Costco vs. Sam’s Club vs. BJ’s Wholesale: Which Is Best?

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Want the most value for your money when you’re shopping? Join a warehouse club! There are three big warehouse club chains that dominate the business: Costco Wholesale, Sam’s Club and BJ’s Wholesale Club.

So which one is right for you?

In this article, we’ll compare membership dues, store locations, store brands, return policies and more for the Big 3 warehouse clubs.

This article was updated in January 2024 and we review it every 12 months. Detailed notes on all updates can be found here

Comparing Costco vs. Sam’s Club vs. BJ’s

Here at Team Clark, we are big fans of warehouse clubs because you can save so much money by buying in bulk. And no one on our team is more passionate about warehouse clubs than money expert Clark Howard.

“I love the warehouse clubs and do almost all my shopping in them,” Clark says. “The markups are extremely low so I know I am almost always getting a deal.”

Table of Contents

Overview: Similarities and Differences

Here’s an overview so you can familiarize yourself with these three leading warehouse club chains.

SimilaritiesDifferences
Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s all sell in bulk.Entry-level annual membership price:
Sam’s Club: $50
BJ’s: $55
Costco: $60
All three require a membership.BJ’s has less than half of the number of stores that Costco and Sam’s Club do.
All three will refund the price of your membership if you’re ever dissatisfied.Only BJ’s accepts manufacturer coupons

Membership Dues

Each of the three warehouse club chains works on a membership-based system. That means you have to pay in order to shop there (with a few exceptions).

This chart will help you understand what you have to pay to get in the door at Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s Wholesale Club. All three offer two tiers of membership, and all memberships are annual.

Warehouse ClubBasic MembershipPremium Membership
Costco WholesaleGold Star/Business – $60Gold Star Executive/Business Executive – $120
Sam’s ClubClub – $50Plus – $110
BJ’s WholesaleInner Circle – $55Perks Rewards – $110

You may be wondering what the difference is between a basic membership and a premium membership at any of the warehouse clubs.

Across the board, the biggest selling point is that you get 2% cash back on most purchases when you upgrade to a premium membership (more on that in a bit).

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NOTE: Both Costco and Sam’s Club offer a variety of perks for military personnel and their families when they join. Sam’s Club, and BJ’s Wholesale Club are the only stores that will actually discount your membership.

As a “thank you” to the brave men and women who serve our nation, BJ’s offers them more than 25% off the price of membership — plus a $10 coupon. All you need to do is verify your Troop ID. Click here to get started.


Store Locations

Both Costco and Sam’s Club have a roughly equal retail footprint in the United States, though Costco has more international locations.

BJ’s Wholesale Club, meanwhile, is the smallest of the three warehouse club chains. Its locations are spread throughout the eastern United States.

  • Costco: Currently operates 873 warehouses, including 601 in the United States and Puerto Rico, according to the company’s latest news release.
  • Sam’s Club: According to the chain’s website, it has “almost 600 clubs across the U.S and Puerto Rico.”
  • BJ’s Wholesale Club: Currently operates “over 252” warehouse clubs in 20 states, according to the company’s website.

Store Brands

All three warehouse clubs sell a mix of name brands and their own private label goods.

Costco has the Kirkland Signature label. This beloved brand encompasses everything from clothing to food to sundries.

Kirkland Signature items from Costco Wholesale
Kirkland Signature items from Costco Wholesale

Sam’s Club has its Member’s Mark private label. “Member’s Mark products are exclusive designs that use top-of-the-line materials and the highest quality ingredients to make sure you get the best quality and value at members-only prices,” according to Sam’s Club.

Member's Mark private label extra virgin olive oil at Sam's Club
Member’s Mark private label extra virgin olive oil at Sam’s Club

BJ’s Wholesale Club actually has two private labels: Berkley Jensen and Wellsley Farms.

Berkley Jensen focuses on product categories like office, furniture, lawn & garden, home, appliances, baby & kids, apparel and health & beauty, among others.

Wellsley Farms, meanwhile, has a narrower focus on fresh & refrigerated food, canned & packaged food, frozen food, beverages and more.

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Wellsley Farms products
Wellsley Farms products

Return Policy

Return policies are important anytime you buy anything at any retailer. This is perhaps no more so than when you’re talking about the warehouse clubs. You’re paying to be their customer and do your shopping there, right?

Warehouse clubs are generally known to have consumer-friendly return policies.

In fact, Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s Wholesale all believe in what they do so strongly that each will refund the cost of your membership if you’re ever dissatisfied with being a customer.

Now, let’s take a closer look at some of the finer points of each warehouse club’s return policy.

Costco

Costco’s deal with its near-legendary return policy is that you can return anything, at any time, no questions asked and no receipt necessary — with some limited exceptions.

  • Electronics – Must return within 90 days
  • Appliances – Must return within 90 days
  • Cell phones (vary with manufacturer policy) – Must return within 90 days
  • Tires and batteries – Sold with a “product-specific limited warranty”
  • Custom-made products – Can’t be returned

You can read more about Costco’s return policy here.

