The Best Warehouse Club Credit Card of 2018: Costco vs. BJ’s vs. Sam’s Club

Big selection and low prices are the hallmarks of Costco, B.J.'s and Sam's Club.

As if those benefits weren’t enough, each club has launched their own rewards credit card that can offer even bigger savings for members.

The Costco Anywhere Visa, My BJ’s Perks Elite and the Sam’s Club MasterCard offer multi-tier cash-back bonuses as well as varying ways to redeem those rewards. Their annual percentage rates (APRs) and intro bonus vary, too, which makes us wonder: Which warehouse club credit card is best?

We’ve answered that question by examining the Costco, BJ’s and Sam’s Club rewards cards in the following areas:

  • Intro bonus
  • Club purchases rewards
  • Gas rewards
  • Dining/travel rewards
  • Total rewards per year
  • Rewards redemption options
  • APR

Each card received a score for each category. If a card finished first in its category, we gave it 6 points. Second place gets 4 points, and the last place gets 2 points.

At the end of this comparison, we'll include the final scores as well as our methodology for collecting data and calculating rewards.

Here's the chart we created to track each card’s features:

  Costco Anywhere Visa My BJ’s Perks Elite Sam’s Club MasterCard
1. Intro bonus None None $45
2. Club purchase rewards 2% 5% None
3. Gas rewards 4% $0.10 per gallon 5%
4. Dining/Travel rewards 3% 2% 3%
5. Estimated total rewards per year $439.16 $443.05 $431.45
6. Rewards redemptions options Not limited to any store Limited to BJ’s purchases Not limited to any store
7. APR 16.74% 10.99% - 24.99% 16%, 23.90%, 24.15%

1. Intro Bonus Winner: Sam’s Club MasterCard

This category isn’t as glamorous with wholesale club credit cards as it is with travel, hotel and airline cards that offer tons of loyalty points you can use to book free flights and nights.

The good side of the lack of big-time rewards is that it makes it pretty easy to judge the cards:

  1. Sam’s Club MasterCard: $45 when you spend $100 the first day
  2. BJ’s Perks Elite, Costco Anywhere: None

In our opinion, none of these intro rewards are that strong and each comes with some difficulties. We put the Sam’s Club card first because it gives you cash up front, but the requirement of spending $100 the day you’re approved for the card is a little annoying.

Most cash rewards cards give you $100-200 in rewards if you can spend $500 in the first three months, which is why the Sam’s Club cash bonus is a little clunky.

The Costco Anywhere Visa came in second place with its 0% interest on purchases for the first seven months.

2. Club Purchase Rewards Winner: BJ’s Perks Elite

It might seem like common sense that a warehouse club credit card would offer cash back rewards for shopping at the club, but that’s not the case with one of the three cards in this competition:

  1. BJ’s Perks Elite: 5%
  2. Costco Anywhere Visa: 2%
  3. Sam’s Club MasterCard: None

BJ’s credit card is the clear winner here, posting a rewards rate that’s more than double Costco’s. Sam’s Club offers no cash bonuses for shopping at their club.

What’s interesting about this category is that, according to warehouse club expert Michael Clayman, warehouse club shoppers, on average, spend less at warehouse clubs per year than they do on gas, which leads us to the next category.

3. Gas Rewards Winner: Sam’s Club MasterCard

The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that Americans spent, on average, $1,909 on gas and oil this past year, which is more than what the average person spends per year at a warehouse club.

Here are the results:

  1. Sam’s Club: 5%
  2. My BJ’s Perks Elite: $0.10 per gallon at BJ’s
  3. Costco: 4%

The Sam’s Club card is the winner here because you’d save about $95.45 per year on your gas purchases.

The BJ’s card comes in second place, and here’s why. In 2016, Americans spent an average of $1,909 on gas. The average gallon of gas in August that year was $2.21, which means that the average person bought around 863 gallons of gas. If you’re buying those gallons at BJ’s, then you’ll save $86.30 per year.

The Costco credit card would save you $76.36 a year, putting it at the bottom of the list.

4. Dining/Travel Rewards Winner: Costco Anywhere & Sam’s Club MasterCard

This category is pretty straightforward; there aren’t any wrinkles like there were in the gas category. What we noticed, though, is that these cards offer dining/travel bonus rates that are just as good – 0 and, in some cases, better – than travel rewards credit cards:

  1. Costco Anywhere Visa & Sam’s Club MasterCard: 3%
  2. BJ’s Perks Elite: 2%

Based on our calculations, your Costco Anywhere and Sam’s Club MasterCard dining and travel purchases can earn you around $129 in rewards each year. The BJ’s card’s 2% will get you, on average, $86 back after one year.

5. Estimated Total Rewards Per Year Winner: BJ’s Perks Elite

This category is a little tougher to calculate than you think. In order to know how valuable a cash back rate is, you have to know how much you spend each year in that particular category.

Every consumer is different, so we had to find spending numbers for the average American household in order to make this category work. (Methodology of our calculations is at the end of the article.)

Here are our calculations for each category, based on our research of numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, stats from warehouse-club expert Michael Clayman and data gathered from ValuePenguin’s research on how much Americans spend on vacation:

  1. BJ’s Perks Elite: $443.05
  2. Costco Anywhere Visa: $439.16
  3. Sam’s Club MasterCard: $431.45

There isn’t much separation between the three cards here. The BJ’s Perks Elite is the winner, but only by $4 over the Costco credit card. Just to give you an idea of how slim that margin is, $4 spread out over 12 months is about $0.33 a month.

