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All Contents © 2018The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Bob Niedt, Online Editor
| Updated May 17, 2018
Many of us first signed up for Amazon Prime years ago to take advantage of free two-day shipping, and stayed with it as the giant online retailer raised the annual fee from $79 to $99 -- and now to $119 for new Prime members. Starting June 16, the $119 Prime membership fee will kick in for renewing members as well. That's a steep $20 increase from what I'm currently paying, and with my membership coming up for renewal, I had to do a reassessment. Is Amazon Prime worth $119?
I dove into my Amazon Prime account when I realized my renewal was fast approaching. My relationship with Prime had mellowed. I wasn't ordering as much from Jeff Bezos's baby, and I felt it might even be time to (gasp!) cancel my Amazon Prime membership.
Boy, was I wrong. I use Prime services more than ever after I realized the bounty I had let go fallow in years past. Some of these wide-ranging free perks might even goose the rate of your Amazon Prime usage so you get more value out of your annual membership. Have a look.
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Free two-day shipping is so 2005, the year Amazon launched Prime. Today's Amazon Prime is all about getting more stuff to members at an ever-faster pace. Free same-day delivery doesn't apply everywhere, mind you, but 8,000 eligible cities and towns and counting is a fairly wide swath. If your ZIP code, which you can check out right here, offers same-day service, when you order before noon and choose the same-day shipping option at checkout, Amazon says the package will be delivered by 9 p.m. that night (Sundays included, and don't be surprised to see the U.S. Postal Service delivering). If you order past noon, an option is next-day delivery. Two caveats: The same-day order must total $35 or more, and not every product Amazon stocks is eligible.
Talk about impulse shopping. Amazon's Prime Now service delivers the goods to Prime members for free within two hours, in more than 30 select markets (located near Amazon warehouses, naturally), including Atlanta, Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, San Diego and Virginia Beach. Free two-hour delivery includes grocery orders from Whole Foods in select cities. Can't wait two hours? You can get the goods in an hour in some areas, but you have to pay a $7.99 upcharge. Prime Now specializes in delivering items ranging from food and pet supplies to electronics and beauty products. And, of course, Amazon-only products, including Kindles. The service will also deliver food from member restaurants in select cities to your door in an hour.
Hey, if you can slow your roll on some of your orders, it just may pay off. If you choose no-rush shipping at checkout, you can earn either an immediate discount or a promotional award that can be used in the future. Your no-rush order will arrive within six business days, rather than the standard two days for Prime members. You can use your awards to snag movies on Amazon Instant Video, buy e-books and more. Awards are applied after your no-rush order ships. Typical givebacks include a $5 credit toward purchases on Prime Now or Prime Pantry each time you choose no-rush shipping.
This was a new one to me: You can share your Amazon Prime membership. Here's the catch: Your Prime benefits can be shared with one other adult in a household -- as long as you both agree to share your payment methods. That’s fine for, say, a spouse, but giving your roommate access to your credit or debit card might be a deal-breaker. Your partner in Prime has to have a separate Amazon account to be able to be added to your Prime membership. You'll then be able to share certain Prime perks including free two-day shipping.
Photo by Bob Niedt
You can replenish scores of everyday products from Amazon at the touch of a button -- no computer required. The secret is the Dash Button, a freestanding plastic device about the size of a thumb drive that's tied to a specific product. Let’s say you’re running out of toilet paper. Simply push the Charmin Dash Button mounted in your bathroom, watch for the green light to flash, and in two days you’ll get more rolls in the mail.
I tested two Dash Buttons: one for Tide detergent and another for Slim Jims (don't judge). Once the buttons arrived by mail, it was a snap to connect them to my home Wi-Fi network using the Amazon Shopping app on my smartphone. Each button costs $4.99, but the money is credited toward the first order. I placed the Tide button in the laundry room, of course, and the Slim Jim button near the beverage fridge.
Amazon is expanding its private-label offerings -- an area that holds huge business potential, as we pointed out in our story about grocery chain Wegmans. Amazon Elements products, for example, are already available only to Prime members, and the company is rolling out other exclusive private-label brands. Also unique about Elements: Scan a special code on the product -- using your Amazon Shopping app -- and you will see where every ingredient in the product was sourced, down to the water in the baby wipes. The Amazon Elements line also includes vitamins and nutritional supplements.
You can do your weekly grocery shopping, or a good chunk of it, on Prime Pantry, an Amazon Prime perk where members shop for non-bulk groceries and household products. For a flat fee of $7.99 for shipping (plus the cost of the products), you fill up a box online and wait for delivery. Alternatively, Prime members can sign up for Prime Pantry and pay a separate monthly fee of $4.99, which includes free delivery on Prime Pantry orders of $40 or more. The advantage of Prime Pantry: It stocks items that aren't otherwise available on Amazon.com including everyday sizes on groceries and household goods, so shoppers aren't forced to buy in bulk.
