Many savvy consumers know that warehouse clubs like Costco, Sam’s Club or BJ’s Wholesale Club have cheaper fuel than gas stations. Don’t belong to one? With gas prices nationwide averaging $4.60, it may make sense to pay the membership fee in exchange for gas savings.
But first, consider how much you drive and whether you would take advantage of the other benefits of a warehouse club membership.
Is a warehouse club membership worth the gas savings?
First, consider the cost of joining: Costco‘s lowest annual membership fee is $60; Sam’s Club‘s lowest is $45; and BJ’s Wholesale Club is $55. With all three warehouse clubs, consumers can pay more for additional benefits like free shipping for online orders or perhaps savings on services such as optical and pharmacy. There is no doubt that warehouse clubs offer cheaper gas — and you may find that’s it’s 5 cents less a gallon than your neighborhood gas station or 14 cents less or even 25 cents less. The discounts range and change.
Whether it makes sense to join a warehouse club for gas savings depends on how much you drive as well as other factors like how high gas prices are in your area and whether you would utilize the club’s other benefits.
Generally, it’s probably a good idea to join a warehouse club if you’re also looking for savings on groceries and other merchandise — or if you drive a lot.
Bethany Hollars, a money saving strategist at BrickSeek.com, a website and app designed to help consumers find the best deals, says by using GasBuddy.com, she has determined that Costco gas costs roughly 20% less than gas at competing gas stations.
But do your own math with gas savings at your local warehouse store. Hollars offers the example of a midsized car with a 16-gallon tank. Filling it up once a week, assuming a national average price of $4.57, would cost $73.12. That comes out to $292.48 a month. But if gas costs 20% less at Costco, Sam’s Club or BJ’s Wholesale’s Club, you’d spend $234.24 a month, saving about $58 — which pretty much covers a basic warehouse club membership.
That said, gas prices fluctuate. There’s little doubt you will find cheaper gas at a warehouse club gas station, but if you fill up your vehicle only twice a month because you work from home, you may find that your savings isn’t really that spectacular.
Steven Frankel, a spokesperson for Dealperx.com, says the savings on gas at membership clubs is probably worth the annual fee. A member of BJ’s Wholesale’s Club, Frankel says he sometimes saves 50 cents a gallon when he fills up there, but sometimes less. He figures he usually saves about $9 a tank. “This savings alone more than pays for my membership fees,” after about six fill-ups, Frankel says.
Which warehouse club has the cheapest gas?
It’s impossible to say, and besides, it may be the wrong question to ask. Judging from the internet and the wisdom of crowds, Costco seems to have the cheapest gas. But the moment we say Costco is the winner, you’ll spot a Sam’s Club or BJ’s Wholesale Club that has a more attractive price on their fuel pump signage.
Instead, think about the closest warehouse to you. It doesn’t serve you well to become a member at Costco if a Sam’s Club or BJ’s Wholesale Club is closer to your home.
You might consider road trips, too. BJ’s Wholesale Club has over 210 locations in 17 states from Maine to Florida, according to its website. So if you were to drive cross-country from New York to California, you may not fare too well. According to the Sam’s Club website, it has approximately 600 locations throughout the United States, including Puerto Rico. Costco has 829 locations in 46 states and Puerto Rico, according to its website.
3 warehouse club gas hacks
Here are some ways to try a warehouse club before you join or find extra savings.
1. Use gift cards. If you’re still unsure about joining a warehouse club, or you’d like to but can’t part with $55 or $60, Frankel points out that you could ask a good friend or family member who is a member of Costco to buy you a Costco Shop Card. “In other words, a Costco gift card,” Frankel says. He adds that Costco’s website indicates that this is allowed (we checked; this is true). So you could give your friend $100 to buy you a Costco Shop Card, and then use it to pay for cheaper gas.
2. Sign up for a store credit card. If you’re a member of a warehouse club, you may want to consider applying for the store’s credit card, Frankel says. For example, at BJ’s Wholesale Club, with its My BJ’s Perks Mastercard, you can get 10 cents off each gallon of gas you buy or 2% cash back at non-BJ’s stations. The Costco Anywhere Visa by Citi will give you 4% off at Costco gas stations for the first $7,000 that you spend on gas every year, and after that, you’ll get 1% off. Sam’s Club’s Mastercard offers 5% back on gas for the first $6,000 spent every year, and 1% after that.
3. Get a trial membership. You might also want to try the Sam’s Club 90-day free trial membership (just remember to end the membership before the 90 days are up), and get cheaper gas for about three months. Of course, if you find it’s worth the membership fee, maybe you’ll decide to keep it. BJ’s Wholesale Club offers a 24-hour free trial membership. Costco does not offer a free trial membership.
Pros and cons of joining a warehouse club for gas savings
Before signing up for a warehouse club solely or primarily to save money on gas, consider the following:
If you’re focused on gas, there are two big positives to consider.
— You may save money on gas.
— You may also save money on food, toiletries and other merchandise. Gas isn’t the only product affected by inflation. You might save a lot of money on items you buy all the time, such as paper towels, toilet paper or dog food. Generally, nonperishable food will be your best bet since you are buying in bulk, and you may do well on merchandise like a big-screen TV or tires.
There are a few negatives to be aware of:
— Savings aren’t guaranteed. If you’re hoping to recoup the cost of your membership fee in gas savings, you may, but you may not. Historically, warehouse clubs allow members to save on gas, and that probably won’t change. But who is to say? Still, it generally depends on how often you drive and how often you fill up at the warehouse club. If you have a membership but find yourself going elsewhere because another gas station is more convenient, you may save money when you fill up at Costco, Sam’s Club or BJ’s Wholesale Club, but you may not make enough back to cover the annual membership fee.
— It’s a time commitment. Because gas does tend to be cheaper at warehouse clubs, these gas stations are often crowded. As gas prices rise, you might find that the stations get even busier and start to wonder if it’s worth your time to fill up there.
— Bulk buying can be costly. Here’s the good news as far as gas goes: You won’t drive away from a warehouse club gas station with more fuel than you need. But if you go inside the store, while you may save a bundle on paper towels or trail mix, you will be buying bigger quantities and spending more than at a regular grocery store. So your grocery bills may increase more than usual, but, yes, it should save you money in the long run.
— You have to spend money to make money. Again, consider the initial financial outlay of the annual membership fee. But do the math, and if it you like how the numbers are adding up, maybe becoming a member and saving on gas will make you feel like you’re finally back in the driver’s seat.