Is a AAA Membership Worth It? – Cost, Benefits & Alternatives
Do you live without a car? Congratulations. You’re among a growing cohort of Americans for whom the term “car trouble” has no personal relevance.
For everyone else, car trouble is all too real – and often hits all too close to home. 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 personal safety.
The good news is that you don’t have to face them alone. For more than a century, the American Automobile Association (AAA) has provided invaluable support – including free roadside assistance and towing – for millions of drivers across the country.
AAA membership starts at about $50 per year and ranges as high as $200 per year, depending on your level of service. If you own your own car and drive regularly, it could be a wise investment. Here’s what you need to know about AAA membership, how to decide whether it’s right for you, and how to get the most for your due.
AAA is a nonprofit federation of regional automotive “clubs” collectively serving the entire United States. In Canada, a similar network operates under the aegis of the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA).
AAA launched in Chicago in 1902. Its Canadian counterpart followed about 10 years later.
Initially conceived to advocate for better road and refueling infrastructure, AAA soon began providing information and educational materials for its individual members: road maps, driver education curricula, driver and pedestrian safety supplements, and even traffic safety research (under the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a separate but closely related organization).
As the American highway network grew and improved in the years following World War II, AAA ramped up its lobbying and legislative efforts in Washington, D.C. In the 1960s, it played a crucial role in the drafting of two landmark pieces of automotive safety legislation: the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 and the Highway Safety Act. Both set critical standards for automobile manufacturing, road safety and maintenance, signage, and driver licensing.
By the 1980s, AAA’s road maps were recognized as the gold standard for long-distance travelers in North America. The following decade, AAA spearheaded one of the first large-scale tests of in-car navigation systems. As gas prices rose in the new century, the organization returned to lobbying – this time to advocate against reducing or eliminating the federal gasoline tax, which provides essential funding for road and bridge infrastructure in the U.S.
However, throughout its long history, AAA has never strayed far from its original mission: helping drivers get where they’re going quickly, safely, and conveniently.
AAA is a nonprofit federation comprised of (and collectively owned by) more than 40 regional clubs. Consolidation has steadily reduced the number of active clubs – at one point, some parts of the country had a different AAA club for every county, but today’s clubs tend to claim entire states or contiguous, multi-state territories. For instance, AAA Mid-Atlantic covers Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and parts of Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.
Some of the better-known AAA clubs include:
Most AAA clubs have multiple physical locations scattered throughout their service areas. These locations sell maps, travel literature, and other merchandise, plus travel products such as 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 has three main membership tiers: Classic/Basic, Plus, and Premier. It also offers RV coverage that can be added to Plus and Premier memberships.
AAA membership dues are typically charged annually. Similar to warehouse clubs such as 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 actual annual costs can vary significantly between clubs. For instance, primary AAA Minneapolis Basic members pay $82 per year, plus $25 per associate member, while AAA Mid-Atlantic Classic members pay $52 per year and nothing for associate members.
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.
AAA’s introductory membership tier is alternately known as Classic or Basic. Its main services include:
Bear in mind that these discounts and inclusions are subject to change at any time and within the AAA network. For instance, the exact vehicle lockout discount may vary by market.
Plus members get all the benefits of Classic/Basic membership, plus:
Premier members get all the benefits of Plus membership, as well as:
All AAA membership tiers include these services and perks:
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.
AAA offers a variety of free or reduced-cost travel agency services, including personalized trip planning, admission discounts at popular attractions, travel booking (including airline, hotel, rail, and other modes), tour and cruise planning and booking, group travel arrangements, and international travel guides. Service charges may apply for certain travel booking services.
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-sized photos and a valid driver’s license, and can be issued while you wait.
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.
All AAA members get complimentary Hertz Gold Plus memberships, which normally 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 such as Sprint and Best Buy. Deals vary by merchant and product, but can range as high as 50% off full price. To claim their discounts, members typically must present a valid AAA member card in person or enter the number in the online checkout portal.
Useful domestic travel materials such as 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/Basic members. You can buy at an AAA office or order 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 claims that 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.
Upon request, all AAA members can get 10% off parts and labor charges at AAA-approved auto repair providers, which display the telltale AAA logo in their shop windows. This benefit is capped at $50 on each repair job. Remember that it’s not automatically applied – you need to verbally request it and display your current-year AAA member card. AAA-approved auto repair providers are also required to guarantee any repairs they make for two years or 24,000 miles, whichever comes first.
AAA members get complimentary identity theft monitoring, which includes daily Experian credit report monitoring, email alters of suspicious activity or changes to that credit report, and fraud resolution support following a potential incidence of identity theft. Premier members also get $10,000 in identity theft insurance. These services are offered through ProtectMyID, an Experian subsidiary.
Premier members have access to dedicated travel concierges while they’re on the road. Concierge services include local weather reports, reservation assistance (including golf tee times and restaurant bookings), car rentals, entertainment ticketing, and more. They can also take advantage of AAA’s emergency travel assistance services, which include prescription replacement, translation, lost ticket and document replacement, cash transfers, medical transportation, and medical appointment arrangements.
Remember that every AAA club is different, and some may offer additional services not mentioned above. 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.
Many auto insurance companies offer roadside assistance, towing, fuel delivery, extrication, and other driver assistance services for free or at reduced cost. Depending on their cost and how often they’re used, these could be a better deal than AAA’s roadside assistance services. These six national insurers offer a representative look at what’s out there.
Nationwide’s roadside assistance benefit is available to all policyholders. It comes in two flavors:
GEICO’s emergency roadside assistance benefit is available as a policy add-on that costs at least $14 per year, per car. It includes:
Allstate’s roadside assistance options come in three types:
Progressive’s roadside assistance coverage is available as a policy add-on. Its cost varies widely, depending on driving history, vehicle make and model, location, bundles, and other factors. However, you can expect it to add at least $10 per year to your policy costs.
It includes the following complimentary services:
State Farm’s emergency road service is available as a policy add-on or on an à la carte basis to current policyholders who haven’t purchased the add-on in advance. The add-on typically costs at least $10 per year, while à la carte services are available at special rates negotiated by State Farm.
It includes the following complimentary services:
Liberty Mutual’s roadside assistance service is available as a policy add-on for at least $10 extra per year. It includes the following complimentary services:
AAA is much more than a trusted provider of free, round-the-clock roadside assistance. Members get a slew of free or discounted automotive services, exclusive or discounted travel products, member discounts on in-house insurance coverage, and more.
However, these services and perks only have value when they’re actually used. 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 actually get your money’s worth.
Are you a AAA member? Why or why not?
Brian Martucci writes about frugal living, entrepreneurship, and innovative ideas. When he’s not interviewing small business owners or investigating time- and money-saving strategies for Money Crashers readers, he’s probably out exploring a new trail or sampling a novel cuisine. