How I Shop at Costco without Paying for a Membership

how to shop at Costco without a membership
There’s a false impression that in order to shop at Costco warehouses, you have to pay a membership fee. While this is the normal route for people to shop at their stores, there’s a “Costco hack” that will allow you to shop at any of their warehouses without having to purchase a membership. This hack is much more effective for people who don’t shop at Costco on a regular basis, since it does take a little bit of extra work. But absolutely anybody can do it if they are looking for a way to save $55. I know because I currently do this hack.

Let me first state that I believe Costco is a great company that treats its employees well. For this reason, I feel that any


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78 Responses to How I Shop at Costco without Paying for a Membership

  1. Mike says:

    I love this. There are only a few items I occasionally get from Costco only because I can’t find them anywhere else. Everything else is overpriced and it costs me more to shop there.

    My car was broken into right in front of their entrance and they couldn’t even be bothered to show video footage. All the other shoppers there are rude entitled snobs. They will never see another $55 fee from me.

  2. Lynn says:

    I do seriously hope that all you righteous people who bashed him and others from utilizing this method of shopping without paying the $55 have NEVER taken a friend or your Mom with you shopping at Costco and let them buy using your membership! I assume that you never went with a friend prior to buying your membership.
    I have a Sam’s membership for the last few years and am fed up with the rudeness of my local club. Other than our once a month 5lb shredded cheese purchase we usually only buy sale items. If I save my $55 a year, it is cutting it close. Aldi’s has better pricing and do not charge for the privilege of shopping at their stores. Of course if you don’t mind paying an extra .40,.50 or $1 to get your groceries in restaurant quantity. Bulk should be much cheaper not more money. Some would call it being cheap; I call it being an educated consumer! Those small amounts add up to a lot over time, after all $4 a week is $208 a year, that you are overpaying on top of your membership fee!
    I found this page looking for a day pass to Costco.

  3. Angie says:

    I agree with Lynn totally. I stumbled onto this looking for a day pass also. No intention of cheating Costco. Sams has a day pass and thought maybe Costco would do the same. I cancelled my Sams membership as doesnt make sense for me to pay out when I go once a or twice year. I went to Costco once with a friend to look (I didnt purchase anything) I found a couple of things I would like to purchase but knowing if I bought a pass it would be just like Sams. Once or twice a year.

  4. Jeffrey Strain says:

    There have always been managers on the floor and it has never taken more than a few seconds all the times I’ve done this.

  5. Cheryl says:

    What I don’t get is, why would Costco offer gift cards of $1,000 if they only intend people to use the cards as a way to find out whether they want to become members or not? If I bought someone a $1,000 gift card, it might take them a few years to use it up. Would the cashiers and staff be rude to them for shopping that long without a membership? I sure hope not. It would be perfectly legitimate for me as a member to buy a $1,000 card for a friend. And by the way, Costco DOES discriminate against single people, since I have to pay the same amount for my single membership as others do for one for themselves and a family member. So who is ripping off whom?

  6. luckey says:

    Wow, this posting goes so long. I think I have to reply as I am forced into the situation because I just got a cash card as gift. With so many angry members, I am not sure I will have a good shopping experience at the checkout. :).

    1. I have NEVER shopped at Costco in my life before simply because it does not make financial sense to me in my situation. This is to set the tone.
    2. As a common sense, any corporation, except non-profit ones, will make money. Not sure anyone even bothered to look, it’s share is $144,with more profit than last year. So, I have to say they are doing very well as a company.
    3. Again, as common sense, in this world, do people really be naive enough to think individuals can outsmart corporations like this? That’s Hollywood movie.the reality is that there is ALWAYS a good reason for anything company will do. They have tons of accountants and Lawyers for that. This is why when most of us shop there saving 50 cents to a dollar and fight over this “principles”, they don’t even bother counting the millions in their bank accounts.
    So, weak up, people.

