7 Things Non-Members Can Get at Costco (Including Cheap Eye Exams!)

By Damian Davila on 5 June 2014 30 comments

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.

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Guest's picture
Marc

In New Jersey, Costco must sell gasoline to everyone, but as with members, payment is by American Express credit card or a debit or Costco cash card.

Does anybody know of any other states where they are required to sell gas to everybody?

Damian Davila's picture

That's a great tip, Marc! I haven't heard of other states in which anybody can buy Costco Gas. According to the Costco Gas site: "The Gas Station is open to Costco members only. There is an exception: Costco Cash Card customers do not need to be Costco members." So as you mentioned, the easiest loophole to buy Costco Gas without a membership would be to have somebody purchase Costco cash cards for you.

Guest's picture
Guest

From http://www.costco.com/gasoline-q-and-a.html
"Oregon and New Jersey are full-service per law"

Guest's picture
Guest

Yes, that's correct. NJ law says you can't have members only gas stations.

Guest's picture
Guest

Damien, I've been told by two Costco stores in the Minneapolis, MN area that they do not have to give optical services to people without a membership. Could you give a Federal Law reference. Staff is adamant that they only need to offer liquor and food services without a membership.

Damian Davila's picture

You can cite the "Eyeglass Rule" from the Federal Trade Commission (16 CFR Part 456). Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer and I don't provide legal advice.

Guest's picture
LLoretta Johansson

Today at 12:00 I was told by gatekeeper I needed a Costco car to purchase food from the food court which is located in the building. I never had to how my card before.
when did policy start?

Damian Davila's picture

Hi Lloretta,

If the food court is located inside the warehouse, Costco gatekeepers may be picky about letting you in. While external food courts are fair game for non-members, internal food courts may be off-limits.

The easiest way to get around a Costco gatekeeper is to have a Costco cash card. If you often eat at Costco, then you should consider the investment in one. You'll make your money back in no time.

Hope this helps,
Damian

Guest's picture
Guest

Just say you are going to get an Rx filled, open access for Rx is required, then get combo meal!

Guest's picture
Nick P.

Southern California Costco lets you just walk in the Exit door without showing your membership card to get to the inside food court as well. You don't need to be a member to eat at the food court even if the food court is not outside.

ALSO, you can buy an electronics warranty (like for a TV or COMPUTER) from Costco without actually purchasing that item from Costco. I bought a TV online (because Costco didn't carry TV's that expensive) and then went to Costco and purchased the SquareTrade warranty. It was cheaper than the warranty I was offered and better. This warranty said they would only fix the TV once, whereas others will fix it 3 or 4 or 5 times. That may sound better but after the TV breaks a second time in the allotted time period, you're just gonna want your money back. You're not gonna wanna have a broken tv 3 or 4 or 5 times... you're gonna want one that works. The warranty I got from Costco will fix it once, and then give you full purchase price back after a second failure. BOOM, you go buy a brand new one that isn't a dud.

Guest's picture
Guest

*Update* If you are using only a cash card, you can ONLY use cash or debt.
Also food court now takes cards as well as cash.

Damian Davila's picture

That's awesome news, Guest! I can confirm that here in Honolulu we can use debit cards as well at the Costco food court.

Guest's picture
Guest

I work at Costco one trick is to order tires online with a credit card have them deliver to the store . we have to instal them you can be a non member and do that.

Guest's picture
Elsa McCord

Where can I obtain proof that Costco has to give a hearing test to a non-member? I went to the Costco Hearing Aid Center today and tried to make an appointment for my son (age 57). I was told he had to be a member to have the test, and they would not allow him to have an appointment.

Guest's picture
Elsa McCord

I was told today, in the Bend OR Hearing Aid Center, that a membership was needed to have a hearing test and to purchase hearing aids. Can you you give me a Federal Law reference, that I can show them, Damian?

Damian Davila's picture

Hi Elsa,

Federal and state laws related to the dispensing of a hearing aid are currently in place to protect and ensure consumer safety. While you do need a membership to purchase a hearing aid, you don't need one to have a hearing test.

Please review the Federal Trade Commission website at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0168-buying-hearing-aid for more details. In a nutshell, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires hearing aid sellers to tell you about your need for a medical examination before you buy a hearing aid.

Also, many states also have laws governing hearing aid sales and implied warranties. Your state Attorney General’s office can tell you what laws apply in your state.

