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Costco and Sam’s Club go Head to Head

With more than 600 locations each, Costco and Sam's Club are the most popular warehouse clubs in the country. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance checked how they stack up in several categories.

Prices: Sam's Club. A recent Consumer Reports review found that both stores offered comparable prices. But Costco's annual membership is $55 – $10 more than Sam's Club's fee. And Sam's frequently discounts its fee or throws in freebies for new members.

Products: Costco. Costco's Kirkland brand has earned more kudos for quality than Sam's Club's products. Kirkland olive oil was one of only a few imported oils that met international and U.S. standards for extra virgin olive oil in a chemical and sensory study by the University of California, Davis. Consumer Reports has named Kirkland's Colombian Supremo whole bean coffee, Greek yogurt and super premium vanilla ice cream as best buys Credit card: Tie. For those who spend a lot at their warehouse club, we pick the Costco Visa (0 percent APR for seven months, then 15.99 percent; membership fee of $55 includes the card's annual fee). The card will pay you 4 percent on up to $7,000 in annual gas purchases at Costco and other gas stations, 3 percent on dining and travel, 2 percent at Costco and 1 percent on everything else. But if you buy a lot of gas, the Sam's Club MasterCard (15.40 percent or 23.40 percent APR) gets the nod. It pays an impressive 5 percent on up to $6,000 in gas purchases each year. You also get 3 percent back on dining and travel, and 1 percent on all other purchases.

Financial services: Costco. Both big-box stores offer an array of membership benefits free or at discounted prices, including health insurance, car-buying services and identity protection. But Costco has more: mortgages; auto, home and life insurance; rental cars; and travel packages.

Return policy: Costco. At Costco you can return virtually any item anytime, no questions asked, without a receipt or the original packaging – unless you're returning a PC or other electronics, in which case you have 90 days. That's similar to Sam's Club, except Sam's highly recommends that you have the original packaging and a receipt.


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