Are AAA Member Discounts Worth the Program’s Subscription Cost?

Photo Courtesy: Boston Globe/Getty Images

The American Automobile Association (AAA) is a federation of auto clubs across North America that, for over a century, has served members by offering various vehicle-related services, from towing and breakdown services to insurance policies. Although you might know it primarily for its popular roadside assistance program, AAA serves as a one-stop-shop for a variety of automobile needs, with some of the company’s retail locations even offering services like car registration help — without the hours-long wait times you’d experience at your local department of licensing.

But, like most similar clubs, AAA charges a membership fee. AAA also offers different tiers of membership that come with different benefits — and increasing costs. So how do you know which one — if any? — is the right level for you? With gas prices currently at an all-time high, saving and budgeting money is more important now than ever. Considering the services offered, discounts, and different types of drivers these tiers are best suited for, let’s explore whether or not AAA is right for you and your family’s budget — and if it’s worth the subscription costs.

AAA’s Most Widely Known Benefit: Roadside Assistance

 Photo Courtesy: Tom Merton/Getty Images

Whether in a new car or a used one, one of the primary benefits of the AAA membership — and probably the one you’ve heard most about — is its 24-hour roadside assistance. For between $54 a year, the AAA Classic membership includes up to four tows of distances no more than 7 miles every membership year, along with up to $60 worth of lockout, fuel, flat tire, and dead battery services. The $87 AAA Plus membership includes the Classic benefits, but its four tows extend to 100-mile distances with free fuel delivery and $100 in lockout fees. 

Lastly, the $115 AAA Premier membership includes the Plus benefits but the towing distances include one 200-mile tow and three 100-mile tows. The Premier level also offers a $150 lockout limit for your car or home, $1,500 in trip disruption coverage, and coverage of a car rental for one day. The Plus and Premier levels are also available with optional RV and motorcycle coverage, and you’ll pay more for these memberships as well.

If you’re looking into AAA primarily because of this benefit, keep in mind that many car insurance companies also offer roadside assistance. Your existing vehicle insurance policy might already provide this benefit to you. So, it’s important to see if you’re already paying for something similar before you start considering different AAA tiers. 

A few things to keep in mind when comparing roadside assistance include the towing distance, assistance in changing a flat tire, fuel delivery services, and lockout services. If your insurance policy only offers towing assistance, for example, you might still find AAA’s added benefits worth the cost. Remember that your AAA membership doesn’t include automotive insurance — but we’ll tell you a little more about that later. Additional fees are also applied if you want to add more drivers to your AAA membership, and costs vary based on location. But AAA is more than just roadside assistance.

What Other Automotive Benefits Does AAA Offer?

 Photo Courtesy: Nisian Hughes/Getty Images

In addition to roadside assistance, AAA offers various discounts for all members. Each time your car requires a repair or an oil change, your AAA card can earn you up to a 10% discount at participating automotive shops. Because you’ll likely need cellular service to operate GPS in your vehicle, AAA members can sign up for a Sprint cellular plan and deduct 5–10% off the cost of their phone plan’s data portion. A membership can even access discounts on prescription medications and vision care. In addition, you can take 20% off certain car and moving truck rentals.

Even with an app like Gas Buddy, Lyft and Uber drivers still expend a lot of gas as well as put tens of thousands of miles on their vehicles and can benefit greatly from these discounts. Anything from oil to timing belts to tires can wear out faster than expected, and AAA offers larger discounts than the rideshare companies themselves. Even if you’re not a rideshare driver, in some areas AAA covers the cost of Lyft rides you might need to take to AAA Car Care Centers while you’re getting work done on your vehicle.

 Photo Courtesy: Dmitry Feoktistov/Getty Images

AAA also provides some surprising membership benefits that don’t have much to do with driving, including discounts on entertainment. Your AAA card can save you money on everything from amusement parks and museums to movie tickets and restaurant bills. If you don’t put too many miles on your vehicle, you may need to weigh the benefits by comparing them with your current cell phone, insurance, and entertainment expenses — these might be where the true savings from a AAA membership could lie for you.

One of the significant benefits you’ll appreciate if you’re somewhat of a jet-setter is the discounted rates for hotel rooms. If you travel frequently for business, your company will likely expense your trip or charge the room rate to a company credit card — in which case your AAA membership probably won’t come in handy. But if you’re often traveling for leisure, book a few different hotels and determine what kind of discounts your AAA membership helps you obtain. They could be pretty significant, particularly at AAA preferred hotel partners like Best Western, Marriott, Hyatt, and MGM Resorts International.

AAA Offers Insurance Coverage, Too

 Photo Courtesy: Bloomberg/Getty Images

In addition to its normal membership perks, AAA also offers separate auto insurance policies. Some regional AAA clubs serve as insurance arms of the company, and other locations utilize specific insurance companies for coverage while serving as the insurance agent in your transaction. Like any insurance company, rates and coverage depend on variables like your driving history and geographical location. But, having insurance bundled with membership discounts may prove to be worth the added cost. If you take advantage of all the discounts AAA offers, the money you save could potentially pay for some of the cost of the insurance policy itself.

Is AAA Worth the Price?

 Photo Courtesy: Jeff Greenberg/Getty Images

Saving money is a skill, so determining if AAA is worth the price ultimately depends on your individual needs as a driver as well as your ability to track expenses. As mentioned, the AAA membership offers different tiers for different drivers. If you mainly just use your car to commute to and from work, the Classic membership is likely right for you. If you’re on the road full time and find yourself often swiping your credit or debit card for car-related expenses, take a look at the Premier membership. Most drivers might find themselves somewhere in the middle and will probably decide that the Plus membership offers the right balance between cost and offerings.

If you drive an older car that needs repairs more often, the AAA membership can save you money on replacement parts and services. In addition, AAA’s roadside assistance includes vehicles that you’re not only driving but also cars in which you’re simply the passenger, which is definitely a big part of a membership’s appeal. You’ll want to weigh the effects a membership might have on your current budget. If you like dining out and going to the movies every week, the discounts your AAA membership can provide on food and entertainment could help you save money over and above the initial membership fee.