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Ahh, the long-lived debate of Sam’s Club vs. Costco. Both wholesalers are well-known for their competitive prices, bulk products, and warehouse shopping experiences. But with similar products, prices, services, and member perks, how do you pick which one is right for you?
If you can’t decide between a Sam’s Club membership and a Costco membership, let me first say that it’s okay to be stuck. It’s super difficult to compare the two with all the teensy differences between their offerings. But that’s why we’re here to give you the answers you need.
We looked at Sam’s Club vs. Costco in terms of membership fees, credit card perks, monthly savings, prices on everyday staples, and more to show you exactly how these wholesalers stack up.
1. It costs less to be a Sam’s Club member than it does to be a Costco member.
Both memberships offer exclusive warehouse savings and special discounts on select Costco and Sam’s Club services.
The premium memberships are where you’ll see the differences. On one hand, Sam’s Club Plus members get free shipping online or in the app. On the other hand, Costco’s Executive membership gives you an annual 2% back reward of up to $1,000 a year. The Sam’s Club Plus membership gives you the same benefit, but you can only earn up to $500 a year.
2. Sam’s Club and Costco offer about the same savings in their monthly coupon books.
You won’t be able to use manufacturer coupons at either Sam’s Club or Costco, but they both give you the same type of “Instant Savings” in their monthly coupon books. This is where you’ll find dollar-off deals on certain products, which apply automatically to your purchase online or in the warehouse. New Instant Savings drop at Costco and Sam’s Club every month and last for a 3- to 4-week period.
The Costco Coupon Book and the Sam’s Club Instant Savings Book often have the same types of deals. For example, in January 2023, both wholesalers offered up to $30 off TurboTax programs, just in time for tax season.
Discounts in both coupon books can range from $2 off to $2,000 off, depending on the product and its regular price.
3. Costco’s credit card perks are a pinch better than Sam’s Club’s.
Costco and Sam’s Club have comparable benefits for their store credit cards, with rewards back on gas, dining, warehouse purchases, and more. However, the Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi doesn’t limit how much you can earn back in rewards, while the Sam’s Club Mastercard has a $5,000 rewards max per calendar year.
Costco’s credit card also gives you rewards on travel like airfare, hotels, car rentals, travel agencies, cruise lines, and Costco Travel services.
|Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi||Sam’s Club Mastercard|
|Gas||4% back on eligible gas and EV charging for the first $7,000 per year, then 1% back after that||5% back on gas anywhere Mastercard is accepted on the first $6,000 per year, then 1% back after that|
|Dining||3% back at restaurants and dining||3% back on dining and takeout|
|Travel||3% back on eligible travel||N/A|
|Warehouse Purchases||2% back||3% back for Plus members, 1% back for Club members|
|All Other Purchases||1% back||1% back|
|Redemption Rate||Annual rewards certificate||Monthly rewards loaded onto membership card|
|Redemption Method||In-warehouse only||In-warehouse or online|
|Maximum Rewards||No rewards maximum||$5,000 rewards maximum per year|
Even though you can redeem your Sam’s Club credit card rewards more frequently — and they’re automatically loaded onto your membership card — Costco lets you earn unlimited rewards and gives you added perks on travel.
Related: Meet the best cash-back credit cards in 2023.
4. When it comes to basic food staples, Sam’s Club prices are slightly lower than Costco’s.
I compared the prices of 25 food staples and pantry items at Sam’s Club vs. Costco. After calculating each item’s price per unit, here’s what I found:
|Item||Costco Price Per Unit||Sam’s Club Price Per Unit|
|Bertoli Pasta Sauce||$0.09||$0.15|
|Chicken Breasts, Boneless, Skinless, Frozen||$3.38||$3.00|
|Eggs, Cheapest Variety||$0.30||$0.35|
|Quaker Old Fashioned Oats||$0.10||$0.08|
|White Rice, Store Brand or Cheapest||$0.03||$0.09|
|JIF Peanut Butter, Creamy||$0.14||$0.17|
|Smucker’s Strawberry Jam||$0.13||$0.05|
|Coke Cans, 12 Pack||$0.64||$0.49|
|Bisquick Pancake Mix||$1.67||$1.38|
|Cheddar Cheese, Store Brand||$3.40||$3.01|
|Campbell’s Tomato Soup||$0.12||$0.10|
|Philadelphia Cream Cheese||$0.25||$0.24|
|General Mills Honey Nut Cheerios||$0.16||$0.32|
|Yoplait Yogurt Cups||$0.56||$0.48|
|Tyson Fully Cooked Chicken Nuggets||$0.25||$0.18|
|Toilet Paper, Store Brand or Cheapest||$0.02||$0.02|
|Bounty Paper Towels||$0.04||$0.04|
Sam’s Club had a lower price for more items on this list than Costco, but the price differences are slim. And this is just a glimpse of the many products and food items both wholesalers offer.