  7. GiftCardsForUsAll says:

    So you just admitted to being as cheap as the person you are accusing. Why not buy your own membership, it’s only a dollar a freaking week, jeez. The nerve of some people. Glad your moral compass is spot on. Hey cheapskate, meet cheapskate.

  8. MembersOnly...Ha! says:

    Thank you Jeffrey for the awesome information. I will shop at Costco more often now that I know about the cash cards. In the past my purchases were limited to big ticket items and I would have a friend with a membership accompany me.

    What’s with all the greedy, selfish haters who think this is cheating? Cash cards certainly have a positive impact on Costco’s bottom line and they know that a percentage of cards will not be fully redeemed or redeemed at all, so who’s cheating who?

    A friend used to sell cash cards at his car wash here in Cali and said that as much as 30% of the cards sold were never used.

  9. Linda says:

    SO simple….If you don’t like what Jeffrey states DONT READ IT! You want to become a member go and pay! Do not blame for what is Costco normal policy. They WIL NEVER lose money!
    Jeffrey can we do that on Sam’s also?
    Thanks for your advise!!! And forget the haters!!!!

  10. Jeffrey Strain says:

    Sam’s club does have one day guest passes — this one is good through the end of January 2015:

  11. Linda says:

    Thank you!

  12. Jennifer's nutsack says:

    Costco made $480 million in profit last quarter. There’s 4 quarters in a year. Gonna have to raise that membership fee because BRB making too much money.

  13. Jennifer says:

    Love it!! Everyone soo against this shouldn’t even be reading it or googling it RIGHT? I mean did you just stumble on this? Pull your sticks out of your ass and get over the fact he found a loop hole that is legal — oh and FYI I’m a Executive member at costco since we own dealerships ☺

  14. Johan says:

    Dear Lord, the amount of ignorance on these posts is unbelievable!.

    From the “holier-than-thou” crusaders to the “financial experts”… the kind of comments I read is just appalling.

    #1 The writer stated CLEARLY that this article was directed towards those that WOULD NOT buy a membership to begin with, because it would not make financial sense for them. He specifically stated that if you do decide that it becomes worthy for you, then you should buy one, but if you only go so many times in a year (or you only buy $X amount on merchandise) that you don’t get those $55 worth of discounts, then this would be a viable way for you.

    #2 He said that while you can buy them at places as Ebay and Craigslist, that the best option would be to ask a friend/acquaintance to get some for you. He is NOT endorsing the secondary “black market” for them.

    #3 If the company itself allows it, then it is LEGAL. If the company itself permits this then “Jane & John Doe” the cashiers expressing their dissatisfaction here should take this to upper management to see what they have to say about this, instead of venting their frustration on the internet.
    Summarizing it: If the company allows it, then you (the cashier, the member, the stockholder, and all the other titles that have been thrown around to prove the “validity” of your posts) can’t do squat about it.

    There was even a post from a “longtime employee” that stated that some employees would turn their noses away if they see somebody shopping there many times with gift cards.
    I have never shopped at Costco in my life, but if I was in this situation, I would LOVE to see you do this to me so I could get your ass fired on the spot. You are paid to TAKE CARE OF THE CUSTOMER AND GIVE THE BEST CUSTOMER SERVICE POSSIBLE. Start acting snarky towards your customers and very soon you will find somebody that won’t take any of your attitude, and guess what?… I’m betting that management won’t side with you on this one. And even if they do (as they could be some of those employees you mention that think like you, as being a manager doesn’t mean that they are infallible) I’m, VERY sure that your corporate office won’t.

    #4 A lot of people say that Costco is a “member’s only” club… well it is NOT. It is a “Member’s & whomever the member chooses to authorize to shop there” club, hence the availability of the GIFT CARD. If it was a Member’s Only club, then there wouldn’t be a gift card for sale.

    I even read one of the stupidest comments here from a guy stating that Gift Cards are not transferable and that is why they need to call a manager to override it at the time of purchase. DEAR LORD, so I can only buy a Gift Card for myself since I can’t give it to somebody else???.

