5 Lesser Known Perks of Costco Membership

Costco SignEveryone knows about the cheap Costco gas and the wonderful Costco return policy (though on electronics it has certainly lost some of its teeth), but there are a lot of lesser known perks that members should try to take advantage of. Here are just five of them.

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Buy Costco Gas without Costco Membership

Costco Gas StationsCostco has since closed this loophole so you’ll need a Costco Membership to get gas there.

A friend of mine just tipped me off on this trick where you can buy gas at Costco without a Costco membership. All you have to do is swipe an American Express card first, when you would normally swipe your membership card, and then swipe it again for payment. Afterwards, it will let you buy the sweet sweet nectar of condensed dinosaur bones at rock bottom prices without the $50/year membership. It’s that simple.

Normally, you have to swipe your Costco Card or the American Express Costco TrueEarnings card in order to authenticate in their gas station systems. It appears that you can simply use any American Express card in the authentication phase because the American Express Costco TrueEarnings card is just an AMEX with a Costco bar code.

I’ve confirmed that this works in Maryland and others have reported success in other states (except those that require an attendant to pump your gas, like New Jersey and Oregon). Locate a Costco nearby (check to make sure it has a Gas Station) and give it a try, Costco gas is usually many cents cheaper than local competitors.

(Photo by shindohd)


Rebate Shenanigans & Ethical Gray Areas

I have an interesting “ethical” question for you all, especially given the fervor over the Costco return policy.

I recently purchased an Epson Home Cinema Projector that came with a $300 rebate and a free bulb rebate (worth nearly as much). One of the quirks about the rebate was that you had to mail it within thirty days, rather than the typical static time limit that was ignorant of when you purchased. As you can imagine, what happened was I got all excited with the projector and forgot to mail the rebate within the 30 day limit. I did exactly what the manufacturer wanted, I purchased the project at the “list price minus the rebate amount” in my mind but I actually paid full price. It’s been a while since I’ve made a $300 mistake like that, one that could be chalked up to carelessness and laziness rather than circumstances that were less within my control.

My solution to this was something that some may find unethical (or at least gray) but I didn’t see a problem with it. I purchased another Epson projector and then submitted that receipt with the other documentation (UPC code, serial number) so that I’d be compliant and the rebate was approved. The only cost to me was shipping the second project back via UPS Insured; it set me back around $60. All in all, the added hassle netted me $240 and a free bulb.

While I feel that was certainly in the gray area (submitting a receipt that didn’t technically match the UPC), I personally found that to be on the good side of the ethical line. I returned the project in exactly the same condition that it was sent to me and Amazon wasn’t out anything (maybe shipping fees) and I received a rebate I was rightfully entitled to (I did buy the projector, I just missed the 30 day window by a few days). And I was certainly on the good side if you consider how quickly rebate fulfillment companies are to screw the consumer at every opportunity!

What do you think?


Costco Prorated Tread Rebate Program

On a trip into Baltimore this Labor Day, I hit something on the road (never saw it so it must not have been too big) that punctured my rear passenger tire. I brought it into Costco thinking I could repair it but, alas, it was not to be. So, I ordered myself a whole new set of tires to the tune of approximately $550 after taxes. Five hundred dollars sounds like a lot but these tires aren’t your standard tires (they’re 215 widths, for starters) but $550 was a decent price for them after taxes… but there’s a better reason to go with Costco: prorated tread rebate.

One of the best benefits of buying tires from Costco is their prorated tread rebate benefit. If you buy your tires from Costco, they will refund you the value of the tread remaining on the tire when you go in to replace them! All told I had about 43% of the total tread remaining so I was refunded 43% of the total value of the tires, which was close to two hundred dollars! Granted, that two hundred dollars was already mine, but that means I don’t “lose” the value of the tread when I replace the tires – a definite win there.

Now you might ask, why did you replace the other tires when you still had 43% tread left? Convenience and because I don’t lose any money because of the prorated tread rebate. If they didn’t offer the tread rebate, I would’ve kept the two old tires and only bought two new ones, but since they did … I went with four new tires.

There are other reason why I buy my tires from Costco but that prorated tread thing is pretty freaking sweet.


Arundel Mills Costco Tire Center Service Rocks

Two days ago, as my fiancee and I were leaving a meeting with a wedding caterer, one of us noticed that my front passenger tire was a little low. I had been noticing a little sluggish handling as of late but nothing surprising but I only a few hundred miles away from when I needed the tires rotated and balanced so I brought it into Costco for some service.

For those that don’t know how tires work at Costco, you might pay a little bit more for the tires but what you get is a “lifetime warranty” against any sort of problems and you get lifetime rotating and balancing. The lifetime warranty means they’ll repair any damage absolutely free and if something bad really happens, then they will prorate you the cost of the tire based on remaining tread.

Also, Costco uses dry nitrogen to fill the tires, which they claim is better. The reasons aren’t good enough to convince me to use nitrogen if it cost any more than regular air, at Costco it doesn’t cost more. In fact, I erroneously though that you couldn’t top off a tire filled with nitrogen and that’s part of the reason why I brought it in. Luckily I did because they found a nail in the tire!

