It’s easier than ever to get free shipping on online purchases these days, and you can thank Amazon Prime for that.
Amazon’s uber-popular loyalty program made two-day free shipping a thing back when other big retailers were still finding their feet online. Today, it’s good for much more than fast, free delivery.
There’s far too much to name in a short intro, but some of my favorites include tons of free TV and audio content, exclusive access to Amazon’s annual Prime Day shopping bonanza, and solid discounts on prescriptions and groceries.
But is Amazon Prime worth it for the average consumer? More to the point, how much stuff do you have to buy on Amazon to justify Prime’s price tag? See what you get from Amazon Prime and whether it makes sense for you.
What Is Amazon Prime?
Amazon Prime is the retail loyalty program for Amazon, the biggest online retailer in the United States. Prime members get free shipping on Amazon purchases, 10% off most Whole Foods Market purchases, thousands of free movies and TV shows with Prime Video, and exclusive access to Amazon’s famous Prime Day deals, among other benefits.
Amazon Prime membership costs about $140 per year for regular users. Current students and government assistance recipients may qualify for discounted memberships.
I’ve been an Amazon Prime member for about 10 years. I’ve kept my membership going because my family buys a lot of stuff on Amazon and takes full advantage of the Prime Video benefit. We rarely shop at Whole Foods, and it’s still worth it for us.
But while the value is clear for us, Amazon Prime isn’t worth it for infrequent Amazon shoppers, people who don’t watch much TV or movies, and people who don’t need the many other benefits of Prime membership.
What Sets Amazon Prime Apart?
Amazon Prime stands out from other retail loyalty programs for three reasons that, believe it or not, have nothing to do with free shipping.
- Incredible Array of Free TV and Movies. Amazon Prime comes with a free subscription to Prime Video, a Netflix-level video streaming service that boasts thousands of titles.
- 10% Off Purchases at Whole Foods Market. Whole Foods is still pricey next to true discount grocery stores, but it’s a lot cheaper than before Amazon bought it in 2017. And Prime members’ across-the-board 10% discount makes it even more competitive on cost.
- Exclusive Access to Prime Day Deals. There’s nothing quite like Prime Day in U.S. retail. It’s like Black Friday on steroids — but only for Amazon Prime members.
How Much Is Amazon Prime?
Regular Amazon Prime members pay $139 per year when billed annually or $14.99 per month (about $179.88 per year) for the more flexible monthly plan. That’s a lot more expensive than Waltmart+, but there’s a 30-day free trial you can use to see if it would be worth it to you.
It’s true most other retail loyalty programs, such as those run by supermarket and department store chains, cost nothing to join. But tens of millions of consumers happily pay comparable annual fees for warehouse store memberships.
You can’t get Amazon Prime for free, but there are two primary ways to get it for less than full price: be an eligible college student or government assistance recipient.
Prime Student members pay $69 per year when billed annually and $7.49 per month (about $89.88 per year) when billed monthly. To qualify, you must have valid dot-edu email addresses and be able to prove you’re actively enrolled in at least one college course in the United States (including Puerto Rico).
Prime for Government Assistance Recipients
If you receive government assistance, you may qualify for an even cheaper Prime membership: $6.99 per month after your trial. Qualifying programs include food stamps, Medicaid, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, and Supplemental Security Income. You must recertify your eligibility every 12 months.
Does Amazon Prime Lower Prices?
Yes and no. Most items sold on Amazon aren’t cheaper for Prime members. However, some are cheaper with Prime, and it’s much easier to get free shipping with Amazon Prime.
That’s not to say your Amazon Prime membership won’t save you money. Prime members can take advantage of special savings opportunities like:
- Exclusive deals on thousands of products, which sounds like a lot until you realize that Amazon sells tens of millions of products
- Exclusive access to Prime Day, a two-day event featuring deeper discounts on a wider array of Amazon products
- Another 10% off sale prices at Whole Foods Market plus Prime-exclusive discounts on Whole Foods goods
- Free games, in-game content, and Twitch channel access through Prime Gaming
- Discounted prescriptions at more than 60,000 participating pharmacy locations, including Walgreens, CVS, and Amazon Pharmacy
- Unlimited high-quality photo storage with Amazon Photos
- Free try-before-you-buy with Amazon Fashion clothing — you only pay for the garments and accessories you keep
Your Amazon Prime membership also includes ad-free music streaming and thousands of movies and shows through Prime Video. The entertainment benefits alone are worth more than your monthly Prime membership when you consider how much you probably pay for Netflix, Spotify Premium, and other popular streaming entertainment services.
