A person holding an Amazon Prime package.

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Black Friday, the official kick-off to the holiday shopping season, is approaching rapidly. Want to make the holidays easier on yourself? Consider an Amazon Prime membership if you don't already have one.

A caveat: If you're mulling the purchase of a Prime membership primarily for the free shipping, you may want to wait until after the holidays. Amazon is offering free shipping on all orders for the holiday season—whether or not you have Prime—with no minimum purchase amount. Last year the company extended free holiday shipping to customers without Prime memberships, but only for a minimum order of $25.

Prime began as a fast and free shipping program for orders of any amount. Though swift, two-day delivery on millions of items remains the cornerstone of the service, the company has moved into many other areas, including free streaming movies and music, rapid delivery options, and discounts on groceries.

You can pay a lump sum of $119 for a one-year Amazon Prime membership or you can choose a month-to-month rate of $12.99. Note that the total annual cost of month-to-month adds up to $155.88, making the lump-sum annual fee a much better deal. If you're a student enrolled in at least one course at a college in the U.S. or Puerto Rico, you're eligible for a $59 annual Amazon Prime Student account or a month-to-month rate of $6.49 (for a total annual charge of $77.88).

Amazon also offers Prime members an extra 10 percent off items on sale at Whole Foods Markets as well as additional price cuts each week on select products. Prime Now offers free 2-hour delivery of groceries and a more limited set of products in select cities.


Go to Consumer Reports' 2018 Holiday Central for updates on deals, expert product reviews, insider tips on shopping, and much more.
 

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Recently, the company has expanded its benefits in other ways, too. Its Prime Free Same-Day and Prime Free One-Day delivery is now available in more than 8,000 cities and towns, and Amazon plans to make the services available in more areas. It has also increased the number of items eligible for free two-day shipping in recent years from 20 million to more than 100 million. 

Amazon also recently started a new delivery service. Packages can be delivered to customers’ cars as long as they have a Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, or Volvo made in 2015 or later. The cars also need to have an active OnStar or Volvo On Call account.

The service is available to Prime customers in 37 cities and was created to help prevent package theft.

That service is similar to another that Amazon launched last year—Amazon Key, which allows couriers to enter your home to drop off packages even when you’re not there. While Amazon Key requires you to pay $220 for a home smart lock and camera, there is no installation charge to let couriers access the trunk of your car.

More Benefits

Free same-day delivery. Members qualify for free same-day delivery on more than one million items if they order at least $35 worth of goods, as well as 1- and 2-hour delivery with Prime Now (available in select cities) on tens of thousands of items.

Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card. The Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card gives cardholders 5 percent back on purchases made at Amazon.com and Whole Foods. If you don’t have a Prime membership, you get 3 percent back. 

There are other benefits to using the card. You’ll get 2 percent back at gas stations, restaurants, and drugstores, and 1 percent back on any other purchases. There's no annual fee, and if you use it while traveling, there are no foreign transaction fees.

Instant access to video streaming. Membership includes instant access to tens of thousands of movies and TV shows, including Amazon original series such as the Golden Globe-winning “Transparent” and “Mozart in the Jungle,” the drama “Bosch,” and “Doctor Thorne,” from “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes. You can watch at home on your computer, Fire TV, or other compatible devices.

Music streaming. Prime Music offers unlimited ad-free access to more than one million songs and thousands of playlists and stations.

Prime Photos. Secure unlimited photo storage in the Amazon Cloud Drive.

Access to Lightning Deals. Members qualify for early (30 minutes before everyone else) access to short-term, deeply discounted Amazon Lightning Deals that often feature high-tech and fashion goods.

Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. Members get access to more than 800,000 e-book titles. You can borrow one per month, with no due date, along with one prereleased book per month with Kindle First.

Prime Now. With an Amazon Prime account, you can download a mobile app that allows customers in most parts of the country to shop from early morning to late night, seven days a week, for groceries, gifts, and food from neighborhood stores and restaurants. Delivery is within 2 hours free of charge or within 1 hour for a fee. For restaurant orders, delivery is free within an hour of ordering, and the service is available from Amazon-affiliated restaurants in select areas.

Amazon Family. The benefits include 20 percent off diapers through the site’s Subscribe & Save service and 15 percent off eligible products from your baby registry.

Membership sharing. Two adults living in the same household can create an Amazon Household to share certain Amazon Prime benefits.

You get all kinds of benefits from Amazon Prime.

Why You Might Not Want a Membership

Of course, not everything about Amazon Prime is worth the membership. There’s the question of how often you shop on Amazon. If you aren’t online much or you don’t think you’ll take advantage of all the services membership offers, you might as well pass.

If you’re unsure whether Prime is right for you, consider signing up for a free trial. You’ll have 30 days to give it a test-drive. But take note: At the end of the trial period, your credit card will be charged the membership fee automatically for the next period unless you cancel in advance.

Paid members who haven’t used their benefits are eligible for a full refund. You can’t receive a refund if any household member has placed a Prime-eligible order. 

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with new information, including Amazon’s latest pricing and holiday shipping deals.