At a glance
- Plans: One standard plan for $119 per year or $12.99 per month (about $156 per year); discounted Student Prime plan for eligible members
- Features: Prime Delivery (multiple expedited and discounted delivery options); Prime Video; Prime Reading; exclusive Prime deals; unlimited music streaming; unlimited photo storage; eligibility for Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card subject to credit qualification
- Advantages: Wide range of shipping options, though variable by customer location; potentially valuable media perks; higher cash-back earnings for qualified Amazon Prime Visa Signature Card users; Prime member discounts at Whole Foods; 30-day free trial period; household memberships; discounted student memberships
- Disadvantages: Relatively high annual (and even higher monthly) fee; no refunds if you fail to use the service; additional fees for expedited food delivery; music library is weaker than some competitors’
Amazon Prime is one of the most popular retail loyalty programs in U.S. history. Although Amazon itself doesn’t regularly release membership figures, a study by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimated that more than 100 million people had access to Prime in 2019.
Why is Amazon Prime so popular? And is it really a good value for the cost? To decide for yourself, take a closer look at Amazon Prime’s core features and member perks. Then, weigh the facts to determine when and whether it’s worth the annual expense.
What’s remarkable about Amazon Prime’s subscriber count is the fact that you must pay to join. Regular Prime members pay $119 per year when billed annually or $12.99 per month (about $156 per year) for the more flexible monthly plan.
Prime Student members pay $59 per year when billed annually and $6.49 per month (about $78 per year) when billed monthly. To qualify, they must have valid dot-edu email addresses and be able to prove they’re actively enrolled in at least one college course in the United States (including Puerto Rico).
Tens of millions of consumers happily pay comparable annual fees for warehouse store memberships. But most other common retail loyalty programs, such as those run by supermarket and department store chains, cost nothing to join.
But when you look at Amazon Prime’s core features, it’s easy to see why it’s so popular despite the cost.
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.
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.
Household Prime Membership
Amazon allows multi-person Prime memberships covering the same household. 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.
Household Prime memberships also make sense for long-term roommates.
Amazon Prime’s most valuable benefit is Prime Delivery, a collection of Prime-exclusive free and discounted delivery options including:
Free 2-Day Delivery
Prime’s signature benefit is available on more than 100 million Amazon products for customers in the continental U.S. Members don’t have to worry about a minimum order size or limits on delivery frequency to get free two-day shipping.
By comparison, free shipping takes anywhere from five to eight business days for non-Prime members, depending on their location and what they order.
Free 1-Day Delivery
Free one-day delivery (next-day delivery) is available across the continental U.S. on more than 10 million Amazon products. Just look for the “Prime FREE One-Day” logo.
One-day deliveries arrive by 9pm local time the day after you order them. And you’ll never run into minimum order sizes or delivery frequency limits.
Free Same-Day Delivery
Free same-day delivery is more like free 10-business-hour delivery.
Eligible goods — several million in all — ordered before noon local time arrive by 9pm local time on the same day. Products ordered in the afternoon or evening arrive the following day.
To qualify, orders must have at least $35 in eligible purchases. Same-day delivery is only available in select cities. Roughly speaking, you can get it in the largest 50 to 100 U.S. metro markets, though Amazon adds new cities regularly.
Free Ultrafast Grocery Delivery
In select U.S. cities, Amazon offers free ultrafast grocery delivery through Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market. In some markets, participating third-party retailers may offer ultrafast grocery delivery through Amazon as well.
These deliveries typically take no more than two hours during the business day, but they may take longer during off-hours. Look for the “Available Today” icon in the upper left corner of the shopping page.
Secure In-Home Delivery
In select U.S. cities, Amazon offers secure in-home delivery through the Key by Amazon app.
You can use the app to watch deliveries in real time to ensure the delivery person minds their business inside your home. 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.
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 week. For example, setting your Amazon Day for Friday or Saturday reduces the risk of package theft when you’re out of the house on weekdays.
