Costco vs. Sam’s Club: What Is the Difference?

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Money expert Clark Howard loves warehouse clubs as they are a great way to help save money on groceries, optical services, tires, and much more. (Clark even named his dog Kirkland Signature after Costco’s in-house brand!)

If you have more than one warehouse club in your area, you may be wondering which one to join. While some clubs share similarities, there are key differences.

As a member of both Costco and Sam’s Club, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know to help you decide.  

This article was updated in December 2023 and I review it every 6 months. Detailed notes on all updates can be found here.

Things to Know Before Purchasing a Warehouse Club Membership

In this article, I’ll share what you need to know before joining Costco or Sam’s Club, including information on:


Both Costco and Sam’s Club require a membership to shop (with very few exceptions). The price of membership and tiers vary between the clubs.


Costco offers two annual membership tiers: Gold Star for $60 and Executive for $120.

Gold Star membership allows you access to the warehouse club, gas station, optical center, tire center, and more! 

The Executive membership gives you the same access as Gold Star but with an extra perk. You earn a 2% reward on qualifying purchases at Costco. There is a reward cap of $1,000 in earnings per year. You would only come close to hitting that if you spend $50,000 per year at Costco. Rewards are redeemable on merchandise and services at Costco. 

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If you are a diehard warehouse shopper, I would consider an Executive membership. Depending on spending, the rewards would cover your annual membership cost. 


Say you joined as an executive member, but toward the end of your first year, you determined that you did not spend enough to justify the extra cost. No problem! Costco will downgrade your card to Gold Star and refund the price difference. But note any rewards earned will be forfeited. 

Sam’s Club

Membership at Sam’s Club is slightly less expensive than at Costco. They also offer two annual membership tiers: Club for $50 and Plus for $110

Club membership allows access to the club, gas station, tire and battery center, and more!

Plus membership also gives you access to free shipping, early shopping hours and even optical and pharmacy savings. In addition, Plus members receive 2% Sam’s Cash while shopping in the club. Sam’s Cash can be redeemed for merchandise or cash back at the club. 

If you are considering joining Sam’s Club, I recommend checking out I have seen discounted membership and promotions such as joining for $50 — and receiving $50 back as a gift card! 

It is important to note that both Costco and Sam’s Club have a money-back guarantee. If you are unhappy with the membership, you can cancel for a full refund at any time. 

CostcoSam’s Club
$60 (Gold Star)$50 (Club)
$120 (Executive)$110 (Plus)
* Prices don’t include tax


Maybe you have Costco near you? Maybe Sam’s Club? Or perhaps you have both! While both Costco and Sam’s Club are all around the country and even worldwide, some locations tend to be either more Costco-heavy or Sam’s Club-heavy.

Here’s what I mean. If you are traveling through the Hudson Valley in N.Y., you will not find a Costco. But you will find several Sam’s Club locations. On the flip side, traveling through Washington state (where Costco is based), you will find dozens of Costco locations and not a single Sam’s Club location. 


Costco operates 871 locations as of November 2023, with 600 in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, Costco does not have any locations in Rhode Island, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Costco even has international locations. If you ever find yourself in Canada, the U.K., Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Australia, Mexico, Spain, Iceland, France, China, New Zealand, or Sweden, be sure to stop in and check out Costco.


Sam’s Club

While you may have never heard of Sam’s Club, I am sure you have heard of Walmart. Founder Sam Walton opened the first Sam’s Club location in Oklahoma in 1983.

Today, they operate nearly 600 locations in 44 states and around the world, including in Brazil, China, and Mexico. Sam’s Club does not operate in Alaska, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, or Washington State.

But even if you don’t have a Sam’s Club nearby you may find membership worth it with their competitive prices and generous shipping policy.

Store Brands

Both Costco and Sam’s Club offer their own house brand of products. Many of the house brands constantly get high scores from Consumer Reports.


Costco’s house brand is called Kirkland Signature. When you enter a Costco, you can find just about any product bearing the name Kirkland Signature. According to Costco, Kirkland Signature means “quality and value.” 

Some of the Kirkland brand products that I frequently purchase.

Sam’s Club

Sam’s Club’s house brand is called Member’s Mark

According to Sam’s Club, Member’s Mark products are all about “bringing you high-quality products that reflect your values and needs at members-only prices.” 

Some of my favorite Member’s Mark brand products.