Key Features of Amazon Prime
It seems remarkable that so many people willingly pay over $100 per year for Amazon Prime membership — until you realize how much you get for your money if you can take full advantage of the benefits.
Every Amazon Prime membership comes with these perks. The more you use and the more often you use them, the more value you get.
30-Day Free Trial
All new Prime members are eligible for a 30-day free trial to test-drive the service. During the free trial, you have access to all Prime-exclusive perks and benefits.
My advice: Get your shopping list in order before activating your Prime membership. Don’t buy anything you weren’t planning to, but do buy as much of your list as you can during those first 30 days. Also make a list of the other benefits you want to try, such as Prime Video, Music, or Gaming, then spend a few days using each, if possible.
That gives you a good idea if Prime is really worth it and lets you test-drive all the features. If you decide Prime isn’t for you, you at least get a month’s worth of Prime Delivery out of it. That’s worth anywhere from $3 to $10-plus per order, depending on your order size and preferred shipping speed. And having a list of the service you want to try ensures you don’t miss anything or have to reup for another month just to try it out.
You must enter a valid credit card to secure your free trial. Your membership automatically rolls over to paid status at the end of the trial period unless you cancel.
While some benefits may be limited to members in the continental U.S., Amazon Prime’s most valuable benefit is Prime Delivery, a collection of Prime-exclusive free and discounted delivery options that include:
Free 2-Day Delivery
Prime’s signature benefit is available on more than 100 million eligible Amazon products with no order minimum. You don’t have to worry about a minimum order size or limits on delivery frequency. Otherwise, free shipping takes anywhere from five to eight business days. Look for the Prime Free Delivery logo. (Continental U.S. only.)
Free Next-Day Delivery
Free next-day delivery is available on more than 15 million Amazon products with no order minimum. Just look for the Prime Free One-Day logo to get your order by 9pm local time the day after you order. (Continental U.S. only.)
Free Same-Day Delivery
Free same-day delivery means if you order an eligible product in the morning or early afternoon, it’ll arrive by 9pm local time the same day. If you order later in the afternoon or evening, it’ll arrive the next business day. It’s available on several million Amazon products, but your total order size must be at least $25.
Free Ultrafast Grocery Delivery
In select U.S. cities, Amazon offers free same-day grocery delivery through Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market. In some markets, it may be through a participating third-party retailer. Look for the Available Today icon in the upper right corner of the product page.
Secure In-Home Delivery
In select U.S. cities, Amazon offers secure in-home delivery through the Key by Amazon app. You must install a special lock and camera and register any frequent guests to limit Amazon’s liability for damage or theft before accepting your first in-home delivery. But you can use the app to watch deliveries in real time.
Amazon Day Delivery
If you typically place multiple orders per week, you can set a standing Amazon Day to receive everything you ordered during the preceding week. It’s a nice perk for Prime members who are frequently absent during the workweek since setting it for a day you’re home reduces package theft. Since I work at home, I don’t have that problem, but I still like Amazon Day because it means fewer interruptions when I’m working.
As an Amazon Prime member, you can preorder products at least two days before their scheduled release dates, then receive free guaranteed delivery by 7pm the day they’re available to the general public. In other words, you get sought-after stuff before most other people.
Other Amazon Delivery Perks
Amazon’s regular shipping benefits get all the glory. But they’re not the only delivery-related perks for Amazon Prime members.
Additional perks include:
- Shopping rewards when you select the no-rush delivery option, often points to use as a credit toward future purchases or instant discounts, which can really trim your net Amazon costs if you don’t care about getting stuff as soon as possible
- Free delivery on special merchandise that doesn’t typically qualify for free delivery, such as bulky, heavy, or fragile goods
- Discounts on faster delivery for products that don’t qualify for free one- or same-day shipping, including used and refurbished products sold by independent sellers on Amazon
Prime Day Benefits
Amazon Prime Day is a signature benefit of Prime membership. It only comes around once per year, but it’s well worth the wait — and well worth planning (and saving) for.
