Costco still has 3 ways to shop without a membership even as the retailer cracks down on card-sharing — but the math still favors paying the fee

  • Costco says more shoppers are sharing cards at self-checkout, so it's clamping down on checking IDs.

  • There are still ways to shop without a membership: online, with a gift card, or as a member's guest.

  • The extra charges and hassle of the workarounds can quickly top the annual fee, which is refundable.

Costco's Netflix-style crackdown on unauthorized membership sharing raises a perennial question about how to access the jumbo packs of toilet paper, tubs of peanut-butter pretzels, 40-pound bags of dog food, and other staples without signing up for a membership.

Access to the warehouse club and its bulk-price deals is primarily reserved for card-carrying shoppers with Gold Star, Executive, or Business memberships, which start at $60 per year and include two access for two shoppers who live in the same household (or work for the same business).

Still, there are a few ways to shop Costco's selection without paying the fee. Here are three:

1. Shop online without a Costco membership

Non-members are able to buy items on and through Instacart, where about 2,000 fresh, frozen, grocery, and household items are available for same-day or standard delivery.

The best pricing — and certain products — however are reserved for members only, so the savings compared to another retailer, like Walmart or Amazon, might not be as substantial for non-members. Plus, non-members will be assessed a 5% surcharge on their order.

Analysis from Insider's Reviews team found the best prices on Costco items are found in-person at a warehouse, while online member pricing was slightly higher, and non-member prices were higher still.

For example, a 30-roll pack of toilet paper was available in-store for $19.99, but on Instacart cost $21.85 for members and $24.87 for non-members.

The Insider team created a sample shopping cart of popular items that totaled $131.10 for a non-member shopping via Instacart, but just $96.60 for a member shopping in-store, a savings of $34.50. In that scenario, the $60 membership fee basically pays for itself after just two trips.

2. Use a Costco gift card without a membership

Another popular workaround is to use a Costco gift card, known as a Shop Card, which allows shoppers to access the warehouse to use the funds.

The hitch with this approach is that Shop Cards are only available for members to purchase and have a minimum value of $25.

Still, a $25 Shop Card would get a non-member through the warehouse door and quickly be used up in one visit, and could be a useful hack for helping friends and family stock up on back-to-school supplies.

3. Visit the Costco warehouse as the guest of a member

Costco's policy allows members to bring two guests with them to the warehouse, but once again there is a hitch: technically only the member is allowed to pay for purchases.

As with the Shop Card hack, this approach depends on a fair amount of trust and/or generosity between the member and the non-member, not to mention coordinating schedules to make a trip to the warehouse at the same time.

Bottom line: It probably makes sense to just pay the fee — it's refundable anyway

Given the costs and complications of trying to avoid shelling out the $60 membership fee, it actually makes financial sense to just pay the charge for shoppers who will make multiple Costco purchases per year.

An Insider's Reviews team found, the prices of bulk-size items can add up quickly, and shaving a few percent off in fees means the breakeven point comes after just a few trips.

The real kicker however is even simpler: if you don't think the membership is worth it, you can get a refund.

Read the original article on Business Insider