Costco Is Switching To Visa In 2016. This Trick Lets You Use Visa Today.

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When I first started going to Costco in the early 2000s, I was pretty surprised to learn that they only accepted American Express. I didn’t have one of those fancy cards, so I would give cash to my buddy — who had the membership anyway — and he would put my order on his credit card. (Was this the first manufactured spend?)

Of course, I was still a lonely graduate student at the time, so all I really needed from Costco was a mega-case of toilet paper anyway. 

My first Costco. Can you guess which one?
My first Costco. Can you guess the store?

This exclusive relationship between Costco and American Express has lasted for 16 years. That’s why it was a pretty big deal back in March when they announced that they would be switching to Visa in 2016. 

Wondering which Visa to use at Costco?

We like the Chase Freedom for 5% back on purchases at warehouse stores this year!

Although Visa won’t be accepted in Costco stores until June of next year, here’s how to pay for your Costco purchases with Visa (or another card) today.

Costco Cash Cards

The key is to buy Costco Cash Cards from the Costco website. And then pay with the them using your choice of Visa, Mastercard, or Discover, all of which are accepted on-line.

costco cash card

Costco cash cards come in denominations ranging from $25 to $1,000.

Costco cash cards come in a variety of denominations
Lots of options

While Costco stores only accept American Express credit cards, their website accepts Visa, Mastercard, Discover, or American Express.

Did Amex forget to include "on-line sales" when they negotiated the exclusive contract back in 1999?
Did Amex forget to include “on-line sales” when they negotiated the exclusive contract back in 1999?

This trick allows you to time-shift and domain-shift your Costco spend since you can not only change the time at which you pay for something (today, rather than in the future), but also the form of payment (Visa, for example, instead of American Express).

Of course, you can also buy anything else from the Costco website and pay with Visa, Mastercard, or Discover. The focus of this post, though, is about being able to pay for your in-store purchases with those cards. Now that Costco accepts Visa in-store, but not American Express, you can use this same trick in reverse!

My Experience

You might recall that I bought Costco Cash Cards to quickly meet the $1,000 spend requirement on my wife’s Hyatt Visa card. Since we were trying to get the free nights to post as quickly as possible, we bought $1,000 worth of Costco cash cards the very same day that we received the Hyatt Visa.

It’s worth noting that Costco doesn’t process orders instantly but rather takes a couple of days to charge the credit card and ship the order. That’s probably just fine most of the time, but worth thinking about if you are up against a deadline. Shipping is free via USPS, though there is an option for 2nd day air.

I hate peeling the stickers off of and activating credit cards, and these cards are no different. But the upside is that they have a bulk activation option that allows you to confirm receipt of the entire order at once, rather than having to activate each card individually. This means that you can order multiple smaller denomination cash cards, rather than one big one, without incurring a proportionately larger hassle.

Conclusion

You can use ANY CREDIT CARD for your Costco purchases, the key is to buy Costco Cash Cards online first, and then use those in the store instead of your credit card. It also works well for time-shifting your Costco spending if you need to meet a qualifying spend requirement to earn a signup bonus.

Finally I realize this is not an earth-shattering tip. But after my post about the Hyatt Visa free nights, I realized there were at least a few who readers weren’t aware of it including a prominent and very astute contributor here at OMaaT who shall remain nameless. (But I hear she bakes a mean cupcake….  and does shop at Costco.)


Do you time- and domain-shift your Costco spend? Are you excited to be able to use a Visa at Costco next year?

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Comments

  1. I’ve been doing this for a year now to get UR points with my Costco spend. One important thing to note is that, at least according to the phone activation line, it can take up to 24 hours for your cards to activate from the time of making the activation phone call. So always call 24 hours before you plan on doing any shopping with your Costco cash cards. Might want to make a note of that in the post.

  2. Do you foresee any huge changes in Citi cards in the near future to address the new partnership with Costco? The reason I ask is that the partnership is with Citi and Visa however Citi has almost no Visa cards. I applied for both the Citi Prestige and Citi Premier and I asked on the phone if I could get them as Visa so when Costco changes next year I could use them at stores. The Citi representative told me that 95% of their cards are Mastercard and I could not chose to get it as Visa. Thus, I am not following this new partnership between Citi and Visa for Costco if most of Citi cards are Mastercards.

  3. Here’s hoping this trick will continue to work (in reverse) for those of us who want to continue using AMEX after the switch happens next year….