Now, what you have to keep in mind is that these yearly rewards totals are based on averages. So, if you eat out a lot, you’ll earn more on dining. If you have a big family and multiple cards, then you’ll probably spend more on gas.

6. Redemption Options Winner: My BJ’s Perks Elite

With normal cash rewards credit cards, you have the option of getting your cash by check or by adding your rewards balance to your credit card statement.

Warehouse club credit cards are a little different, and we’ll explain why after the standings:

  1. BJ’s: Available at any time
  2. Sam’s Club & Costco: By check or rewards card, once a year

In our opinion, BJ’s is the winner here simply because your account has a running total of awards. When you use your BJ’s Perks Elite to pay for purchases at the club, you can redeem your rewards points at the register in increments of $20.

While we don’t like that you’re required to spend the rewards at BJ’s, the fact that your rewards are available all the time sets the card apart from the Sam’s Club and Costco credit cards.

Those cards disburse your rewards dollars once a year via a check made out to the club. You have to go to the wholesale club to cash the check.

Sam’s Club and Costco send out their rewards once a year in the form of a check (Sam’s Club) or a card (Costco). 

7. APR Winner: Costco Anywhere Visa

“APR” stands for annual percentage rate, which is the interest rate the credit card issuer will use when it charges you for any balances you haven’t paid off in full:

  1. Costco Anywhere Visa: 16.74%
  2. BJ’s Perks Elite: 10% - 25.74%
  3. Sam’s Club Mastercard: 16%, 23.90% or 24.15%

While the BJ’s Perks Elite low-end APR is lower than the Costco Anywhere Visa, its high-end rate is a full 10% higher.

If you’re approved for the Costco credit card, you know which rate you’re going to get. With the other two cards, you won’t know your APR until after you’re approved. So, while you could be hoping for the lowest APR on the BJ’s or Sam’s Club card, you could get stuck with a higher one.

The general rule of thumb is that those with credit scores at around 720 or higher will, in most cases, get the best interest rates.

We put the BJ’s card ahead of the Sam’s Club credit card because the APR range allows for a middle interest rate that’s probably lower than the Sam’s Club card’s 23.90%.

The Best Warehouse Club Credit Card of 2018: My BJ’s Perks Elite

The BJ’s Perks Elite Visa is the winner here, but the competition was so close it’s hard to say that the card is elite when you compare it to the competition.

In the end, the BJ’s card took the crown because it finished first in one category more than the Costco card and finished last in one category less than the Sam’s Club credit card.

Here’s the final scoring for the competition, moving left to right from intro bonus to APR:

Rank Card Points Earned in Each Ranking Category
1 BJ’s Perks Elite 32 (4, 6, 4, 2, 6, 6, 4)
2 Costco Anywhere Visa 30 (4, 4, 2, 6, 4, 4, 6)
3 Sam’s Club MasterCard 28 (6, 2, 6, 6, 2, 4, 2)

As the results show, this was a tight race.

We’d say the defining factor in this competition was the variation of bonus categories on each card. The Sam’s Club and Costco credit cards had a higher rewards rate on dining and travel purchases.

However, the BJ’s card provided more rewards because it offered a slightly more lucrative return on all rewards categories combined.

The linchpin of the BJ’s card’s success was its 5% bonus on club purchases combined with what amounted to a 4.5% bonus rate on BJ’s gas purchases.

Now, here’s an interesting twist you may want to consider as you make your decision: annual membership fees.

For standard memberships, Costco charges $55, BJ’s charges $50 and Sam’s Club charges $45. When you take these fees into account, the BJ’s card still offers the best value but the Sam’s Club card surges ahead of the Costco card.

With all of this being said, take a minute to think about how you spend your money. Do you have an idea of how much you spend on gas, travel and eating out every month? If you don’t have a car and you don’t eat out much, then these warehouse club credit cards may not be the best value for you.

Should you consider yourself someone who can’t take full advantage of a warehouse club credit card but the thought of a cash rewards credit card is enticing, check out our article on the Best Cash Back Rewards Credit Card of 2018.

We think you’ll enjoy the step-by-step approach we take to showing which cash-back cards give you the best rate of return.

Our methodology that was used to estimate total rewards per year:

Costco Anywhere:

  • Club purchases rewards: 2% x $1,340 = $26.80
  • Gas rewards: 4% x $1,909 = $76.36
  • Dining/travel rewards: 3% x ($3,154 + $1,146) = $129
  • Everything else: 1% x 20,700 = $207
  • Total = $439.16

BJ’s Perks Elite:

  • Club purchases rewards: 5% x $1,275 = $63.75
  • Gas rewards: $0.10 per gallon x 863 gallons* = $86.30
  • Dining/travel rewards: 2% x ($3,154 + $1,146) = $86
  • Everything else: 1% x 20,700 = $207
  • Total = $443.05

Sam’s Club MasterCard

  • Gas rewards: 5% x $1,909 = $95.45
  • Dining/travel rewards: 3% x ($3,154 + $1,146) = $129
  • Everything else: 1% x 20,700 = $207
  • Total = $431.45

J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren is a personal finance reporter who examines credit cards, credit scores, and various bank products. J.R. is a three-time winner at the Florida Press Club’s Excellence in Journalism contest. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and his insight has been featured on Investopedia, GOBankingRates, H&R Block and Huffington Post.

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