Amazon Prime members are eligible to shop for preorder products at least two days before their scheduled release dates, then receive free guaranteed delivery the day they’re available to the general public.
Other Amazon Delivery Perks
Amazon’s regular shipping benefits get all the glory. But they’re not the only perks for Amazon Prime members.
Additional perks include:
- Shopping rewards when you select the no-rush delivery option (either points to use as a credit toward future purchases or instant discounts)
- Free delivery on special merchandise that doesn’t typically qualify for free delivery, such as bulky, heavy, or fragile goods
- Discounted expedited delivery on products that don’t qualify for free one- or same-day shipping
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.
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.
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.
Amazon Prime Video is the most popular Prime service available on an a la carte basis. If you only want access to Prime Video streaming and don’t care about other Amazon Prime perks like free, fast delivery, you can get it for $8.99 per month. That’s less than competitors like Hulu and Netflix.
Prime Reading is Amazon’s Prime-exclusive collection of fiction and nonfiction books, magazines, and audio recordings. Prime Reading works are available for download on any compatible device, Amazon-made or otherwise.
Prime subscribers can stream over 2 million songs, including new hits and old favorites, through Prime Music for free. But it’s worth noting 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.
Prime Deals & Prime Day Deals
Prime Deals are Prime-exclusive shopping discounts and promotions. They’re subject to change but generally include discounts of 10% to 40% on popular Amazon products, with a focus on home goods, electronics, and kids toys and accessories. Prime-exclusive deals are particularly plentiful on Prime Day.
Prime Add-On Subscriptions
Prime members are under no obligation to add anything to their Prime subscriptions. Before you subscribe to an add-on, check its availability.
As add-ons, all these subscriptions carry an additional cost — anywhere from $2.99 per month for Amazon Kids+ to $29 per month for NBA League Pass. But they make valuable services for anyone who uses them regularly.
Premium Prime Video Channels
Prime members can watch high-quality video content not included in the regular Prime Video.
Known as Prime Video Channels, this premium content lineup includes subscription movie and TV channels like HBO and Starz. It also includes a decent lineup of live sports channels and memberships, including NBA League Pass and MLB.TV.
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 cost.
For a small additional monthly fee after a one-month free trial, Prime members can add unlimited kid-friendly content — books, TV shows, movies, and apps — through Amazon Kids+. Kids+ includes built-in parental controls.
Amazon Music Unlimited
Amazon Music Unlimited is an expanded song library with over 60 million songs, which is on par with top standalone subscription streaming services. There’s a decent additional monthly fee associated with this service.
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.
It’s a more powerful version of the Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card. The Prime Visa earns 5% cash back on Amazon-universe purchases and an unlimited 2% cash back on purchases at eligible restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores.
Credit qualification applies. This card is designed for Prime members with good to excellent credit. Before you apply, check your credit score.
There are many reasons to invest in an Amazon Prime subscription.
1. Vast Array of Shipping Options
Amazon Prime’s most valuable benefit is a slew of free or discounted shipping options, from two-day free shipping on some 10 million products to ultrafast two-hour shipping in select metro markets.
If you frequently place last-minute orders, the rush delivery fees could cost as much as or more than many of the products you buy. That makes Prime’s subscription fee seem like a bargain.
Even if you’re not in a rush, it could still be worth it. Let’s optimistically say you average a delivery fee of $5 per order. Your month-to-month Prime subscription pays for itself if you place just three orders per month. On an annual subscription, it pays for itself with two orders per month.
2. Media Perks Have High Potential Value for Frequent Users
Amazon Prime Video in particular delivers tremendous value for frequent users when compared with competitors like Hulu.
Unfortunately, it’s not a universal library. For example, Netflix has a trove of original shows and movies, and the newest, choicest flicks carry per-rental fees. But it’s more than enough to keep Prime members occupied on nights in.
3. Free Trial Period
You can cancel your Prime subscription without penalty during the 30-day free trial period. That’s a lifesaver for budget-conscious shoppers looking to dip their toes in without paying anything out of pocket.
