Emily VanSchmus | 

Is Costco Executive Membership Worth It? Here’s When to Upgrade

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At first glance, the Costco Executive membership benefits look pretty amazing. Earning 2% rewards on your Costco purchases (including Costco Travel packages and prescriptions in most states) without having to sign up for a store credit card? Sign me up. But the upgrade is not necessarily worth it for everyone.

At $120 a year, upgrading to an Executive membership is no small investment. You’re paying three figures each year just to step inside the store, and it's double the price of the $60 Gold Star membership. And if you compare Sam’s Club vs. Costco, a Costco Executive membership is $10 more expensive than a Sam’s Club Plus membership.

But if you’re shopping for a whole family or planning a major purchase, the Executive membership could pay for itself pretty quickly. We’ll break down all the nitty-gritty spending details so you can decide if a Costco Executive membership is worth it for you. And if you need help deciding if a basic Costco membership is worth it, we have a guide for that, too.

For more smart shopping tips and savings hacks, download the KCL app or text HACKS to 57299.

Costco Gold Star vs. Executive

costco memebership signage

First, let’s talk about the main differences between the Costco Gold Star vs. Executive membership. (We cover even more details in our Costco membership guide.)

  • The basic Gold Star membership ($60 per year) grants you access to the warehouse and allows you to make purchases at any Costco location or online.

  • The Executive membership ($120 per year) includes all of that, plus 2% back on qualifying Costco purchases and extra benefits and savings on Costco Travel and other Costco services.

Just like the basic Gold Star membership, the Executive membership comes with two membership cards — so both you and a partner can use the same account. You also get a complimentary subscription to the Costco Connection magazine.

You might think only a small percentage of shoppers are at the Executive level, but actually, about half of all Costco members have the Executive membership.

"Executive members represent a little over 46% of paid members, and a little over 73% of worldwide sales," said former Costco CFO Richard Galanti on a Costco earnings call for investors in March 2024.

KCL TIP: A few years ago, Executive members could shop an hour earlier than Gold Star members on weekdays, but that’s no longer the case. Costco Executive membership perks don’t include special shopping hours anymore.

How Much You’d Need To Spend To Make Costco Executive Membership Worthwhile

The main benefits of upgrading to the Executive level are the 2% back and the added travel benefits. But unless you’re planning a big family cruise, you’ll need to spend a certain amount at Costco to make back the additional $60 you spent on the upgrade.

If you’re only looking to justify the cost to upgrade your membership ($60), you’d need to spend at least $3,000 per year at Costco to earn your $60 back. This works out to a monthly spend of about $250 to make the Costco Executive membership worth it, whether you're shopping in the warehouse or online.

To completely cover the cost of your Executive membership ($120), you’d need to spend at least $6,000 per year at Costco to earn your $120 in rewards. This works out to a monthly spend of about $500.

Annual / Monthly Costco Spend

Annual Costco Reward Earnings

$250 per month / $3,000 per year


$500 per month / $6,000 per year


$4,167 per month / $50,000 per year

$1,000 (maximum)

Of course, your membership may pay for itself at an even lower monthly spend if you claim the additional savings available on Costco services like check printing, auto insurance, or travel services.

KCL TIP: Costco will pay you 2% back in rewards up to a maximum of $1,000/year. This is a higher limit than Sam’s Club Plus membership, which only pays 2% back in rewards up to $500/year.

Costco Executive Membership Perks

costco travel brochures on being opened in store

Aside from the 2% rewards, there are other Costco Executive membership benefits you can take advantage of with the upgrade.

Some of the highest savings come from booking travel. You’ll get additional savings when you book a vacation through Costco (we’ve seen discounts of anywhere from $100 to $1500 compared to what Gold Star members pay). And you can also score additional perks, like free transportation on your vacation or resort credits for free massages and outings.

If you’re planning a home remodel, you can take advantage of Costco’s Home & Installation Services, which also count toward the 2% cash back. Considering that flooring can cost an average of about $3000 for a 500-square-foot space, by purchasing the materials and installation from Costco, you’d earn $60 back — which would cover the cost of the membership upgrade.