  4. Not sure I would call this a “trick”. I also hope, and expect, the reverse to be the case after the Amex contract expires next year.

  5. Phil — Yes, here’s hoping that the reverse works next year. I’d kind of expect that it would….

  6. Maybe they used the Visa card at the gas pump, which also accepts multiple cards?

    One other benefit of the cash card is you don’t need a membership to use it in the store- so your buddy can stay home.

  7. @Mike Murphy: Unless you have a Citi AA Amex card there is no way you used a Visa or Mastercard at Costco stores. These are the only ways you can pay at Costco stores today: Cash, check, debit cards, Costco Cash cards or American Express credit cards.

  8. FYI: The Citi HHonors Reserve card is a Visa Signature card so Citi does have some exposure with respect to Visa cards.

  9. @Colin: if you read my post I said the Citi representative told me that 95% of their cards are Mastercard. Thus, your Citi HHonors may fall into the other 5%. Really not enough when talking about Costco partnership.

  10. That’s all great, but what about the advantages of the TrueEarnings card? You lose out 2 fold, you lose the annual cash back from Costco which comes in the mail in the form of a gift certicate, which you can cash out at any costco register. 2ndly, you lose out on the costco amex annual statement credit. I think the benefits with the costco amex card outweighs using a mfr spend pts/miles card, and I’m strictly talking about Costco purchases here.

  11. Dan — Actually, I don’t think that you lose the 2% Executive rebate at the end of the year. You still give them your membership number in the store, so your purchases are logged in your account. You can pay cash and still get that rebate AFAIK.

    As for the Costco Amex — yeah, I don’t have that card. But I suppose it’s like shopping anywhere and using a card other than the co-branded card. There’s an opportunity cost.

  12. Travis

    citi band visa ( aa mileage) use for about $400 in store purchases at santee ca. store

    next time we go I’ll use it again and see how it goes

  13. Mike Murphy — That’s really interesting. Do it again and send me an email about it. Very curious.

  14. I think it is worth mentioning that it is easy to get around the Sam’s Mastercard rule, too. Simply buy Walmart gift card in store or online with whatever card you wish and you are golden.

  15. I don’t think you quite captured my actual response, which wasn’t as much “Hmm, not aware of that, interesting” as “ZOMG YOU CAN USE A VISA AT COSTCO HOW DID I NOT KNOW THIS?!?!” :p

  16. Just like mike, I’ve been using my aa citi-visa for probably 10 years now, and it’s been totally fine for me.

  17. Hmm. I thought the trick would be HUCA to the customer service line while at the cashier counter to scam…er, persuade them to let you pay with you Visa card.

  18. The one flaw in the thinking is for those who are Executive Members (Costco cash back). The only spend that is counted is for those transactions that complete at a register, so online does not count. Cash card spend also does not count. Since I typically get $300 back over the cost of my membership (executive is $100), the visa\cash card “trick” isnt one worth pursuing.

  19. Paul is correct. You only get the 2% Executive Member rebate with real cash at checkout, not the Cash Card.

  20. Steven, Paul: Can you show some evidence that supports your belief that paying with a Cash Card does not earn the 2% Executive rebate?

    Here is the text for calculating the 2% reward. It seems pretty clear to me that BUYING the Cash Card does not earn a reward. It says nothing about the form of payment at the front-end register. Why would Costco care if you pay with REAL cash vs. a CASH CARD?

    CALCULATION OF 2% REWARD

    Reward is approximately 2% of pre-tax purchases of most merchandise made through: front-end registers and most ancillary business registers at Costco warehouses; and Costco Web sites in both the U.S. and Canada by U.S. and Canadian residents. In the U.S., Reward is not calculated: (i) on purchases of cigarettes or tobacco-related products, gasoline, Costco Cash Cards, postage stamps, alcoholic beverages in certain states (including Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan), and at food courts; (ii) on membership fees; (iii) on purchases not recorded through Costco’s front-end registers and transactions done on or through Web sites not hosted by Costco even if accessed through Costco.com, including all business, consumer, and insurance services, the online photo center, Costco Travel, and the My Publisher website; (iv) on miscellaneous fees, deposits and taxes, including sales tax; (v) where prohibited by law or regulation; (vi) on purchases made by anyone other than the account’s primary or primary Household Cardholder; and (vii) on certain other categories as determined at Costco’s discretion, which may change without notice. A member must be an active, paid Executive Member when the Reward is earned and issued to receive the Reward. The period of calculation runs through the date approximately 3 months prior to the member’s renewal date. Executive Members who downgrade to Gold Star or Business status or cancel their membership at renewal and receive a refund of their membership fee may not receive a Reward based on purchases during approximately the last 3 months of their last full year of Executive Membership.