    Logic says: If somebody has a gift card, that means a Member bought it. If a member bought it and gave it/sold it then THAT member is implicitly authorizing the gift card recipient to shop there. If the rules don’t forbid it then it is LEGAL. If you don’t like it then complaint to the company and it is in their power to do something or not. Unless they forbid it, then NONE of you can say anything about it. You are entitled to your opinion, but you can’t say that people are cheats/thieves(LOL) for making use of something that the company itself makes available.

    There is a LOT of garbage and misinformation among the comments, and as much as I would love to address all of them I will end with the last one, and this one irked me the most:

    There are people stating that Costco LOSES MONEY when people uses gift cards…. this one makes me want to bang my head to my desk….

    Since WHEN a company sells stuff in which it loses money?. Please tell me HOW a person with a gift card makes a company lose money?. Remember that this article was geared towards those persons that would NOT buy a membership as it doesn’t make financial sense to them. These are the kind of people that wouldn’t have bought anything at the store to begin with… and now they are leaving their dollars at the store, even if it is once or twice a year. To me (and anybody that has even a little knowledge of finances) this is a GAIN, not a loss.

    I will use myself as an example, and please enlighten me in how I make Costco lose money with the following statement:
    I don’t have a costco membership as the store is an hour away from my home, I have never to this day bought anything at costco. Since I have heard good things about this store, I decide to take a trip over there just to check it out. I know a friend that has a membership and ask him to buy a gift card for me (since Costco does not have day passes anymore), my friend does this for me and gives me a $25 gift card and I pay him back.
    I go to Costco, browse the store and grab a few things from the shelves. I go to the register box and my total is $75. I use the gift card and pay the balance in cash; I leave the store.
    After my reconnaissance trip, I decide that even though the store is good, it doesn’t make financial sense for me to get a membership because it is too far, but I would like to be back six months down the road to browse again (because that is how economy and capitalism works), so I call my friend again and ask him to buy me two gift cards for future purchases. End of Story.

    How did I make Costo lose money here?.

    You can’t say that I made them lose money by not buying the membership because I wouldn’t have bought it anyways as the store is too far for me. As far as I know they made $75 in sales from a guy that would have never spent a dime at their store, and they will make some more when I return to spend my remaining two cards.

    Jeffrey, thank you for the article. To my eyes, you made Costco some money by bringing in people that would have never step foot at the store, even if just to check things out. And I’m sure that even one of those will see that the membership is a good deal for them and will become regular members. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t put their brains to work before commenting and just like to spew whatever they have on their hearts at the moment. Maybe is the lack of oxygen up there for being too long on their high horses.



  15. not impressed says:

    I have a feeling all these negative comments are from bitter Costco employees and now I really don’t want to shop at your store. Costco is not a regular shopping trip, so why would I pay a full years fee to shop a few times a year? Their business model is seriously lacking and their selections suck. Really I don’t need to buy 12 pounds of Apples a month, most of it will rot.

  16. Jeffrey Strain says:

    So you purchase 200 dollars worth of gift cards? The membership only costs 55 for the basic one. How did your math pan out?

    Perfectly. I bought $200 worth of items instead of $145 worth of items and a membership that has no value to me.

  17. Jeffrey Strain says:

    You have to show a membership card or a Costco cash card. I show the cash card.

  18. Jeffrey Strain says:

    I’m not cheating the system. I am playing fully within the rules as spelled out by Costco. For those of us who don’t shop there often, it’s a legitimate way to shop.

  19. ThxForThis says:


    What a great response

  20. ThxForThis says:



    The heavy rant by “Jane”

    I’m a dedicated lurker but wow, had to post, this seriously made me laugh out loud.

