Smart Buying

Alternatives to Amazon Prime

Don't want to pay the new $99 membership fee? There are other ways to get shipping, streaming movies and e-books for free.

Being a member of Amazon Prime certainly has its perks. Since the online retailer launched this program nine years ago, members have been able to get free two-day shipping for $79 a year-- a good deal for those who do a lot of online shopping. The cost of an Amazon Prime membership also includes access to streaming movies and television shows and free Kindle e-book downloads. But now the question is whether those perks are worth $99 annually.

Amazon recently announced that it's hiking the price of its Prime service by $20 effective April 17. The news has elicited a lot of grumbling on the Amazon Prime forum from members, many of whom say the service won't be worth the higher price. They might be right.

There are plenty of ways to score free shipping on online purchases other than an Amazon Prime membership. You might not get your orders within two days -- as you would with Amazon Prime -- but you won't have to pay a membership fee to get free shipping with these other options. Plus, you can get free e-books through other outlets, and you can stream movies and TV shows for free or at a price that doesn't top $99 a year.

Free Shipping. Amazon orders totaling $35 or more may qualify for free shipping even if you're not a Prime member. And plenty of online retailers frequently offer free shipping on orders that exceed certain dollar amounts. But there are some retailers, such as Zappos.com and Nordstrom.com, that offer free shipping on all purchases all the time. And ShopRunner, which offers free unlimited two-day shipping from 85 online retailers, is waiving its $79 annual membership fee for a year for Amazon Prime members who haven't renewed their membership at the higher rate. You also can find free shipping codes and coupons at FreeShipping.org.

You might be able to avoid paying for shipping by having your purchases shipped to a retailer's brick-and-mortar store. Best Buy, Target and Walmart are among the merchants that have free in-store pickup and typically drop their prices around the holidays to match Amazon's prices. In fact, Best Buy and Target have price-matching policies that extend to Amazon prices year-round. So if you're shopping at one of these stores and use an app such as RedLaser to scan the barcode of an item and find that Amazon is offering it for a lower price, show a sales clerk the lower price and ask for a price match. Then you can avoid shipping costs altogether and still get the best deal.

Video streaming. Amazon Prime members have access to 40,000 movies and TV episodes. However, the movies typically aren't the newest releases. You can find many of the movies and TV shows available to Prime members for free at Hulu and Crackle. You can stream new releases starting at $4 through services such as Vudu. Or you could pay $8 a month ($96 a year, which is less than a Prime membership) for unlimited streaming through Netflix. See 9 Places to Get TV and Movies Online for more options.

Free e-books. With Amazon Prime, you have access to more than 500,000 Kindle titles. However, you can borrow just one a month. You don't even have to be a Prime member, though, to take advantage of thousands of free out-of-copyright books through Kindle Popular Classics. At Gutenberg.org or the University of Pennsylvania online books page, you won’t pay a cent to legally download thousands of books whose copyrights have expired. For newer titles, check out your public library. Or join a free online lending community such as ebookfling. You list your Kindle and Nook ebooks on the site, then you swap ebooks with other members.

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