What Is Amazon Prime? The Benefits, the Cost, and Whether It’s Worth It

Amazon Prime membership gives you free two-day shipping, plus extra privileges like music and video streaming, for a $119 annual fee.

Anisha SekarSep 19, 2018
Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

A standard Amazon Prime membership currently costs $119 — perhaps a steep price to pay for free 2-day shipping. But if you’re a bookworm, a video buff, or just someone who often shops online, the benefits might well outweigh the costs. To help you decide whether it’s a good deal for you, we've broken down the basics on what Amazon Prime actually offers.

What are the benefits of Amazon Prime?

Amazon Prime’s key benefit is its free two-day shipping on over 100 million eligible items. In some cities, you can even get same-day delivery on eligible orders. While Amazon does offer free standard shipping on qualifying orders of $25 or more to non-Prime customers, you have to wait 5 to 8 business days for your order to arrive.

But just as the company has expanded from a simple bookstore to a finger-in-every-pie empire, so has Prime extended its benefits to include:

  • Prime Now. Prime Now narrows the free same-day delivery window on certain items to as little as two hours, but it’s only available in select metro areas.

  • Unlimited movie and TV streaming. You can stream thousands of TV shows and movies using Prime Video.

  • Unlimited reading. Members can choose from over a thousand books, comics and magazines to read free.

  • One free borrowed e-book per month. With a Prime membership, you can choose one of hundreds of thousands of e-books to download from the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, including hits like the Hunger Games trilogy and the Harry Potter collection. Plus, you’ll get early access to a free monthly book from the Kindle First selections. Note that you need an actual Kindle (not the Kindle app), a Fire tablet or Fire phone to take advantage of the Lending Library.

  • Unlimited music streaming. You can listen to over two million songs and browse Prime Playlists, all ad-free with Prime Music.

  • Prime Day and Prime Early Access. Prime members get the exclusive perk of shopping annual Prime Day deals. On the other 364 days of the year, you’ll get access to Lightning Deals with a 30-minute head start on non-Prime members.

  • Free unlimited photo storage with Prime Photos. Your photos will be added to your secure Amazon Cloud Drive, which you can access from both your computer and mobile device.

  • Stock up with Prime Pantry. You can fill a pantry box with low-priced household and grocery items and have it delivered for a flat shipping rate of $7.99. Amazon only ships pantry boxes to the contiguous U.S.

  • Amazon Elements. As an Amazon Prime member you have access to Amazon's own consumer-first line of everyday items, like baby wipes.

  • Amazon Family. Free for all Prime members, Amazon Family offers family-oriented coupons and deals, including 20% off diapers when ordered with Subscribe and Save and a 15% baby registration completion discount.

How much does Amazon Prime cost?

The cost of an Amazon Prime membership depends on the plan you choose, but you can try it for free for 30 days.

Here’s a breakdown of the payment plans and what they include:

  • Prime Video: $8.99 per month. This membership restricts your perks to unlimited TV show and movie streaming. It’ll cost you around $108 per year.

  • Prime: $12.99 per month. If you want full Prime benefits but prefer to spread out your payments, you’ll pay about $155 a year.

  • Prime: $119 per year. Those who pay an annual lump sum for the full membership will spend less in the long run.

There’s are also a discounted membership for students that offers all the regular Prime benefits, but during the free trial period you won’t get access to Instant Video or Kindle books:

  • Prime Student: If you’re a student with a valid school email address, you can get a free six-month trial of Prime Student and a discounted annual membership fee of $59 after that.

Heads up: Amazon keeps your credit card information on file when you sign up, so if you decide you don’t want the membership once your free trial expires, make sure to log into your account and actively cancel it. Otherwise, you’ll be charged the membership fee.

Is an Amazon Prime membership worth it?

There are three ways to evaluate an Amazon Prime membership: shipping, reading and streaming entertainment. We’ll tackle each individually.

  • Shipping. If you spent more than $119 in shipping fees last year, well, there’s your answer.

  • Reading. A full-price Kindle e-books costs about $9.99, and if you buy one per month, that’ll add up to $120 a year. You’d save money by just borrowing them from the Kindle Lending Library.

  • Streaming entertainment. Amazon Prime, which includes Prime Instant Video, is cheaper than both the commercial-free Hulu plan and the standard Netflix plan. Prime also includes Prime Music and is less expensive than ad-free subscriptions to Spotify, Apple Music and Google Play. If the video and music selection is wide enough that you’d consider forgoing a subscription to other services, you’ll have recouped the cost of Amazon Prime.

There are other considerations to take into account, such as the convenience of having your items shipped in days instead of weeks, or not having to go to the store to buy essentials like paper towels.

Keep in mind, too, that you can share your shipping benefits with another household member. If you split the cost with a roommate, for example, you can effectively cut the cost down to under $60 a year — a pretty amazing deal. It’s a great way to save. And if you can get free two-day shipping for less than $5 a month, it’s well worth it.