Costco vs Sam's Club vs BJ's – The best wholesale club | Live Work Travel USA

What’s the Best Wholesale Club?

There are many different ways to save money on your purchases in America. One way is by signing up for a wholesale club, that will currently charge a membership fee of $45-55 per year, so that you can buy items at a lower cost. It does pay off, if you buy in bulk and maybe even split the content of the larger items with friends.
Three major wholesale clubs are competing on the U.S. market, which is Costco, Sam’s Club (owned by Walmart) and BJ’s, that only operates on the East Coast.

In the city I live in there are all three, so I had to figure out which one is the best fit for me. There are some differences in membership fees, business hours, return policies and couponing, so here’s a quick snapshot to help you make a better decision.




  • Basic Membership Cost: $55/year
  • Locations: 449 nationwide (as of April 2013)
  • Hours: M-F 10:00am – 8:30pm
    Sat. 9:30am – 6:00pm
    Sun 10:00am – 6:00pm
  • Return Policy: Costco gives a full refund on all items. Certain electronic devices must be returned within 90 days for a full refund. You even get a full refund on groceries, if you haven’t consumed more than 50% of it.
  • Coupon Policy: Monthly Costco US Coupon Book is being sent to members. Costco does not accept manufacturers’ coupons.
  • Payment Options: Cash, Checks, Debit, AMEX or Costco credit card (no other credit cards are accepted)



Sam’s Club

  • Basic Membership Cost: $45/year
  • Locations: 612 nationwide (as of 2012)
  • Hours: M-F 10:00am – 8:30pm
    Sat. 9:00am – 8:30pm
    Sun 10:00am – 6:00pm
    Business and Plus members get to start shopping as early as 7am Mon.–Sat.
  • Return Policy: Sam’s Club gives a full refund on all items. Certain electronic devices must be returned earlier for a full refund. You even get your Membership fee back in full on or before the expiration date, if you are not completely satisfied.
  • Coupon Policy: Sam’s Club does not accept manufacturers’ coupons.
  • Payment Options: Cash, Checks, Sam’s Club and Walmart credit cards, Discover Card, MasterCard, debit cards, Walmart and Sam’s Club gift cards.




  • Basic Membership Cost: $50/year
  • Locations: 190 in 15 states on the East Coast (as of 2013)
  • Hours: M-S 9:00am – 9:00pm
    Sun 9:00am – 7:00pm
  • Return Policy: BJ’s gives a full refund on all items within 30 days of the purchase date. There’s however a long list of non-returnable items.
  • Coupon Policy: BJ’s offers in-Club coupon savings in addition to using all manufacturers’ coupons.
  • Payment Options: Cash, Checks, ATM/debit cards, all major credit cards (incl. Visa)


If you’re still unsure, these wholesale clubs sometimes run promotions where you can try out a membership for a few days for free. Well, not totally free of course: They’ll add a fee on top of your total to make up for the missing membership fee. But it’s still a great opportunity to check out the variety of products and brands that each warehouse offers. It’ll help you to figure out if you would really save money on the items that you buy the most. Not all products that come in bulk are automatically cheaper than in the grocery store. BJ’s offers a 90 day trial membership for first time customers.




Photo credit: Rusty Clark / Foter / CC BY

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