Sam’s Club

Sam’s Club says that having your receipt is recommended for returns, but it’s not mandatory.

“We prefer that you provide your original receipt or printed order, but if it is not available, we will do our best to process your return without it,” the store notes online.

However, you only have a limited amount of time to return some items:

  • Cell phones/Connected devices – Must return within 14 days
  • Electronics – Must return within 90 days
  • TVs – Must return within 90 days
  • Gift cards – No returns “except due to manufacturer defects or as required by law.”
  • Motorsport items – Must return within 30 days
  • Tickets – No returns
  • Prescriptions – No returns

Read more about the Sam’s Club return policy here.

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BJ’s Wholesale Club

BJ’s says, as a general rule, you can return any piece of non-grocery merchandise up to one year after purchase “in new condition [with] accessories intact.”

Several product categories have more limited return periods:

  • Televisions, home theater displays, laptops and tablets – Must return within 90 days
  • Computers, electronics and patio sets – Must return within 90 days

Several kinds of items can’t be returned:

  • Gift cards
  • Final sale apparel
  • Opened media (CDs, DVDs, video games)
  • In-store jewelry purchases (online purchases can, however, be returned)
  • Items containing fuel, gas or oil

For full details, see the BJ’s Wholesale Club Return Policy.

So, it doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about big purchases like flatscreen TVs for thousands of dollars or a few dozen eggs for a few bucks. You want to be sure you understand the terms of the warehouse club return policy you agree to when you sign up.

Cash Back Rewards

Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s Wholesale Club all reward their premium members with cash back on most purchases.

  • Costco: Executive members receive an annual 2% Reward on qualified Costco purchases up to $1,000 annually. Full terms and conditions here.
  • Sam’s Club: Plus members earn 2% back on most purchases, up to $500 annually. Full terms and conditions here.
  • BJ’s Wholesale Club: Perks Rewards members receive 2% back on most purchases. Full terms and conditions here.

Sam’s Club and BJ’s Wholesale caps your earnings at $500.

Costco, meanwhile, allows you to earn twice as much in cash back — $1,000 — each year. In order to max that out, you’d have to spend $4,170 monthly or just more than $50,000 annually, according to the warehouse club’s own numbers.

Cash back at BJ’s is issued as electronic awards in increments of $10 and can be used at checkout.

Credit Cards

Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s Wholesale all have co-branded credit cards with cash back rewards designed to appeal to their loyal customer base.

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Here’s a look at how they stack up in comparison to one another:

Card NameRewardsAnnual Fee

Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi

4% cash back on gas (first $7,000 per year)
3% at restaurants and eligible travel
2% at Costco
1% elsewhere
None

Sam’s Club® Mastercard®

5% cash back on gas
3% on Sam’s Club purchases (Plus members only), dining and takeout
1% elsewhere
None

BJ’s Perks Elite® Mastercard®


BJ’s One
3% back in rewards on most BJ’s purchases
1.5% back in rewards everywhere else Mastercard (R) is accepted
Savings of $0.10/ gallon of gas everyday
None

BJ’s Perks Plus® Mastercard®

BJ’s One+
5% back in rewards on most BJ’s purchases
2% back in rewards everywhere else Mastercard (R) is accepted.
Savings of $0.15/gallon of gas everyday
None

Unlike Costco and Sam’s Club, BJ’s Wholesale Club has two co-branded credit cards targeted to its two tiers of membership. The one you apply for depends on what kind of membership you have.

If you have an BJ’s Club (basic) membership, you apply for the BJ’s One Mastercard. If you have a Club+ (premium) membership, then you can apply for the BJ’s One+ Mastercard.

Meanwhile, none of the cards offered by any of the warehouse clubs has an annual fee, which is a big plus.

So which one is right for you? Credit card expert Jason Steele says it’s really a toss-up.

“These cards are so similar that your decision will likely depend on which store you prefer. In the extremely competitive fields of both credit cards and warehouse stores, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this race is too close to call.”

Final Thoughts

Joining a warehouse club is a great way to save money, particularly if you have a family or live in a household with more than just one person.

But even though Clark Howard shops at all three, he has a clear favorite: Costco Wholesale.

“Although the warehouse clubs are like three favorite children, Costco is the best. The maximum markup in Costco is 14%, except for Kirkland Signature at 15%. Those are the lowest markups above cost in retail,” Clark says. “Costco also has an unbelievable return policy. And if you buy something that gets cheaper within 30 days of when you purchase it, Costco refunds the difference if you ask.”

When you’re considering which warehouse club to join, you might want to make location one of the prime deciding factors. Because Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s are all so similar, the one that’s most convenient is probably the one you should consider joining.

Still unsure which club to join? Be sure to check out our Costco vs. Sam’s Club and Costco vs. BJ’s Wholesale Club articles for the ultimate warehouse club showdown.

Is Costco better than Sam’s Club and BJ’s Wholesale? Share your opinion in our Clark.com Community!

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Article Updates
  • January 30, 2024: Updated number of stores for all 3 clubs, return policies, and cash back rewards.
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