Katie Searcy | 

19 Tips Every Sam's Club Shopper Needs to Know

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Signing up for a Sam’s Club membership can feel like a bit of a commitment, especially since you have to pay for a whole year upfront. And if you’re new to the club, you might wish an expert shopper could share all their Sam’s Club secrets with you — like, what the heck is Sam’s Cash? And is it worth switching to the store brand once you learn who makes Member’s Mark products? (Hint: It is!)

Well, lucky you — I’m spilling all my favorite tips and tricks for how to save at Sam’s Club, including how to get at least 50% off your first year of membership, what sales to expect, where to find Sam’s Club clearance deals, and why you should be using Scan & Go to find extra savings in the club.

I’ve even got some Sam's Club hacks for seasoned shoppers. For instance, did you know a Walmart gift card will work at Sam’s Club? And there are some secret menu options at the food court that you’ll definitely want to ask about on your next trip to the club.

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1. Don't pay the full $50 price for your first year of Sam's Club membership.


The reason I say not to pay full price is because we often see deals that’ll save you 50% on the Sam’s Club membership cost. That means you can buy your whole first year of Sam’s Club membership at the basic level for as little as $25 (regularly $50). How? Just wait to sign up until we share a membership deal.

Even the upgraded Sam’s Club Plus membership goes on sale pretty regularly. We typically see a deal on Plus memberships that drop them to $70 (regularly $110), which will save you 36% on your first year.

KCL TIP: Verify your status as a student or veteran to save 60% on a new Sam’s Club membership.

2. Try Sam's Club online shopping if you don't have a membership.

Sam’s Club doesn’t really offer a free trial membership anymore, but even if you don’t have a membership, you can still do a few things. For example, you can make purchases from the pharmacy and the cafe, and you can get a cheap eye exam at Sam’s Club (but you just can’t purchase glasses without a membership card).

You can also shop Sam’s Club online without a membership, but you’ll pay a 10% markup on prices. Sam’s Club really wants you to be a member, hence the markup on Sam’s online shopping. And you have to join in order to take advantage of Sam’s Club benefits like curbside pickup, Sam’s gas discounts, and Scan & Go.

3. Know the best things to buy at Sam's Club to make your membership fee worth it.

New to the warehouse and wondering what to buy at Sam’s Club? That’s where our list of the best things to buy at Sam’s Club comes in handy.

When we calculated the price per unit (like price per ounce, or the price per soda can), we found that some things are just cheaper at Sam’s Club compared to other places — even when you look at Sam’s vs. Costco and Sam’s vs. Walmart!

You’ll want to check out our full list for inspo, but some of the best things to buy at Sam’s Club include paper towels, rotisserie chicken, canned soup, soda, and snack foods like crackers.

It’s a random list, but your grocery budget will thank you.

KCL TIP: If you buy groceries on Amazon, you might want to check our Sam’s Club vs. Amazon Prime comparison to see the major price differences.

4. Look for Instant Savings to drop about once a month.


A major bummer that we share in our Sam’s Club vs. BJ’s comparison is that Sam’s Club doesn’t accept manufacturer or competitor coupons. And traditional coupons for Sam’s Club don’t exist. Instead, you’ll need to look for their “Instant Savings” offers to zero in on the best Sam's Club deals.

These offers are limited-time sale prices that apply automatically at checkout to all members. They typically pop up on a monthly basis, and you can expect to find dollar-off or percent-off discounts on a variety of products.

5. Combine Ibotta offers with Sam's Club deals for extra savings.

If you’re familiar with cash-back rebate apps like Ibotta, you know that you can earn money back when you combine Ibotta offers with in-store deals — and that applies to Sam’s Club deals, too.

Just add the offers before you shop (we can teach you how Ibotta works), then upload your Sam’s receipt to the Ibotta app to earn cash back on select products. This works because Ibotta offers aren’t actually coupons that require action at checkout. You use your receipt to redeem an offer, so Sam’s Club doesn’t really care.

6. Shop the in-store clearance deals — they're typically better than Sam's online clearance.

Clearance markdowns vary by location and depend on how much inventory a particular location has to move. We recommend always checking for Sam’s Club clearance deals in the aisles at your store, as in-store deals are typically better than Sam’s Club clearance online.

