To Prime, or not to Prime, that is the question.
As one of the top retailers in the world, Amazon earns billions in revenue annually. That’s not by accident. The retail empire that started by selling books now has a hand in almost every facet of our everyday lives.
I’m a prime example. Amazon is my pipeline for most products. Diapers, protein powder, vitamins, specialty items—you name it. With a few clicks, whatever I need arrives on my doorstep within a couple of days.
I can listen to music, read books, play video games, or stream videos using my Prime membership while I wait.
Just kidding. I’m a mom and don’t have any free time.
But this is why Amazon is a household staple.
So, is Amazon Prime worth the price? Let me break it down for you.
How much is Amazon Prime?
The basic subscription
An Amazon Prime membership costs $119 per year, or $12.99 per month, plus any applicable taxes. Paying for the annual membership in a lump sum saves you about $37 a year compared to the monthly subscription.
For students, Amazon offers a discounted Student Prime Membership for $59 a year, or $6.49 if paid monthly. The annual membership is about $19 cheaper overall.
For those on EBT, SSI, or other government assistance
EBT, SSI, and other government assistance recipients may qualify for a $5.99 half-priced monthly membership.
If you want to take it on a test drive
If you don’t have a Prime membership (and haven’t had one in the past 12 months) and want to take it for a test drive, you can sign up for a 30-day free trial. You can cancel a Prime membership at any time.
What is included in Amazon Prime?
Amazon Prime is more than free shipping and a few discounts. Tucked within that $119 price tag are many little-known benefits like free services, brand partnerships, and perks. Scroll to the bottom of any Amazon page to discover hidden features, some more valuable than others.
Here are some of the best ones:
Free shipping, delivery, and returns
Prime members never pay for shipping on any Amazon Prime items. You receive free single– or two-day shipping on most items and free same-day shipping on eligible orders over $35. Yeah, there are times when it doesn’t arrive within two days, but it does more often than not.
This is probably the most popular perk and by far my favorite as a mom. During the height of the pandemic, I ordered diapers one morning, and they were on my doorstep that evening. Baby items continue to be prioritized, and I’ll often receive other essentials within 36 hours of ordering.
Gifting and returning items is super easy
The free shipping perk extends to more than just ordering to your home. I use it to send gifts to out-of-state family and friends so I can skip the shipping fees elsewhere.
On top of that, you can return almost everything for free at one of its 18,000 drop-off locations. You don’t need a label or a box in many instances, but you may have to make an annoying trek through a Kohl’s.
Amazon Prime Video is an on-demand streaming service included with an Amazon Prime membership.
It hosts thousands of titles, including Amazon’s original programs and award-winning TV shows, movies, and live events—much like Hulu, Netflix, and other top video streaming platforms.
For parents, it’s home to extensive children’s programs. For sports fans, it will soon be home to Thursday Night Football beginning with the 2022 season. With so many streaming services out there, this is a significant perk. My daughter can watch Peppa Pig while I enjoy RuPaul’s Drag Race, and my husband gets football—all included. It’s a win-win.
A Prime membership grants you access to over two million songs and podcasts, personalized recommendations, and custom playlists—all ad-free. You can even take the tunes on the go or use Alexa’s voice integration at home.
Unless you have an extremely obscure music taste, its catalog should suffice as a basic music streaming service at no extra cost. This perk might enable you to cut the cord on any other music streaming subscriptions and save a few bucks a month.
Prime Music is a freemium service. The Unlimited feature with access to a 70-million song library costs an additional $7.99 a month (or $9.99 for non-Prime members).
Interested in a magazine you see in the checkout line? You can most likely read it for free with a Prime membership.
That stack of books by your bedside? Likely available with Prime Reading.
Amazon Prime members automatically gain access to more than 2,500 books, magazines, and comics.
This includes books with Audible narration and sample previews, plus early access to popular titles with Amazon First Reads. Additionally, Prime members can check out one Kindle e-book a month for free with no due dates.
Every Prime member receives unlimited photo storage and up to 5GB of video. Members can extend this benefit to five family members or friends using “Family Vault,” as long as one person has a Prime account. Family Vault allows each person to have a private collection with the option to contribute to shared albums among your vault members.
I haven’t tried to upload my mammoth photo collection to Amazon Photos, but it’s an excellent option to have as a backup for those precious moments.
