When I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, it seemed that everyone except my parents were members of the American Automobile Association (AAA). Roadside assistance was the great appeal, especially in the days before cell phones. I recall being quite jealous of the silver and red AAA stickers that my friends had in their cars and could never really understand why my Mom and Dad did not belong to the same club.
By the time I was about ten, I stopped noticing or caring about the AAA stickers and I did not think of AAA again until I was in my late twenties and married. My wife was adamant that we needed AAA because, heaven forbid, we might need roadside assistance. I figured that AAA was just an added charge that we did not need every year, because I could always call a service station if I needed a tow and the cost would probably have been less than an annual AAA membership. Fortunately, as with most debates with my bride, I lost.
Even though we had a AAA membership, I did not think of it again until about two years ago, when I really started to become interested in savings. I thought to myself that if I had to pay almost a $100 per year for the membership level that I enjoyed, I should at least find out what benefits I could get that would justify my expenditure. I quickly discovered that if I took the time to take advantage of AAA, the benefits were (and are!) tremendous and should really be explored by anyone with a car – and even by many who do not have a car.
AAA provides its members with discounts at over 160,000 locations worldwide. Its website offers listings of all of the discounts available but I find that if I am at a restaurant or retail store and I ask about AAA discounts, very often a discount is available. The key to this benefit is that as a member you need to carry your card and always remember to ask about discounts before you pay. A couple of years ago, I visited the Hard Rock Cafe with some friends and AAA was a last minute thought as I prepared to pay the bill. I saved almost $30 in that one meal alone.
Discounts are available at restaurants, from service providers, at entertainment venues, travel venues and just about every other type of place where you can spend money! For example, local movies tickets typically cost about $10 per ticket during prime time. I can buy my movie tickets from AAA for $6 to $7, depending on whether I want any restrictions on their use.
In addition to the discounts noted above, AAA membership includes tremendous discounts on a host of travel related benefits. Your local AAA office is a great one-stop source for travel insurance, booking assistance, travelers checks and free maps. You can even purchase your vacation directly from AAA. Customary fees are often waived or reduced and the AAA network provides accurate and friendly assistance (at least based on my personal experiences).
AAA has partnered with Discover Bank to offer CDs, money market accounts and IRAs that offer competitive returns.
Roadside Assistance – Battery Service
As a AAA member, If you are a driver or a passenger in a car that requires roadside assistance (even if the car is in your driveway!), AAA will send a qualified service provider out to provide the assistance you need. If your battery is dead, AAA will charge it. If your battery needs to be replaced, AAA will deliver a battery and install it for you, and then take care of disposal of your old battery.
Roadside Assistance – Towing
If your car needs to be towed, AAA will cover towing for at least 5 miles and up to 100 miles, depending on your membership level. I have had to call on AAA for many tows over the past few years and each time I have saved over $40, the charge that the towing service would have collected from me if I had not had AAA.
Roadside Assistance – Flat Tires
If you have a flat tire, AAA will come to you and put on your spare tire, free of charge. I took advantage of this benefit last year and managed to avoid admitting to my wife that I have never changed a tire and would not even know where to begin.
Expert Advice – Ask Pete
The AAA website offers an easy to use “Ask the Expert” form which allows members to ask AAA experts any automotive question that they may have. If you need an objective answer, AAA offers an excellent first line of inquiry before you start talking to your mechanic.
AAA members have the benefit of an on-line management tool that allows users to track maintenance, warranty and service information relating to vehicles. The system will automatically e-mail users when the user is close to needing service for his or her car. Similarly, the system will send e-mail messages to members affected by recalls and will provide other data that the member might find interesting or useful.
Consumer Repair Guide
AAA members also have access to an extensive consumer repair guide that explains the best ways to find and work with appropriate automotive service providers. Members who do not really understand even the basics of automobile technology can refer to the guide before going to the auto shop and then appear a bit more sophisticated when talking to service providers.
Car Buying Services
AAA offers a variety of services that can make purchasing a car easier including access to Kelly Blue Book values, used car reports and auto financing.
Like most member services, AAA requires that you pay attention to the discounts and savings that they provide. If you are diligent, however, you can save a great deal. My membership level costs me about $90 per year but I have regularly saved about $500 per year with my AAA card, not to mention the peace of mind that comes with knowing that I can call on AAA in the event of any automotive emergencies! You should explore AAA’s website and visit a local office if you have any doubts. I suspect that most of you will someday regret not having AAA if you do not have it already.