering its current members a bonus for getting their buddies to sign up. The Refer-A-Friend promotion at Costco is good through December 31, 2020.
When your friend brings you to the membership counter to sign up, you’ll both receive a $10 Costco Shop Card to use on a future purchase. You must both be present to qualify.
Visit the membership counter and mention you are there for the Refer-A-Friend promotion, then provide the employee with the code 23566 – that’s it!
The primary member on a Costco membership can refer to friends a year. Please note that expired members do not qualify to participate, you must be a brand-new member to sign up or have a membership that expired at least 18 months ago.
11. Give Yourself a Free Trial
Unfortunately, you can’t just walk into Costco by yourself and start shopping for free, saying you’re just trying it out.
There’s no such thing as an actual “free trial membership” at Costco. That being said, Costco does offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee.
If you’re not happy with a purchase or with your membership, you can bring it back or have it refunded.
Now, you should really only do this if you’re actually not going to use your membership but at least you know that you’re not 100% locked in to your membership once you purchase it.
A few years ago, I did this myself with my Costco student membership. I had really wanted to try a Costco membership for my family, but I realized once I got there that it just wasn’t something I would regularly use. To be honest, I preferred to buy college paper that time.
At that time in my life, I didn’t buy a lot of items in bulk. Plus, the parking lot was a nightmare that I didn’t want to have to deal with each time I shopped. So, I asked for a refund and got it. Their customer service was really top-notch.
12. Buy Gasoline
You’ve probably seen the gas pumps at Costco with lines of cars waiting to fill up. It’s worth the wait if you use a lot of fuel!
To get an idea of how much you’d save, I checked GasBuddy.com to see how current gas prices in my area compare. My Costco had gas priced at 22¢ less per gallon than the next lowest price. If I were to fill up with 20 gallons each time, that’s a savings of $4.40 each time I fill up.
I fill up about once per week (I drive a lot since I have to bring my kids to school), which equals a savings of $228.80 per year, just on gas! Even if I filled up just fourteen times over the year, I’d pay for the cost of my membership.
13. Buy Gift Cards & Movie Tickets
Costco has discounted gift cards and movie tickets available both in-store and online. You can use these yourself to save a little extra at other retailers or unbundle them and give them as gifts.
In a quick browse online, I found $100 worth of Build-A-Bear Workshop gift cards for $79.99 and $100 worth of California Pizza Kitchen gift cards for $79.99.
Purchase both of those deals and you’re already two-thirds of the way toward covering your Costco Gold Star membership cost!
Often times you’ll see discounted gift cards to local restaurants and attractions, too. Costco definitely considers what people will be interested in as they curate their gift card selection, it’s not just national retailers.
14. Earn Costco Rewards and Credit Card Rewards
Costco has two levels of membership: Gold Star and Gold Star Executive. The Gold Star Executive Membership is twice the cost of the Gold Star Membership, but it gives you some added perks, including cashback.
Executive Members earn an annual 2% Reward (up to $1,000) on qualified Costco, Costco.com, and Costco Travel purchases.
This means that if you spend $6,000 at Costco in a year ($500/month), you’ll completely pay for the cost of your Executive Membership through Rewards.
Note that Rewards are not calculated on purchases of gasoline, Costco Shop Cards, alcoholic beverages in certain states, prescription purchases in certain states, and at food courts.
Whether or not you’re an Executive Member, you apply for the Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi to earn additional including including:
- 4% on eligible gas for the first $7,000 per year (1% after that) – this works out to up to $280 for the first year and $70 for subsequent years
- 3% on all restaurants and eligible travel
- 2% on all other purchases from Costco
- 1% on all other purchases
This credit card doubles as your membership card and has no annual fee as long as you have a paid membership.
15. Purchase Kirkland Signature Brand Items
You already know that skipping the name brand items in favor of generics is a great way to save money. Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand, on the other hand, takes generic purchasing to the next level.
Kirkland Signature items can only be found at Costco and range from groceries to organic to home and kitchen to everything in between.
These items are usually found right next to their name-brand counterparts in the store, so you can easily see how much money you’re saving by purchasing this brand!
Remember that Costco provides a money-back guarantee, so if you don’t like any of their Kirkland Signature items, you can return them for a full refund.
16. Buy Tires
Costco is one of our favorite places to get the best deals on tires. They offer a pretty awesome deal a couple of times per year in which you get big savings off a set of four tires PLUS installation for just a penny per tire.
Even right now, Costco is offering a deal in which you can save $150 instantly on any set of four Bridgestone tires with installation. That would make your membership more than pay for itself!
Note that your choices are limited for tires (just Bridgestone, Michelin, and BF Goodrich), but you’ll also get free rotation, balancing, inflation checks, and flat repairs for the life of the tire.
17. Eat at the Food Court
Costco’s food court is legendary. Where else can you feed your whole family for about $10? Their food is quick, cheap, and delicious.
Considering there are Costco locations across the U.S., you can even use your membership to eat at the food court while you’re traveling.
