Updated August 2, 2021

Costco Gift Card Trick

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Want to shop at Costco without a membership? Use this special loophole to get you through the doors.

A lot of folks don't need to buy bulk on the regular. And unless you're shopping for 2+, it might not sense to pay the annual fee.

If that's you, find out why Costco's Cash Card is your golden ticket into the store (no membership required). Plus: 10+ insider secrets that most Costco shoppers don't even know about.

How to shop without a Costco membership

Do you just need to grab a few items from the warehouse? Here's what non-members need to know.

Use a Costco gift card (cash card)

If you don't want to pay for a Costco account, ask a friend or relative with a membership to buy a stack of Costco Cash Cards. These gift cards never expire and you can recharge the balance. Their values range from $25 to $200.

Only Costco members can purchase a Costco Shop Card. But non-members can also shop at any location or online with the card. Cash cards also work at Costco's gas pumps.

To get into a warehouse, simply flash one of the gift cards to the person at the door. Then pay for your purchase with the card. Costco's policy lets you cover any remaining balance with cash or a debit card (no credit cards allowed).

Costco's official website uses the term "Shop Card," but most shoppers just say cash card. Don't worry, both phrases refer to Costco's version of the gift card.

Other ways to shop without a membership

The warehouse offers a few products and services to the public, including:

  1. Get an eye exam - Need to visit the optometrist? You can get your vision tested with an appointment. But non-members can't purchase any physical products (glasses, contact lenses, hearing aids, etc.) without a membership or cash card.

  2. Fill your prescription - You don't need a membership for prescription medicine and immunizations. Added bonus: Costco has some of the best prices on medications.

  3. Eat at the food court - Many locations have an outdoor food court. That means you can easily buy food without a membership card. Stores with indoor food courts will be tougher to get in. Be sure to call ahead to check if you're able to buy all the churros and pizza that your heart desires.

  4. Buy alcohol & cigarettes - Some states say it's illegal to require a membership for alcohol purchases. If you live in Arizona, Colorado, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Texas, or Vermont, you're in luck.

  5. Shop online - Non-members can buy from Costco.com with a 5% checkout fee. If you only shop there once or twice a year, this is a good option.

  6. Fill your tire pressure - This is a completely free service. It doesn't matter where you bought your car. Costco will inflate your tires with nitrogen air.

  7. Go with a friend - Lastly, ask to tag along with a Costco card-carrying friend or family member. The more, the merrier.

    You can't borrow someone's Costco card and go by yourself. At checkout, they'll check for picture ID. If you plan on shopping in-store, you need to physically go with a Costco member.

10 biggest Costco money hacks

How many times have you heard "I got it at Costco"? The fandom is real and 100% justified. Take a look at the big-box store's unique perks below.

1. Lifetime returns

Costco has a risk-free 100% satisfaction guarantee for most products and services. For memberships, they'll cancel and refund the annual fee at any time.

Costco can refund your purchase price, as well. However, there are a few exceptions:

  • Electronics - 90 day returns
  • Diamonds - must be 1.00ct or larger. You must present all original paperwork. A Costco Graduate Gemologist will inspect for authenticity within two days.
  • Alcohol & cigarettes - No returns accepted where prohibited by law
  • Products with limited life expectancy (such as tires and batteries)
  • Certain special order/custom items - No returns at all (except for warranty repair/replacement)

2. Generous price match policy

Ever bought an item only to see it go on sale or get a reduced price? Well, if you buy it at Costco, they may be able to refund the difference in cash.

There's no corporate-set policy. It's up to how each warehouse manager handles pricing. This "unspoken" price match usually covers adjustments about two weeks from original purchase date. Just be sure to bring your receipt.

If your location doesn't accept price matches, you could always return the product for a refund and purchase again.

3. Big brands behind Kirkland Label

When you see the Kirkland Signature logo, you know you're getting top quality for a great price. But what you might not know is many big name brands are behind Costco store products. Behind the scenes, third-party companies manufacture these items.

This means the Costco batteries are actually Duracell. Dog food is from Diamond Naturals. Carrot juice is from Bolthouse farms, and so on.

4. Crack the price codes

There's secret sauce inside Costco's price signs. Here's what you need to keep in mind:

  • Asterisk* - seasonal order and unlikely to be re-ordered until next season
  • Plus+ - discontinued item
  • 99 cents - regular member price
  • 97 cents - clearance/markdown by warehouse manager
  • x9 cents (69, 79, 89, etc.) - special offer from manufacturer
  • 00 or 88 cents - inventory clearance by warehouse manager

5. Cheap gasoline prices

Don't forget to fill up while you're there! Costco is generally at least 20 cents less per gallon than their competitors. They hope to lure you into the store with this sweet pricing.

Even though they're the cheapest in town, Costco gas is still top-shelf. Kirkland Signature fuel meets Top Tier standards. This means they have deposit control additives to clean your engine and run your car more efficiently.

Bonus: Costco gas hours are way longer than the store. Most locations are open from 5:30am to 9:30pm but confirm online before driving over.

6. Discounted restaurant and store gift cards

Costco sells a slew of gift cards to nationwide restaurants and stores. And the best part is that they're discounted at 10-30% market value.

For instance, you might see two $25 gift cards (worth $50) to See's Candies for only $38.99. Or $100 worth of Peet's Coffee gift cards for $79.99.

You can use them as gifts or save 'em for yourself. They have a pretty wide selection, so don't skip this section!

7. Auto program limited time deals

If you're looking for a new ride, try Costco first. Their auto program partners with 3,000+ car dealerships for new and used vehicles.

Members get low, negotiated rates and offers by certain brands and dealers. These prices are always changing so head to the Costco website for more details.

The buying process is pretty smooth for Costco members. You don't need to haggle or play games with a sales rep.

8. Free health screenings

Costco's healthcare clinics offer Osteoporosis, Healthy Heart and Diabetes screenings. All exams are available at the pharmacy for free.

Just visit Costco Pharmacy and go to Health & Wellness Clinics for a list of screenings.

9. Free technical support

It's all part of their Costco Concierge Service for members. If you buy an electronic item, you get free tech support. Oftentimes, there's a free technical support sticker on the box.

If your product's acting up, just call:

  • 1-866-861-0450
  • Available 5am - 10pm (PST)
  • 7 days a week, excluding holidays

Have your name, membership number, item number, model, serial number, and purchase date ready when you call. You can also get a 2nd-year warranty on select items like TVs and computers. For warranty service, contact Costco Concierge Services.

10. Book travel deals

You can browse vacation packages, hotels, rental cars, airfare and more on Costco Travel. They specialize in cruises, destination adventures and resorts.

Costco negotiates low prices with vendors to pass the savings along to members. The price is usually considerably lower than booking everything individually. By far the biggest benefit is not having to worry about minute details.

Members can buy a vacation package (transportation, tours, room and board, etc.) and let Costco handle the rest.

Bottom Line

You don't always need a membership to buy from Costco. Ask a friend with a membership to hook you up with a few gift cards. Then you're good to shop solo.

And non-members can enjoy other benefits like tire pressure fill-ups, prescription medicine, and more. That said, Costco is a fun, affordable place to shop at. And the membership fee might be more worth it than you think.

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Amber Kong is a content specialist at CreditDonkey, a personal finance comparison and reviews website. Write to Amber Kong at amber.kong@creditdonkey.com. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

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