In my house, we have found that the Kirkland Signature brand from Costco and the Member’s Mark brand from Sam’s Club are better quality and less expensive than the top-name brand products. We make it a point to buy these house brand products.

Credit Cards

You may be intrigued about joining a warehouse club after reading the first three points. Or maybe you remember reading about how Clark carries the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi and Sam’s Club® Mastercard®  in his wallet

If you consider joining, I recommend pairing your membership with the credit card of the warehouse club that you join. I’ll share with you the perks of each warehouse club credit card. Should you apply for a credit card with the warehouse clubs, your credit card will double as your membership card.

Category:CostcoSam’s Club
Gas/EV Charging4% cash back (up to $7,000 spent per year) then 1% after that.5% back (up to $6,000 spent per year) then 1% after that.
Restaurants3% Unlimited3% Unlimited
Eligible Travel3% Unlimited1% (included in “all other purchases category”)
Warehouse/Online2% UnlimitedPlus, members: $2% (in club) +3% (in club and online) with Sam’s Mastercard.
Club members: $1% back
Redeemable: Every February via merchandise or cash backAt any time for merchandise or cash back.

One of the differences between Costco and Sam’s Club is the credit cards they accept. Costco only accepts Visa debit and credit cards in store and Visa and Mastercard online. 

Sam’s Club takes Visa, Mastercard, Discover and Amex in-store and online making it more convenient on your wallet. 



As discussed in our article about buying gas at Costco, one of the reasons that I love my Costco membership is because they provide Top Tier gas. Top Tier is better for your engine and is designed to save money over time. 

Sam’s Club

While Sam’s Club does have cheaper gas than most stations, their gas is not Top Tier.

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Tire Center

Warehouse clubs aren’t just for shopping and getting cheaper gas while there. They offer a host of services both in-club and online designed to save you as much money as possible. Let’s take a look at their tire centers. 


Do you own a car? The Costco Tire Center did top the charts at Consumer Reports with a score of 91 but recently dropped to 77.

Dallas from Team Clark reached out to Consumer Reports to find out more about the drop in score. A representative from Consumer Reports had this to say: “Costco didn’t rate as highly for selection, sales service, waiting area, and other services (e.g. tire balance, rotation, alignment) as the retailers ahead of it.”

I can attest to how easy it is to purchase tires from Costco. You can buy in-store or online, and the cost of having them installed is factored into the price. So there are no surprise “gotchas” when you get to the store. 

The downfall to having your tires installed at Costco is you need to wait around. They do not normally provide a customer lounge, and I found myself shopping. I admit I did purchase items I was not planning to. But after about 90 minutes, my car was done, and I was off like a herd of buffalo.

All passenger vehicle tires purchased at Costco come with a Road Hazard Warranty of five years! That is a considerable savings to your wallet should you need a repair or replacement. Also, tire rotations are free for life on tires purchased at Costco. However, it is important to note that Costco does not do tire alignments.

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Sam’s Club

What sets Sam’s Club apart from other tire centers is the after-purchase care that you receive. When you purchase tires from Sam’s and have them installed, they give you a free three-year, 24-hour roadside assistance plan that protects you on parts of your car that are not even tire-related! Towing, flat tire assistance, fuel delivery, lock-out service, jump start and winching/extraction are all included. 

You also receive lifetime tire balance, rotation and free flat tire repair on tires purchased at Sam’s. Just like Costco, however, Sam’s does not offer tire alignments. So when you are price comparing new tires, be sure to factor this in.

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Optical Services


Costco offers optical services right inside its stores. They offer a wide range of frames to choose from and even have a doctor right inside to perform eye exams. What is cool about Costco Optical is that they are rated the top place to shop for eyeglasses according to Consumer Reports. The highest marks were given to price, follow-ups after the appointment, customer service and quality of frames. We have also included Costco as one of the best places to buy eyeglasses.

It is important to note that Costco Optical only gives the prices and specs for their house brand Kirkland Signature frames online. You will need to shop in-store to find pricing for their non-house brand. 

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Sam’s Club

Sam’s Club also offers optical services similar to Costco, but what caught my eye was their optical department rating at Consumer Reports. Typically, they have been number 6 or 7 on the chart of eighteen, but recently Sam’s Club Optical has risen toward the top. Sam’s Club Optical comes in third place at Consumer Reports, just slightly behind Costco in rating. While this might not be a big deal to some shoppers, it goes a long way in earning my trust.

