Whether you own a new or used car, you’ve probably experienced your share of car problems: unexpected breakdowns, unexplained noises, persistent mechanical defects, or accidents caused by unsafe road conditions or human error. These issues are inconvenient, expensive, and potentially hazardous to your safety.
For more than a century, the American Automobile Association (AAA) has provided invaluable support — including free roadside assistance and towing — for millions of American drivers for whom car trouble is all too real.
AAA offers some other valuable benefits as well, including preferred rates on auto insurance, travel services, and identity theft protection. But do these benefits justify the annual cost of AAA membership?
What Is AAA?
AAA is a nonprofit federation of regional automotive clubs collectively serving the entire United States.
AAA membership costs vary widely. The membership price starts at about $50 per year and ranges as high as $200 per year, depending on your membership level and location. But if you drive regularly, it could be a wise investment.
AAA’s Organizational Structure & Clubs
AAA is a nonprofit federation made up of (and collectively owned by) more than 40 regional clubs.
Most AAA clubs have multiple physical locations scattered throughout their service areas. These locations sell maps and travel literature plus travel products like passports and international driving permits.
AAA’s roadside assistance calls and other automotive services are provided by a network of AAA-approved contractors, usually auto repair shops and towing companies.
To find your regional AAA club and the closest outpost to your home or office, enter your zip code into AAA’s club finder tool.
AAA Membership Tiers & Benefits (Membership Levels)
AAA has three primary membership tiers: Classic (also called Basic), Plus, and Premier. It also offers RV coverage you can add to Plus and Premier memberships.
AAA typically charges membership dues annually. Like warehouse clubs like Costco, AAA household memberships have one primary member (who pays higher dues) and multiple associate members.
Classic is the lowest price point and Premier is the highest, but annual costs can vary significantly between clubs. For instance, primary AAA Minneapolis Classic members pay $79 per year, plus $28 per associate member, while AAA Carolinas Classic members pay $59 per year and $30 for each associate member.
Membership dues are also subject to change over time, and most clubs guarantee dues only for the first year. In some cases, clubs levy a one-time sign-up fee that’s typically lower than the annual membership cost. AAA Minneapolis bundles a $15 sign-up fee into the first-year rate, for instance.
Universal Services & Benefits of AAA Membership
All AAA membership tiers include these universal services and perks. However, every AAA club is different, and some may offer additional services.
For a complete picture of what your local club can or cannot do for you, visit its website or call its local customer service hotline.
If you agree to pay the full cost of the replacement battery, AAA service providers will provide it without counting toward your annual roadside assistance allowance.
Travel Agency Services
AAA offers numerous free or reduced-cost travel agency services, including personalized trip planning, admission discounts at popular attractions, travel booking (including airline, hotel, and rail), tour and cruise planning and booking, group travel arrangements, and international travel guides.
Service charges may apply for certain travel booking services.
International Driving Permits
AAA offices can issue international driving permits at special member pricing, a variable discount to full price, which can vary from office to office but typically ranges around $20 per permit. Permits require two passport-size photos and a valid driver’s license, and AAA can issue them while you wait.
Hertz Rental Car Discounts
All AAA members get special discounts on vehicles rented with Hertz. Discounts can be as little as a few percentage points or north of 20%, depending on the location and vehicle models.
Hertz Gold Plus Membership
All AAA members get complimentary Hertz Gold Plus memberships, which typically cost $60 per year. Gold Plus members get expedited checkout, the ability to change their vehicle choice on the spot, and other useful benefits. AAA Plus members get 675 complimentary Hertz Gold Plus Reward Bonus points. AAA Premier members receive 1,100 complimentary points.
AAA members get a slew of exclusive discounts and deals with thousands of partner merchants, including national companies like the UPS Store and Best Buy. Deals vary by merchant and product but can range as high as 50% off full price.
You must typically present a valid AAA member card in person or enter the number in the online checkout portal to claim discounts.