For example, we found a Penelope Mack Girls Sundress for $14.98 at Sam’s Club online, but it was marked down to only $7.98 in store.

KCL TIP: Look for additional markdowns to happen toward the end of a season, when the next season’s new Sam's items arrive in stores.

7. Understand the Sam's Club pricing codes so you can predict markdowns.

M&Ms Milk Chocolate price tag at Sam's Club

While the timing of in-store markdowns is pretty random, if you pay attention to the codes on Sam’s Club price tags, you can predict whether a future markdown is likely.

For example, you can figure out whether an item will go on sale by looking for letters N, A, C, O, S on the price tag. Here’s what each means:

  • N stands for “never out,” meaning it’s always in stock and won’t go on sale.

  • A stands for “available,” which means the store has a lot in stock, but a markdown in the future is likely.

  • C stands for “canceled,” so the item isn’t going to be restocked, and the store wants it off the shelves.

  • O stands for “orderable,” often seen with limited-time-only items.

  • S stands for “seasonal.”

8. Stop by the Freeosk machine for free samples.

Freeosk at Sam's Club

While you’re shopping in-store at Sam’s Club, look for the Freeosk free sample machine. My store has it placed near the frozen foods section.

Once you find it, just scan your membership card, or use the Freeosk app to scan a QR code on the machine.

Your freebie depends on what they’re advertising that month (and your location), but I’ve seen them offer free samples for All Free & Clear detergent, Dude Wipes, Prime Hydration, Dot’s Pretzels, Member’s Mark coffee pods, and Haribo Goldbears.

KCL TIP: Another place you’ll want to check for occasional free samples is at the Sam’s Club Bakery!

9. Ask for secret menu items at the food court.

We sure love the Sam’s Club food court for their rock-bottom prices — I mean, where else can you get a hot dog and a 30-ounce soda for $1.38? They even beat Costco’s hot dog prices at the food court.

But there’s actually a way to order items that aren’t on the Sam’s Club food court menu. For example, you can ask for an ICEE float, which is vanilla frozen yogurt in an ICEE cup topped with the ICEE flavor of your choice (like frozen Pepsi).

10. Use Sam's Club Scan & Go for in-store savings (and skip the checkout line).


Sam’s Club has a huge leg up on Costco here, because you can avoid the dreaded checkout line when you use the Sam’s Club Scan & Go app feature.

Just scan the barcodes of your items while you shop, then pay through the app when you’re done. Instead of waiting in the checkout line, you just show your digital receipt to the Sam’s Club associate at the exit door — or walk through a fancy automatic scanner if your store has one of those. (Costco, please take note.)

Another perk for using Scan & Go is that you may get to claim special discounts called Scan & Go Savings. On a recent shopping trip, I spotted a Scan & Go discount on Energizer Max AAA batteries — the 48-count package was $22.48 with Scan & Go, or $24.98 without it (a savings of 8%).

KCL TIP: Sam’s Club Scan & Go will let you pay with Sam’s Cash, a linked credit card, or an EBT card.

11. Shop two hours earlier on weekdays if you're a Plus member.

Someone holding a Sam's Club plus membership card next to a Sam's Club cart

An added perk of Sam’s Club Plus membership is the extra two hours of shopping time you get before the warehouse opens to the rest of the members. Early shopping hours mean fewer crowds — and first dibs when stores restock items.

On weekdays, Sam’s Club opens to Plus members for early shopping hours from 8 a.m. - 10 a.m. (This early access applies to Black Friday, too!) And on Saturdays, Plus members get to shop from 8 a.m. - 9 a.m.

KCL TIP: Plus membership also gives you early access to the online Sam’s Club Black Friday sale, which typically kicks off two hours earlier for Plus members on the night before Thanksgiving.

12. Use your Plus membership to get free generics at the pharmacy.

If you have a Plus membership, you can get 10 generic medications for free, including amlodipine, lisinopril, metformin, and vitamin D2 (50,000 IU). This is one of the perks that can make a Plus membership worth it, especially if you can save on one of the hundreds of discounted medications they offer. 

13. Aim to save 20% to 30% on gift cards during Black Friday and Cyber Monday.


Sam’s Club sells discounted gift cards to lots of stores and restaurants, but you’ll always want to calculate the savings so you know if you’re getting a good deal.

