Little-Known Costco Secret: What You Can Buy Without a Membership

There are a few ways to shop at Costco without flashing a membership card.

Nelson Aguilar
Nelson Aguilar is an LA-based tech how-to writer and graduate of UCLA. With more than a decade of experience, he covers Apple and Google and writes on iPhone and Android features, privacy and security settings and more.
Nelson Aguilar
4 min read
costco executive card in hand

You don't need one of these to buy certain items at Costco.


Costco is Disneyland for adults. There may not be amusement rides, but you can get everything else you want there, from a rotisserie chicken to a diamond engagement ring -- all at a discount, too. Not only that, but you can take advantage of all the free food samples, and do I even have to mention the $1.50 hot dog and soda combo that's somehow immune to inflation?

However, I don't have a Costco membership card because I only need to go roughly once every two or three months. So instead of paying the $60 yearly cost (which is actually pretty affordable), I make my dad or sister take me along with them.

shopping tips logo

But maybe it's time for me to stop bothering them. As it turns out, you don't actually need a membership to buy certain products at Costco.

Read on for tips on how to shop at Costco without paying for a membership. Plus, here are our picks for the best healthy snacks to pick up at Costco -- you'll need a membership for these, however -- and whether it's worth it to upgrade your Costco membership to Executive.

How do you even get into Costco without a membership card?

Costco requires you to show your membership card to even get inside, so if you don't have one, you'll have to speak to the employee at the front door to gain entrance. Simply mention that you're there for any of the reasons listed below, and they should let you in.

The red Costco logo on a brown storefront

If the employee is unaware of these policies, kindly ask to speak to a supervisor, but every time I've spoken to a front-door employee, I've always been let in with no problem.


You can buy alcohol without a Costco membership, but only in certain states

You can buy alcohol at Costco without a paid membership, as long as you're in an eligible state, like California or New York. Local laws prevent membership-only clubs like Costco or Sam's Club from withholding alcohol sales to the general public. The full list of states includes:

  • Arizona 
  • California 
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Vermont

Once you've picked out your alcohol and you're in line to pay, let the cashier know that you don't have a membership card, and they'll scan you with a generic membership number. A supervisor may be required, so be patient as you wait to make your purchase.

Three beer bottles

You don't have to be a Costco member to enjoy low warehouse prices on beer, wine, spirits and more.

Taylor Martin/CNET

You can also buy prescriptions at Costco without a membership

If you don't have health insurance and pay high prices for prescription drugs, you can take advantage of Costco's discounts.

Buying prescriptions without a membership is allowed in every Costco with a pharmacy across the country, regardless of state. Costco even has a customer service advice page explaining how you can buy prescriptions without a membership. According to its website:

You don't need to be a Costco member to purchase Costco Pharmacy prescriptions online or at our warehouses. Our Pharmacy counter will accept several different forms of payment, including cash, debit/ATM cards, Costco Shop Cards, and Visa.

You'll need to have a doctor's written prescription to buy most drugs available at a Costco Pharmacy.

orange prescription pill box with coins and dollars against an orange grid background

Save money on prescription drugs -- without being a Costco member.

Design by Brandon Douglas/CNET

Non-members can get an appointment with a Costco optometrist -- but there's a catch

A lesser-known Costco perk you can take advantage of without a membership is getting an eye exam with the in-house optometrist at the Costco Optical center. If you don't have medical insurance, this is another way you can save money, thanks to the discounts that Costco offers.

Unfortunately, though, you can't buy prescription glasses or contacts there without a Costco membership card. You can only pay for an eye examination, which may or may not include services to monitor your visual sharpness, whether you're nearsighted or farsighted, the health of your retinas and more.

This trick also works at every Costco location across the country with an optometrist.

You do need a membership to use the food court

It used to be that anyone could go to the Costco food court. Even if you weren't a member, you could buy a slice of pizza for $2, and of course, a hot dog and soda combo for only $1.50. Sadly, this is no longer true for non-members.

Since early 2020, Costco has required a membership card to buy anything at the food court, including chicken bakes, barbecue beef brisket sandwiches, ice cream and churros.

Hungry Costco shoppers wait to order their hot dogs.

Costco no longer allows food court purchases to non-members

Getty Images

You can always use Instacart to shop at Costco, but it's not perfect

If you don't need alcohol, prescription drugs or an eye exam, you can use Instacart to shop at Costco without a membership. Unfortunately, this isn't a great money-saving option because the items you see on Instacart may be more expensive than they would be in-person. Not to mention, not everything in the store is available on Instacart.

At this point, it's probably cheaper and more convenient to just get a Costco membership.

instacart grocery bag

Instacart is available on the web and your mobile device.


If you're in the market for a paid membership to help you save on costs, you might also be interested in Amazon Prime. Learn more about Amazon's new discount prescription drug service and the hidden Amazon Prime perks you may not know about.