  21. I’ve been using my Sapphire for Costco Cash Cards purchases for over two years now and I do get the 2% executive rebate annually.

  22. Just to clarify, purchases of cash card does not count toward the rebate, but the purchases using those cash cards in-store DO count towards the rebate.

  23. In Canada, you can only use debit until late 2013 to early 2014. But they accepted MC from that point on.

  24. Just had time to check my citi visa statement on line

    here it is

    06-12-2015 COSTCO 578 425-313-8100 CA WHOLESALE CLUBS

  25. All Costco clubs look pretty similar, but looking at the tire department and the tree line this looks just like my club in Stoughton, outside of Boston, MA. Also, there is no shortage of fine institutions to matriculate through in Boston and Cambridge, as you mention you were studying at the time.

  26. We have a winner! Stoughton, MA it is! (Actually, I think it’s technically listed as Avon.)

  27. If the Canadian Costco experience is anything to go by, you may see Amex dropped as an online option as well. Earlier this year, Costco Canada dropped its long-standing association with Amex and customers now can only use Mastercard instore – an unfortunate situation indeed since there are no really good Mastercard reward earning cards in Canada (I was fortunate to get in on a very short-lived opportunity for a premium BMO World elite card – 4 lounge passes a year etc and the first 3 years free!, but that’s the exception). Up until the switch, online customers could use Visa, MC or Amex to buy gift cards. But I checked today and now you can only use MC or Visa – Amex is not an option. Perhaps that will happen in the US too.

  28. Just to follow up on paying with a major credit card at Sam’s Club, you simply buy a Walmart gift card at the Walmart store with your credit card and the gift card is accepted immediately at the Sam’s register.

  29. Or you can always pay for Costco cash cards with $200 gift cards you buy at Staples with a Chase Ink Bold or Ink Plus card. It’s one way to get 5X points for my Costco purchases. $2,000 in cash card purchases with the Staples $200 Visa debit cards is worth 10,000 points in Southwest.

  30. Hi everyone! Thanks for putting this info out there for those of us who have somehow managed to completely miss it for the past decade. I wish I had known this sooner!

    After reading the comments section, yet another interesting bit of info came to my attention, and I would like clarification or confirmation that I have not misinterpreted it.

    My situation is as follows: my mom is the primary Costco membership holder and primary AmEx cardholder. I am secondary on both. Until now, I was under the impression that all of my purchases on my AmEx card would qualify for a 2% cashback bonus annually (which I assumed was credited to her account, together with her own rewards). However, after reading Travis’ post from June 30 (aka “the fine print”), I now gather that my spendings do not qualify for such rewards. Am I correct, or did I misinterpret the text?

    Thanks in advance!

  31. Viktor
    With our Costco Amex Executive card purchases by secondary holder ARE credited to primary. We’re in San Diego.

  32. OMG. You Do not want a CITI card. I am going through a horrible time with CITI Credit Card right now. I bought a 3 year contract from an online subscription service , 3 years ago with a CITI credit card. The company offers trial periods, but they store your card information. No option to not have them store your CC.. During the trial ,I decided there was no way I was going to renew for a new 3 year contract. I set their account management screen to “Do Not Renew” and made sure that the CITI card information was no longer valid. Well get this, conveniently the account management screen went back to the auto default of “Auto Renew” at billing time and they billed my old invalid CITI card. You would think the transaction would have received an authorization failed. BUT NO, CITI put the charge on my new CITI card that was not even the same kind of account CITI card. I disputed the charge, and CITI sided with the online subscription service and reversed the charge back to me. So, I got scammed out of hundreds of dollars for a service I did not want, was not using and could not use. I will never use or own a CITI credit card again. BE WARNED, subscription services have no incentive of being honest or letting any paycheck go and can continue to bill your old CITI invalid card for ever and CITI will let them. This means even those trial subscriptions that take a credit card; magazines, clubs ,etc. Think twice about getting a CITI card if you ever want to use it to buy anything that might be from a company that sells services that can renew.

