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What Is Amazon Prime Review – Free Shipping Trial & Benefits

By Jason Steele

amazon shipping boxLoyalty cards, points, and miles all exist for a single purpose: to get you as a customer to return over and over again. From coffee shops to bookstores, grocery stores to pharmacies, it seems like everyone is trying to get in on the loyalty program trend. Wallets and key chains bulge with little loyalty cards, usually obtained simply by making a purchase and providing a little bit of personal information.

Traditional loyalty programs work by giving customers rewards based on the purchases they make. Amazon, however,  has been able to successfully market a program called Amazon Prime, where customers actually pay a fee to enjoy the benefits.

It’s not a cheap venture, and it is definitely important to weigh the benefits against your own needs before paying the price. Here’s what I’ve learned in my year of using the Amazon Prime service.

What Is Amazon Prime?

Amazon Prime is a subscription service offered by online giant, Amazon.com. Its primary benefit is the reduction or elimination of shipping costs on all purchases that are fulfilled directly by them.

While it’s true that Amazon already ships orders over $25 for free, they do so using a low priority shipping service that takes 7-10 days to deliver. Customers who subscribe to the Prime service get two-day shipping for free, and overnight shipping for a mere $3.99 per order.

As an added bonus, Amazon recently announced that they will also include free media streaming of movies and television shows to all paid Amazon subscribers.

So now that you know a little bit more about what you’ll be paying for, you’re probably wondering how much Amazon charges for this service.

How Much Does It Cost?

An Amazon Prime subscription costs $99 and is good for one year. If this sounds a little too steep, there are a few other options for obtaining the Prime service, minus the media streaming, for free:

  • Provide a University E-mail Address. The first method is to take advantage of the Amazon Student offer. To qualify, you need to have a .edu email address. Since most schools offer this to both current students and alumni, few college graduates should have difficulty qualifying. There are also companies that will provide you with a free .edu address should you choose to go that route.
  • Provide Family Information. Amazon has a program called Amazon Mom, which provides free two-day shipping Amazon Prime benefits to parents and caregivers (i.e. you don’t have to be “mom”). You’ll also receive 30% off diapers and wipes and personalized email discounts and offers in exchange for the information you provide.
  • Share an Account. This second choice relies on the generosity of friends or family. Amazon allows Prime members to share their service with up to four other people. You may be able to find someone who’s willing to share the benefits of their account with you either for free, or at the very least, a fraction of the full price.

Any of these options is great if you’re looking to try the service at little to no cost. However, if you do have to pay full price, is it worth it? Consider these pros and cons before making the investment.

Advantages

Amazon allows you shop from home in ways that I hadn’t previously anticipated. In the past, I only made online purchases when I couldn’t find a product at a reasonable price locally in-store. As time went by however, I learned to question my actions every time I was about to drive to a store. Online deals have become more and more competitive, especially with the arrival of programs like Amazon Prime. Below are just a few of the ways I’ve saved time and money by using the service:

1. No Additional Costs
Amazon’s prices are competitive, but when you factor in no tax in many states and no shipping charges, they almost always beat out my local brick and mortar retailers.

2. No Minimum Order Amount
What’s great about this service is that there is no minimum order to qualify. As I type this, my palms are resting on a $3, gel-filled pad that I had shipped to my house for free in 2 days.

3. Timing Is Everything
Another neat feature with Amazon is that they tell you what time of day your order must be placed to ensure it is shipped that day. If you place an order at the last minute, the results can be overnight delivery in far less than 24 hours, and two-day shipping in under 48. Few other online shopping portals can match this. In the end, I found myself spending less time and money driving to stores to pick up merchandise.

amazon prime banner

Disadvantages

On the whole, my experience with Amazon Prime has been good. However, I have run into a few things that could be improved upon. Below are a few of the issues I’ve had while using the service:

1. No Coverage for Affiliate Stores
I found that many of the items Amazon sells are provided by affiliates and do not qualify for Prime shipping. Amazon allows you to search only for Prime eligible products, but these items sometimes cost more than the same ones sold by an affiliate. This occasionally reduces the actual value of the shipping discount.

2. No Media Streaming for Free Members
I was surprised that student members like myself were not entitled to use the media streaming service. I currently have the ability to stream Amazon content to my home media network, but I still have to pay for it. They really should make a greater effort to distinguish between the benefits of paid Prime members and those granted to us freeloaders.

3. Delayed Shipments
I had been under the mistaken impression that two-day shipping meant my products were being shipped by air. Seriously, how else could you send products across the country in a mere two days? In reality, many of my shipments were shipped via UPS Ground.

