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To Join Or Not To Join Price Clubs

If you aren't already carrying a stack of various "membership" cards, you're probably asked to join all the time. Whether it's the grocery store discount card, auto clubs, or your city's museum, there are so many clubs that it's hard to determine which ones are worth joining.

So Real Simple magazine has done some of the legwork and checked out nine types of membership clubs. Kris Connell of Real Simple magazine visits The Early Show to talk about five of the most common clubs.

Warehouse clubs: These are megastores that sell everything from 10-gallon containers of vegetable oil to high-end wines.

You should join if: You're looking for regular bargain on anything from bulk groceries, to tires, to computers. For those who can't use those giant-sized food packages the stores are famous for, these stores offer great discounts on tires, home appliances, home insurance, prescriptions, and many other things that might make it worth your while.

Options:

  • Costco: With 452 stores in 36 states, six countries, this is the biggest warehouse club in total sales. The standard membership costs $45. www.costco.com.
  • Sam's Club: This is a division of Wal-Mart. They have nearly 540 stores in 48 states. The standard membership costs $35. www.samsclub.com.
  • BJ's Wholesale club: With only 154 stores, mostly in the Northeast, this is the smallest of the three major discount clubs. They have a larger focus on food, however, compared to Costco or Sam's Club. Standard membership is $40. www.bjs.com.

Frequent flier and Hotel Loyalty Plans:

You should join if: You travel a lot or if you have frequent or long stays at the same hotel chain. Both programs are free. To maximize your value, you should consider getting a credit card that earns you additional points for a particular airline. Many hotel-loyalty plans also let you earn either hotel points or airline miles.

Options: Most every airline and major hotel chain has a plan. You can go to www.webflyer.com to find information and enrollment forms for 37 frequent-flier programs and 15 hotel-loyalty plans.

Auto Clubs

You should join if: You drive and don't already have emergency roadside assistance through your auto insurance plan or car warranty. Even then, you might want to get third-party coverage. Drivers got quicker service from independent providers than from manufacturer-sponsored plans, according to a 2000 study by J.D. Power and Associates.

Options:

  • AAA: The American Automobile Association has more than 47 million members and in 2004 responded to 29 million roadside-service calls. AAA members receive free maps and travel planning as well as discounts on everything from home insurance to movie tickets. Annual fees vary by region. www.aaa.com.
  • BWC: Better World Club was formed in 1996. They consider themselves an environmentally friendly alternative to AAA. Its reach of service is comparable to AAA, and it donates 1 percent of its revenues to environmental and advocacy charities. Members also receive discounts on hybrid-car purchase and rentals. Memberships start at $54 and a $10 joining fee. www.betterworldclub.com

Online DVD clubs

You should join if: You rent more than 52 DVDs a year; you're often late returning rentals; or you have trouble finding the movies you want at the local store. You make your selections online and the service mails your DVDs. You simply return via mail using the postage-paid envelopes.

Options:

  • Netflix is one of the most popular DVD clubs. It's the least expensive. A fee of $10 a month lets you rent one DVD at a time and keep it as long as you like. For $15 a month, you get unlimited two-at-a-time rentals. Real Simple believes though that you really need to rent 40, 50, 60 or even 72 DVDs for these memberships to be cost effective. www.netflix.com.
  • Blockbuster Online is another option. You pay $15 a month. To be cost effective, you need to rent at least 60 DVDs a year for it to be cost-effective. Blockbuster Online allows you to rent three movies at a time and keep them as long as you like. www.blockbuster.com.

Museums, Zoos, And Aquariums

You should join if: Your family likes going to a particular museum, zoo, or aquarium. Family memberships generally cost an average of $100 and pay for themselves usually within four visits. Memberships usually come with a handful of other benefits: Discounts on museum-store purchases and children's programs, guest passes, invitations to special lectures or events, as well as advance purchase for special events or exhibits, and a members-only entrance — so no more waiting in those long lines. Many of these memberships are often partially tax deductible.

Options: Contact your local zoo, museum or aquarium.