There are millions of American Automobile Association (AAA) members across the U.S., but over the past several years, new competitors have arisen to challenge AAA’s dominance over the marketplace of car-owning consumers. If you’re trying to save money on car maintenance and repairs, AAA might be the most obvious option, but it isn’t the only option.
Affordable Alternatives to AAA Membership
To offer a quick overview, the cost to join AAA varies depending on your region, but you can expect to pay approximately $20 for a “one-time-admission fee” in addition to the cost of your annual membership, which may range from $40-70 for the basic option. Once you’re a member, you can later upgrade to the AAA Plus membership (approximately $80-100 per year), which includes towing up to 100 miles, free emergency fuel, and greater locksmith coverage amounts for your vehicle. You can add family members to your AAA membership, but it will cost you about $30-70 per year, per person.
In light of all these upfront costs just to get access to AAA’s services (some free, some not), are AAA memberships really worth it? For some people, perhaps, but here are some affordable alternatives if you only need access to one or two of the many services AAA provides:
Emergency Roadside Assistance
AAA membership includes some basic roadside assistance services, including flat repairs, battery replacements, fuel delivery (you pay for the fuel), and towing up to 5-7 miles for Classic AAA memberships. If this service is your main reason for continuing your AAA membership, then you might want to reconsider in light of all the options available. For instance, some auto insurance companies such as Mercury offer free roadside assistance for customers who already have collision coverage.
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If your auto insurance provider does not offer emergency roadside service, then consider trying out Urgent.ly, the “Uber of roadside assistance” that sends someone to meet you wherever you need help on the road and fix the emergency you’re dealing with. Some of Urgently’s testimonials from former AAA members say their prices are better – and don’t require a membership.
So, if you need a flat repair, towing, tire change, key replacement, or other common roadside services, you can get it through this convenient app without having to wait for AAA to come bail you out. For environmentally-conscious folks, there is also Better World Club, which has comparable rates to AAA but offers the “America’s only eco-friendly auto club” angle.
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AAA offers a variety of insurance options, including auto, life, home, and travel. However, if you want to lower your insurance premiums, don’t automatically assume that AAA is the most affordable option. There are a number of up-and-coming insurance providers that offer consumers basic, no frills insurance at very reasonable prices.
For instance, Lemonade offers renters’ insurance for as little as $5 per month and homeowners’ insurance starts at $25 per month. Not only is this company cost-conscious, but they’re charity-conscious, as they dedicate a considerable portion of the proceeds (20%) from premium payments to charities nominated by Lemonade customers themselves. For other types of insurance, you’re better off comparing costs through independent research and finding a quality provider that you can access without having to pay an annual fee
Local Activities Discounts
AAA also offers discounts on attractions, shopping, and movie tickets. While this may be convenient for some folks, AAA does not hold a monopoly over discounts to these attractions and you might find better discounts through other outlets, such as Groupon or LivingSocial. You can also get movie tickets around the same price as AAA’s bundles per-ticket if you buy them in bulk.
Aside from emergency roadside services, travel discounts are arguably some of AAA’s biggest draws for consumers. The problem is that some additional online research might yield better prices on everything from airfare to accommodations, but AAA’s convenience factor convinces people that there’s no need to look elsewhere.
For instance, you might get better deals on foreign currency exchange rates at an ATM in your destination country, rather than ordering foreign currency from AAA before your departure (credit unions also have favorable exchange rates). Budget travel sites like Orbitz, Kayak, and Travelocity might also have better deals on airfare, rental cars, and accommodations compared to AAA’s offerings, and don’t forget that some credit cards cover rental car insurance, so AAA’s big benefit of offering auto insurance for rented vehicles might not be necessary if you already qualify with a separate credit card.
AAA Credit Card
The AAA Member Rewards Visa Signature Card offers considerable advantages for AAA members, including 0% APR for the first 12 months, 3% cash-back on AAA purchases, 2% cash back on gas, grocery and drugstore purchases, and 1% cash-back on everything else. There is also no foreign transaction fee, which could be useful for overseas travel.
However, the downside to this card is that you have to pay to play (you need to be an AAA member first), and you might end up overpaying for AAA’s services to score higher cash-back percentages instead of comparing costs between AAA and other companies. There are more lucrative credit card opportunities out there, such as the Chase Freedom card (with 5% cash back on rotating categories) or the Citi Double Cash card (with 2% back on everything).
AAA: Worth It?
AAA could be worth the annual membership cost for people who seem to constantly lock themselves out of their cars, require towing, or can’t find better rates on insurance policies or currency exchange than what they currently get through AAA.
But, if you want or have AAA just to use one or two of their services, then you can likely get more bang for your buck through another company or organization (and if you have the right credit cards or non-AAA insurance policies, you might already be covered for some services you think only AAA provides).