Prime Day usually happens in the summer; Prime Day 2022 fell on July 12 and 13, kicking off the back-to-school shopping season. It’s Amazon’s biggest sale of the year by far, featuring millions of deeply discounted goods.
Many are actually worth buying. Some examples from Prime Day 2022:
- 25% off a Hoover carpet cleaner ($89.99 on sale, regular price $119.99)
- 20% off a portable Lasko oscillating tower fan ($59.99 on sale, regular price $74.99)
- 60% off a Melissa & Doug double-sided tabletop easel ($20.99 on sale, regular price $52.99)
For me, part of the fun of Prime Day is the surprise factor. Plus, it’s an excellent opportunity to get a (big) head start on your holiday shopping.
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon Prime Video is Amazon’s Prime-exclusive library of free on-demand TV and movie content.
Amazon Studios’ top original series and movies (known as Amazon Originals) are available through Prime Video at no additional charge. So are hundreds of popular non-Amazon shows, movies, and live out-of-market sporting events. As an avid user — my family watches more Prime Video content than any other streaming service with the exception of Disney+ — I can attest to the value here.
Be aware that Amazon doesn’t make its entire universe of video content available to Prime members for free. Premium TV series and films may carry one-time rental fees. But I don’t think I’ve ever paid for premium content on Prime Video, and I watch a lot — so don’t expect this to bite into your budget too much.
You can stream Prime Video to your TV with a compatible smart TV or external device, such as an Amazon Fire Stick or Apple TV. On the go, you can access content through the Amazon Prime Video app, which is compatible with Android and iOS operating systems.
Premium Prime Video Channels (Additional Fee)
Not getting everything you need with free Prime Video?
Enter Prime Video Channels, a premium content lineup that includes:
- Subscription movie and TV channels like HBO and Starz
- Live sports channels and memberships, including NBA League Pass, MLB.TV, and Prime-exclusive NFL games
- Premium fitness content, including yoga and workout videos
- Premium streaming packages like Paramount+ and Discovery+ featuring shows not available anywhere else
There are no big channel packages full of content you don’t really watch. You pay only for the channels you want, which helps control your total entertainment costs — but if you plan carefully, you can replace your pricey cable subscription, especially if you mostly care about live sports. Expect to pay $5 to $15 per month, depending on your selections.
Prime subscribers can use Prime Music to stream over 2 million songs free, including new hits and old favorites. Of course, that’s a fraction of what’s available from leading streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, which have more like 40 million songs in their respective libraries.
So if you’re a music buff, this may not be the service for you. But if you just want something to listen to while you clean, Amazon Music gets the job done.
Amazon Music Unlimited Subscription (Additional Fee)
If you have more robust music-listening needs, you might have to pay extra for Amazon Music Unlimited. It’s an expanded ad-free song library with over 90 million songs, which is on par with top subscription streaming services. It costs $8.99 per month, but that’s similar to Spotify Premium and the like, so it’s a good value if you’re not feeling your current music streaming service.
Up to 80% off Eligible Prescriptions
Prime members can save up to 80% off eligible prescriptions through participating pharmacies, including Walgreens, CVS, and Amazon Pharmacy. Savings kick in if any of these conditions apply:
- You don’t have insurance
- Your medication isn’t covered by insurance
- Your copay or deductible is higher than your Prime member price
As an Amazon Prime member, you get unlimited digital photo storage and up to 5GB of digital video storage. If you have a ton of stored photos and not too many videos, it’s a better deal than paying out of pocket for extra storage with Google or Dropbox.
Prime members get a slew of popular and up-and-coming games free with membership, and many games come with Prime-exclusive perks and power-ups you’d normally have to pay for. Whether you’re a serious gamer or just like to kill time playing on your phone, this is a potentially valuable benefit.
Prime Reading gives you unlimited access to thousands of e-books, audiobooks, and magazines delivered straight to your Kindle or non-Amazon e-reader. It comes with unlimited access to Amazon Originals too — titles you can’t find anywhere else. Like Prime Gaming, Prime Reading can more than justify the cost of a Prime membership if you’re an avid reader.
