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What is Amazon Prime? Benefits, costs, and whether Prime membership is worth it

What is Amazon Prime?
An Amazon Prime-branded truck is seen in 2019, the same year the service introduced free, one-day delivery as an option for Amazon Prime members.  Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

You've probably heard of Amazon Prime. In fact, it's hard to imagine you haven't. According to Amazon, as of 2021, its Amazon Prime service has more than 200 million subscribers worldwide. But if you're not one of the retail giant's Prime members, then you may wonder why the program has captured so many paying customers. Before you sign up for a free trial, here's what you need to know about Amazon Prime.

What is Amazon Prime?

Amazon Prime Try Before You Buy

The short answer is this: Amazon Prime is a lot of things -- a whole bunch of benefits wrapped up into one monthly or annual subscription.

How much does Amazon Prime cost?

There are two answers to this question. That's because there are two ways to subscribe to Amazon Prime. The cheapest approach is to subscribe on an annual basis, where the service will cost you $119 per year, plus tax (where applicable). There's an Amazon Prime price hike on the way, though: This cost is slated to rise to $139 per year on February 18, 2022 for new subscribers, and after March 25 for current members, on the date of their next renewal.

Amazon Prime membership (1 year), $119

If you prefer a shorter-term commitment, Amazon offers a monthly subscription for $12.99 per month, plus tax. This cost is slated to rise to $14.99 per month on February 18, 2022 for new subscribers, and after March 25 for current members, on the date of their next renewal. Know if you opt for a monthly subscription, and then stick with it, you'll wind up paying more per year over the cost of an annual subscription. 

Does Amazon offer an Amazon Prime free trial? 

If you've never subscribed to Amazon Prime, good news: The company offers a 30-day free trial. With Black Friday just around the corner, you can use the free-trial period to give Amazon's biggest and best Prime benefits a whirl before making a decision -- or spending a dollar on a membership.

What are the benefits of Amazon Prime?

Prime Day
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

While we've been able to single out the top 5 Amazon Prime benefits, there are literally more than a dozen benefits for subscribers. Here's a breakdown of some of the biggest benefits of an Amazon Prime membership.

Prime members get free two-day shipping -- and more

One key perk of Amazon Prime is access to free two-day shipping on eligible Amazon purchases. No minimum purchase is required. 

The shipping benefits don't end there. In some areas, and for some items, Amazon offers Prime members free, one-day -- and even same-day -- shipping on orders totaling more than $35. (Orders must be placed in the morning hours.) 

Amazon Prime Video

Another major source of Amazon Prime's value comes from its Prime Video streaming service. Amazon spends billions of dollars a year on unlimited streaming content for Prime members. Acclaimed Amazon Original Series titles include "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," "The Boys" and "Modern Love." Beyond that, there's just a lot of TV and movie fare to stream (good news for fans of "Step Brothers" and "The Hills"), making Amazon Prime a solid Netflix alternative.

Click here to learn more about the what's new on Amazon Prime video this month.

If you want all the streaming content, but none of the other benefits of Amazon Prime, then you can buy a Prime Video subscription for $8.99 a month, plus tax. As with Amazon Prime, Prime Video subscriptions start with a 30-day free trial. 

Amazon Prime members get Whole Foods deals

In some areas, Amazon Prime members get free, two-hour grocery delivery from its supermarket Amazon Fresh

Additionally, Amazon Prime members get 10 percent off in-store sale prices (excluding alcohol) from Amazon's other supermarket: Whole Foods. They also benefit from special in-store Whole Foods deals marked with blue Prime member signs.

Amazon Key

Amazon Key is another delivery benefit included with an Amazon Prime membership.

When you select "Key Delivery" at checkout, your items will be delivered to your garage (instead of your doorstep) at no added cost. Amazon Key can be linked to work with a Ring app, or with a MyQ compatible garage door opener ($30).

As much as anything, this Amazon Prime perk delivers peace of mind: No more worrying if your 7-in-1 Instant Pot Duo Nova will be swiped by porch pirates before you get home. Best of all, Amazon will give you a $30 credit just to try Amazon Key when you use the promo code KEY30.

Try Amazon Key and get a $30 credit

Free Kindle books

An Amazon Prime membership works quite well with the company's flagship e-reader, the Kindle. The Prime Reading benefit offers free access to more than 3,000 books and magazines. Think of it as a digital lending library: You can download up to 10 titles at a time.

Prime members also have access to First Reads. Each month, through the Prime benefit, Prime members get one free Kindle download of a yet-to-be-released title, chosen from a selection of editors' picks. 

Amazon Music Prime

Via Amazon Music Prime, Amazon Prime members enjoy access to thousands of stations and playlists -- for a total of 2 million songs. 

For access to 75 million songs, you can upgrade to Amazon Music Unlimited, at a cost of $7.99 per month. (You can try the service via a 30-day free trial.) Non-Prime members can purchase Amazon Music Unlimited for $9.99 a month.

Prime Gaming

Another feature of Amazon Prime is Prime Gaming, which offers free games and free in-game content to members. Prime Gaming also entitles you to a free subscription to a channel of your choice on the Amazon-owned, as well as free, exclusive emoticons. 

Amazon Prime Day and Prime Early Access

Amazon Prime Day is an annual, two-day, sales event exclusively for Prime members. Many of the recent, high-profile Prime Day deals have been compelling, with Apple computers, Amazon Echo smart home devices, Ring video doorbells, Instant Pot cookers and more all going on sale.

While Prime Day comes but once a year (usually in July), Prime Early Access regularly gives Prime members 30-minute-advance access to limited-quantity, limited-time sales known on Amazon as "Lightning Deals."  

Amazon Photos unlimited storage

You read that right: An Amazon Prime membership confers unlimited, full-resolution photo storage via Amazon Photos. Video storage is available, too -- up to 5 GB is included with your Prime membership. If you have a lot of video, then you can buy additional storage space; Amazon plans start at $1.99 a month for 100 GB. 

Should you ever cancel or fail to renew your Prime membership, then your total storage space, for photos and video combined, is capped at 5 GB.  

Amazon Household

If you're an Amazon Prime member, you can share certain Prime benefits, including Prime Delivery and Prime Video, with up to two adults in your household via Amazon Household. This is not about you sharing passwords on the hush-hush. This is about you creating official, linked accounts for your roommates, grandparents or whoever. You may similarly add up to four accounts for teenagers (ages 13-17) and up to four accounts for children (ages 12 and younger). The teen and child accounts come with guardrails -- i.e., any purchases by your teens have to go through you first, and your child's access to digital content is managed per your settings. And not to worry: The 12-year-olds and younger are not allowed to shop via their Amazon Household accounts.

Prime Try Before You Buy

Have you ever seen the movie montage where the hero goes to a boutique, and tries on outfit after outfit while "Walking on Sunshine" plays on the soundtrack? Prime Try Before You Buy (previously known as Prime Wardrobe) basically allows Amazon Prime members to go on fashionista sprees like that, minus the "Walking on Sunshine" part (unless, of course, you access the song on Amazon Prime Music). 

Have select clothes, shoes, jewelry and accessories shipped to your door via Prime Try Before You Buy. Try everything on, and take up to seven days to decide what you want. Ship back the rejects for free -- or, conversely, as Amazon puts it, only pay for what you keep.

For a curated shopping experience gauged to your budget and taste, purchase the Personal Shopper by Prime Try Before You Buy add-on for $4.99 a month. 

Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Card

The Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Card is an enhanced version of the Amazon Rewards Visa Card. Both cards offer cash-back bonuses, and neither has an annual fee, but only Amazon Prime members can apply for the Prime Rewards Visa. 

Prime members can earn 5 percent back on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases made with the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa (versus 3 percent offered by the regular Amazon Rewards Visa). There's a host of other rewards too, including a $100 Amazon gift card upon approval for the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa.   

Is Prime membership worth it?

Is Prime membership worth it?
Edward Smith/Getty Images

Now that we've run you through the highlights of an Amazon Prime membership, the question comes down to this: Is Amazon Prime right for you?  

If you're not a regular Amazon shopper (and don't plan to become one), chances are Amazon Prime isn't a good fit -- the cost will probably outweigh the benefits. Similarly, if you're a regular Walmart shopper, Walmart+ is a good alternative to Amazon Prime.

But if you're already a frequent Amazon customer, then it may make sense to join the Amazon Prime club, if only for the unlimited, two-day shipping benefits, and the chance to shop until you drop on the next Amazon Prime Day.

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