Free Domestic AAA Travel Materials
Useful domestic travel materials like road maps, local guides, and planners are free with AAA membership. International travel materials pertaining to Europe and other regions are free for Plus and Premier members and 50% off the cover price for Classic members. You can buy them at an AAA office or order them online.
Some AAA clubs offer insurance products from AAA-affiliated insurers: Automobile Club Inter-Insurance Exchange, Auto Club Family Insurance Company, and AAA Life Insurance Company. Products include life insurance, homeowners insurance, renters insurance, auto insurance, and excess liability insurance.
AAA says its insurance products are cheaper than other providers’, but there are many variables at play and it’s difficult to speak generally about the depth of any potential discounts.
AAA-Approved Auto Repair Discount
All AAA members can get 10% off parts and labor charges at AAA-approved auto repair providers, which display the AAA logo in their shop windows. The benefit is capped at $50 per repair job.
Auto repair providers don’t automatically apply the discount. You must verbally request it and display your current-year AAA member card. AAA-approved auto repair providers must also guarantee any repairs they make for two years or 24,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Identity Theft Monitoring
AAA members get complimentary identity theft monitoring, including daily Experian credit report monitoring, email alerts of suspicious activity or changes to that credit report, and fraud resolution support following a potential incidence of identity theft.
Travel Concierge & Emergency Assistance
Premier members have access to dedicated travel concierges while they’re on the road. Concierge services are numerous and include local weather reports, reservation assistance (including golf tee times and restaurant bookings), car rentals, and entertainment ticketing.
Premier members can also take advantage of AAA’s emergency travel assistance services, including prescription replacement, translation, lost ticket and document replacement, cash transfers, medical transportation, and medical appointment arrangements.
Benefits of AAA Membership by Membership Level
AAA members are entitled to certain additional benefits and perks. Some are available at all three membership tiers, while others are reserved for Plus or Premium (or only Premium) members.
1. Classic Membership
AAA’s introductory membership tier is alternately known as Classic or Basic, depending on the regional club. Although Classic services and benefits vary somewhat by club, they generally include these core perks.
24/7 Roadside Assistance
AAA’s flagship benefit is roadside assistance. Classic members typically get at least four complimentary roadside assistance calls per year. Calls above the four-per-year limit are the member’s financial responsibility and typically cost $50 or more.
During roadside assistance calls, responders provide assorted services: jump-starts (using mobile battery jump-start units), complimentary battery testing, flat tire replacement if a usable spare is available, and minor mechanical repairs on the spot.
Roadside assistance services are transferable to vehicles not owned by the AAA member. For example, if you’re riding in a friend’s car and it breaks down, you can use your AAA benefit at no charge to your friend.
Roadside assistance services are also available for pedal-powered bikes (as opposed to electric bikes). Coverage includes bike repair and shop transportation (towing) within a 5-mile radius. It’s a useful perk for habitual bike commuters and recreational cyclists alike.
When the member’s car is disabled or can’t be driven safely, AAA covers the cost of towing it back to the responder’s facility or a facility of the member’s choosing within 25 miles of the car’s current location.
Towing costs vary, but this benefit can easily be worth more than $100 per use. Out-of-pocket fees apply for longer tows.
Rental Cars for Towed Members
Members who have their cars towed as part of a complimentary service call (limit four per year) are entitled to rental car discounts for the duration of any necessary repairs.
This benefit is limited to Hertz rentals and is generally worth 20% off the sticker price of the rental. Members also enjoy complimentary Hertz Gold Plus Rewards membership.
Vehicle Lockout Services
Members who’ve been locked out of their vehicles due to lost or stolen keys are entitled to discounts on necessary locksmith services. The discount is usually $50 for Classic members but can vary by club. If the total bill is less than the amount of the discount, there’s no charge.
Members who’ve run out of gas are entitled to complimentary fuel delivery from a nearby gas station, provided they pay full price for the delivered gas.