    There’s a few worth highlighting:

    “ON TOP OF THAT the executive membership also comes with discounts such as auto and home insurance, windshield repair, brake repair, buying a car, ordering checks, mortgage refinancing…saving even more money. Do you not do any of these things yourself? So tell me your math again exactly????”

    I’m sure if he or anyone else was interested in the membership for those specific benefits ………… they’d get the membership. I couldn’t care any less what “benefits” they provide, I’m there to buy a few things instead of blowing money at the standard grocery store. Not enough to justify the membership cost, however.

    This is more for argument’s sake, but if I was only able to make it to their store once or twice in a year, spending only 40$ each time, it makes zero sense to spend 110$ on a membership. 190$ for 80$ worth of items?

    I’d rather volunteer to be a fake gorilla in a costume in africa for tourists to see on a safari.

    In no way can you or anyone else justify paying 190$ for 80$ worth of items. Even 50$ membership to only spend 80$. What a joke.

    “So if you really did your math right, you could see that this is obviously how you could get your membership cheaper rather than wasting time trying to find people to mooch off of to buy memberships. Gift cards were meant to draw people in and see what we have to offer, not continually cheat.”

    This paragraph not only made me laugh out loud but want to hit myself in the head with a hammer at the same time. It also makes ZERO sense.

    Again, 190$ + tax for 80$ worth of items?

    If you will claim even the 55$ membership to only spend 80$ in the year, 130$ total, you’d HAPPILY pay because “that’s how they pay their employees!!!” then from now on, why not start overpaying every single store you visit heavily? When they ring in their total INSIST on giving them even a small 5$ more, for no other reason than to “assist in paying their employees”

    I can guarantee you wouldn’t though as it makes zero sense. His “math” is fine, your understanding is entirely off.

    (perhaps you spent too much time volunteering in a gorilla suit in africa..?)

    There’s no “cheating” or “taking advantage” of anyone here.


    Actually, quite the opposite. By using gift cards they’re generating revenue that wouldn’t be there otherwise. If there was ZERO way to purchase anything from costco without being a member, they’d lose out on purchases that wouldn’t have been made otherwise. (Again, 130$ for an 80$ purchase, this is what you’re arguing makes financial sense)

    “And let me tell you something, we are all WELL AWARE of people like you. All employees provide great service, so don’t be surprised when we turn our noses at you when we’ve seen you for the fifth time shopping with a gift card, while everyone else follows the rules and gets a membership.”

    I didn’t read a single post where anyone was upset or surprised about employees who are so miserable that they’d look down their nose at them for using gift cards. What’s laughable about the whole thing is no matter how hot-headed people get over this, it’s entirely legitimate. There’s no “cheating” or “taking advantage” of anyone.

    To claim that they’re losing profit because of people using gift cards; do you understand how a sucessful business runs? Having even a small profit leak can impact a big company in a big way. If they were truly losing money because “people are using gift cards and paying the remaining balance in cash” then gift cards wouldn’t be available to purchase.

    If you sincerely feel violated or the need to look down on customers using gift cards who may have received them as gifts and them paying the final balance, you need to find another line of work.

    If you see them again, and again, perhaps they asked their family members for gift cards for there and received multiple with no intention of circumventing the fee? What is it to you and how is it anyone’s business? LOL

    “For God sakes, you want to talk about saving people money? We allow people with food stamps to shop, they even BUY A MEMBERSHIP. Don’t be cheap cheater!”

    You’re proud of the fact that some people need food stamps to survive but AT LEAST THEY BOUGHT A COSTCO MEMBERSHIP! Amirite??

    Elitism is great!

    “And let’s be real, in all reality, you’re taking money away from the employees who work very hard all day who deserve to be paid well for dealing with cheap assholes like you.”

    Anyone claiming that by using gift cards, employees’ pay is being affected is insanity. Have you seen someone use a gift card and pay the remaining balance on their purchase within the past month you’ve been working there? Was your pay different because of it?

    I guarantee it wasn’t. You’re just arguing for the sake of arguing.

    Ah, and namecalling, the child’s way of showing frustration. It’s laughable how worked up people get over such petty things. I don’t know how some people make it over 40 without passing on due to stress.


    We all choose our own battles, I suppose. I can tell you choose yours wisely!

    “You know what…you’re right, the Costco membership doesn’t make sense for you. It doesn’t make sense to have a cheater in the building taking advantage of our products or services. And it certainly doesn’t make sense for you to take advantage of the wonderful employees and their services, including myself. We don’t need your business, and the paying members certainly don’t want you in there for being the reason why prices go up. This is a Fortune 500 company, we can survive without you.”

    This is too much arrogance and ego in one paragraph.

    After seeing your childish namecalling and easy frustration, it wouldn’t take too much to have you lash out in some sort of tantrum.

    The only true statement in Jane’s entire post is: “You know what…you’re right, the Costco membership doesn’t make sense for you.”


    It makes ZERO sense finacially to spend so much on the membership fee when you don’t spend NEAR enough to justify the cost. I’ll actually continue this further and say a big thanks to him for not just keeping this to himself but for posting it, I’ll be sure to advertise this post on my social media end. This doesn’t include the people I’ve already recommended read it for just the responses alone.

    My 2c.

  21. Mary says:

    Wow, a lot of people complaining about something Costco allows and encourages. They make money on the cash cards or they wouldn’t sell them. I have a membership, but I don’t see anything wrong with people doing this if the membership doesn’t benefit them.

  22. jane says:

    Low markups? Really? Then why is Costco so much more expensive than Sam’s for the same items. Get over it people. She isn’t screwing some little company. It don’t for a second believe that they make 80% profits from memberships. Their prices are high and that why we switched to Sam’s.

  23. peanut says:

    Why all the hostility for something that is legal according even to Costco. Are you just angry because you didn’t think of it yourselves? Costco shoppers seem to think they are somehow better than everyone else. It’s sad.

  24. Long Time Costco Member says:

    Jeff is not cheating Costco out of any money. He did say if he was a more frequent shopper at Costco he would purchase the membership. Even at the low markup price that Costco offers, it still makes a profit whether a person pays with cash, Amex card, debit card, gift card, or foodstamp (not yet available in my area). Costco can offer great discounts such as on insurances, travel packages, buying a car, ect. because it can negotiate great deal with such companies, not because it uses the profits from sale of memberships. How do I know this? Because if the savings from being a member exceeded the cost of annual membership (according to your math), then wouldn’t Costco being out of business already? As Jeff said, he choses to give Costco a little profit (not as much as a member) rather than none. I doubt that infrequent non-member shoppers would cause Costco any loss. After all, those gift cards were sold to members only. Why would anyone who is a member buy the gift cards if they cannot give them to someone like Jeff? Since Costco is an employee-own company, it’s understandable why its employees are offended (but not rightfully so). I know how hard you work, but also know how well-paid you are. I am however really disappointed to see such judgmental, condescending, and discriminating comments from a CURRENT Costco employee. It is obvious you are in need of professional training more than Jeff needs to be a member. Maybe Costco should fire you so you wouldn’t be so concern about your wages being affected by the selling of its gift cards. And so you know, I am CURRENTLY an executive member and I do buy Costco gift cards for my families and friends. They should not be discriminated by Costco employees just because they are not members at the time. Keep your nose up and cost Costco a number of potential members. If you truly think I am wrong in defending Jeff, then give me the Costco location where you work, your supervisor’s name; and I will call him/her for a professional discussion.

  25. Lila says:

    All I want to do is try shopping at Costco. They don’t offer a free one day trial, so how else am I supposed to try it to see if it’s worth it?

  26. Stewart says:

    People want to know the prices BEFORE they pay for membership. Its common sense. Gift card makes total sense. Actually being able to visit and see prices without being allowed to purchase seems most fair but since Costco doesn’t allow this common sense approach the gift card do suffice.