With that said, Costco has a wider selection of gourmet and organic products, particularly under their Kirkland Signature brand. Many shoppers think Kirkland’s quality is the same and sometimes better than name brand, but Kirkland products are usually much cheaper.
5. Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand is more reputable than the Sam’s Club Member’s Mark brand.
Countless shoppers trust and love Kirkland Signature (aka Costco’s private label brand). In fact, many people sign up for a Costco membership just to access the quality and value of Kirkland Signature — and they never look back.
On the other hand, Member’s Mark (aka the Sam’s Club private label brand) doesn’t have the same reputation. Since Sam’s Club is owned by Walmart (and Walmart isn’t known for healthy, wholesome ingredients), shoppers are often skeptical about the quality of Member’s Mark food items.
6. Costco’s online prices are higher than in the warehouse, but Sam’s Club prices are the same online and in store.
Costco’s online shopping is convenient, but it’ll cost you — at least 5% more than what you’d pay in the warehouse.
Take this ThermoFlask Straw Tumbler 2-Pack (shown above), for example. In the warehouse, it costs just $23.99. But online, it costs a whopping 37% more.
As a general rule, you’ll need to spend at least $75 to get free shipping from Costco.com, though many items qualify for free shipping as it is.
Prices for Sam’s Club online are the same as they are in the warehouse, so you won’t have to pay for any online markups. However, only Plus members get the benefit of free shipping on most items. Club members can get free shipping on a limited selection of items but will otherwise pay for shipping based on the item’s size, weight, shipping method, and delivery address.
7. Sam’s Club has better grocery delivery and pickup options than Costco, but there’s a fee for every order.
Sam’s Club has the edge over Costco with their curbside pickup option, but when you compare the two grocery delivery services, it’s hard to say which is cheaper. Here’s the summary:
- Costco Delivery doesn’t cost extra if you meet the minimum spend for each order, but their online prices are still higher than they are in the warehouse.
- Sam’s Club Delivery gets you the same in-warehouse prices, but you’ll pay at least $8 in fees for each grocery delivery.
Costco Grocery Pickup & Delivery
Costco doesn’t offer grocery pickup, but they do offer options for grocery delivery. However, all of them will cost more than if you shopped in the warehouse. Not only are Costco’s online prices higher, but their same-day grocery delivery is powered by Instacart, which means even higher markups and added fees.
- Same-Day Deliveries: Spend at least $35 to get free delivery, or pay a $3.99 fee for orders under $35.
- 2-Day Nonperishable Deliveries: Spend at least $75 to get free delivery, or pay a $3 fee for orders under $75.
- Cold & Frozen Deliveries: Spend at least $100 to get free delivery, or pay a $10 fee for orders under $100.
Sam’s Club Grocery Pickup & Delivery
You can order Sam’s Club same-day grocery delivery through Instacart or directly from Sam’s Club. Like Costco, you’ll pay higher prices and added fees if you shop through Instacart. But if you order directly from Sam’s Club, you’ll pay the same in-warehouse prices and a fixed delivery fee: $12 for Club members and $8 for Plus members.
Sam’s Club also offers a curbside pickup option, which is always free for Plus members but costs $4 per pickup for Club members. After you place your curbside pickup order, all you have to do is head to Sam’s Club and park in a Curbside Pickup spot. Once you check in, they’ll load your groceries into your car for you.
