7 Things Non-Members Can Get at Costco (Including Cheap Eye Exams!)
Like most Hawaii residents, I love Costco.
With the price of a gallon of local milk as high as $9 and that of a gallon of gas already above $4, Costco is the patron saint of tight-budget students and sales-chasing moms in Hawaii. But the love for the big box retailer doesn't end in Hawaii: Costco has over 460 locations in 43 U.S. states and Puerto Rico.
Since you don't need a gallon of mayonnaise or 3-pound bag of tortilla chips that often, you may decide that the $55 membership fee is a bit steep. Here is how to get around dropping five Hamiltons and a Lincoln and still enjoy Costco's low prices. (See also: 15 Things You Should Buy at Costco)
1. Use the Pharmacy and Immunization Services
Costco's gatekeepers cannot hold you up if you are there to purchase items to which access is protected by Federal law. This means that you can still use the pharmacy and immunization services at any Costco warehouse.
You can fill new prescriptions, refill existing prescriptions, or transfer prescriptions at the Costco Pharmacy. Even better, you don't even have to leave your home to use Costco Pharmacy services. You can order online and have your meds delivered for free via standard USPS within 6 to 14 days. This is quite convenient and lets you maximize your day to the fullest.
If you do not have access to free immunizations, Costco often offers the lowest prices for flu ($14.99) and pneumonia shots ($69.78). Costco also offers Hepatitis A and B, HPV, Meningitis, Shingles, Tetanus/Whooping Cough, and Twinrix immunizations. Call the warehouse in advance to check availability and pricing.
2. Access Hearing and Optical Services
Another two services protected by Federal law are hearing and optical services. By letting the gatekeepers know that you want to use the optical or hearing services, you can get into the warehouse. However, make sure that the warehouse offers these services. The easiest way to check for this is by checking the "Hearing Aids" and "Optical Department" boxes when searching for warehouses at Costco's site.
Most Costco Optical locations offer an independent doctor of optometry on site. Call the warehouse in advance to schedule an appointment.
Costco often provides special hearing aid events to demonstrate the latest technologies. Check the schedule for upcoming demonstrations at select Costco Hearing Aid Centers around the country. Some of these events offer free samples. Let the Costco employee at the door know that you are planning to attend the event, and they will let you in.
Keep in mind that you do need a membership to buy glasses, contact lenses, or hearing aid equipment. Or you can also use the $10 cash card trick shown below.
3. Window Shopping at Costco
If you really need to see a low price to believe it, you may want to scope out prices before making a final decision on membership. Unlike Sam's Club, Costco doesn't offer one-day passes. This doesn't mean that you cannot go in to browse around items, however.
When meeting the membership card checker at the entrance, tell the rep that you would like to go to membership services and ask more info about membership. Head to the service desk, get the application and tell them that you would like to browse around the store before making up your mind. That's it; now you're free to go around and get the latest scoop on prices so that you can compare them to those of other stores.
4. Buy With a Costco Cash Card
Let's say that after comparing all prices, you found that the flat-screen TV of your dreams is indeed cheaper at Costco by several hundred dollars. Now what?
The way to buy anything on Costco without a membership is with the Costco Cash Card. According to Costco's site, "non-members may use the cash cards to shop at any Costco location in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and online at Costco.com or on Costco.ca."
The tricky part is that you must be a Costco member to purchase or reload cash cards. One way to get around that is to ask a friend or family member with a Costco membership to buy you a $10 prepaid cash card. Some stores may only have $25 cash cards available. Another is to buy a Costco Gift Card online. You can use the cash card to get into Costco and pay for part of your purchase. You can then pay the remaining balance with cash, debit card, or American Express credit card.
Also, cash cards are accepted at Costco gas stations.
5. Shop Online
If you don't know any Costco members, then you still have a chance to access Costco prices. You can look for your item at Costco.com and, if available, buy it.
The advantage of buying online is that you can use non-American Express credit cards, which are not accepted at Costco warehouses. The disadvantage is that you are dinged with a 5% surcharge, which means that your purchase needs to be less than $1,100 for it to make sense not paying the $55 membership fee.
6. Buy Booze
The availability of liquor in your local state depends on both company policy and state legislation. But in several states, such as California, for-profit membership stores cannot exclude the general public from purchasing alcoholic beverages.
A Costco employee confirms that you can buy alcohol without membership when state law and company policy allow it, however, the employee also notes that most employees don't know this rule and may call a manager to confirm. Just be patient, and if the state law is on your side, you can protect your right to buy cheaper booze. Your cashier will use a "99," a generic membership number that requires supervisor override, and you can pay using cash or accepted debit card or American Express credit card.
7. Dine the Outside Food Court
$1.99 for pizza slices and $1.50 for hot dog and soda combo are as good as it gets. At several Costcos around the country, including all the ones in the Hawaiian Islands, the food court is outside. This means that you can buy all items on their menu without a membership. Remember to bring change because food courts take only cash.
Do you know other ways to take advantage of Costco without a membership? Please share in comments.