A Trick That Let’s You Shop At Costco Without A Membership

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Can You Shop At Costco Without A Membership? Yes You Can!

I came across some interesting info when searching for an answer to a question in our travel/deals Facebook community.

The poster was wondering if he could use his Chase Freedom card at Costco gas stations in the 4th quarter to earn 5X Ultimate Rewards points.  He was hoping it would trigger the wholesale club category.  I suggested he purchase Costco cash cards inside the store and then use them at the pump to earn 5X on his gas purchase.

While looking to make sure that Costco cash cards worked at the gas station (they do) I came across some interesting information that allows you to shop at Costco without a membership.

RELATED: Lawsuit Filed Against Sam’s Club Over Gift Card Issues

Shop At Costco Without A Membership, Say What?

Most people don’t know, but it is their policy to allow people to shop at Costco without a membership.  This policy can be location specific but many locations allow non-members to purchase alcohol (state law) and allow them to purchase gas.  Those are two great areas to save money at Costco but that is not what I am talking about.

The key to unlock shopping at Costco sans a membership is the Costco cash card.  To shop at Costco without a membership you can gain access to the store just by showing your Costco cash card. I believe this is for people who get them as gifts etc. and would not be able to use the cards otherwise. This is also a good way to try to get you to sign up for a membership once you check out the store.

The really interesting thing is that you can buy whatever you want once you are in there.  If you have a $25 Costco cash card but want a $300 TV you can buy it and pay the rest with a credit card.

RELATED: Free Costco Executive Membership With A US Bank Flexperks Card

There Is One Problem

The main obstacle to this plan is that only card carrying Costco members can purchase Costco Cash Cards.  So you need to enlist the help of a friend or family member that has access.

Another option is that if your membership is coming up for renewal soon you could load up on a whole bunch of $25 cards and then use 1 on each visit.  You could get 10 entries into Costco for $250 in outlay.  Ten trips could cover 6 months or more for a lot of families.


I thought this was an interesting life hack that could save you a little bit of money. And it shows that you can fairly easily shop at Costco without a membership. It is probably not worth the effort for most since a membership is only $60. However, if you need to get into the store for a one time big ticket purchase this could be your golden ticket.  Non members still have to pay the 5% fee for online purchases even with a gift card so that isn’t really a great option.

Mark Ostermann
Mark Ostermann is a father, husband and miles/points fanatic. He left the corporate world after starting a family in order to be a stay at home dad. Mark is constantly looking at ways to save money and stay within budget while also taking awesome vacations with his family. When he isn't caring for his family or taking a weekend trip, Mark is working towards his goal of visiting every Major League Baseball ballpark.

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  1. Hi there, am not a us citizen so I cant apply for the Costco card.
    Am in Ny 2x a year on business and try to pack a barrel of food stuff to send back home.
    Is there any other way I can get access to Costco without it the card .
    Thanks much

    • If you can get a Costco gift card from eBay or have a member purchase one for you then you should be able to access the store and purchase some items.

  2. You do need to be a member to buy a costco gift card unless you buy it through ebay or third party. And if you are not a member you can only pay cash or debit not credit card

  3. @mike@ms4profit – regarding the Kauai Costco. Every time we go we head there straight from the airport and stock up for a week. Way cheaper than going to Foodland or one of the other grocery stores.

    And speaking of “cheaper” things… we bought a nice little lunch cooler for the beach for $19.99. When my brother-in-law came over from CA they brought the exact same one they had purchased at Costco. The only difference was their CA Costco was selling them for $29.99. Most peculiar.

  4. My 84 yr old mom only goes to Costco 2-3 a year to get things she cant get elsewhere (conveniently). They then last her several months. She spends less than $150/yr. I buy her Cash Cards as needed so she doesn’t need a membership. I’ve helped out a couple of other individuals that couldn’t afford a membership -they only go occasionally and I feel good knowing I’ve helped someone in need. I can get a 7-10% discount on the cards so that helps.

    On the subject of Costco in Hawaii… A couple of years ago we took the whole family to Kauai (4 kids). We saved a bundle of money eating at Costco almost everyday for lunch. Airfare and Resort were free hacking miles and points.

    • Sounds like a great plan for your mother. You can’t beat that $1.50 hot dog meal at Costco! Good thinking on saving on lunch which the same thing would be $10 or more at a resort.