    Personally I had a membership for a few years and unless you need 10 loaves of bread and 5 giant ketchups at a time its mostly useless.

  27. Nothingwrong says:

    You people getting so irate really don’t get that for some ppl, membership is not worthwhile. And if Costco wants to keep selling gift cards that non-Members can use to shop at Costco, you should be yelling at Costco to stop this policy, not the non-members trying to use Costco’s own policy.

    It really was and still is not worth it for me to buy a Membership at Costco and when I do go with a family member to Costco once every two or more years, Costco definitely makes money off of me and I lose money…which is why I don’t buy a Membership. How? I’m a single person who lives in an apt. I don’t grocery shop much. If I go to Costco, I get excited and buy a bunch of meat and frozen foods and things I would never buy, but the price is so great so I buy it. I freeze the meat and don’t use most of it or even all of it and then I throw it out. I don’t want things in bulk. I don’t have a house. After I figured out that I waste money when I do go to Costco, I realized to never buy a Membership.

    I can just go with a family member once every two years when I want a huge box of garbage bag, toothbrush heads, or contact solution that’s on sale. Ever thing else, I prefer buying at Target, even toilet paper. I realized not to even buy chicken at Costco to freeze because it will have freezer burn and will sit in my freezer for 2 years before getting thrown away.

    So, I’ve figured out those are the only 3 items that I want at Costco, but I can’t help buying other stuff that I don’t use or throw away because I can’t help myself, so Costco will make money off me when I go in another 2 years to get these. I’ll see other things and end up buying them.

    I thought I wanted to use this gift card method to get cat litter for my new cat so I got 10 cash cards, but forget it. I didn’t know the
    cash card needs a manager override and that some Costcos will treat you like a criminal for using a gift card. Some will only let you spend what is on the cash card as I was told this morning. “You can only spend the $10 you have on the card and then we’ll cash it out.” The truth is I wanted those cards to buy a rotisserie chicken and cat litter sometimes. Is going to Costco to buy a rotisserie chicken once a month worth a $55 membership? No, so I’ll get the rotisserie chicken at Vons or Ralphs and I just figured out last night that the Costco cat litter is bad anyway. Would I buy other things while inside Costco while going for one rotisserie chicken? Probably. It would be 95% items I would be buying because the deal was good, but I wouldn’t use the items or I’d throw it away. I almost bought a special $40 pillow I wasn’t looking for and would have not used because it looked cool and I pulled out my phone to Google it and it was $60 cheaper than Macy’s. I almost wanted to buy some $100 cushion thing that would be used once a year just because it looked good. For people like me, Costco is a total waste of money when you add up the savings and then the money wasted. Yay, I saved $5!! But, wait, I just spent $150 on crap. Shit!!!

    For the small subset like me, Costco makes money off of us, even if the profit is $2-$10 per visit depending on how much crap we buy. If Costco allowed one day passes, I know I’d go in and buy a bunch of fruit I’d end up throwing away, cart full of stuff I don’t need and wasn’t looking for just because it’s a good deal or looks nice, so I’m actually thankful now that they don’t have one day passes.

    But don’t sell gift cards that non-members can use and then make them feel like criminals for using it. It’s not like there’s a limit on how many gift cards can be purchased or spent. I’m actually glad now that I was only allowed to spend the $10 because I would have ran up and down each aisle buying crap when all I wanted was 1) one rotisserie chicken & 2) bag of mandarin oranges, which I was going to give half to my parents because I can’t finish a bag. Forgot Costco unless I ever get a spouse and live in a house.

  28. Jeremy says:

    It is pretty amazing how many people have pointed out what a cheap mooch of a person you are, and how you’re abusing what is supposed to be a nice gesture by Costco.. and you try and defend yourself to every comment. Look, you’re a cheap person, at least own up to it. No rationalization on your part changes that. If you don’t shop at Costco enough to justify their membership, don’t shop there. Pretty simple.

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