Emily VanSchmus | 

BJ's vs. Costco: We Compared Their Membership Fees, Prices & Perks

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A membership card to a wholesale club like BJ’s Wholesale or Costco can unlock hundreds of dollars in savings a year when you consider the value of the bulk goods you’re getting. But with all the warehouse membership options out there, it can be hard to know which one is the best for your household. If you’ve been debating the pros and cons of BJ’s vs. Costco — or wondering if you should add yet another membership card to your wallet — let’s dive into all the details you need to know.

We’ll break down the major differences between BJ’s and Costco as well as their similarities. And we’ll give you a peek at the current prices for all sorts of pantry staples and household goods so you can choose which club is right for you.

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1. BJ’s membership is 8% cheaper than a Costco membership.

If you’re deciding which wholesale club to join based on their annual membership fees alone, know that a BJ’s membership will cost you a tad less than Costco’s. A basic BJ’s membership (“The Club Card”) is $55/year, while a basic Costco membership (a “Gold Star Membership”) will run you $60/year.

At the basic level of membership, you won’t get cashback rewards at either club. But if you pay extra to upgrade your membership — to The Club Card+ at BJ’s or the Executive level at Costco — you’ll start earning 2% in rewards each year. Costco allows you to earn up to $1,000 in rewards each year, but BJ’s caps your earnings at $500 a year.

 

Current BJ’s Membership Fees:

 

Current Costco Membership Fees:

TIP: Both warehouse clubs may be on the verge of a membership fee increase sometime soon. The last time BJ’s raised their fees was in January 2011, when the basic membership went from $50/year to $55/year. Costco raises their membership fees about once every 5 years and 7 months, and the last price hike happened in June 2017, so we’re on borrowed time. If either club does raise fees, expect an increase of about $5 a year.

 

2. Name-brand products are cheaper at Costco for about 70% of the items we compared.

a box of cheerios on store shelf in costco

The Costco savings don’t stop at just their store brand. I compared popular name-brand products across various categories and found that almost everything was cheaper at Costco if you calculate the price per unit. BJ’s did have a lower price point for Ensure shakes, Excedrin tablets, and Folgers coffee.

Here’s what I found for these 25 food and household items:

 

Costco vs. BJ’s: Name Brand Items Compared

ItemCostco Price Per UnitBJ’s Price Per Unit
Cheerios$0.16/oz$0.20/oz
Cheez-It Crackers$0.20/oz$0.21/oz
Colgate Total Advanced Whitening Toothpaste$0.48/oz$0.53/oz
Dove Beauty Bar$1.09/each$1.12/each
Duracell AAA Batteries$0.53/each$0.71/each
Ensure Original Nutrition Shake$1.39/each$1.37/each
Excedrin Migraine Extra Strength$0.07/caplet$0.06/caplet
Febreze Air Freshener$0.28/oz$0.31/oz
Folgers Coffee$0.29/oz$0.28/oz
Gatorade$0.04/oz$0.04/oz
Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise$0.14/oz$0.17/oz
Irish Spring Bar Soap$0.13/oz$0.15/oz
King Arthur All-Purpose Flour$0.03/oz$0.06/oz
LaCroix Sparkling Water$0.02/oz$0.03/oz
Mott’s Fruit Snacks$0.13/pack$0.14/pack
Orgain Organic Vegan Protein Powder$0.74/oz$0.78/oz
PediaSure Grow & Gain$0.20/oz$0.23/oz
Rao’s Homemade Tomato Basil Sauce$0.21/oz$0.23/oz
Red Bull, 8.4 oz cans$1.54/can$1.58/can
Starbucks Pike Place K-Cup Pods$0.58/pod$0.58/pod
Starkist Chunk Light Tuna in Water Pouches$0.32/oz$0.45/oz
Swanson’s Chicken Broth$0.05/oz$0.06/oz
Tampax Pearl Regular$0.17/each$0.17/each
Tide Pods$0.19/load$0.20/load
Ziploc Gallon Freezer Bags$0.12/bag$0.12/bag

 

3. Costco’s store brand is usually cheaper than BJ’s brands — except for diapers, dryer sheets, and K-Cups.

side-by-side comparison of costco kirkland and bj's berkley jensen store-brand diapers at costco in store

Seasoned Costco shoppers are likely familiar with the Kirkland Signature store brand, which even makes slip-on shoes and vodka. But BJ’s Wholesale Club has two exclusive store brands to choose from: Wellsley Farms and Berkley Jensen. Wellsley Farms covers food and drink items, and almost everything else falls under the Berkley Jensen label.

