Paid memberships are a tricky game. You know, the ones whereby paying a one-time, annual, or monthly fee you open up the possibility for potential savings or other benefits.
I’ve justified the purchase of three paid memberships from retailers. I’ll tell you who else at the end of the post, but first, why I justified getting the REI Membership for myself. I’d love to hear which paid memberships you have justified putting up the expense for and why.
In the last few years, backpacking has become one of my favorite hobbies. I wrote a series of backpacking posts (you can find at the end of this article).
Anyhow, I bought all of my initial gear about 4 years ago. Recently, I’ve gotten obsessed with going ‘ultra-light’ with my backpacking gear. There are a lot of benefits to going ultra-light, namely, you can walk farther, faster, longer, and it’s a whole lot less painful. Quite simply, it’s a much more enjoyable experience.
Well, those who make the gear in the industry know that there are a whole lot of people who feel the same way as I do who are willing to pay a premium for ultra-light gear. Ultra-light backpacking gear is a relatively recent popular niche (although a lot of people have been quietly practicing it for years). Therefore, the best ultra-light products also tend to be the newest products. Technology in the niche has been changing rapidly. And, unfortunately, less material weight does not equate to a lower price.
REI has two websites you can purchase from – REI.com, specializes in selection, customer service, and their own name brand. And also REI Garage, which offers steep discounts on overstock and closeouts.
And if you want to push your savings in to high gear, the Upromise card also offers cash back rewards for REI purchases made online through Upromise.
REI Review: Here’s What Makes REI Stand Out as a Retailer that I Trust & Want to Buy From:
REI definitely has some unique things that make them an outstanding retailer:
- Return Policy: REI has pared back their return policy from “return anything at any time” a bit, but it is still outstanding compared to most retailers, and particularly for an outdoor recreation retailer. It is as follows,
We stand behind everything we sell. If you’re not satisfied with your REI purchase, you can return it for a replacement or refund within one year of purchase—with a few exceptions.
REI purchases of new items can be returned by mail or at any of our retail stores with proof of purchase, regardless of whether you bought the item online, in a store or by phone.
- Selection: Their selection is outstanding. They are the Amazon of outdoor gear. You name it, they likely have it. And if they don’t have it in the store, you can order it online. Don’t like it? Take it back to the store.
- Community: They have strong community efforts and make an effort to provide a wide variety of eco-friendly products.
- Customer Service: They have strong customer service and their employees are passionate and happy. In the interactions with their employees in stores, they seem very knowledgeable and happy to be there. I’ve also chatted in twice, was helped immediately, and received good answers right away.
- How they Treat their Employees: REI offers some of the best benefits for a part-time job out there, including 401K match, paid vacation, PTO, 50% off gear discounts and more. A rarity in the retail space.
REI Membership Benefits
For a $20 lifetime membership, you get:
- 10% of your purchases back in the form of an annual dividend.
- Access to REI “Garage Sales” on returned gear.
- Member-only sales and offers (typically at least one 20% off one item as a member sale per year).
- Discounts on gear rental and shop services (e.g. bike shop services).
Honestly, for me, it’s all about the 10% dividend and the 20% off discounts.
An Example of How the REI Membership Pays Itself Off Immediately
I’ve been looking to get a lighter 2-person backpacking tent. Backpacker Magazine had chosen a specific tent as their Editor Choice “tent of the year”. It’s easy to see why. The thing is sturdy, waterproof, fits two people, yet weighs a mere 2 lbs., 2 ounces! That’s less than half the weight of my previous tent (an ultra-light backpacker’s dream). The rub? It’s $350. And it’s $350 everywhere (nobody discounts it).
However, with REI’s annual membership sale, you can get 20% off of one full price item. It’s simple math. 20% off of a $350 item equals a $70 savings. That’s a 350% return on my $20 membership. Anything I order above and beyond this will be additional savings for me.
And if I’m not happy with the purchase or it is defective? I can return it!
Closing Thoughts on Paid Memberships
Paid retail memberships can work out for you if you know what you want first, and then discover that a paid membership would pay itself off if you stick to what you originally went for in the first place. The other two memberships that I alluded to earlier are with Costco and a local brewery (membership offers half off beer). In both cases, it should be fairly easy to pay off my membership investment and I stick to the essentials versus justifying spending extra just because I get a discount.
REI & Other Retail Membership Discussion:
- Do you have an REI membership? Has it been worth the money?
- What other retail memberships do you have? Why? Have they been worth the money?