I love having new clothes, but I find shopping to be a tedious hassle. With Wardrobe, I can avoid department stores and poorly-lit dressing rooms altogether.
This built-in bonus lets me order up to eight items to try on in the comfort of my own home. I send back what I don’t want within seven days and pay for what I keep. It’s all done in less time than it takes to drive to TJ Maxx.
I’ve sent entire orders back and purchased multiple items from others. At times, the selection is limited, and a bit pricey; however, the overall convenience keeps me coming back for more.
Gamers receive free games, in-game loot, and a free Twitch channel subscription every month with an Amazon Prime membership.
Amazon Fresh and Prime at Whole Foods Market
Amazon branched out into the grocery game by acquiring Whole Foods. Now, depending on your location, you might be eligible to receive free grocery delivery or pickup on orders over $35 from Amazon Fresh. This could be an essential perk for those in food deserts, with disabilities, or busy mom’s like me with time constraints.
If you live near a Whole Foods Market, a Prime membership saves you an extra 10% off sale prices and scores you exclusive deals on seasonal items with Prime at Whole Foods Market.
Additionally, Amazon accepts SNAP EBT for eligible groceries, and members can save up to 15% on select products when using an EBT card.
Amazon Household allowed me to piggyback on my husband’s Prime membership benefits before we ever said, “I do.”
Under the Household umbrella, we’re both able to have individual Amazon accounts (and he can’t see what I order, thank goodness), share digital content, and manage accounts (including restrictions) for up to four teens and four children in our home.
Subscribe & save
Subscribe for automatic deliveries, and save up to 20% off everyday essentials from household cleaning products and baby essentials to pet supplies and personal care.
This can make a noticeable dent in a monthly budget, especially for costlier items like diapers, laundry detergent, pet food, and vitamins.
No-rush shipping rewards
If you don’t need single- or two-day shipping, you can select the no-rush shipping option at checkout to earn digital reward credits.
These credits can be redeemed on eligible Kindle books, Amazon Appstore apps, Amazon Music downloads, or Prime Video purchases and rentals. I’ve scored $5 off in one order.
Amazon Prime Rewards Signature Visa
The Amazon Prime Rewards Signature Visa – a Chase credit card for Prime members – earns the cardholder:
- 5% cash back on purchases at Amazon or Whole Foods.
- 2% at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores.
- 1% back on utilities and rideshares.
- Up to 10% back on Prime Day purchases.
Cardmembers can score a 0% promotional APR for 6-18 months on purchases over $50.
I received a $150 Amazon gift card as a sign-on bonus when I applied last year. The 5% back on Amazon purchases adds to discounts on future purchases, so it’s a beneficial reward cycle—if I don’t overspend.
This 48-hour sale rivals Black Friday deals, with the catch that it’s exclusive for Prime members.
The annual event features over two million deals on products across the board, especially Amazon devices and merchandise.
Early access to Lightning Deals
Amazon’s “Lightning Deal” promotions offer a limited number of discounts on select items for a short amount of time. See something you want? Better purchase it within the countdown window, or the deal expires. New deals pop up daily!
Prime Early Access to lightning deals is precisely that—Prime members are privy to the deals before non-members and receive Prime-only deal exclusives. Thus, this perk could be considered a benefit or a drawback, depending on how you look at it.
Actually, don’t look at it if you’re trying to save money.
Key by Amazon In-Garage Delivery
Prime members can have their packages delivered straight into their garage with Key by Amazon. It helps prevent theft and keeps packages safe from weather-related damage. Drivers receive one-time access and pass background checks. Creep factor not included.
The downsides of Amazon Prime
Despite its long list of benefits, Amazon Prime has its fair share of pitfalls. After all, it is a membership that encourages you to buy more products, which isn’t going to save money in the long run.
Here are a few disadvantages to consider before taking the Prime plunge.
Amazon offers free shipping on orders over $25
If you want Prime because of the free shipping, there’s no need for it if you always make sure your orders are at least $25.
Prime perks like Video, Music, and Reading are basic services meant to reel you in, hook you on the platform, and then sink you into a paid subscription for unlimited access.
For example, Video only offers the first couple of seasons free for popular TV shows; you have to purchase a subscription to watch the rest.