I compared prices across both retailers for 25 food and household items and found that Costco’s Kirkland brand had lower prices about 60% of the time. Surprisingly, BJ’s did beat Costco on their price for store-brand diapers, dryer sheets, K-Cups, liquid laundry detergent, and premium vanilla ice cream.

After calculating each item’s price per unit, here’s what I found:

 

Costco vs. BJ’s: Store Brand Items Compared

ItemCostco Price Per UnitBJ’s Price Per Unit
Bottled Water, 16.9 oz$0.10/bottle$0.10/bottle
Canned Chicken Breast in Water$0.17/oz$0.21/oz
Cheesecake$0.24/oz$0.35/oz
Coconut Water$0.07/oz$0.08/oz
Diapers, Sizes 1 – 2$0.18/diaper$0.16/diaper
Dishwasher Detergent Pacs$0.10/each$0.18/each
Fabric Softener Dryer Sheets$0.04/sheet$0.03/sheet
Flushable Wipes$0.02/wipe$0.03/wipe
Jasmine Rice$0.70/lb$0.80/lb
K-Cups$0.31/pod$0.26/pod
Laundry Detergent Pacs$0.13/each$0.16/each
Liquid Laundry Detergent$0.14/load$0.12/load
Olive Oil$0.24/oz$0.35/oz
Napkins$0.01/napkin$0.01/napkin
Organic Applesauce Pouches$0.14/oz$0.14/oz
Organic Maple Syrup$0.32/oz$0.41/oz
Organic Salsa$0.10/oz$0.14/oz
Paper Towels$0.02/sq ft$0.03/sq ft
Peanut Butter, 100% Natural or Organic$0.20/oz$0.25/oz
Premium Vanilla Ice Cream$0.12/oz$0.08/oz
Rotisserie Chicken, Hot$1.66/lb$1.66/lb
Sea Salt$0.10/oz$0.12/oz
Toilet Paper$0.01/sq ft$0.02/sq ft
Trash Bags, 13 gal$0.09/bag$0.10/bag
Unscented Baby Wipes$0.02/wipe$0.02/wipe

 

4. BJ’s and Costco offer similar store coupons — but BJ’s lets you use manufacturer coupons, too.

If you look at the basics of a BJ’s vs. Costco membership, you’ll see that BJ’s has one key difference — the ability to use manufacturer coupons in addition to store coupons.

With a Costco membership, the monthly Costco coupon book offers are like store coupons, and they get automatically applied at checkout. But at BJ’s, you can use store coupons in addition to digital manufacturer coupons for added savings (and a little more work). You’ll need to clip the BJ’s offers from the “My Coupons” page on BJs.com or in BJ’s mobile app (iOS / Android) in order to apply them to your order at checkout.

Here’s a sampling of the recent dollar-off savings I found offered at each store:

Related: If you have a BJ’s membership (and usually spend at least $150 in a single shopping trip), make sure you know about the BJ’s free turkey hack for Thanksgiving.

 

5. You’ll need a membership to shop at either warehouse, but there are hacks for shopping without one.

person's hand holding costco gold and bj's club membership cards

You’ll technically need a membership to shop at either Costco or BJ’s, but there are a few exceptions.

Some Costco locations will let you purchase alcohol, fill prescriptions at the pharmacy, and eat at the food court without a membership. You can also have a current Costco card holder purchase a Costco Shop Card (aka a Costco gift card) for you, and then you can use that Shop Card to enter the store and purchase items without paying for the full membership. And with Costco online shopping, you can always shop without a membership, but you’ll pay 5% more for anything you buy on Costco.com.

At BJ’s, you can shop without a membership using their One-Day Pass that’s good for 24 hours. But if you’re shopping this way, you won’t get to use their digital coupons AND you’ll be charged a 15% non-member surcharge. (In case you were wondering, Costco doesn’t offer a one-day pass at all.)

TIP: Another difference? The ability to add-on additional members (up to three) to your BJ’s account for $30 a year. Given all the recent drama surrounding the Costco membership sharing crackdown lately, this is a major bonus for BJ’s if you’re likely to want to share your membership with more people in your household.

 

 

6. Skip the checkout lines with BJ’s ExpressPay. Costco Scan and Go doesn’t exist.

Express pay signage in red

As long as you download the BJ’s mobile app (iOS / Android) and have it handy while you shop, you can scan items as you load things into your cart, then checkout with ExpressPay right on your phone. No need to go through the checkout lines at all. This is one of the things BJ’s shoppers I talked to love the most. And it’s a similar differentiator in the battle of Sam’s Club vs. Costco.

At Costco, your only option for skipping the regular lines is by using their self-checkout lanes.

Here’s how ExpressPay works at BJ’s:

  1. Open the BJ’s mobile app and select “In-Club Mode.”
  2. Scan items with the app as you shop (and clip any relevant coupons, too!).
  3. Pay within the app once you’re done shopping.
  4. Show your QR code receipt at the door on your way out.