  5. This has been Costco’s policy for ages. The catch: If you don’t have a membership, you don’t get the sale prices. So a great deal on a TV is not available to you with just a Cash Card. You can buy clearance reduced items, but not the temporary discount sales.

    Also, Costco accepts Visa, Mastercard and Discover on their website. You can buy Cash Cards on-line with your Discover card next quarter for the 5X bonus. You do need someone with a membership to buy the cards for you.

    IF you were into gaming the system (not saying anyone here is), you could get a membership for a month or two, buy Cash Cards, cancel your membership and get most, if not all, of your membership fee back.

  6. I generally think shopping at Costco is foolish for most individuals because the sizes are too large and the prices are “meh” — but there are a few exceptions that can make having a gift card worthwhile. The biggest exception is if you need to shop in an unusual place where grocery store prices are much higher than the national average and selection is lower. This is because Costco tends to price its products the same everywhere.

    The two most obvious such places are Alaska and Hawaii. For example, I’ve bought food and gas at the Costco by the Kona Airport and saved a few bucks. The prices Costco sells stuff in my hometown are poor, but are great prices in Kona. It would never be worth it to me to buy a membership for that visit, but it is certainly worthwhile for me to use a Costco gift card to gain entry and shop in the store.

    • Have to disagree here. Costco has ridiculous leverage with it’s suppliers. So much that many businesses do better to buy from Costco than from the supplier itself. In my experience the majority of things bought at Costco are as cheap as you’ll find. The catch will always be that you must buy in bulk. Sure, there will always be exceptions to the rule, but when is that not the case with anything? Case in point is cereal. Generally speaking you’ll find the same or better price per serving elsewhere, unless it’s on sale.

      Whether or not it’s of value to you will obviously depend on many factors, one large one being if you’ll use perishables before they expire. We have a food vacuum sealer and a compact chest freezer in the garage so nothing goes to waste.

      That said I always price check everything before buying it. Costco is no doubt one of my most used tools on my shopping Swiss army knife and one that I think many would benefit from as part of their shopping strategy.

      • I suspect you live out West. Grocery prices tend to be cheaper in the East, and get more expensive as you head toward California. A person living in, say, the Mid-Atlantic would easily find all merchandise for sale in Costco for less money and in more usable sizes if they spent any effort looking for it (the maximum effort required might be going to a “mommy” grocery website and clipping an online coupon). I do know that some places in America have higher grocery prices than others, and that’s where Costco is better, since they tend to have the same prices everywhere.

  7. This from the Costco website…”Members and non-members may use the Costco Cash Cards to shop at any Costco location in the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada and online at Costco.com.” So the cashiers who are not accepting the Cash card without a membership number may be making up their own rules.

  8. I am a member of Sams Club. It appears I could use my Chase Freedom card to buy Sams Club gift card and then use it for gas sold by Sams Club. Let me know if this will work. Thanks for the hack.

  9. I find it cheaper to buy an executive membership – 2% cash back at the end of the year. Costco travel in some cases it is a best deal + 2% back on any purchase including cruises. On this year cruise I got $300 onboard credit (all others offered $200) + 2% cash back. This one transaction pays for a few membership years. Gift card would not allow access to Costco travel.

    • Good point Vlad – I think this is a better option for someone who uses Costco sparingly or has a one off purchase. A Costco membership does come with a lot of perks.

  10. Your “golden ticket” is unethical at best, and doing it raises the prices for the rest of us that enjoy Costco and aren’t too cheap to buy a membership

    • I love firm doc and Tim. It’s ok to find loopholes when buying VGCs that get double or triple the discount the computer is supposed to give at OD/OM (certainly not what ODOM intended), then to search for WMs where the employees are open to or aren’t instructed well enough to go against COMPANY POLICY and liquidate those gift cards into MOs, only to find a bank that hopefully won’t shut down your account for depositing too many MOs.

      Costco, Visa, Chase, etc thank you for sticking up for the big guy.

      I’m not arguing about the borderline ethical aspect to this post but rather the fact that this is the only one on which you’re commenting.

      I love MtM. Mark keep up the good work and thank you for taking the high road with the trolls. You’re very classy.

      PS finding loopholes in the miles and points game raises the prices for everyone else, too. Just sayin’

      • I don’t do MS and the VGC/MO game.

        I understand, as Mark put it, someone using it for one purchase like a TV, but other than that I actually say the same thing. Just pay the $60. If you don’t get $60 in cash back at the end of your membership year then get the difference back in cash. You’re paying nothing going this route and still reaping the benefits and you’re going the legitimate route.

