What's The Difference Between Sam's Club And Costco Memberships?

If you're looking to visit a store where you can buy a lot of food on the cheap and grab a pretzel and soda for under $10 on your way out, one of two places probably comes to mind: Costco and Sam's Club. Because although Costco, which was started in 1976 per its website, opened seven years before the minds behind Walmart debuted Sam's Club (via Sam's Club), the two are famous for selling products in bulk. But aside from Sam's declaring an all-out hot dog battle royale with Costco after making its food court hot dog combo cheaper than its competitor's, shoppers have noticed a few other differences between the two companies.

For one thing, Eat This, Not That reports that Sam's has Costco beat in terms of offering name brands at lower price points. And Insider states that Costco outdoes Sam's when it comes to organic groceries. However, many money-savvy shoppers would probably agree that the determinative difference between the two bulk grocers lies in what the stores' memberships offer. 

The main difference between Costco and Sam's Club memberships

As Investopedia notes, Sam's Club and Costco's memberships have just as much in common as the products each brand sells, which is to say, not much. But if you look at each company's customer programs side by side, one major difference becomes obvious — Costco's membership fee is higher.

Each company offers a basic tier membership (Sam's "Club" and Costco's "Gold Star") that allows customers to enjoy its products, but the Sam's fee is only $45 a year. However, to access the benefits of Costco's "Gold Star" membership, shoppers have to fork out $60 annually. Investopedia reports that this cost difference is comparable for each of the companies' highest tier programs — where Sam's Plus is $100, and Costco's Executive membership is $120.

However, it's important to note that despite Costco's higher membership prices, U.S. News reports that the big box retailer's consumer merchandise is generally less costly than Sam's Club's. But while the cost of the two's memberships is the most noticeable difference between them, it's not the only one.

Other factors to consider when deciding whether to sign on with Sam's Club or Costco

While the membership cost is the easy part of the comparative calculus, the decisive factor for folks is what the retailers offer regarding products and perks. As U.S. News notes, Sam's "Club" members can get free delivery and curbside pickup on orders $12 and up. On the other hand, Costco's "Gold Star" membership features free two-day shipping on orders that cost more than $75.

As for the higher tiers, Insider reports Sam's "Plus" shoppers can shop in the store up to three hours before regular Club members. However, U.S. News reports that Costco "Executive" customers can earn 2% rewards up to $1000, a full $500 more than Sam's Plus 2% cash back offer. 

Of course, aside from considering the different advantages both memberships offer, Insider reports that distance is a significant factor when deciding which retailer you should commit to getting a membership with. But if you live close to a Costco and Sam's Club location, you can now assess which membership program would benefit you most.