Amazon Prime members get unlimited photo storage plus an additional 5GB of storage for videos and other non-photo files. Storage plans for non-members start at $12 a year. Photos, videos and other files are accessible from any device anywhere you can tap into your Amazon Prime account. If you're like me, doubling down by having an Amazon Prime account and paying Apple every month for cloud storage for those precious photos, it may be time to trim some costs.
Oh, and no worries about tagging photos. Amazon’s scary servers will automatically sort your photos. Want to free up storage on your phone? Use the Amazon app, upload them to Prime Photos and delete them from your phone. What could possibly go wrong?
Just right for sitting around the dorm room and streaming "Game of Thrones" during study breaks, here comes Amazon Prime Student. It's free for the first six months with a legit ".edu" school email address (along with proof you’re actually taking at least one legit class). The free trial includes free two-day Prime shipping (textbooks and Doritos don't buy themselves), free same-day pickup and unlimited movie streaming. After six months it costs $59 a year for Prime Student, and the paid upgrade comes with unlimited streaming of Prime Music.
Why pay for ad-free Pandora, Spotify or Apple Music when you're already making beautiful music with your Amazon Prime account? Included in Amazon Prime Music is free access to more than two million songs. The drawback? Music fans argue that Amazon's free playlists and stations aren't as deep as those of competing streaming services -- and it’s true. But before you fork over an extra $9.99 a month for Apple Music or Spotify, download Amazon’s music app and take it for a test run. It might be all you need. If not, an upgrade to Amazon Music Unlimited, which features tens of millions of songs including new releases, runs $7.99 a month for Prime members ($9.99 for non-members).
You don't need a public library to get a free loaner when you have Amazon Prime. That's because the cost of an Amazon Prime membership includes access to a fairly wide collection of books, magazines and audiobooks nestled in Prime Reading. I clicked on The Atlantic magazine and the right price came up: $0. I didn't need a Kindle to get it. I could have it delivered to my iPhone or iPad.
As a bonus, Prime members also get free access to certain podcasts and other audiobooks and series through Audible Channels, a limited version of Audible. You need to download the Audible app and log in with your Prime account to start listening. Otherwise, a subscription to the full version of Audible, owned by Amazon, costs $14.95 a month.
Look at you, Amazon Prime member. Binge-watching at no charge "The Man in the High Castle" (an Amazon original series) or "10 Cloverfield Lane" ... wait, that's me. Yes, I am increasingly taking advantage of watching free movies and TV series via Amazon's streaming service, Prime Video. If you have a newer TV, like me, the Amazon app comes built in, so click on it and boom! I'm in Hollywood. Oh, and don't you worry. While you're watching Prime Video, Amazon is watching you. The "personal recommendations based on your viewing history" can be both creepy and convenient. You can even download movies and TV shows to mobile devices for later viewing.
You like your deals fast and hot. And you want to be at the front of the pack getting them. Amazon Prime members enjoy access to those one-off, deeply discounted Lightning Deals 30 minutes before the great unwashed. Lightning Deals are only good for a few hours (or as long as supplies last) so if you really want what's on sale the early access is an advantage. But even then, Amazon warns that some deals could sell out during the early access period, before opening up to the general public. Recent Lightning Deals ranged from hair dryers selling at an 85% discount to a “no bark” dog dollar going for 78% off.
The former Amazon Mom has morphed into Amazon Family, a Prime perk that includes 20% off diapers and baby food, free shipping and free returns, which we don’t want to think about when we’re talking diapers. Oh, and Amazon Family has lots of other nice perks, meaning discounts on kid-friendly items and unlimited streaming music plans for families of up to six.
If you own an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot, your Prime membership allows you to place orders through Alexa, the voice-activated digital assistant. For example, if you just ran out of batteries for your flashlight, say "Alexa, order AA batteries" and a 20-pack of AmazonBasics will arrive on your doorstep two days later. Shipping is free for Prime members, naturally, and Alexa is already aware of your Prime status. Say "Alexa, what are your deals?" to learn about special Alexa-only discounts.
Amazon purchased Whole Foods in the summer of 2017. Since then, shoppers have been able to order the upscale grocer's private-label products, including those from 365 Everyday Value, Whole Foods Market, Whole Paws and Whole Catch, on Amazon.com. Amazon has also slashed in-store prices at Whole Foods on certain organic (and non-organic) items including bananas, eggs and avocados. Amazon recently started rolling out free two-hour delivery of groceries from Whole Foods to Prime members in select cities.
In its latest move, Amazon is now giving Prime members an extra 10% off on sale items at Whole Foods stores. To receive the discount, in-store shoppers must download the Whole Foods Market app, log in with their Prime account and scan a code at checkout. The Whole Foods discount for Prime members is currently available only in Florida. A nationwide rollout is planned for the summer of 2018.
Prime members can get a free six-month digital subscription to the Washington Post (which Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns), followed by a discounted rate of $3.99 a month -- a $6 savings -- to read the paper on your computer, phone or tablet via the Post app.
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