Amazon figures that shipments that originate from warehouses within my region will arrive in just two days, so they try not to pay extra for air service. They are usually correct, but many of my packages were delayed this winter due to weather conditions. In some cases, I tracked my packages spending days on the ground when I should have already received them.

In these circumstances, Amazon was quick to credit my account for up to $15, which was sometimes more than the price of my purchase. Eventually, I found that I could quickly receive compensation by requesting it via a live customer service chat. I used this service frequently and had enough delays that the credits I received might have even paid for the service. Regardless, if you absolutely need to have something overnight or in two days, you really can’t count on Amazon.

Final Word

As a city dweller, I know that most of the goods I buy on Amazon are pretty readily available to me locally. Nevertheless, the convenience of finding the best deals in the comfort of my own home is incredibly appealing. Add free shipping and I will happily choose online shopping over driving all over town any day.

I can only imagine how incredible this service would be to someone living in a more rural area. The savings on gas alone would be worth it. That being said, both their overnight and two-day service was far from guaranteed, especially during winter snow storms. Beware of the possibility of delays if there’s any urgency to a purchase.

By throwing in media streaming to paid subscribers, Amazon has strengthened what was already a valuable service. Even if Amazon eventually ends its student program, I will probably spring for the paid membership. After a year with Amazon Prime, I can’t go back to paying for shipping or spending my free time driving to stores and wandering through the aisles every time I need to buy something.

Have you used Amazon Prime? What are some of the benefits and drawbacks you’ve experienced? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Jason Steele
Jason has been writing about personal finance, travel, and other topics on blogs across the Internet. When he is not writing, he has a career in information technology and is also a commercially rated pilot. Jason lives in Colorado with his wife and young daughter where he enjoys parenting, cycling, and other extreme sports.

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Comments

  • Anissa

    I’m not at all suprised that free members can’t stream for free. If it is as easy as you say to get a .edu address then why wouldn’t people do that to get free movies and such to take advantage of the system? It makes sense to have different levels.
    I have the Amazon Mom membership, and you have to make a purchase of $20+ to extend your initial 3 month membership another month, so it’s not a full year automatically. Still it make Christmas shopping easier this year.

  • Anissa

    Oops, I meant it made Christmas shopping easier.

  • http://justinsadvice.com/ Justin

    I tried this out (Prime) when they first came out when it a few years ago. I just used it for the month trial for my Christmas presents.

    It is a great service, but I think generally it isn’t worth the fee. Unless you just order TONS of stuff from Amazon, it’s a lot of money to just save some waiting time and *maybe* shipping costs (depending on what you order).

  • Tmansil

    Tried the free student prime membership for six months. Within 5 minutes realized that only one out of twenty books were eligible for Prime. It is cheaper to just by the books that were not eligible and pay for the 2 day shipping. Ended up ordering from a different site, not good Amazon.

  • Lilladymadonna

    I loved it! I only bought one thing which was not covered by free 2 day shipping. I love the free and discounted live stream movies and books and if I need or want to buy it instead, I save big time and get free shipping! This made Christmas shopping fuss free and everything came in under 2 days! Wonderful!

  • Diana E Reed

    I am not a fan of Amazon Prime. I made an Amazon Prime order this morning for a
    travel bag with guaranteed delivery of 2 business days with no shipping
    fees. When I placed my order, the shipping time reverted to 6-10
    business days. When I called Amazon customer service to let them know I
    need the faster shipping, I was told that I clicked the wrong button
    (thus it was my fault), and there is nothing they can do to help me
    because my order is in process. I’m moving out of the country in 4 days,
    so I was very careful about choosing a rapid shipping option. Amazon
    customer service was basically blaming me for choosing the wrong
    shipping option (which I know I didn’t). Not only was it insulting, but I
    am frustrated that Amazon customer service couldn’t resolve my issues. I
    won’t be using them anymore — Zappos and a number of other large
    retailers have better shipping & return policies.

  • Roger Eaton

    Seems like they only provide “free shipping” on selected items….another rip-off

  • Rob Ondre

    FIRST Amazon was a great site and still is in many ways, but as for amazon prime things have changed. Now 2 day shipping is free yes , how ever over night is not 3.99 anymore..Facts are you join and they have the “right” to change the pricing any way they want, just paid 11.99 with amazon prime over night shipping on a small cheap printer. 300% increase

  • stoney

    I think amazon prime is great I am a rural custumer I was looking for a simple am/fm radio I looked in 9 stores in 2 towns which cost I don’t know how much in gas lwent home pulled up amazon, small radio first page just what I wanted one click and done. Two days later a guy pulls up hands me a box one radio just like that thank you amazon stony

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