10 Important Things No Costco Member Should Ever Forget

Costco membership comes with a few quirks — both good and bad.
Last updated April 3, 2023 | By Michelle Smith Edited By Chris Kissell
woman shopping groceries

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If you just joined Costco, you have much to learn about the way your membership works. But even if you’ve been a member for years, you might not understand every important detail about Costco.

Here are some tips that can get you the best return on your membership, whether you'e just looking for ways to save on groceries or are in search of other bargains.

We also include a handful of things to avoid if you want the membership to pay for itself.

Don’t forget to bring the right payment method

ronstik/Adobe nfc contactless payment by credit card and pos terminal

Costco accepts all Visa debit and credit card payments, along with cash and mobile payments, such as Apple Pay and Google Pay.

You can also use most PIN-based debit cards, traveler’s checks, EBT cards, and Costco Shop Cards.

Unlike some stores, Costco still accepts personal and business checks as valid forms of payment, depending on which type of membership you have.

So which payment methods can't be used at Costco? If you’re shopping in person rather than online, you can only use a Visa credit card.

If you shop online, you can pay with Visa, Discover, or MasterCard. Costco Shop Cards also can be used.

At the gas pump, you can use all Visa cards, most PIN-based debit cards, and Costco Shop Cards.

Costco doesn’t accept American Express cards in stores, at the gas pump, or online.

Pro tip: Before you fill your shopping cart with dozens of discounted items, check your wallet to make sure you have one of the best credit cards for shopping at Costco.

Workers check your receipt for a reason

Voyagerix/Adobe paper check receipt

While it might be frustrating to wait in line just to exit a store, bear in mind that the Costco receipt checkers at the door aren’t trying to make your life harder. They're actually ensuring that Costco can afford to keep its prices low.

How does it work? Costco tries to keep theft low, and the presence of receipt checkers helps achieve that goal.

Losing items to shoplifting is known as “retail shrink,” and the national shrink average for 2021 was 1.44%, according to the National Retail Federation. There was $94.5 billion in lost inventory nationwide last year.

However, reports say Costco’s average shrink rate is much lower. That fact gives Costco the bandwidth to charge lower prices.

Cheaper gas is worth the wait

Andriy Blokhin/Adobe petroleum at Costco store

Don’t let the lines of cars slowly snaking through Costco’s gas pumps stop you from taking advantage of Costco’s cheap fuel.

Affordable gas is arguably one of the main perks of joining Costco. That truth is clearer than ever given the surge in inflation.

Costco’s Kirkland Signature gas isn’t just cheap, it’s also high in quality. So along with money, you’re saving your car from the toll low-quality gas can take on your engine.

Costco doesn't accept manufacturer coupons

Carolyn Franks/Adobe coupons

Costco makes a point of having frequent sales and in-store coupons that maximize the amount of money you save whenever you visit a warehouse. 

But because Costco already offers such deep discounts, it doesn’t accept third-party coupons, including manufacturer coupons.

It’s also worth noting that Costco negotiates directly with many manufacturers to acquire products in bulk at lower prices. For the most part, any manufacturer discounts are already applied to the base Costco price.

Costco’s return policy isn’t the same for all products

dennizn/Adobe hand holding Costco receipt

Costco is known for its generous return policy, which lets members return most items for any reason, with or without a receipt. But some products have different return policies.

For example, electronics need to be returned within 90 days of purchase. The 90-day window applies to TVs, computers, smartphones, household appliances, and more.

So, before you splurge on a big-ticket electronic item at Costco, make sure you’re comfortable with the much shorter return window.

Additionally, some Costco returns are limited by where you live. In many states, you can’t return alcohol or cigarettes once you’ve purchased them. 

And while you can return jewelry any time, you won’t get a refund on diamonds of one carat or larger. Instead, your only option is store credit.

Costco sells discounted restaurant gift cards

New Africa/Adobe woman holding gift card in restaurant

Don’t want to pay full price for your next meal? Costco sells gift cards in bulk, often for less than the typical retail price.

The next time you want to eat out, swing by Costco first and see if it has gift cards to Olive Garden, Red Lobster, or other favorite eateries. You might be able to find a package of four $25 gift cards for $75 instead of $100, for example.

Tech support is free with most electronics

mandritoiu/Adobe TV aisle in Costco

If you bought an electronic device from Costco, you don’t have to call the manufacturer about a technical issue. Call Costco instead.

Most electronic purchases come with free tech support directly from Costco itself. That means you get free, fast help setting up your new device and diagnosing problems over the phone.

Get items delivered by Instacart

sdx15/Adobe Instacart logo on phone screen

Depending on where you live, you might be able to get same-day delivery on Costco groceries using Instacart. Your purchase must cost $35 or more, and due to Instacart’s service charge, you’ll pay more per item than you would if you shopped in person.

Still, nothing beats convenience. And if you have an Executive-level Costco membership, Instacart purchases still count toward your 2% cashback rewards.

Paying More For Groceries? 8 Ways To Fight Inflation

The food court is a great place for a cheap meal

Grandbrothers/Adobe COSTCO cheese pizza

Even while prices soared over the summer, Costco kept many of its most famous signature items at a low cost, including most of the menu items at the food court.

For instance, a beef hot dog and 20-ounce soda combo still cost just $1.50, and a massive slice of Costco pizza is just $1.99.

Cancel your membership any time for a full refund

dennizn/Adobe costco gold membership card on receipt in store

Like most of its products, Costco’s memberships are fully refundable at any time, for any reason.

Your membership return isn’t prorated — whether you’ve had the membership for two months or 11, you’ll get the same amount back. 

Just know that you can't cancel your membership over the phone. You’ll need to call Costco’s customer service line or visit a store in person.

Bottom line

Jackie Davies/Adobe costco wholesale store from outside during day time in dockland, australia

Now that you know a little more about Costco, you can dodge some of its most annoying member pitfalls while taking advantage of the great Costco hacks that make membership worthwhile.

Take these tips with you on your next Costco trip to ensure you’re making the most of your membership.

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Author Details

Michelle Smith Michelle Smith has spent a decade writing for and about small businesses. She specializes in all things finance and has written for publications like G2 and SmallBizDaily. When she's not writing for work at her desk, you can usually find her writing for pleasure near large bodies of water.