It’s no doubt cheaper than fast food, and it will give you and your family the chance to stretch your legs a bit while you’re out and about.
If you make a point to visit Costco’s food court say, twice a month instead of hitting up a fast food joint, you’ll pay for the cost of your membership if you save just $2.50 each time vs. getting fast food.
And that’s pretty easy to do. You could even pick up one of Costco’s huge pizzas for just $10 or so for your weekly pizza night and save vs. getting delivery.
18. Book Your Travel through Costco
Did you know that Costco is one of the best places to rent a car? You’ll get special perks and sometimes bonus gift cards when you book through Costco.
For example, right now you can get a $20 Costco Shop Card when you rent a car through Avis or Budget Rental and book online with Costco Travel.
When you book your rental car online, Costco’s Low-Price Finder will automatically calculate the best applicable coupon compatible with your member discount.
You may also get your additional driver fee waived. Besides rental cars, Costco has some pretty amazing travel deals and services.
They employ trained travel professionals who can assist you in planning and booking your vacation, getting you negotiated rates on vacation packages, cruises, and hotels.
Your total price will be clearly displayed throughout the booking process, so there won’t be any surprises when it’s time to pay.
19. Utilize Coupon Apps
There are lots of different coupon apps out there that will help you save money.
Costco doesn’t accept manufacturers’ coupons, but you can get cashback when you purchase certain items.
Some of my favorite apps that work well with Costco include the following:
Ibotta gives you cashback when you shop at Costco and other retailers.
You’ll need to browse the app and add offers for items you want to buy, then upload a photo of your receipt.
There are even some Costco-specific offers! Once your receipt is approved, you’ll receive cashback in your account.
Fetch Rewards allow you earn points for scanning receipts.
You’ll earn points when you scan any eligible receipt, but you’ll get bonus points for purchasing select items.
Keep track of your earnings over the year and you’ll see how quickly it can add up if you’re diligent with scanning your receipts!
20. Purchase Gift Cards
Both in-store and online, Costco offers discounted gift cards and movie tickets.
You can use these to save a little extra money at other retailers, or you can unbundle them and give them as gifts.
I found $100 worth of Build-A-Bear Workshop gift cards for $79.99 and $100 worth of California Pizza Kitchen gift cards for $79.99 in a quick online search.
If you buy both of those deals, you’ll be two-thirds of the way to covering the cost of your Costco Gold Star membership.
21. Purchase Gasoline
You’ve probably seen the Costco gas pumps with long lines of cars waiting to fill up. If you use a lot of fuel, it’s worth the wait!
To get an idea of how much you’d save, I went to GasBuddy.com and compared current gas prices in my area. My Costco had gas for 22 cents per gallon less than the next lowest price.
22. Procure a Bonus Gift Card
When you join, you’ll receive a $30 Costco Shop Card if you work in a specific field (with verified ID). First responders, nurses, medical providers, military personnel, and teachers are currently eligible for this discount.
When signing up for a membership, college students can also receive a $20 Costco Shop Card. To be honest, I’m not sure what a college student would do with a Costco student membership, but the savings are appealing!
23. Earn Costco
Costco membership is divided into two categories: Gold Star and Gold Star Executive. The Gold Star Executive Membership costs twice as much as the Gold Star Membership, but it includes additional benefits such as cashback.
Executive Members receive a 2% Reward (up to $1,000) on qualified Costco, Costco.com, and Costco Travel purchases each year.
This means that if you spend $6,000 at Costco in a year ($500/month), your Executive Membership will be completely paid for through Rewards.
24. Purchase Tires
Costco is one of our favorite places to find the best tire deals. They have a pretty awesome deal a couple of times a year where you can save a lot of money on a set of four tires PLUS installation for just a penny per tire.
Costco is currently offering a deal in which you can save $150 instantly on any set of four Bridgestone tires with installation. That would more than cover the cost of your membership!
25. Examine Online Deal Websites
Once or twice a year, Groupon and/or LivingSocial will have a fantastic Costco student membership deal that includes a gift card or freebies in addition to the membership fee.
You’ll still have to pay for the membership, but the freebies will usually cover the majority – if not all – of the cost.
For example, in August 2020, a Groupon deal offered a Costco membership along with a $40 gift card and $40 off a $250+ online purchase for just $60, which is the normal price of a Costco Gold Membership.
26. Buy Kirkland Signature Brand Items
You already know that passing on the name brand items and buying generic instead is a great way to save. But Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand takes generic buying to the next level.
Kirkland Signature items are found only at Costco and include everything from grocery items to organic to home and kitchen to everything in between.
You’ll typically find these items right next to their name-brand counterparts in the store, so you can easily see how much you’re saving by buying this brand!
Remember that Costco offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee, so if you don’t like any of their Kirkland Signature items, you can bring them back for a full refund.
While you may not be able to obtain a completely free Costco student membership, there are still ways to shop at Costco and save a lot of money.
You can purchase certain items without a membership, you may receive a discount on your membership cost, or you will simply offset the cost of the membership with all of the savings you will receive. It will quickly pay for itself!
Frequently Asked Questions