Editor's Note (Dec. 13): Good news, last-minute shoppers. Amazon is extending its free shipping promo through Dec. 18. That means any item you buy now through Dec. 18 will arrive in time for Christmas Eve with no Prime membership required. Amazon is also expanding its 1-day shipping service for Prime members. Lastly, Prime Now is making deliveries up until 11:59pm ET on Dec. 24 with free 2-hour delivery in more than 30 cities. Keep abreast of important Christmas shipping deadlines with our guide.
With more than 100 million members worldwide, Amazon Prime gives customers access to streaming video, free shipping, Prime Day discounts, and a variety of other Amazon-specific services and deals for $119 per year. For many, the service is a no-brainer for the shipping perks alone, but there's a lot more to a Prime membership than free shipping and streaming services.
For instance, Prime members who download the Whole Foods app can save up to 10 percent on select Whole Foods purchases just by scanning their smartphone at a Whole Foods register. Prime members also get discounts on digital services like FreeTime Unlimited, which costs $2.99/month for Prime members or $4.99/month for non-members. Throughout the year, Amazon offers exclusive Prime member-only discounts on its hardware, which the online retailer recently refreshed.
Students can also benefit from Amazon Prime. If you're a two- or four-year college student with a valid .edu email, you can get a free six-month trial of Amazon Prime Student, which gets you all of the benefits of Prime in addition to special student-specific deals and coupons. After your trial ends, Prime Student will cost you half the price of a regular Prime membership for up to four years or until you graduate, whichever comes first. You can also pay $6.49 per month with no obligation to continue your service.
Q.: What is Amazon Prime?
A.: Amazon Prime is a paid service ($119 per year currently, plus a free 30-day trial or $12.99 per month) that gives Amazon shoppers a few distinct advantages. Members of Amazon Prime are eligible for free one- or two-day shipping on most items, among several other perks.
If the $119 annual membership seems steep, there are a few ways to lessen the impact.
Q.: Why should I subscribe to Amazon Prime?
A.: Amazon lists a variety of reasons why customers who frequent its website may want a Prime subscription:
- Free two-day shipping on eligible items to addresses in the contiguous U.S. and other shipping benefits. For more information, go to Amazon Prime Shipping Benefits.
- Free same-day delivery in eligible ZIP codes. For more information, go to Order with Prime Free Same-Day Delivery.
- Prime Pantry: Prime Pantry gives members access to low-priced groceries as well as household and pet care items. Now a subscription service, Prime Pantry costs $4.99/month (in addition to your Prime membership). The service includes unlimited free shipping on Pantry orders of $40 or more. Orders under $40 incur a $7.99 shipping fee. Prime Pantry orders cannot be shipped to addresses in Alaska, Hawaii or Puerto Rico.
- Prime Now: In select cities, Amazon offers one-hour delivery on tens of thousands of products from local stores. For instance, in New York City you can get delivery of beer, wine and spirits from Westside Market, Union Square Wines, or Vintage Grape. Amazon recently expanded its Prime Now delivery to include Annapolis, Cleveland, Louisville, North/Central New Jersey, and Pittsburgh.
- Deals and Discounts, Compliments of Amazon Family: These include 20 percent off diapers through Subscribe & Save and 15 percent off eligible products from your baby registry. For more information, go to Get 20% off Diaper Subscriptions or About the Completion Discount.
- Prime Early Access: Get 30-minute early access to Lightning Deals on Amazon.com and new events on MyHabit.com. For more information, go to About Prime Early Access.
- This past summer, Amazon announced it would give Prime members $10 credits on pre-orders of select video games. Previously, Amazon offered 20 percent off new, physical video games during pre-order stages.
- Kindle First: Early access for members in the U.S. to download a new book for free every month from the Kindle First picks. For more information, go to Kindle First.
- Parents will enjoy savings on FreeTime Unlimited, which brings tons of kid-friendly content to your account. Prime members pay $2.99 per month, while non-Prime members pay $4.99.