Prime Try Before You Buy
Amazon has finally given into competition from digital fast-fashion outlets and enabled try-before-you-buy apparel and accessory purchases for Prime members. I don’t personally buy clothing for myself or my kids on Amazon, but it’s not difficult to see the appeal for Prime members who do. You can get up to six items at a time, try them at home, pay only for what you keep, and return the unwanted stuff for free.
40% Discount on Amazon Kids+
Amazon Kids+ is a paid content subscription for kids under 12. It costs $7.99 per month for nonmembers and $4.99 per month for Prime members. Benefits include:
- Ad-free, age-appropriate shows like “Sesame Street” and “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood”
- Educational games and apps
- Kid-friendly e-books
- Parental controls to limit screen time and ensure age-appropriateness
I’m not sold on Amazon Kids+ as a stand-alone product. It’s easy enough to find educational games, shows, and books elsewhere, and it doesn’t include discounted toys, crafts, or school materials. But the discount is certainly helpful for parents seeking a not-quite all-in-one source for at-home and on-the-go learning and entertainment for younger kids.
Household Prime Membership
Amazon allows multi-person Prime memberships covering the same household, from two-person domestic partnerships to long-term roommate situations to multigenerational families.
Case in point: My wife and I pay a single annual fee for our joint Prime membership. Like merging finances in joint accounts, joint Prime memberships are common practice for spouses and committed domestic partners.
And we get even more value out of Prime now that we have kids — both for free shipping on the endless amount of kid stuff we buy on Amazon and for tons of kid-friendly Prime Video content we don’t have to pay extra for.
Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card
The Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card is a premium cash-back credit card that’s ideal for Prime members who spend heavily at Amazon and Whole Foods Market.
It’s a more powerful version of the regular Amazon Rewards Visa. The Prime Visa earns 5% cash back on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases and unlimited 2% cash back on purchases at eligible restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores. And cardholders occasionally qualify for cash-back bonuses as high as 10% on select products.
I almost never shop at Whole Foods, but my household spends enough elsewhere in the Amazon ecosystem to justify our Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card. In the past few years, our cash-back earnings have easily offset our Prime membership fee — you need to spend about $2,800 per year with Amazon or Whole Foods to break even.
Prime Store Card
If you don’t qualify for the Amazon Prime Rewards card, you might still be able to get the Prime Store Card. You can only use it on Amazon, but the Prime Store Card is more generous than the average retail credit card.
Notable benefits include:
- 5% back on Amazon purchases with an eligible Prime membership
- Up to 15% back on select rotating items throughout the year (a better deal in some cases than the Prime Rewards card)
- 0% annual percentage rate financing on larger purchases — six months without interest for purchases between $150 and $599 and 12 months without interest for purchases above $600
- No annual fee
My take? If you’re not allergic to credit cards and you regularly shop at Amazon, the Prime Store Card is a no-brainer. Just remember to pay off your balance in full each month if you don’t qualify for 0% APR financing.
Advantages of Amazon Prime
I’ve come to the conclusion that Amazon Prime is the best general retail loyalty program because it offers more perks and ways to save than the rest. These are its top advantages.
- Prime Video Is a Great Deal. Prime Video has thousands of TV shows and movies, many unique to Amazon. My family uses it more than our Netflix subscription and doesn’t pay a dime extra for it.
- Prime Video Channels May Be Cheaper Than Cable or Other Live TV Streaming Subscriptions. Amazon Prime Video Channels costs about $5 to $15 extra per month for Prime subscribers, depending on the package. I’m not a big fan of stacking rarely-used streaming subscriptions, but there’s a decent chance the right Prime Video Channels package could replace your cable or existing live TV streaming subscription.
- Many Free Shipping Options. Depending on what you’re ordering, you can get your stuff as soon as today with Prime — without paying for shipping. And tens of millions of products come with two-day shipping.
- One Membership Covers the Entire Household. You can share a single Prime membership within a big household without paying anything extra. That’s especially clutch for roommates who might technically be separate households for tax purposes but share expenses among themselves.
