Membership retailers like Sam’s Club and Costco can be a bit intimidating at first. There is the personal financial dilemma about whether or not to shell out the price for an annual membership fee if you don’t know what the store even has to offer in the first place. Fortunately, there are ways to get around this, so you can avoid buyer’s remorse.
I’ve been a longtime Costco member, love it, and encourage all readers of this site should give Costco a look. I previously covered how to shop at Costco without a membership to give an extra nudge for readers to do so.
Recently, I’ve also given Sam’s Club a try (and done a full Sam’s Club Vs. Costco review). While Sam’s Club isn’t quite as aligned to my grocery purchasing habits, I tried to set that aside for this review. Sam’s Club does have some great deals, so I wanted to give a full rundown on how you can shop at Sam’s Club without a Sam’s Club membership as well, to give it a trial run without having to spend a minimum of $50 on the annual membership fee (for the basic “Club” membership level) or $110 on the “Plus” membership. Those prices increased from $45 and $100, respectively, on October 17, 2022 – the first price increase at Sam’s Club in over 9 years.
Is there a Free Sam’s Club Trial Membership? Or Day Pass?
Sam’s Club used to offer a free “one day guest membership pass” via coupon invitation to be redeemed at their stores. The Sam’s Club One Day trial pass will get you in the door, however, if you want to buy anything, you will be charged a 10% service fee on your purchases (which may negate the savings of purchasing from Sam’s Club in the first place). There are some exceptions that I’ll cover.
Discounted or Free Sam’s Club Membership Promotions
Sam’s will occasionally run discounted membership promotional offers (usually limited to new members). For example, here is a great one available for 50% off membership in 2023.
Occasionally you will see a free Sam’s Club membership offer, but that is rare. More frequently you will see Sam’s run “register for a gift card” promotions (e.g. get a $10 or $15 gift card) for new members and renewing student membership and military membership.
Additionally, I previously highlighted an American Express offer that can result in a free Sam’s Club membership in the form of an AmEx statement credit. That offer is now expired, however, American Express, Bank of America, Chase, and Citi will occasionally offer these free Sam’s Club membership equivalent promotions from time to time with some of their credit cards. Go to the “offers” tab or section of your respective accounts to look for this.
What About the Sam’s Club 90-Day Free Trial Membership (3-Month Guest Membership)?
After Sam’s shut down the one-day guest membership passes, they began to offer an even better free 90-day trial membership to new members who have not been a member in the past 6 months.
In order to get the Sam’s Club 90-day basic trial membership, you’ll need an email invitation from someone who is a current Sam’s Club member or you will need to participate in a partner program that includes a free 90-day membership.
Shopping at Sam’s Club without a Membership:
Sam’s Club membership is not a necessity to get in the door to check things out. There are items and services within Sam’s Club that must be offered, by law, to non-members for purchase. So, if you want to just walk around the store and see the prices and offerings, go for it. Don’t let those beefed-up 70 year-old bouncer greeters dissuade you from your right to enter the store.
Don’t See the Value in your Membership? Get a Refund
Sam’s Club has a very forgiving membership fee refund policy:
100% Membership Satisfaction Guarantee: If at any time you’re unsatisfied with your Membership, let us know and we will cancel your membership and provide a refund of the amount paid for your current year Membership fee. Notwithstanding anything to the contrary, there’s a limit of one Plus Membership refund per member or business per year.
You can pay for an annual membership, give it an honest trial run, then get a refund if you don’t see the value over time. You won’t even lose a pro-rated amount. This eliminates the risk of a “wasted” membership fee. But don’t abuse it!
There are even multiple ways to get a Sam’s Club membership fee refund.
Shop at Sam’s Club Online without a Membership (samsclub.com)
Similar to the One Day Pass, you can also shop online at the Sam’s Club website, samsclub.com, with a non-member guest 10% service fee up-charge (Costco has a similar up-charge, but it is only 5%). You can do this via a guest registration.
Note that most grocery items are not available to ship, and you cannot pick up in store with the guest registration.
Become a Sam’s Club Add-On Member
If someone in your household is a Sam’s Club member, they can add you to their account as a complimentary add-on member so you can get member prices in the stores or online, without the 10% non-member service fee. Note that it now costs $45 for each add-on member, so there is only a $5 benefit versus buying your own separate “Club” membership.
Additionally, you can always shop with a Sam’s Club member and pay them back – or even split the cost of membership. Seems like a bit of a hassle, but it’s a possibility.
Buying Prescriptions at the Sam’s Club Pharmacy without a Membership (and Immunizations)
Sam’s Club stocks hundreds of prescription medications for the low price of just $4 each. As Sam’s Club notes on their site, you do not have to have a Sam’s Club membership to buy prescription medication at the Sam’s Club Pharmacy. And for those prescriptions, there is not a 10% non-member service fee.
This also includes immunizations, such as flu shots. Sam’s Club is among those that offer the cheapest flu shots and other immunizations at their pharmacies to non-members who do not have insurance (from my analysis, only Costco is cheaper). Note that non-members may have to pay higher prices for immunizations or prescriptions than members.
Getting Food from the Sam’s Club Cafe without a Membership
According to Sam’s Club, you do not have to be a member to purchase items from the Sam’s Club Cafe (food court), and there is not a 10% non-member service fee. If you’re looking for a quick, convenient meal, the prices are pretty good (particularly the frozen yogurt).
Buying Alcohol at Sam’s Club without a Membership
The sale of alcohol is highly regulated, and in most states, membership stores like Sam’s Club and Costco must offer equal access and pricing for alcohol to all consumers, regardless of membership status. So, yes, you can buy alcohol at Sam’s Club without a membership, and there should not be a 10% non-member service fee upcharge.
The benefits of doing so might not be as great as at Costco, where you can find significantly lower prices on the Kirkland alcohol offerings than with similar name brands.
See the Sam’s Club Optical Center Doctor without a Membership
Sam’s Club states that you must be a member to buy optical products (e.g. glasses and contact lenses), however, a membership is not required to see a doctor of optometry for an eye exam. This is similar to Costco’s policy.
Sam’s Club Photo Center
And the final department in Sam’s Club where you do not need a membership fee to purchase from is the Sam’s Club Photo Center.
Shop Sam’s Club on Instacart Without a Sam’s Club Membership
You can buy Sam’s Club items on Instacart without a Sam’s Club membership. Be aware that Instacart states:
Sam’s Club sets the price of items on this platform. Prices may be higher online than in physical club locations. Enter your Sam’s Club membership number to receive membership rewards and pay lower prices than non-members.
That’s Sam’s Club way of getting their membership fees one way or another. If you buy more than a few items via Instacart, in order to save money on a Sam’s Club membership fee, you’re probably going to begin losing money overall pretty quickly and it will not be worth it.
Your Sam’s Club Shopping Tips
Do you have any tips/tricks to shopping at Sam’s Club without a membership (or with)? Share them in the comments!