        Playing these gymnastic-hacks to bypass a refundable Costco membership is in my opinion taking it too far. I can respect others POV here, I only ask the same in return. I don’t post nearly as often but I’m far from a troll here just fyi.

        • Anthony you always post well thought out comments and I appreciate it :).

          I do think the $60 fee is refundable only for the premium membership which is $120 a year. That is if you don’t get over $60 in the 2% cash back. I could be off there but that is my understanding. Although with Costco they may refund the $60 fee if you complain anyway since they are so customer friendly.

          I agree this was more an interesting fact/thought exercise versus a true full blow hack. Just found it interesting. Thanks again for a good comment!

          • Appreciate the kind words. I enjoy life hacks with the best of them so please keep them coming. I just think in this case you can save yourself the trouble as far as energy invested. Personally, chasing around my two little girls these days has put a premium on energy and time!

            Here’s the relevant excerpt from the Costco T&C:

            “On Membership: We will cancel and refund your membership fee in full at any time if you are dissatisfied.”

            It doesn’t specify what level you are so I’d think you’re good with either the $60/$120 level. The way it should work is you get the difference of membership fee minus earned rewards. Like you said, they’d probably refund you either way because it’s Costco.

  11. If you currently have a Costco visa but let your membership expire, can you still use this trick or do u have to have a membership to get rewards on the card?

    • I think you would need a membership to redeem the rewards. Plus the card is only annual fee free with a Costco membership.

    • If you are a single person then you don’t have a ton of need for Costco but they may have a price for a TV or computer etc. that you want to purchase but will never use the membership again. This is a way to do that. I said in the conclusion that for most people it will make sense to just pay the $60.

    • Agreed.

      Anyone, even single folks, who cannot figure out how to break even or save enough money in a year to make a Costco membership worthwhile is, how shall I put this gently, uncreative.

      My brother has never in his life set foot in a Costco, but he has been a member for years, at my insistence, for the car rental discounts alone.

      Best money I spend all year.

    • Firm Doc is exactly right – articles like this shouldn’t exist. Costco provides huge value to customers via low prices and unbelievably generous service/returns, and most of their revenue is generating from the annual membership fees.

      If you want to reap the benefits of shopping in Costco, stop being cheap and pay the annual membership. At the very least, split the cost in half by giving the second household card to a family member who also desires membership.

      • Isn’t splitting the membership between 2 households stiffing them out of $60? I find it interesting that you find using the system they put in place to save $30 is okay but not $60.

        I do believe this is useful for someone who only shops at Costco once or twice a year. If you value the store then a membership would be easier and more useful. I think they allow this because it ends up driving membership in the long run. If it was hurting their bottom line then they would have put a stop to it.

        Thanks for the comment and sharing your thoughts.

  12. Why do you need a balance on the cash card? Couldn’t you just gain access with a card with zero balance (not like the person at the entrance would know) and then pay in full with a cc at checkout? Also, what do you give the cashier at checkout to scan, if anything?

    • I think you need to show the cash card with a balance at check out in order to be able to check out. A portion of it must be paid with the gift card from my understanding.

      • This is true , i have tried it and also they wont give you back the gift card, u need to empty out the gift card balance in one visit.

        • In my experience (NJ):
          I have not had to use up my card balance at one go. I have been allowed to use it without a member present although the cashier has to call a manager and no one involved (or in line behind me) appears particularly pleased. Lastly, I have not been allowed to buy alcohol, have been told “only members can buy”.

          • I think the alcohol is more of a state law in certain states where if you sell it it has to be available to everyone. That is the case here in Michigan.

    • The cashier will ask the membership card and scan it at the same place where they scan the bar code of the product.

  13. Maybe some Costco allow it, but the Costco in my area require the member with the membership card in order to complete the transaction. A Costco cash card without membership card is not enough.

    • Interesting you have tried it? I would think it would be a company policy but maybe YMMV depending on who is working etc.

      • I have tried in the past and the cashier will not accept the cash card without the membership card. Most of the time, they will check if you match the picture on your card.

      • The red sleeve that comes around the cash card very clearly says on it that you do not need membership to use the cash card. I always bring it in with me and show it to the cashiers and clerks who at first claim that you must have membership.

  14. So what’s the answer to the gas purchase question? Does it count as a wholesale club purchase or do we have to wait until Oct 1 to find out?


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