Best regards,

Damian

Guest's picture
Android Training Institute in Chennai

Damien, I've been told by two Costco stores in the Minneapolis, MN area that they do not have to give optical services to people without a membership. Could you give a Federal Law reference. Staff is adamant that they only need to offer liquor and food services without a membership.

Damian Davila's picture

Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer and I'm not providing legal advice.

You can cite 16 CFR Part 456 - OPHTHALMIC PRACTICE RULES (also known as the "EYEGLASS RULE").

The part that we are most interested in is "§ 456.2 Separation of examination and dispensing."

It is an unfair act or practice for an ophthalmologist or optometrist to:

(b) Condition the availability of an eye examination to any person on a requirement that the patient agree to purchase any ophthalmic goods from the ophthalmologist or optometrist;

(c) Charge the patient any fee in addition to the ophthalmologist's or optometrist's examination fee as a condition to releasing the prescription to the patient. Provided: An ophthalmologist or optometrist may charge an additional fee for verifying ophthalmic goods dispensed by another seller when the additional fee is imposed at the time the verification is performed;

I hope this helps.

Guest's picture
Guest

I called Costco to ask about Optical services, the person in optical said non-members can get exams but you have to be a member to purchase glasses or contacts.

Damian Davila's picture

However, you can buy glasses or contacts without a membership using the Costco cash card trick described in the article.

Guest's picture
Cara

I just did the Costco Cash Card trick to buy eyeglass frames (same as I was going to buy from a local doctor, but $110 less!!), but they said I cannot buy lenses there unless I'm a member because they have to enter a membership card number when they submit the prescription. Anyone ever order lenses from Costco without a membership without issues??

Guest's picture
Guest

even if the food court is not outside you can just walk in the exit door (where the food court usually is) it is right near the customer service desk and i have never had an issue doing that.

Damian Davila's picture

Hi Guest,

That's awesome that you haven't got caught yet! However, at the Costco locations here in Hawaii, the gatekeepers are very, very strict and they don't let you in through the Exit door. They always direct you to the Entrance side.

Some other Costco warehouses may be as strict (and of course, others as yours may not be!) as those in Hawaii, so just a heads up for readers trying to sneak through the exit door.

Aloha from Hawaii,

Damian

Guest's picture
Ann

Can you purchase food at Costco without a membership card???

How do you purchase a cash card?

Damian Davila's picture

Hi Ann,

If by "food" you mean food from the food court (e.g. wraps, salads, pizzas), then yes you can buy food at Costco as long as the food court is located outside of the Costco warehouse. You need neither a Costco membership card, nor a Costco cash card, just cash or a debit card. However, some readers have reported that at Costcos with an inside food court, it's really up to the gatekeeper to let you in.

If by "food" you mean any food item inside the Costco, then your only option without a membership is to buy a Costco cash card, which you can show to the gatekeeper. Only members can buy a Costco cash card, so you'll need to rely on a friend or relative with a Costco membership to get you one.

Have a great day!

Damian

Guest's picture
Guest

Photos. In addition to the 7 hints above, their Photo Shop is generally open to non-members, which gives you good photo processing service and prices for everything from snapshots to whole photo albums and X-mas cards. While in the store nobody is likely to call you out for a bit of browsing, but you are still going to have to bide by their purchasing processes if you stumble on that item that you absolutely need at the price you are willing to pay. Just remember to account for that $55 membership fee in the cost comparison...unless you find a few more must-have items..!

Damian Davila's picture

Thank you for the heads up on the Photo Shop!

Guest's picture
Guest

Costco requires membership for hearing tests. Rule changed.

Damian Davila's picture

Hi Guest, thank you for the heads up. Are you aware of this is at stores in certain states or nationwide? Also, do you have a link providing more info on this change to the legislation applying to the accessibility of hearing tests?

Guest's picture
Guest

cash card does not work at pump - recognizes card and balance, will not pump gas. tried multiple pumps.

Guest's picture
Rich

I have an idea. The basic membership is a lousy $50.00. If you are so worried about using the Costco services, and buying the products, just spend the $50.00 and call it a day. I'm truly sick and tired of people who always want to find a way around a businesses policies and procedures. Buy a membership, the prices and products are great, and we save a lot of money buying in bulk.

Guest's picture
Mark Stephenson

I was just turned away from the Costco hearing aid center because I'm not a member.