I was perusing the Sam’s Club optical site recently, and they have made it easy to shop for eyewear. They offer virtual try-on and the ability to see the price on frames up front on all brands. 

Food Court

Both warehouse clubs have a food court, and you may have heard the recent news about Costco not raising the rates on their famous hot dog and soda combo.


For years, Costco has offered a great deal on a hotdog and soda for only $1.50. 

Clark is a big fan of Costco’s $1.50 hot dog combo so much so that he listed 3 people that he would invite with him should Costco hold a hot dog party.

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Sam’s Club

Sam’s also has an array of food available at their food court. Sam’s Club is trying to beat out Costco on its hot dog and soda combo by offering it for $1.38. 


Online Shopping

Both Costco and Sam’s Club offer online shopping for their members, but one has a slight advantage over the other. 


Costco has a unique policy when it comes to purchasing online. Some items have shipping charges, but you would know in advance whether or not an item would ship for free. If there is a shipping charge, it would be listed right near the product or shown in your cart.

Costco says on its website that some items ship directly from their vendors and manufacturers and that they can set their own shipping costs.

Costco also has a grocery delivery service. Products marked with two-day delivery will have an added fee per item unless the total order cost is over $75.

My recommendation is that it is imperative to price compare in-store vs online ordering at Costco. Recently, I saw an item that I wanted to purchase online from Costco that Sam’s Club did not have, but I could not justify the price plus the few bucks for shipping. I decided not to purchase it but remembered to look for the item the next time I was in the store. To my surprise, the item was $10 cheaper in-store! I saved $3 on the shipping and $10 by buying in-store.

I decided to test this theory and jotted down some other prices on items, and to my surprise, some of them also had a markup if purchased online. So while Costco does offer some of the best prices, it still pays to price compare online vs. in club.

Sam’s Club

My closest Sam’s Club is about 40 miles away, so why am I a member? Free shipping!

Plus members, which include both primary and complimentary members, receive free shipping on most online items with no minimum purchase required. I purchase items at Sam’s Club ranging from bulky paper towels to AA batteries and have never once incurred a shipping fee in my 4 years as a member. In most cases, my order is delivered within just a couple of days. 

Club-level members ($50 option) will only receive free shipping on items marked “free shipping”. Sam’s Club encourages its members to upgrade their membership to take advantage of the free shipping on more items. I can say with absolute certainty that the amount of money I spend on my Plus membership more than pays for itself in the dozens of online orders that I place every year. 

Unlike Costco, Sam’s Club does not have as high a markup on online items. In fact, they will go one step further and show you the in-store and online prices for full transparency. I think the highest markup I have experienced was $1.00. But it is rare in my experience. 


Return Policy

Both Costco and Sam’s Club are all about the customer. They both offer very generous return policies. While there are some exclusions, both warehouse clubs allow you to return most items anytime.


Costco offers its members a risk-free 100% satisfaction guarantee! Should you realize that a membership is not for you, you can cancel and obtain a full refund at any time. 

Costco also offers a very generous return policy on merchandise, with a few exceptions such as on electronics and jewelry. Most items can be returned at any time which means should you want a refund a few months down the road, in most cases they will issue the refund.

Sam’s Club

When shopping at Sam’s Club, you are also covered by their 100% satisfaction guarantee on membership and merchandise with a few exceptions. As shown on their website, most items you can return at any time for a refund or replacement except items like appliances and electronics. Here is the full list of exclusions. 

Final Thoughts

When it comes to warehouse shopping, it makes sense to be a member in most cases. 

I am a Costco and Sam’s Club member for very different reasons. Costco is close to my home, and I have five nearby locations. Sam’s Club is not nearby but offers free shipping for Plus members. In any case, you should consider joining a warehouse club based on location and what you plan to purchase. I price compare at both clubs for optimal savings.

At the very least, consider joining Sam’s Club, as their membership is a little cheaper, and they offer free shipping in the U.S. with no minimum purchase.

Oh yeah. Don’t forget, both clubs offer a satisfaction guarantee and will refund your membership cost at any time you are not satisfied. So, you have nothing to lose.

Article Updates
  • December 14, 2023: Updated location count. In 6 months, Costco added 18 new locations with 13 of those in the U.S. or Puerto Rico.
  • December 14, 2023: Costco now has a location in Maine bringing the count down to 3 states where they do not operate.
  • December 14, 2023: Consumer Reports score updated with quote from CR. 14 point drop from 91 to 77.