- After acquiring Whole Foods, Amazon immediately slashed the supermarket's prices on select food items. Mot recently, it announced that Prime members can enjoy exclusive savings at Whole Foods locations nationwide. In addition Prime members with an Amazon Rewards Visa Card can get 5 percent back on their Whole Foods purchases. (Non-Prime members will get 3 percent back). That's in addition to the 5 percent they already earn on Amazon.com purchases, 2 percent at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores, and 1 percent back on all other purchases. Amazon also announced free 2-hour Whole Foods deliveries via the company's Prime Now service. Deliveries are available in select cities only.
- Rumors indicate that amazon may open an Amazon Go store inside New York's Brookfield Place. The cashierless store will use a mix of sensors and cameras to automatically charge customers as they exit the store.
- Prime Video: Unlimited streaming of movies and TV episodes for paid or free trial members in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. You can also add video subscriptions to Showtime, Starz, A&E, AMC and many other streaming entertainment channels. For more information, go to About Prime Video.
- Prime Music: Unlimited, ad-free access to hundreds of Prime Playlists and more than a million songs for members in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. For more information, go to About Prime Music.
- Prime Photos: Secure unlimited photo storage in Amazon Cloud Drive. For more information, go to About Prime Photos.
- Kindle Owners' Lending Library: Accessible to members in the U.S. For more information, go to Kindle Owners' Lending Library.
- Video Add-On Subscriptions: You can order third-party streaming apps through Amazon Prime to keep all your video content in one place. For instance, you can add Showtime Anytime and HBO Go to your account.
- Thursday Night NFL Games: Amazon will broadcast 10 NFL Thursday night games exclusively to Amazon Prime members during the 2017 season.
- Free Games with Twitch Prime: Amazon offers a selection of free games and in-game loot with Twitch Prime.
- Amazon Elements: Access to Amazon Elements products, Amazon's own line of everyday essentials.
- Membership Sharing: Two adults living in the same household can create an Amazon Household to share certain Amazon Prime benefits. For more information, go to About Amazon Households.
Q.: Do I Get Exclusive Access to Some Items?
A.: Yes. Amazon recently began experimenting with making some purchases eligible only Prime members. For instance, popular video games such as FIFA 16 can only be purchased from Amazon if you're a Prime subscriber. Similarly, earlier this year when Amazon restocked its Nintendo Switch inventory, the console was only available for Prime members. This may be a sign of things to come where Amazon becomes more like Costco or Walmart, requiring membership before you can shop.
Amazon also offers its own Elements line of products, only available to Prime members. The product line ranges from baby wipes to vitamins. The idea is that Amazon goes the extra mile of telling you exactly where the product came from. In the case of those wipes, I can tell you liquid inside is 97.9 percent pharmaceutical-grade purified water from the White Lick Creek Aquifer in Moorseville, Indiana.
It's worth noting that if you opt for free, no-rush shipping (which can take five to seven days), you can earn money toward music, video and e-book purchases. Also, if a Prime-eligible package arrives after the two-day shipping guarantee and you reach out to customer service, Amazon may extend your Prime membership by a month.
Q.: How much does Amazon Prime cost?
A.: The membership fee for Amazon Prime is $119 per year or $12.99 per month. The first 30 days of the annual subscription are free, and you can cancel anytime.
Students can get a generous price break, however. Amazon Student accounts get many of the same Prime benefits, and it's free for the first six months. After that, you will need to subscribe to Prime, but at a 50 percent discount. During the six-month trial, students can get free shipping but will not be able to access streaming video and music, or borrow Kindle books. However, they will receive full Prime benefits if they choose to subscribe at the discounted price afterward. They'll also get access to exclusive deals, such as specials on video game pre-orders.
Q.: Can I give Amazon Prime as a gift?
A.: Yes. Just visit Amazon Prime's gifting page, add it to your cart and follow the instructions to find out how you can give a yearlong subscription to a friend or family member. In your cart, before you check out, just make sure that the box reading "This item is a gift" is checked off, and you can fill in the rest of the information when you pay.