4. Household Membership
Joint household memberships are ideal for couples, families, and long-term roommates looking to pool their shopping and media consumption dollars.
You can only have two adults on a household membership, but its time-saving features give parents peace of mind without paying an extra dime. Teens can shop on their own, pending your approval via text, and you can customize parental controls to limit and monitor kids’ access to media.
5. Membership Discounts for Students
Verified students enjoy 50% off the monthly or annual cost of a Prime membership. That’s excellent news for penny-pinching scholars expecting to rely on Amazon for timely deliveries of textbooks, electronics, school supplies, and basic dorm necessities.
6. Special Discounts at Whole Foods
Prime members enjoy exclusive 10%-off deals on hundreds of products at Whole Foods, subject to change and availability.
Were it not for this perk, I wouldn’t bother shopping at my local Whole Foods at all, but this discount is deep enough to make Whole Foods’ prices competitive with nearby downscale supermarket chains.
7. Higher Cash-Back Earnings on the Amazon Prime Visa Signature Card
For frequent Amazon and Whole Foods shoppers with above-average credit, the Amazon Prime Visa Signature Card’s 2% cash back bonus subsidizes or entirely offsets Prime’s annual membership fee.
Earning 2% back on gas and restaurant purchases is nice too, though you don’t need to be a Prime member for that.
As good as it is for so many, there are downsides to the Amazon Prime subscription.
1. Relatively High Annual Fee
Amazon Prime has a relatively high annual fee: $119 per year when billed annually and $12.99 per month (about $156 per year) when billed monthly. For reference, that’s roughly double the cost of a basic Costco membership.
If you’re not a frequent Amazon or Whole Foods shopper, don’t regularly take advantage of Prime’s non-shipping perks and features, and don’t mind waiting a few extra days for delivery, Prime probably isn’t for you.
2. No Partial Refunds for Unused Benefits on Annual Subscriptions
If you use your Prime benefits at any point during your subscription period, you’re automatically ineligible for a refund of Prime fees paid during that period.
For instance, say you opt for the two-day free shipping benefit on one order in January, the first month of your Prime membership year. Then, you don’t use your subscription for months, deciding to cancel your annual subscription in May. You’ll pay the full cost for the entire year, despite canceling five months in.
That’s an incentive to pay for Prime on a month-to-month basis, despite the higher yearly cost. And it’s a disadvantage over warehouse stores like Costco, whose expansive satisfaction guarantees make it fairly easy to cancel for a retroactive refund.
3. Expedited Food Delivery Costs More
An Amazon Prime membership does not entitle you to expedited grocery deliveries. For most folks, the fastest, cheapest way to get edible essentials using your Amazon discount is to stop by the nearest Whole Foods Market, where Prime members enjoy 10% off select goods.
Amazon Fresh is particularly expensive. Mercifully, shipping is free on Prime Pantry orders over $35.
4. Free Music Library Isn’t Particularly Impressive
To most people, 2 million songs sounds like a lot. But Prime’s free streaming music library isn’t very extensive compared with top-of-the-line streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify.
Those seeking deep cuts may want to look elsewhere or spring for a paid Amazon Music Unlimited subscription.
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 more than $100 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 TV, and don’t live near a Whole Foods, Prime likely isn’t worth it for you. If you’re living somewhere between those two poles, your choice might be tougher, but you now have what you need to make an informed decision.
Verdict: Amazon Prime is a wildly successful retail loyalty subscription that more than justifies its high annual cost and even higher monthly cost (a premium for the freedom to cancel anytime).
The ideal Prime user is an individual or household willing to pay upfront for free, expedited shipping and able to take advantage of value-added perks like Prime Video and member-exclusive deals.
If you qualify for the Amazon Prime Visa Signature Card, you’re much more likely to offset the annual Prime membership fee. And you may neutralize the cost through increased cash-back earnings alone if you spend enough at Amazon and Whole Foods.
Prime is not ideal for occasional Amazon shoppers or those willing to pay more to support local or non-Amazon retailers.
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