Overall, Sam’s Club’s same-day delivery option is better than Costco’s because you can order directly from Sam’s Club and not have to pay the added Instacart fees that come with it.
Related These are the best grocery delivery services for your budget.
8. Shopping without a membership? It’ll cost you less at Costco than at Sam’s Club.
If you’re looking to shop at Costco without a membership, you’ll need to get your hands on a Costco Shop Card, which you can use online or in the warehouse without a membership. However, you’ll pay a 5% service fee on anything you buy from Costco as a nonmember.
Sam’s Club doesn’t let nonmembers shop in the warehouse, with the exception of the food court, pharmacy, Photo Center, and Optical Center. You can shop online at SamsClub.com, as long as you sign up for a 24-hour guest membership. But you’ll pay a 10% service fee as a nonmember.
So Costco offers more shopping options and charges a lower fee (5%) for nonmembers, while Sam’s Club only allows nonmembers to shop online with a higher fee (10%).
9. Costco members are more satisfied with their membership than Sam’s Club members.
You can tell how well each wholesaler serves their customers just by looking at their Net Promoter Score (NPS). NPS is the business measurement for customer experience. It ranks a company on a scale from -100 to 100, based on customers who speak positively about the company (aka “promoters”) and those who speak negatively about the company (aka “detractors”). The more likely a customer is to recommend the company, the higher the score.
- Costco has a 57 NPS, with 71% promoters, 15% passives, and 14% detractors.
- Sam’s Club has a -9 NPS, with 40% promoters, 11% passives, and 49% detractors.
So Costco is clearly doing something right here. Their members are much more likely to recommend them — and a lot less likely to complain.
10. Costco and Sam’s Club have super similar return policies that both offer a 100% Satisfaction Guarantee.
This means Costco and Sam’s Club literally give you forever to make returns. Both the Costco return policy and the Sam’s Club return policy promise a 100% Satisfaction Guarantee that covers almost everything you buy. Even opened items and food. Also, they both have the same exception for electronics, which you have 90 days to return.
These are the only return policy differences between Sam’s Club vs. Costco:
- Costco lets you return gift cards, prepaid cards, and prescriptions, but Sam’s Club doesn’t.
- Some Sam’s Club warehouses let you return alcohol and cigarettes, but Costco never does.
Related: Here’s where you’ll find the absolute best store return policies.
11. Sam’s Club food court prices are just a tad lower, but Costco has better quality and more choices.
Even though the Sam’s Club food court has slightly lower prices, the average price of a Costco food court item is still just $2.87. So that’s pretty insane. But here’s how their prices on similar items compare:
1. Sam’s Club Pizza vs. Costco Pizza
- Sam’s Club: $2.50/slice
- Costco: $1.99/slice
2. Sam’s Club Churro vs. Costco Churro
- Sam’s Club: $1
- Costco: $1.49
3. Sam’s Club Berry Sundae vs. Costco Berry Sundae
- Sam’s Club: $1.58
- Costco: $2.49
Pricing aside, people who’ve tried both food courts say Costco wins by a landslide. Not only does Costco offer more choices, like their BBQ Beef Brisket and Hot Turkey and Provolone sandwiches, but customers also say the overall quality is much better.
12. There are more total Costco warehouses than Sam’s Club warehouses in the U.S. — 848 vs. 600.
Right now (in February 2023), there are about 150 more Costco locations than there are Sam’s Club locations in the U.S. What does this mean for you? Costco is more available to shoppers than Sam’s Club, but not by that much. And who knows, maybe Sam’s Club will catch up in the numbers one day.
13. So who wins the Sam’s Club vs. Costco battle?
If your main priority is to save as much money as possible, go with Sam’s Club.
If you’re looking to join a wholesale club to save as much money as possible, sign up for a Sam’s Club membership. You’ll pay less for an annual membership and you’ll likely find lower prices on name-brand products and everyday household staples.
If you’re looking for quality food items and a better customer experience, go with Costco.
If you’d rather shop for quality food items with more organic and healthy options to choose from, sign up for a Costco membership. Costco’s Kirkland brand offers a huge assortment of quality products at low prices, and Costco’s customer experience is hard to beat.