Q.: What is Prime Day?
A.: Prime Day began in 2015 as a way for Amazon to celebrate its 20th anniversary. In 2018, Amazon celebrated its third Prime Day on July 16 and July 17, making it the longest Prime Day ever. On Prime Day, the retailer rewards Amazon Prime members with more than 100,000 exclusive deals.
Q.: What are Amazon Households?
A.: Amazon Households allow two adults and up to four children to share digital Amazon content. Two adults in the same household can share a number of Amazon Prime benefits, including two-day shipping, streaming video and access to the Kindle Lending Library. To add yourself to — or remove yourself from — a household, follow the instructions on the Amazon website.
Q.: Which items get free two-day shipping with Amazon Prime?
A.: The vast majority of items that Amazon sells qualify for free two-day shipping with Amazon Prime. Oversize items, such as treadmills and basketball hoops, get free standard shipping instead. However, items sold through third parties (via Amazon Marketplace) are ineligible for any kind of free shipping, unless the seller happens to offer it.
Q.: Which Kindle books are available to borrow?
A.: Amazon states that there are more than 1 million books available in the Kindle Lending Library. To see if a book you want to read qualifies, simply search for it on your Kindle device, Kindle app or the Amazon website, and see if the Prime logo appears next to it. If so, a Prime subscription lets you borrow it for one month. If not, you'll have to pay for it the old-fashioned way.
Q.: What is Amazon Prime Music?
A.: Amazon Prime Music is a streaming music service, similar to Spotify or Pandora. Users can choose albums or songs to stream, or allow Amazon to create a customized profile to suit their tastes and do it for them. Currently, the service offers more than two million songs, but its selection still pales in comparison to those of Spotify and Pandora. Amazon Prime members can also download these songs and listen to them online (as long as their Prime membership remains active). Its newer service, Music Unlimited, gives you access to "tens of millions" of songs and weekly new releases. If you own an Amazon Echo, you can pay $3.99/month for this service, but you'll only be able to stream on your Echo device. For $7.99/month, you'll be able to stream on all of your devices.
Q.: What is Twitch Prime?
A.: Most gamers are already familiar with Twitch, the popular game-stream broadcast service, but may not know about Twitch Prime. Amazon Prime users also get access to Twitch Prime, which allows them to watch Twitch streams completely ad-free. However, Amazon recently announced that new members will not get ad-free viewing beginning September 14. Existing members, however, can continue to enjoy ad-free viewing up until their subscription renewal, at which point they too will lose the feature. Monthly in-game bonuses and "Free Games With Prime" — a selection of free titles for Prime members — will continue.
Q.: What is Prime Now?
A.: Prime Now is an app for iOS and Android devices and a website that promises free delivery of select items within 2 hours. At the outset, the service is only available in select cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and Phoenix, but the program adds new cities on a regular basis. Just this month, Amazon expanded its Prime Now delivery to include Annapolis, Cleveland, Louisville, North/Central New Jersey, and Pittsburgh as well as additional locations in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The goods offered are mostly groceries, toiletries and small gifts, but this should change as Amazon gains additional local partners. You can also order food delivery from some of your favorite restaurants. For instance, in New York City, Eataly, Westside Market, Gourmet Garage, Vintage Grape Wine & Spirits and Billy's Bakery are among the participating businesses. You can opt for one-hour delivery if you're in a hurry, but that will cost you an extra $7.99. To see if your area is within Prime Now's delivery range, check the Prime Now website.
Q.: What is Amazon Prime Video?
A.: Amazon Prime Video is the streaming-video component of Amazon Prime. Like Netflix and Hulu, Amazon Prime offers unlimited streaming of tens of thousands of movies and TV shows. Unlike its two competitors, however, Amazon Prime also allows à la carte rentals and purchases of its content. You can also chose to subscribe to Prime Video only for $8.99/month.
