Why this Amazon shopper says Prime isn't worth the fee

Wealth and Wants with Ted Rossman

Ted Rossman has seven years of experience in the credit card and personal finance industries as a member of the award-winning communications department at CreditCards.com and its sister sites The Points Guy and Bankrate.

Every few days, my family buys something from Amazon.com, yet my wife and I have never joined Amazon Prime. I know, what lunatics don’t have Prime?! We’ve gotten lots of weird stares from friends, family members and coworkers when we tell them we buy a lot from Amazon – on a random assortment of items ranging from Legos to coyote urine – but don’t have Prime.

The thing is: we both hate the idea of spending money ($119 for an annual Prime membership) just to spend more money on Amazon.com. So we spend enough to hit the $35 free shipping threshold and then we wait. Sometimes a while. Instead of Prime’s free two-day shipping, we often wait seven to 10 days for our deliveries.

That requires a bit more advance planning, but with just one exception this year (an obscure shower repair component I needed quickly and paid extra to ship right away), we’ve been fine with the wait.

I really wish Amazon would give Prime status for free in exchange for reaching a certain spending threshold. It only seems fair, and it’s what most airlines do with their elite status programs. We’ve already spent $2,221 with Amazon this year. I think that should earn us a free Prime membership.

See related: Which is the best card to use on Amazon.com purchases?

Would an Amazon credit card really save me money?

Amazon offers two cobranded credit cards in tandem with Chase and Visa. The Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card doesn’t charge an annual fee, and you don’t need to be a Prime member to sign up for the card. It offers 3 percent back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market, 2 percent back at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores and 1 percent back everywhere else. Projecting our year-to-date Amazon.com spending over a full year comes to about $3,036 (we don’t tend to shop at Whole Foods), a 3 percent return would yield approximately $91 in cash back.

There’s also the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card. This one does require a Prime membership. It gives 5 percent back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods, 2 percent back at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores and 1 percent everywhere else. If we had this card, 5 percent cash back on $3,036 in Amazon spending would return $152 over 12 months.

That would offset the $119 Prime fee and leave an extra $33 in my wallet, but I’m still not sold because of the opportunity cost. I’m currently earning 1.5 percent back on my Amazon purchases by using my no annual fee Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card. That’s roughly $46 a year right there. It would be $61 if I had the Citi Double Cash Card, which is the best flat-rate cash back card in my opinion.

I really wish Amazon would give Prime status for free in exchange for reaching a certain spending threshold.

The fact that the Amazon cards both offer 2 percent back at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores doesn’t sway me, either. I’m already getting 3 percent back on dining (and a $300 sign-up bonus) thanks to my new Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card. And my Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express returns 2 percent back at U.S. gas stations. Plus, in Q1 and Q3, my Chase Freedom offered 5 percent back on gas, and the Q3 promotion included drugstores as well. None of these cards charge annual fees.

The Amazon cards have minimal sign-up bonuses (a one-time $70 gift card for the Prime Rewards card and $50 for the non-Prime version). These cards – and a Prime membership in general – are better deals for people who spend even more money at Amazon.com and Whole Foods. They also make sense if you value the other Prime benefits. My family probably wouldn’t get much out of Prime Video, Prime Music or Prime Day, to name a few.

I’m going to continue filling my wallet with no annual fee cash back cards. And while I’ll keep placing Amazon orders of $35 or more that qualify for free shipping, I’m open to competitors like Walmart and Target, especially if they get even more aggressive to lower the free shipping spending threshold and/or speed the free delivery timetable.

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Updated: 02-19-2019