Like Netflix, Costco Starts Cracking Down on Membership Sharing

Costco shoppers apply for membership cards.
In this AP file photo, consumers apply for Costco membership at the Costco Wholesale store in Glendale, Calif. AP Photo by Damian Dovarganes

First Netflix, now Costco. Some of America’s most popular companies are cracking down on membership sharing.

Costco just announced that it’s cracking down on card sharing. A basic Costco membership costs $60 a year and comes with up to two cards for people who live at the same address.

Nonmembers Have Been Using Costco Members’ Cards at the Self-Checkout

Like a lot of retail companies, Costco recently expanded its self-checkout lanes. (They’re all doing this to save money on staff.) That’s when Costco noticed a lot of people using a particular shopping hack: They’re borrowing other people’s Costco membership cards and using them at the self-checkout registers to avoid detection.

At the regular checkout registers, staffers check members’ cards, many of which feature photos of the member in question. In our experience, these photos tend to be small and blurry, so the checkout clerks typically make sure the name on your membership card matches the name on your debit or credit card.

At self-checkout, though, you can just scan the card and then scan your purchases without anyone looking at the card or asking for ID.

‘We Don’t Feel It’s Right,’ Costco Says

“Our membership policy states that our membership cards are not transferable and since expanding our self-service checkout, we’ve noticed that non-member shoppers have been using membership cards that do not belong to them,” Costco said in an emailed statement. “We don’t feel it’s right that non-members receive the same benefits and pricing as our members.”

So Costco is making a change. It’s going to start checking IDs at self-checkout now to make sure that only members are using the membership cards.

“As we already ask for the membership card at checkout, we are now asking to see their membership card with their photo at our self-service checkout registers,” Costco said. “If their membership card does not have a photo, then we ask for a photo ID.”

Costco has nearly 125 million members in nearly 70 million households, according to its website. To compete with rivals like BJ’s and Sam’s Club, Costco hasn’t raised the price of membership since 2017.

“A total of two people can be on a Gold Star Membership… one Primary Member and one free household member who is over 16 and lives at the same address,” Costco says. “If you are the Primary Member, we leave it up to you to decide who receives the second card.”

Here are six reasons a Costco membership can be worth it (and four reasons to skip it).

Netflix Started It

This comes after Netflix made a similar move, cracking down on password sharing. Netflix recently started charging members $7.99 per month if they share their password with someone outside their household.

The digital streaming service, known for hit shows such as “Stranger Things,” “Squid Games” and “The Crown,” had previously turned a blind eye to password sharing. But now it says it’s been losing too much money to the practice.

With Netflix prices already rising in the U.S. — prices increased in January to $9.99 a month for a basic account, $15.49 a month for a standard account and $19.99 a month for a premium account — the extra fees may turn out to be too much for some subscribers.

What You Can Do at Costco Without a Membership

We should point out that you can use a bunch of Costco’s services and even buy some products without a membership.

1. Prescriptions

You can access Costco’s pharmacy without a membership — your right to do so is protected by state law. You can also get low-cost immunizations, hearing tests and eye exams membership-free.

2. Alcohol and Wine

One thing you probably didn’t know about Costco: It’s the largest wine retailer in the U.S., and in some states, it is required to sell alcohol and wine to you even if you don’t have a membership.

While it’s technically to do with post-Prohibition-era laws pointed at speakeasies, there are 14 states where you can fill up your cart with booze and bypass the membership fee.

3. Online Orders

Some of Costco’s products are available online only, which works out just fine for folks without a membership card. You’ll have to pay a 5% surcharge for orders on, but you’ll still have access to the same products, such as Costco’s popular discounted gift cards.

Did you know you can buy a casket through Costco? Yes, a casket. Here are 10 little-known items your Costco membership can help you get for less.

The Hot Dogs Are Still Cheap

For Costco shoppers, here’s one last little bit of good news: Costco’s famous hot-dog-and-soda combo is still just $1.50, the same price it’s been since 1985.

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Senior writer Kaz Weida contributed to this article.