Amazon Prime hosts a number of original series, including hits like Mozart in the Jungle, Transparent, and The Man In The High Castle. Users can also stream older HBO shows, such as The Sopranos, Eastbound & Down and the first season of Veep.
Now that Amazon offers the Streaming Partners program, you can combine almost all your streaming services subscriptions under one umbrella. For instance, now you can add subscriptions to Showtime Starz, A&E, AMC, Smithsonian Earth, Hooplakidz Plus, Ring TV Boxing and more.
Q.: Can I use Amazon's streaming video services without an Amazon Prime subscription?
A.: Yes, but you will have to buy or rent each individual piece of content you want to watch. The prices on this content can vary dramatically, from $2 for individual TV episodes to $30 or more for entire seasons. Or you can sign up for Prime Video on a monthly basis for $8.99.
Q.: Will a Prime subscription give me access to every streaming video on Amazon?
A.: No. Amazon offers only certain TV shows and movies for unlimited streaming. For brand-new movies and recently broadcast episodes of TV shows, for example, you'll have to dish out money for each individual piece of media. Amazon marks its unlimited streaming shows and movies with a Prime graphic across the top of the box art; everything else is pay-as-you-go.
Q.: Where can I watch Amazon Prime Video?
A.: Amazon Prime Instant Video is available on PC, Mac and Linux computers, as well as all modern and last-gen game consoles. All iOS users can download an Amazon Prime app, but Android users are not so fortunate. The only Android devices that support Amazon Video are Amazon's own Kindle Fire tablets and Fire TV devices. The service is available for Roku set-top boxes and most smart TVs, but not for Google Chromecast or Apple TV. Amazon has also unveiled the Fire TV Edition: a TV that runs with the same interface as a Fire TV box or stick. An Amazon Prime membership isn't necessary to use the TV, but could help users get the most out of one.
Q.: Is Amazon Prime Video better than Netflix/Hulu?
A.: The short answer is "no," but the longer answer depends on what you're looking for in a service. If you want the free two-day shipping and the free Kindle book, Amazon Prime's streaming video is a nice bonus. The unlimited streaming options are generally not as robust as those offered by Netflix and Hulu, but the cheaper price and extra Prime features may make it worthwhile for Amazon fans — particularly those who own Kindle Fires or Fire TVs.
Q: What is Amazon Scout?
A.: Amazon is always looking for new ways to get people to shop and its latest project — called Amazon Scout — gives consumers product recommendations based on what products they like or dislike on the Amazon Scout page. Currently, the site only features deals on home decor, kitchen, and women's shoes.
Q.: What is FreeTime Unlimited?
A.: Prime members save $2 per month on this subscription service that offers thousands of books, movies, TV shows, educational apps and games for children ages 3 to 10 years old. Recently, Amazon expanded the ages, to also include specialty content for kids ages 9 to 12. Owners of a new Fire Kids Tablet automatically receive one year free. FreeTime Unlimited is accessible through Fire tablets, Fire TV and Kindle e-readers. Parents can granularly sort and filter content based on their own judgement as to what's appropriate.
Q.: Why shouldn't I subscribe to Amazon Prime?
A.: If you tend to make infrequent Amazon purchases that exceed $25, the service is probably not for you. (Spending $25 or more will get you free shipping, even without a Prime membership.) Likewise, if you get your e-books from Barnes & Noble, Apple or Kobo, the free Kindle book will not benefit you much. If you already subscribe to Netflix or Hulu, you have access to a wider selection of unlimited streaming video than what Amazon Prime offers.
Q.: How can I sign up for Amazon Prime?
A.: Visit Amazon Prime's Web page, and follow the instructions. You'll need a free Amazon account as well as a credit card.
If you decide you want to cancel the subscription afterward, go to your account and select Manage Prime Membership. Click End Membership if you're currently subscribed, or Do Not Continue if you're on a free trial and do not wish to start a paid subscription.
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