  33. What David Melaven says is true, you can buy a Walmart GC at Walmart and use it at Sam’s Club – HOWEVER – you MUST have a Sam’s Club membership to use this GC there in the first place, or go shopping with someone that does. You absolutely cannot just walk in and purchase things at Sam’s without having the membership. I know, I tried it once to see what would happen. They refused to complete the transaction without showing a membership card. Since I didn’t have membership, I asked someone behind me in line to use their card, which they (reluctantly) did.

    So don’t try the Costco GC “trick” there, since you can use a Costco GC without membership (as long as a member buys the card in the first place for you), no problem. Absolutely anyone can buy a Walmart GC, and they’re not about to allow just anyone to buy things at Sam’s without having membership. That would totally defeat the purpose of even buying the membership in the first place, everyone would just hop over to Walmart, buy a card, and skip the membership. Makes sense, I guess.

  34. I’ve heard that just having the Costco AmEx serves as your warehouse membership. Meaning that for as long as I have the AmEx Costco card I don’t have to pay the $55 or $110 annually? Anyone here knows more about this? Also, does the Amex give you cash back if your membership is the $55 one? Thanks in advance.

  35. You can order something online from Costco, pay with a reward VISA or Mastercard. Then return the item to a Costco store. Since Costco doesn’t accept VISA (yet) you will get cash back and you get to keep the points on your VISA or Mastercard.

  36. I plan to do this in reverse. Costco is going to STOP taking Am Ex now that I have established a Delta miles account and like it. I plan to purchase Costco cards online with Am Ex and use them. But what happens when my membership expires and is no longer associated with AM Ex? Right now my Costco membership and picture appears only on my Am Ex card!

    Advice?

  37. My husband has a Costco American Express business rewards credit card for the last 16 years. We also have a Capital One Visa credit card. Now hat Amex s out will I be able to use my Capial One Visa? Thanks for the clarification!

  38. The Citi Premier Thank You card fine print states the bonus thank you points are not valid on warehouse club purchases except warehouse gas station purchases…

  39. @Karla – I hope you figured this out by now. The Costco Amex (and soon Visa) has no annual fee. The Costco membership is NOT free (Annual fee of $55 or $110 for Executive). The Costco 2% rebate is for the Executive membership, not the $55 Gold Star one.

    The Costco Amex has your Costco membership number/barcode and photo on the back of the card so that you could use that as your membership card. At the gas pump you would only need to swipe this card, instead of swiping a member card and the Amex card as payment.

  40. @Maryann – yes you will be able to use any Visa at Costco after the switch which is now scheduled for June or Summer 2016.

  41. If you are able to use any Visa card at Costco this (summer 2016) why do I keep reading that it has to be a Citi Bank card??? If you are able to receive a Visa card from Citi, you will have your credit score drop. Is that fair? Citi Bank Visa’s are few and far between, 95% are Master Card. Why is it not in bold print that any Visa card can be used at Costco? Propertymanager@madisongreen.net

  42. I too, have heard somewhere along the line, that any Visa will be accepted, though i have never seen it in writing.

  43. Just came from Costco in Melville NY. Found out – any Visa will be accepted. Everything you are reading about CITI Bank – Visa is because the COSTCO American Express card is being replaced by the “COSTCO Anywhere Visa Card by CITI”. Also – they won’t take a Visa card until the cut off date of June 20. Just recently received a mailer from COSTCO. It states “4% cash back on eligible Gas worldwide, including Gas at Costco for the first $7,000 per year, and then 1% thereafter. 3% cash back on restaurant and eligible travel purchases worldwide. 2% Cash back on all other purchases from COSTCO and COSTCO.com. 1% cash back on all other purchases”

  44. I was told by a Costco rep that the AmEx card account will be totally closed and the balance forwarded to the Citi Visa. Will this effect my credit score?

  45. With regard to purchasing Costco Cash Cards are you sure by purchasing these cards it counts towards the mininum spend for your bonuses? Can you answer this for both visa mastercard and also amex (when it switches over to visa) thanks

  46. Worst credit card company citi Costco they charge you interest before you get your bill in the mail never had any problem with american express.

  47. Is there any way to go the other way around now since Amex is no longer accepted? I need to hit minimum spending on my Amex SPG Business card, and Costco website is also not accepting Amex any more. I do spend quite a bit at Costco every month!

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