Another way to save is to transfer your prescriptions to Costco. Pharmacy purchases are usually also eligible for the 2% rewards (except if you live in Arkansas, New Jersey, or New York, according to the fine print). So if you were to spend $400 on over-the-counter meds, prescriptions, and contacts at Costco, you’d earn $96 in rewards at the end of the year. Plus, you can pay for these items with your HSA card (just make sure you check out at the Costco Pharmacy counter).

Is Costco Executive Membership Worth It?

Here’s the bottom line: Upgrading to the Executive membership is really only worth it if you already spend a lot at Costco.

If you’re a single person spending $200/month at the warehouse, it’s probably not going to be worth it for you to upgrade your Costco membership to Executive.

But if you’re a parent buying food for your entire crew or you have a lot of prescriptions, the $250/month minimum spend to justify the price difference is definitely achievable. Thanks to runaway inflation over the past couple years, we’ve heard that a lot of families are shelling out $1,000 or more on their monthly grocery bill.

If you were to spend $1,000/month at Costco, your total annual rewards would be $240 — which pays for your $120 membership fees and puts an additional $120 back in your pocket to spend on groceries.

You can save 25% on your first year of Executive Membership.

If you fall into any of these categories, you may be eligible to get a discount on your Costco membership:

They usually offer something like a $30 Costco Shop Card when you purchase an Executive membership, but you'll want to check Costco.com for the latest offers. That would effectively make your membership just $90 for the first year​​ — so the upgrade would cost about $30 instead of the usual $60.

You can also find membership discounts on Groupon from time to time.

One major purchase could pay for the membership.

Even if you aren’t shopping for a family of five, making just one major purchase at the Executive level — like a new sofa or a TV — could more than pay for the membership. So if you’re already planning on making one of these large purchases, you could upgrade to the Executive membership for just one year to take advantage of the 2% back.

You can try it without committing to a full year.

If you have a Gold Star membership but want to start getting in on the 2% back in rewards that comes with the Executive membership, you can pay for a prorated upgrade.

Let’s say you had six months left on your Gold Star membership. You’d only need to pay an additional $30 (half of the price difference between the Gold Star and Executive membership fees) to upgrade to Executive for the rest of the year.

That said, you don’t necessarily need a membership to give the store a try before you commit. Costco will let you in the doors without a membership if you have a Shop Card in hand. (A Shop Card is essentially just a Costco gift card.)

So if you have a friend with a Costco membership, give them some cash and ask them to turn it into a Shop Card. You’ll be able to get a feel for how much you might spend on a monthly basis after you’ve had the experience at least once. And you’ll get a chance to calculate if the 2% back in rewards would be worth it for you.

But you also don’t have to worry about what might happen if you end up hating the Executive membership. If you find yourself unhappy on the other side of that transaction, Costco will refund you 100% of your membership fee.

KCL TIP: Costco’s return policy for purchases is pretty sweet. You can return almost anything, whenever, for whatever reason. It doesn’t even have to be a good reason.

But beware: Upgrading your membership could actually cause you to spend more.

Be wary that having the Executive membership might actually encourage you to spend more money, since you paid more for it. And it’s easy to justify extra purchases with the promise of a 2% reward.

Also keep in mind that the 2% rewards come as a voucher, not cash. That means you can only spend your rewards on more Costco purchases. And the 2% back doesn’t apply to purchases like gas, tobacco products, and alcohol in certain states.

Costco is also overdue for a membership price increase.

On the company’s Q4 2022 earnings call, CFO Richard Galanti made it clear that a rise in Costco membership fees was coming. But more than a year later, we still haven’t seen an increase. For the most part, Costco has raised their membership fees about once every 5 years and 7 months. That would have put the next fee hike due in January 2023, but so far, there hasn’t been a bump in cost.

The last time membership fees increased, they cost $5 more for Gold Star members and $10 more for Executive members. Whether or not the fees will go up in 2024 remains to be seen.

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