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Are Shopping Clubs Worth the Price of Membership?

Discounts and benefits are real, but you have to read the fine print

Cashier at a home improvement store holding a rewards card

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En español | Should you give a store money before you shop so you can land a discount later on? Many of us already do. Nearly 60 percent of Americans are paying members of shopping clubs, according to a new study by Clarus Commerce. To get deals on goods or shipping, we pony up monthly or annual fees to both niche retailers and giants like Costco, Sam's Club and Amazon Prime.

Before signing up, assess your likely spending; why join if your membership fee will be greater than all the discounts you earn? Check the fine print for limitations, and note when your membership expires so you can cancel, if desired, before it automatically renews.

Here are six clubs from major retailers to consider.

AMC Theatres

Club: Stubs A-List

Cost: $19.95 to $23.95 a month (depending on where you live)

Perks: The A-list level of AMC's Stubs program gives you three free movies per week. You also get 10 percent discounts on concessions and free size upgrades on popcorn and drinks.

The fine print: You can't roll over unused movies to the next week, and reservation no-shows count toward your balance. The program may exclude titles on a limited basis.

Bed Bath & Beyond

Club: Beyond+

Cost: $29 a year

Perks: 20 percent off purchases, free standard shipping and 30 percent off online interior decorating services from decorist.com.

The fine print: Lots of popular brands are excluded, including Dyson, Le Creuset and Miele. You can't combine the chain's numerous coupons with your membership discount.

CVS

Club: CarePass

Cost: $5 a month or $48 a year

Perks: A monthly $10 store credit, which expires at the end of each month. You also get one- to two-day free shipping on qualifying prescriptions at cvs.com, and 20 percent off regularly priced CVS Health brand products.

The fine print: No discounts on prescriptions, and no free shipping on meds if they're covered by a government health plan, including Medicare Part B and most Medicaid plans. The $10 credit is not redeemable at Target CVS pharmacies. Copays, lottery tickets and many other items are excluded.


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REI

Club: Co-op

Cost: $20 one time fee

Perks: A 10 percent cash-back annual dividend; discounts on classes, events and equipment rentals. Sign up for REI's credit card and you get an additional 5 percent cash back.

The fine print: You don't get that 10 percent dividend on sale items, trips or classes.

Walgreens

Club: Prescription Savings

Cost: $20 a year for an individual; $35 a year for a family membership

Perks: Discounts on more than 8,000 prescription drugs, including most generics; 5 percent to 20 percent discounts on most immunizations; 10 percent savings at Walgreens Healthcare Clinic; and discounts on nebulizers and diabetic supplies. You can also get discounts on human medications that are commonly given to pets.

The fine print: Medicare and Medicaid recipients are excluded. Pet meds need a veterinarian's prescription; pets have to be members, either as individuals or in a family plan.

Wayfair

Club: MyWay

Cost: $29.99 a year

Perks: Free shipping; 25 percent off design services and in-home services (including assembly), as well as exclusive sales. You can also use your MyWay benefits at affiliated websites AllModern, Joss & Main and Birch Lane.

The fine print: Free shipping excludes flooring, large fixtures and a few other items such as glass shower door.

Lisa Lee Freeman, cohost of the Hot Shopping Tips podcast, was founder and editor in chief of ShopSmart magazine from Consumer Reports and an investigative reporter for The Dr. Oz Show.

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