Most people who join Costco (NASDAQ:COST) do so to enjoy saving money by shopping in bulk. They appreciate the chain's no-frills stores that offer limited selection but great prices.
That's the core of what the warehouse club offers, but it's not the only reason to join. You can save money as a Costco member a lot of different ways -- including a few you might not be aware of.
1. Gas alone can be worth it
A basic Costco membership costs $60 a year. Many of the chain's warehouses have gas stations. In general, those are very inexpensive places to get gas -- often charging $0.10 to $0.20 less per gallon than a typical station.
If you save $0.10 on 10 gallons a week for 52 weeks a year, you will have saved $52. That does not quite pay for your $60-a-year membership, but it pays for a big piece of it. If you use a little more gas (or a lot more), you might break even on the membership without even stepping into one of Costco's stores.
2. You can save big on travel
Costco offers access to travel deals through its website, but capitalizing on them takes a lot of legwork. You need to compare and contrast what the same trips will cost you elsewhere.
In general, the warehouse club offers the best prices on vacation packages. It does specifically well with theme-park trips (specifically to the major Florida parks) and for cruises. If you're looking to bundle airfare, hotel, theme-park tickets, and maybe a rental car, Costco may have the best prices.
3. You can buy a car
When you walk into a Costco store, you don't see cars for sale. The chain has no lots full of vehicles, and there's no counter at which a person takes you through your options. The retailer does, however, provide through its website the ability to research vehicles and then get connected to a Costco Auto Program Approved Dealer to purchase a vehicle.
The warehouse club includes both new and used cars through deals with about 3,000 local dealers. It's important to note that Costco is acting as a sort of middleman, offering prearranged pricing for its members. The company offers the following disclaimer on its website:
Costco and its affiliates do not sell vehicles or negotiate individual transactions. A participation fee has been paid by the participating dealers. All new vehicles arranged for sale are subject to availability and a price prearranged with the participating franchised dealer. Certain vehicles may be excluded from the program. Actual savings may vary based on vehicle purchased, dealer and location.
That's a lot of words to protect the company (and maybe to lower expectations a bit), but using the company's service offers a no-hassle way to get a good price on a car. Will it be the best price or the lowest one you could possibly negotiate? Maybe not, but it will generally be a good, no-haggle deal.
Use all your benefits
Costco memberships come with a host of benefits many members never even consider using. If you join, make sure you look at the company's website and explore its clubs fully.
You may not join because the chain sells cheap hearing aids or because it offers deals on roofs and flooring. In many cases, however, you can buy those things (it varies by market), so make every effort to familiarize yourself with everything you are entitled to as part of your membership fee.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected. Costco does not sell cars on its website. It provides information and the ability to connect to dealers.