In our experience, you should aim to save at least 20% - 25% with these gift card deals. Your savings can go up to 30% if you wait for Cyber Monday sales.

Here are a few hot gift card deals we’ve shared during Sam’s Club Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales:

  • $500 Southwest Airlines eGift Card, $399.98 (reg. $500) — 20% off

  • Gap $50 eGift Card, $39.98 (reg. $50) — 20% off

  • Instacart $250 eGift Card, $199.98 (reg. $250) — 20% off

  • Chuck E. Cheese $50 eGift Card, $35 (reg. $50) — 30% off

  • California Pizza Kitchen $50 eGift Card, $37.48 (reg. $50) — 25% off

  • Famous Dave’s $75 eGift Card, $53.44 (reg. $75) — 29% off

  • Romano’s Macaroni Grill $100 eGift Card, $70 (reg. $100) — 30% off

  • Sullivan’s Steakhouse $100 eGift Card, $70 (reg. $100) — 30% off

14. Pay with a Walmart gift card (those work at Sam's Club, too!).


You can actually use a Sam’s Club gift card to buy things at Walmart and a Walmart gift card to buy things at Sam’s Club. But just flashing a Walmart gift card at Sam’s Club won’t let you get around their membership rules — you’ve still gotta have a membership at Sam’s.

So, while Costco non-members can absolutely shop at Costco armed with just a Costco gift card (we cover that in our Costco membership guide), Sam’s doesn’t allow this workaround.

15. Sign up for the Sam's Club credit card if you spend at least $417 a month at the club.

The Sam’s Club Mastercard has no annual fee, and basic Club members earn 1% cash back on all purchases. So if you spend at least $5,000 a year at Sam’s Club (about $417 a month), you’ll be getting enough cash back rewards ($50) to cover your annual membership cost.

If you have Plus membership, it’s worth signing up for the Sam’s Club Mastercard to earn cash back even faster. (You earn 3% on Sam’s purchases with the Mastercard and Plus.) So with Plus, you’d only need to spend $3,667 per year, or around $306 per month, at Sam’s to cover your $110 membership cost.

KCL TIP: If you don’t spend that much money at Sam’s Club in a year (or you don’t fill up at Sam’s Club gas stations, where all members earn 5% cash back), don’t bother with the credit card.

16. Get new eyeglasses for as low as $59 at the optical center.

Eye glasses on a display wall in the Optical center at Sam's Club.

A complete pair of glasses including frames, lenses, and anti-glare starts at $59, and then you can get an additional 20% off if you’re a Plus member.

If your store has a fully staffed optical center, we found that the average cost of a Sam’s Club eye exam is around $85 (or about $139 for a contact lens exam).

17. Compare prices on Sam's Club travel deals before you buy attraction tickets online.

When you’re ready to get on a plane or walk into a theme park, know that your Sam’s Club membership gives you access to quite a few Sam’s Club vacation deals, so it’s always worth shopping around for the best price. 

For example, we found that their travel booking site includes deals that’ll save you 11% - 38% on tickets to the San Diego Zoo, Disneyland, and SeaWorld, with no coupons required.

18. Save $4 per curbside pickup order by upgrading to Plus.

Both Club and Plus members can use the convenient Sam’s Club curbside pickup service, but it’s only free with Plus membership. For Club members, curbside pickup tacks on a fee of $4 per order. (Starting Aug. 19, 2024, the $4 will only apply to Club members' curbside pickup orders under $50.)

Based on the savings math, it’s worth upgrading to Plus if you place at least 15 Sam’s Club curbside pickup orders under $50 a year.

19. Use the Sam's Club return policy to your advantage.

You don’t need a receipt to make a return at Sam’s Club, and most items can be returned for an indefinite amount of time. Even opened food items that you tried and didn’t like!

Sure, Sam’s won’t let you return anything and everything. Contacts, eyeglasses, alcohol, cigarettes, and gift cards are a few items squarely in the “non-returnable” category. We cover some tips and tricks for navigating the rules in our Sam’s Club return policy guide.

I also recommend returning items in-store instead of shipping them back so you can avoid paying shipping costs, which Sam’s Club won’t reimburse.

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