Classic members get two basic travel insurance coverages: trip interruption coverage (up to $500 per party) and travel accident coverage (typically $100,000 per party). Coverage limits can vary by club.
Members who’ve run off the road and become stuck in mud, snow, sand, or other difficult-to-navigate terrain are entitled to extrication and winching service from one “normally equipped” service vehicle. It’s usually a tow truck equipped with a heavy winch capable of dragging a car.
The benefit doesn’t apply to street- or driveway-parked cars temporarily immobilized due to snow or flooding.
Discounted Carfax Reports
Classic members get 20% off Carfax reports (which detail used vehicles’ ownership, accident, and repair history) ordered online. A single Carfax report typically costs $40, so this benefit is worth $8 per report.
Legal Fee Reimbursement
At its discretion, AAA may reimburse legal fees for members who plead not guilty to certain eligible motor vehicle charges, including reckless driving and criminal negligence.
For Classic members, the total benefit (divided between trial and appeal expenses) ranges from $500 to $1,000 for serious offenses, depending on the club. Reimbursement limits are lower for less-serious offenses.
Travel Store Discounts
Members enjoy discounts on purchases at AAA Travel Store, usually 10% to 15% off (depending on the club).
2. Plus Membership
Plus members get all the benefits of Classic membership plus the following benefits. Some are simply more generous versions of Classic perks. Others are entirely new benefits you unlock.
Plus members get complimentary towing to the auto repair facility of their choice, up to 100 driving miles per service call. That provides a much greater range of choice than the Classic benefit, which only allows towing to nonresponding providers within 3 miles.
Plus members get higher locksmith discounts, usually $100 to $150 (depending on the club).
Plus Travel Insurance
Plus members get three basic travel insurance coverages with higher limits that can vary by club. Generally, family coverage for Plus ranges between $500 and $1,000, lost baggage coverage tops out at $250 per party, and travel accident coverage is $200,000 per party.
Complimentary Passport Photos
Plus members are entitled to two complimentary sets of passport photos per year.
Plus Bicycle Service
Plus members enjoy complimentary bicycle towing up to 100 miles, up from 5 miles for Classic members.
Fuel Delivery With Free Gas
Plus members get complimentary fuel delivery with enough free gas to get them to a gas station. In isolated areas, that can amount to several gallons.
Plus members get an extra-potent extrication benefit: two normally equipped service vehicles with winches and other extrication equipment. That can come in handy for heavier vehicles and those that have become badly stuck.
Plus members can add an RV endorsement (technically known as “RV membership”) for an additional cost, typically $30 to $50 more per year. The RV endorsement extends AAA’s roadside assistance, towing, and other vehicle-related services to RVs, motorcycles, and boat trailers.
Plus Legal Fee Reimbursement
AAA’s legal fee reimbursement is higher for Plus members, typically between $1,000 and $2,000 for serious offenses like vehicular manslaughter.
3. Premier Membership
Premier members get all the benefits of Plus membership as well as the following benefits. Some are unique to Premier, while others are more generous versions of benefits available at lower tiers.
Complimentary Battery Replacement
Premier members get one free battery replacement per year. That’s a potential value of $100 or more, depending on the battery type.
Premier Roadside Assistance
Premier members are typically entitled to at least five complimentary roadside assistance calls per year, depending on the club.
Premier members get complimentary towing to the auto repair facility of their choice, up to 200 driving miles on one service call per year and 100 miles on the remaining service calls.
Premier members’ locksmithing discount is worth up to $200, depending on the club.
Complimentary Rental Car Booking
Premier members whose cars have broken down are entitled to complimentary rental car booking assistance from AAA agents plus one free day on their Hertz rental. Subsequent rental car days are discounted (20% to 25% off).
Home Lockout Service
AAA Premier members can apply their locksmithing discount to home lockouts, not just car or vehicle lockouts.
Complimentary Carfax Report
Premier members get one complimentary Carfax report per year plus 40% discounts (worth approximately $16 per individually ordered report) on any additional reports.