- 30-Day Free Trial for All New Members. Your new Prime membership is free to try for an entire month. That should be long enough to decide if it’s worth keeping.
- Membership Discounts for Students and Government Assistance Recipients. Students and qualifying government assistance recipients get Prime for about 50% less than everyone else.
- Across-the-Board Whole Foods Market Discounts. Your Prime membership comes with an across-the-board 10% discount on Whole Foods purchases, including prepared foods purchases — in other words, high-quality groceries at mid-market prices.
- Earn and Save More With an Amazon Payment Card. Amazon Prime payment cards come with solid discounts or cash back on eligible Amazon purchases, which gives you even more ways to save if you qualify.
Disadvantages of Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime has some downsides too. Even if it seems like a good value, consider these drawbacks before ponying up over $100 per year.
- May Not Be Worth It for Some Shoppers. Your Amazon Prime membership pays for itself if you regularly buy stuff on Amazon and take advantage of the entertainment features and built-in discounts. But if you do most of your shopping and viewing elsewhere, it’s not worth it.
- Annual Subscription Pricing Isn’t Prorated. Once you pay for a year of Amazon Prime, there’s no point in canceling until right before your subscription is up for renewal. You won’t get any money back.
- The Free Music Library Is Relatively Small. Amazon’s free music library has about 2 million songs, which sounds like a lot. But major competitors like Apple Music and Spotify have many times that number, so it’s probably not worth switching if you’re happy with one of those.
- Few Prime-Exclusive Amazon Deals Outside Prime Day. Most Prime-exclusive deals happen on Prime Day, which is actually two days. Still — just two days out of the year.
How Amazon Prime Stacks Up
As a retail loyalty program, Amazon Prime is in a class by itself thanks to its wealth of features and potential value.
The competitor that comes closest is Walmart+, which claims its members can save $1,300 per year. That claim uses very generous assumptions about how much they buy from Walmart and its partners, but it’s true that Walmart+ is legit for frequent Walmart shoppers. Whether it stacks up to Amazon depends on which features are important to you.
|Membership Cost||$139 (annually) or $14.99 (monthly)||$98 (annually) or $12.95 (monthly)|
|Free Shipping Benefits||Same-day or two-day with no minimum order||Usually two-day with no minimum order|
|Entertainment Benefits||Prime Video and Music||Paramount+ Essentials and Spotify Premium|
|Other Benefits||Discounts on Whole Foods and eligible prescriptions; exclusive Prime Day deals||Member-only deals|
Is Amazon Prime Any Good?
Yes — in my opinion, Amazon Prime is worth the cost.
I’ve been a Prime member for going on a decade now, which means I’ve spent at least $1,000 on membership fees alone.
But I’ve saved thousands more through free shipping, Prime Day discounts, free entertainment, credit card rewards, and other Prime benefits. And though it should be clear by now that my household spends a lot on Amazon, it’s not like it’s the only place we shop. We get excellent value out of Amazon Prime without trying too hard.
Alternatives to Consider
As retail loyalty programs go, Amazon Prime is in a class by itself, which is part of the reason it’s so valuable. Still, other big-name retailers have loyalty programs that offer real value, and most don’t charge three-figure membership fees.
|Product Service||Best For|
|Target Circle||Exclusive deals and cash back|
|Walmart+||Free shipping, fuel savings, and entertainment benefits|
Amazon Prime has a lot to offer, but it isn’t for everyone.
My wife and I get our money’s worth and feel it’s a fair value. But we know plenty of occasional Amazon shoppers who can’t justify spending $139 per year for Prime benefits. Other shoppers take issue with Amazon’s growing retail dominance and prefer to support independently owned retailers instead.
Whether Amazon Prime makes sense for you depends on how much value you can extract from it. If you’re already selecting one- or two-day shipping on frequent Amazon purchases, shopping at Whole Foods, and regularly streaming Amazon content, it makes sense to join Prime.
If you shop Amazon infrequently or not at all, don’t watch much Prime TV, and don’t live near a Whole Foods, Prime likely isn’t worth it for you. If your experience is somewhere in between, your choice might be tougher, but if you fully leverage the free trial, it’s an easy enough choice.