TIP: You can’t use BJ’s ExpressPay to buy gift cards, alcohol, cigarettes, propane, appliances, fireworks, tires, or security-protected items. You also won’t get a paper receipt — it’s strictly digital.

 

7. There are twice as many Costco locations as BJ’s locations (about 580 vs. 238).

costco storefront with heather standing in front

Overall, there are way more Costco locations than BJ’s. Costco has more than 580 locations in 46 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Compare that to BJ’s 238 warehouse locations across 18 states — mostly on the East Coast.

You’ll also want to consider whether you plan to shop at a warehouse club while you travel (your membership card works at any location). Also, think about whether or not you’ll want to share your membership with additional family members who might live elsewhere. Costco limits you to just two membership cards per household (that means at the same address), but BJ’s will let you add on an additional member (up to three) for $30 a year each. That’s in addition to the two standard cards that come with a BJ’s membership.

 

8. Upgrade your membership at either warehouse to earn 2% cashback, but you’ll wait longer to get your Costco rewards.

If you’re a serious shopper, an upgraded membership card will help you take advantage of every possible perk, like earning 2% rewards on your purchases. Both warehouses offer an upgraded membership level that lets you earn rewards — called “The Club Card+” at BJ’s and “Executive Membership” at Costco.

With BJ’s rewards, you can redeem them immediately, as long as you have a minimum rewards balance of $10. With Costco rewards, you’ll have to wait until the end of the February billing cycle to get your rewards check, which you can then spend on future Costco purchases.

As long as you spend at least $250 a month at Costco (or $3,000 a year), you’ll earn enough back to pay for your upgrade fee. At BJ’s, you’d need to spend $229 a month (or $2,750 a year).

 

BJ’s The Club Card+ membership ($110/year)

Same perks as The Club Card, plus:

  • Earn 2% cash back on qualifying BJ’s purchases (up to $500 a year)
  • Double or triple cashback during special BJ’s events
  • Additional savings on select BJ’s services like BJ’s Travel

 

Costco Executive membership ($120/year):

Same perks as Gold Star membership, plus:

  • Annual 2% in rewards on qualifying Costco purchases (up to $1,000 a year)
  • Additional savings on select Costco services like Costco Travel packages

 

9. The Costco credit card has better rewards than BJ’s for dining and travel.

A person holding a pamphlet for information on a Costco Credit card

Both Costco and BJ’s offer a credit card you can use to earn points and cash back at the respective stores and at any other retailer.

To make it easier to compare the options, here’s how the cards differ.

 

Costco Anywhere Visa Card by CitiBJ’s One MastercardBJ’s One+ Mastercard
Gas4% back on eligible gas and EV charging for the first $7,000 per year, then 1% back after that$0.10 off per gallon at BJ’s Gas locations$0.15 off per gallon at BJ’s Gas locations
Dining3% back at restaurants and diningN/AN/A
Travel3% back on eligible travelN/AN/A
Warehouse Purchases2% back3% back5% back
All Other Purchases1% back1.5% back2% back
Redemption RateAnnual rewards certificateMonthly rewards loaded onto membership cardMonthly rewards loaded onto membership card
Redemption MethodIn-warehouse onlyIn-warehouse or onlineIn-warehouse or online
Annual Fee$0$0$0
Maximum RewardsNo rewards maximumNo rewards maximumNo rewards maximum

 

How do the gas credit card perks compare?

If you’re confused about how to compare the gas perks between Costco’s credit card and BJ’s two options, I was too. So I did some calculations to put the gas savings to the test. Let’s say gas costs $3.04/gal at regular price. Here’s what you’d pay (and earn) with each card per gallon:

  • Costco: Pay $3.04 for a gallon + earn 4% cashback = $0.12 in savings
  • BJ’s One: Pay $2.94 for a gallon = $0.10 in savings
  • BJ’s One+: Pay $2.89 for a gallon = $0.15 in savings

As you can see, the BJ’s One+ Mastercard beats Costco on gas, but the regular BJ’s One Mastercard doesn’t.

 

10. Costco has better quality gas (and more gas station perks) than BJ’s.

a woman pumping costco gas into car

We compared gas perks at all the major warehouse clubs and found that Costco has the best quality gas of all the retailers. Out of BJ’s, Costco, and Sam’s Club, only Costco gas is classified as “Top Tier,” which means it’s higher quality than EPA regulations require. And while Sam’s Club actually has the cheapest gas prices on average, Costco always beat out BJ’s in our comparison.

Related: Use these gas savings hacks to save on every fill-up year-round.

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