Now that Amazon Prime costs $140 a year, nearly twice its original launch price, many customers are questioning whether they should stick with the service. In many cases, the answer is “no.” We’ve grown reliant on Prime, but from a cost perspective, it’s rarely worth your hard-earned cash.
That’s not to say that you should cancel your Prime subscription—although maybe you should. We’re going to cover all the ups and downs of Prime to help you decide whether you’re getting your money’s worth. And if you realize that you’re not getting the most out of Prime, then yeah, it’s time to make some changes.
If you joined Amazon Prime before 2014, then you paid just $80 a year for the service. Amazon now expects you to pay nearly twice as much. In a Q4 2021 earnings report, the company blames this price hike on increased shipping costs and employee wages, plus the “continued expansion of Prime member benefits.”
For many Prime customers, that last line may seem a bit odd. Most people use Prime for 2-day shipping, Prime Video access, and little else.
Amazon isn’t lying here; the company regularly offers new benefits for Prime customers. There’s Amazon Music (now free with a Prime subscription), a selection of free e-books, early access to new books, 10GB of photo storage, a “try before you pay” system for clothing, free PC games, extra perks for your Twitch account, in-house delivery with Amazon key, and so much more.
If you use all of these benefits, or even just a few of them, Amazon Prime is absolutely worth $140 a year. Your Prime subscription eliminates the need to sign up for other costly services, such as Spotify or Google Photos.
I should also mention that at $140 a year, Prime is cheaper than Netflix. Dedicated Prime Video viewers are probably getting their money’s worth even without using other Prime benefits. But when you check your Prime Video watch history, does it look like you use the service all that often? And of the titles you watched, how many were you forced to rent or buy? (You can click the video thumbnails in your watch history to see if titles are offered free with Prime.)
Unless you’re really taking advantage of all the benefits offered by Prime, it’s hard to justify the $140 yearly fee. The free two-day shipping is rarely worth the money on its own, as it’s very easy to get free shipping without Prime.
You don’t need a Prime account to get free shipping with Amazon. In fact, the retailer offers two simple paths to free shipping—make an order that exceeds $25, or set up recurring orders with Subscribe and Save.
All Amazon orders of $25 or more come with free shipping. Select items aren’t available for the free shipping offer, though this is also the case when you have a Prime subscription. As for Subscribe and Save, all recurring orders (after your first) will ship for free—this second option is best for products that often need replacing, like toothpaste or dryer sheets.
Additionally, some third-party retailers in the “New and Used” section offer their products with free shipping. You should see this section under the “Buy Now” box on most Amazon product pages.
But what about two-day shipping? Technically speaking, speedy two-day or same-day shipping are exclusive to Prime members. But in our experience, customers who live near an Amazon warehouse will often get two-day or three-day shipping even without a Prime membership. (And if you’ve been a Prime customer for a long time, you already know that shipping delays aren’t uncommon.)
I should note that returning Amazon items without Prime costs money—sometimes a lot of money. But you don’t have to just shop on Amazon. Brick and mortar retailers accept in-store returns for items you buy online, and while you may not feel like popping into a Walmart or Target just to stand in the return line, it doesn’t take that much longer than visiting a UPS or Amazon Locker.
While Amazon offers competitive prices on many items, it’s rarely the best outlet for products that you use every day. Paper towels, makeup, pet food, people food, hygienic products, detergents, bottled water, and tons of other items all cost more at Amazon than they do at brick and mortar stores.
Let’s focus on paper towels, as there’s a good chance you ran into Amazon’s sometimes-wonky pricing during the great paper towel shortage of early 2020.
The first option when you search “paper towels” on Amazon is an eight-pack of Bounty Quicksize rolls. This pack of paper towels costs $23 at Amazon, but it’s just over $17 at Target. Your local Walmart may offer the same pack (or a similar pack) for even less. And of course, a Costco or Sam’s Club membership could get you paper towels at an even bigger discount.
Hey, maybe the convenience of getting toiletries or makeup without leaving the house is valuable to you. But many stores, such as Walmart and Target, now offer free pickup for items you order through their respective apps or websites. If you live near one of these stores, you can get many of your most-used items cheaper and quicker than ordering through Amazon, all without wandering through crowded aisles.
It’s hard to give up on Prime. Even if you don’t use all the benefits offered by the service, it’s nice to order small items without thinking about shipping. But if that free shipping is really the selling point for you, maybe it’s time to look at Walmart+.
Yeah, I’m suggesting that you jump from one terrifying corporation to another. But the benefit is pretty clear—Amazon Prime costs $140 a year, but Walmart+ costs just $98 a year. That’s $42 in savings.
The benefits offered by Walmart+ are comparable (and in some cases, more useful) than those included with Prime. You get free shipping on all items, plus free shipping on groceries when you spend a minimum of $35. (Amazon Prime members get a similar offer with Whole Foods, though of course, not everyone lives near a Whole Foods.)
Walmart+ members also save 5¢ per gallon at Walmart and Murphy stations, access to Sam’s Club gas stations, discounts on select prescriptions, and exclusive discounts on Black Friday. Oh, and Walmart does this thing where it sells batches of PS5 and Xbox Series X consoles exclusively to Walmart+ members.
Even with its recent price hike, Amazon Prime is still a valuable service. In fact, it’s a great deal if you really take advantage of its benefits. But for many people, Prime isn’t the deal it once was. Whether you ditch Prime or not, I hope that you can walk away from this article confident in your decision.