All told, balancing and rotating, including the repair of one tire, took approximately thirty minutes and cost me absolutely nothing. When I priced out tires before, the difference in cost between Costco and another place was less than ten dollars a tire so I saw the increased price as sort of a warranty, a really good warranty.

 Personal Finance 

Four Companies I’d Promote for Free

FMF shared his list of companies he promotes for free and asked for everyone to share their list so here’s mine:

  • Vanguard – Not surprising, I’m a big proponent of Vanguard as well. They currently have my SEP-IRA, Rollover IRA, and my fiancee’s regular brokerage account; every single time I’ve talked to someone there, they’ve been courteous and able to help me within minutes. I had a couple tricky situations too but they were able to easily tell me how to fix it and I was on my way. Plus, their funds are ridiculously cheap…
  • Costco – Again, another one off FMF’s list, I heart Costco because of their low prices and their money back guarantee (I’m fine with them not taking back electronics after six months, screw the people trying to game the system) though sometimes the long lines can be a little frustrating if you want to walk out with only a couple things. I like how they’ve expanded their line of products to include more seasonal items. I love their ribeye steaks, great prices and pretty good cuts, and their tire center.
  • GEICO – For my demographic, I pay pennies for auto insurance and Geico is part of the reason why. I’ve been with them for as many years as I’ve been driving and every bill the amount they charge gets lower and lower. Just this past month I renewed my policy and the price had fallen $25 to $301.00, you can’t really beat that! (I don’t carry comprehensive or collision insurance, though if I added those with $1k deductibles the total would only be $607.00 — hmmm maybe I will get it.) Plus they have the Caveman and Gecko commercials.
  • Kingston – These guys make RAM and are currently owned by Micron but they have a lifetime warranty on their products that I’ve used twice without any complications whatsoever. In each case I just read them some numbers off the chip, they asked for my address and bam… next memory in a couple days.


Buying Acuvue 2 Contacts from Costco

So last week was the yearly optometrist visit and this week will be the yearly ordering of the yearly supply of Acuvue 2 contact lenses. My choices come down to buying from the optometrist, buying it from some vendor online, or buying it from Costco – where all frugal shoppers, who want to underpay for more than they could possibly use, go.

The “deal” at the optometrist was hardly a deal at all $160 for 8 boxes with a $30 rebate, or, $16.25 per box. I figure with the overhead those poor folks have they couldn’t possibly be giving me the best deal out there so I passed, though I always had the option of going back if I turned out to be wrong. A quick pop over to 1-800-Contacts showed that they also had the $30 deal on 8 boxes and their total was for 8 boxes of Acuvue 2 was $129.60, or $16.20, with free shipping – so marginally better.

I visited Costco today and saw that their boxes of contacts were $13.85 (no sales tax on contacts!) – nearly $2 cheaper per box than any other source. Plus, ending today, there is a $10 off coupon on 4 boxes (but not $20 off 8 boxes). Also, to sweeten the deal even further, if I bought 8 boxes I’d qualify for the $30 rebate for a final price of $80.80, or $10.10 per box. And, as if the bargain basement price wasn’t good enough, I can do the rebate entirely online and save myself the hassle of mailing it. Costco wins again!


Nitrogen-Filled Tires & Better Gas Mileage?

When I bought my tires from Costco, I noticed the caps for the valve stems were a flourescent green and asked about them – it means the tires are filled with Nitrogen. After reading a friend’s blog claiming that nitrogen-filled tires get 0.5 mi/gal better gas mileage and have a longer tire lifespan, I wanted to find some “proof” to these claims. The belief, also pushed by Costco in their tire brochures, is that the larger nitrogen molecules don’t react to temperature changes (better tread life and mileage) and lack moisture (won’t corrode the tire from the inside). It doesn’t affect my decision if these claims can’t be proven because there is a miniscule increased cost for using nitrogen (I can only “fill” my tires at a Costco, most gas stations only have air, but the service is free).

The theory is that the oxygen in the air inside the tire, when heated as a result of driving, can oxidize and rot the inside of the tire over time. A nitrogen filled tire won’t oxidize for obvious reasons, no oxygen. This is all anecdotal though and for most people, I think the tread of the tire wears out before the tire does from internal rot.

As for the nitrogen not reacting to temperature as much as compressed air, it’s probably a bit of snake oil magic going on there. At such low pressures, the nitrogen behaves like an ideal gas (just as oxygen and water vapor) so that means pure nitrogen will act just like regular air. A 0.5 mi/gal improvement in gas mileage is 1.6% improvement (on my car, which gets a little more than 30 mpg) which seems way too much.

It sounds like the “nitrogen is better than air” theory is not entirely true but since it costs me very little (if at all really) I won’t be complaining much about it. As long as you don’t pay for nitrogen, fill it with nitrogen; but if it costs you money, ask for regular air.

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