It’s a gateway to overspending
Just because something is cheap or on sale doesn’t mean you should buy it. I know this, and yet it didn’t stop me from spending $2,500 on Amazon in 2020—granted, we were in quarantine most of the year, and much of that was essentials. But not all of it. Let’s just say my vinyl collection got a boost.
Online shopping and impulse purchases feed the brain’s need for instant gratification, which can be financially (and mentally) destructive.
It’s easy to rationalize purchases as getting your money’s worth from Prime, but in reality, a Prime membership quickly snowballs into spending more than you save.
The urgency to spend
Perusing the app can be as habitual as social media. You see a deal, and boom, you bought it. There’s a psychology behind those limited-time deals.
Much like the gas and toilet paper shortages, a limited supply inspires a quick reaction to snatch up goods before they’re gone. If you look at Amazon Prime or Lightning Deals regularly, you’re psychologically compelling yourself to make a purchase, which is a win for them and a loss for your wallet.
Not everything is a deal
Amazon has great deals, especially on its branded products. However, when making price comparisons, you’ll probably find some items cheaper elsewhere.
Unfortunately, shopping on Amazon becomes compulsive and second nature, and some consumers forget to bargain hunt.
Questionable working conditions
Amazon’s workplace conditions have come under fire in recent years, especially during the pandemic.
The internet is full of personal testimonies that don’t instill confidence while raising ethical questions about the real cost of supporting Amazon.
Kills small businesses
Prime members are more likely to make purchases via Amazon than to leave their homes and shop locally. This buying behavior occurs nationwide and slowly steals foot traffic, local dollars, and employment opportunities from small businesses across America.
I watched a massive herd of Amazon trucks depart a distribution center one morning. I thought one truck on a route delivering multiple packages reduced the carbon footprint of individual people going out to shop. I was wrong.
Amazon’s same-day deliveries don’t allow for consolidation or route planning. As a result, it increases the number of drivers, trucks, individual routes, and packages on the road, thus causing more emissions and packaging waste.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve chosen the combined shipping and fewer boxes option only to receive multiple packages from one order. Big shopping events like Black Friday and Prime Day only increase individual deliveries, packaging materials, and environmental waste.
Does Amazon Prime actually save you money?
There’s a potential for saving and overspending depending on how you utilize your membership.
Here’s a conservative estimate of how much money an Amazon Prime membership can save:
- Prime Video as your only video streaming service: saves $10/month.
- Prime Music as your only music streaming service: saves $10/month.
- Free shipping on monthly orders: saves $10/month.
- Subscribe & Save on essentials: saves $15/month.
That’s a total savings of $421 ($540 subtracted by the $119 membership fee) annually. It doesn’t include saved shipping costs on multiple orders, shared family streaming, reading, or groceries, so the potential savings are likely much higher.
On the other hand, there’s a massive opportunity to overspend and throw those savings out the window. For instance, saving $6 on shipping when you spend $40 on a novelty purchase isn’t saving money.
My husband has a system to prevent overspending. He uses his Amazon Rewards Signature Visa only on Amazon. Once he charges an order to it, he can’t make another purchase until he pays off the card, no matter how big or small the balance is.
So, is Amazon Prime worth it?
We’re all busy. Shipping items directly to our homes is one less thing to worry about. For some, especially parents, the value of that convenience is priceless. For others, like those with disabilities or limited mobility, it’s an essential service because a trip to the store can be a monumental task.
The benefits alone are worth the $119 price tag. Sure, there are better sources for music, books, photos, games, and video streaming, but it’s totally worth it to have all of those housed in one digital subscription. It’s also worth it not to leave your home for whatever reason.
Decide its worth for yourself with a 30-day free trial, or pay for one month and cancel as needed. Just be mindful that your saved data—like photo storage—disappears with it.
From audiophiles and bibliophiles to parents and gamers, Amazon Prime has something for everyone. There’s no doubt that you get more than what you pay for with Prime.
Its platform is easy to use, and the deals are some of the best in the world. So whether you’re time-strapped or simply don’t want to leave the house, it offers unparalleled convenience and value.
On the other hand, that same convenience can facilitate overspending, create a negative environmental impact, kill local businesses, and lure you into paying for additional services.
Done right, Amazon Prime can save you precious time and money. Done wrong, Amazon Prime can cost more than it’s worth.