Dawn Papandrea | 

The Costco Trade-In Program Gives You Gift Cards for Old Tech — But How Much?

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If you have dusty, outdated Apple tech taking up valuable space in your closet, consider cashing them in for Costco bucks. Yes, the warehouse offers an online trade-in program that lets you responsibly recycle your old devices and get paid in the form of Costco store credit.

And amazingly, you don’t have to have a Costco membership to take advantage of this deal. Let me break down the Costco Trade-in Program for you and explain what’s involved on your end (hint: it’s mostly online). The whole trade-in process does take a little while, though, so you’ll need to practice a little patience.

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1. The online Costco Trade-In Program gives you a Costco gift card in exchange for your old electronics.

a person on the costco trade in website on their macbook

Before you assume you can take your clunky old MacBook into your local Costco and get a cash payout on the spot, let me explain.

Costco partners with Phobio, a company that specializes in device trade-in services, to run this program. The entire process gets handled online and via snail mail, meaning you don’t need to pack up your gear and actually head to a Costco.

In fact, the only actual involvement Costco has is that once your trade-in gets accepted by Phobio, they send you a Costco Shop Card. Basically a Costco gift card, this store credit lets you make purchases on Costco.com or in person at any Costco location.


2. You don’t actually need a Costco membership to use Costco Trade-In.

Costco and Phobio confirm that anyone can use their trade-in program. That’s because anyone can shop with a physical Costco Shop Card in hand at Costco (or online with a Digital Shop Card, if you prefer that route).

In fact, going the trade-in route offers a fun way to check out the store and try out a few staples if you’ve been on the fence about getting a Costco membership.

Related: See what else you can do at Costco without a membership.


3. But be warned that the trade-in process takes … a while.

costco tech trade in pulled up on an iphone

The first part of the Costco Trade-In process goes pretty quick. You just enter the device’s serial number or International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number on Phobio’s site, then you get an instant quote online.

If you decide you want to move forward, the next steps go a bit slower. Let me explain what I mean:

  1. It will take 3 to 5 business days to receive the pre-paid shipping supplies needed to mail in your device.
  2. You’ll wait another 3 to 5 business days for the shipped item to arrive at Phobio.
  3. Phobio will inspect your device to make sure it’s in working condition, then wipe the data and approve your trade-in.
  4. You then choose your payment preference — Digital Costco Shop Card or a physical Shop Card.
  5. Once you have your card of choice, you can shop!


4. And you’ll definitely want to comparison shop — Costco’s trade-in values aren’t the highest.

Phobio doesn’t publish any sample trade-in value, but for the most part, filling out the form takes just a few minutes.

To give you an idea of how the trade-in values compare, here are the quotes I got in September 2023 for my Apple iPhone 12 Pro (256 GB).

Costco Trade-In vs. Competitors for an iPhone 12 Pro:

  • Costco: $240 on a Costco Shop Card
  • Target: $225 on a Target gift card
  • Apple: $355 on an Apple gift card (or a $360 trade-in credit toward a new iPhone)
  • Amazon: $355 on an Amazon gift card
  • Best Buy: $360 on a Best Buy gift card
  • Game Stop: $369 via prepaid card

As you can see, Costco’s isn’t the highest offer (Best Buy and Game Stop offer about 50% more), but they do beat Target’s quote. But since you get paid in the form of store credit for each retailer, the Costco Shop Card does open up more options for what to buy — since Costco sells groceries, toys, and gas, too (as long as you choose the physical Shop Card option).

Related: If you’d rather get cash, consider Gazelle — it’s one of the sites we mention in our big roundup of the best side hustles for earning extra money.



5. Opt for the digital Costco Shop Card if you want your money faster.

I saw a bit of a discrepancy between Costco’s explainer and Phobio’s, but both sites make it clear that requesting a physical gift card will take much longer than going for the digital card option.

According to Costco, it can take up to two business days to receive your digital Costco Shop Card by email. Compare this to up to 10 business days to receive the Costco Shop Card in the mail.

On Phobio’s site, however, they predict an even slower timeframe: five days before you receive the digital card and up to 20 days to receive the physical one.


What’s the difference between a physical Costco Shop Card and a digital one?

The main difference between a physical Shop Card and a digital Shop Card is where you can use them. You can’t use a digital Costco Shop Card at Costco gas stations or at the Costco food court.


5. They mostly focus on Apple products, but you may be able to try other devices, too.

Person with long hair and a nose piercing looking at their laptop

Costco’s program page specifies that you can “Trade In Your Apple devices,” but when you head to the Phobio page, you’ll see an option to choose “other smartphones” or “other tablets.”

The bottom line: if you have non-Apple devices, give it a try, but it seems more likely that the program supports Macs, iPads, iPhones, and Apple Watches.


6. Make sure your tech qualifies — it must be from 2013 or newer.

Macs and iMacs must have a model year of 2013 or later, and they must be able to power on. You also need to make sure that your device doesn’t have any activation locks (like Find My Mac, Find My iPhone, etc.).

From there, they’ll also ask you some basic questions about the condition of your device. Be honest — remember, they will inspect it in person at Phobio, so you might as well tell the truth so you can get an accurate quote.


7. If you want to trade in gaming consoles or smart home devices, you need to look elsewhere.

Costco’s Trade-In Program mainly focuses on computers, tablets, and phones. If you have an old Playstation, Xbox, or other gaming console, you’ll want to use the trade-in programs from Target, GameStop, or Walmart instead.


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