Premier Travel Insurance
Premier members enjoy somewhat more generous travel insurance coverage than Basic and Plus members. Generally, trip interruption coverage exceeds $1,000 per party, and travel accident coverage is $200,000 per party.
Premier Travel Store Discounts
Plus members get higher discounts at the AAA Travel Store (generally 20% off).
Premier Legal Fee Reimbursement
Premier members qualify for even higher legal fee reimbursements: typically $2,000 to $4,000 for serious offenses.
Premier ID Theft Reimbursement
Premier members get up to $10,000 in identity theft insurance through Experian in addition to the identity theft protection benefits available to Classic and Plus members.
AAA Membership vs. Auto Insurance Alternatives
Many auto insurance companies offer roadside assistance, towing, fuel delivery, extrication, and other driver assistance services for free or at a reduced cost. Depending on their price and how often you use them, these could be a better deal than AAA’s roadside assistance services.
Allstate’s roadside assistance options offer a representative look at what’s available from major auto insurance companies. Other insurers with driver assistance packages include Nationwide, Geico, Progressive, State Farm, and Liberty Mutual.
Most Allstate Motor Club membership plans are available to the general public, not just Allstate policyholders.
- Roadside Advantage Plan. Roadside Advantage plan ($7 per month or $79 for the first year) includes up to $100 in complimentary roadside assistance services (lockouts, gas delivery, jump-starts, and towing) for up to three incidents per year, plus $500 in arrest bond coverage, $750 in trip interruption coverage, and exclusive discounts with travel partners. Roadside Advantage’s driver benefits are roughly equivalent to AAA Classic.
- Roadside Elite Plan. The Roadside Elite plan ($12 per month or $149 for the first year) includes up to $250 in complimentary roadside assistance for up to five incidents per year, unlimited towing, complimentary RV coverage, $1,500 in trip interruption coverage, and free Carfax reports. Roadside Elite’s driver benefits are roughly equivalent to AAA Plus membership.
- Pay-Per-Use. Pay-per-use (formerly known as Good Hands Rescue) is available to everyone, including non-Allstate policyholders. This pay-as-you-go scheme charges fees for basic roadside assistance and towing services based on what local providers are willing to charge (generally at or below prevailing rates in an area), including lockouts, gas delivery, jump-starts, tire changes, and towing. AAA doesn’t have a pay-per-use model.
- Policy Add-On. This option is available only to Allstate policyholders. It includes 24/7 roadside assistance services, such as jump-starts, gas delivery, and flat tire replacement, as well as towing to nearby auto repair facilities. Allstate’s policy add-on costs start at $25 per vehicle per year but can vary depending on factors including location, covered vehicles, existing policy parameters, and the policyholder’s driving record. For drivers of older vehicles who are primarily concerned about not being stranded (or having to abandon their cars) on the side of the road, this is the most cost-effective Allstate option and is potentially a better deal than any AAA plan.
Allstate’s driver assistance options all stand up well to AAA in terms of direct value for drivers and travelers. And the pay-per-use model could save those with no roadside assistance membership money. For Allstate policyholders mostly concerned about mitigating the cost and inconvenience of vehicle breakdowns, the company’s policy add-on is quite cost-effective.
But Allstate can’t match AAA’s extensive network of non-travel partners. Drivers who can consistently take advantage of AAA member discounts with national brands like Best Buy and the UPS Store are likely to get more value with AAA than with an insurance company.
Pros of AAA Membership
AAA membership has some clear benefits for drivers and vehicle owners. Some of these benefits aren’t available from competitors, like car insurance companies’ in-house motorist service packages.
- Timely Service in a Variety of Emergencies. AAA’s flagship roadside assistance service is available 24/7. Whether you’re on a rural highway in the middle of the night or an urban freeway in the middle of rush hour, you can rely on AAA to answer your distress call and dispatch in-network assistance in a timely fashion.
- Can Dramatically Reduce the Cost of Owning Older Cars. An emergency tow can cost up to well over $100. That means a single complimentary tow per year usually covers the Classic membership cost, which is good news for older, breakdown-prone vehicle owners. You can also leverage other free or low-cost services, like locksmithing, rental cars, jump-starts, and battery replacement. AAA won’t cover the total cost, but it can reduce it.
- Can Be Used With Any Vehicle. When it comes to servicing nonmembers’ vehicles, AAA sticks to a don’t-ask, don’t-tell policy. Its customer-contact staff doesn’t ask if you own the car that needs service as long as you don’t make it evident that it’s not yours.
- Includes Potentially Valuable Travel Benefits and Merchant Discounts. AAA Premier members can take advantage of potentially valuable travel benefits, including trip interruption and cancellation insurance and global emergency assistance. All AAA members have access to free or low-cost travel agency services and discounts with thousands of merchants worldwide — some of which slash as much as 50% off list price. For members who travel often or spend liberally with partner merchants, these benefits alone are likely to cover the membership cost.
- AAA Offers Its Own Insurance Products. AAA provides its own auto, home, life, and excess liability insurance policies. Though it’s difficult to generalize about the extent of any potential discounts, AAA says these policies are cheaper for members than comparable products offered by competing insurers.
- Has a Trusted Network of Auto Repair Partners. AAA has a trusted network of auto repair facilities that provide 10% discounts ($50 max on jobs worth more than $500) to AAA members. That’s a substantial break on the cost of essential or recommended auto repairs. Plus, AAA-approved repair providers must guarantee their work for two years or 24,000 miles, providing valuable peace of mind for folks who own older vehicles.
Cons of AAA Membership
AAA membership does have some notable drawbacks. The annual cost of membership is a significant consideration here, especially for infrequent drivers, people with newer cars, and folks who simply don’t have the chance to use AAA’s services that often.
- Not Cost-Effective for Infrequent Users. If your car is in excellent condition and you don’t regularly take advantage of value-added services like travel booking, insurance coverage, merchant discounts, and home lockout assistance, you’re probably not going to get your money’s worth out of AAA membership at any price point. While you could make a case for carrying AAA membership solely for the merchant discounts, it takes some effort to maximize those consistently. And if you don’t spend heavily at AAA partner merchants, those discounts don’t matter anyway.
- Classic Membership Perks Aren’t Nearly as Generous. AAA Classic membership comes with four complimentary roadside assistance calls per year, but many of its other benefits are less generous. For example, its vehicle lockout coverage can be worth as little as $50 per visit, which likely isn’t sufficient to cover long or complicated calls. Likewise, it lacks complimentary battery replacement, which can be worth $100 or more. And Classic members who invoke the towing benefit usually have no choice but to go to the responder’s facility, where repairs may be pricier.
- Costs Vary by Local Club. AAA clubs are free to set their own membership fees. As such, costs vary significantly from region to region. There’s little rhyme or reason to the variation, and prices aren’t necessarily tied to local living costs, so the only way to find out for sure how much you can expect to pay each year is to check your local club’s website.
- Comparable Insurance Company Services May Be More Cost-Effective. Some car insurance companies offer better deals on roadside assistance and value-added services. For instance, Allstate Motor Club costs $79 and up for the first year and includes a host of complimentary or reduced-cost services and coverages that exceed what’s available at any AAA price point.
AAA is much more than a trusted provider of free, round-the-clock roadside assistance. Members get a slew of free or discounted benefits, including discounted automotive services, exclusive or discounted travel products, and member discounts on in-house insurance coverage.
But these services and perks only have value if you use them. Many people maintain AAA memberships for the roadside assistance benefit and rarely or never take advantage of the organization’s other offerings. For those with unreliable cars, that’s certainly a cost-effective strategy. For members with reliable vehicles, it’s not.
Before you consent to pay $50 or more per year for yet another club membership, make sure you’ll get your money’s worth.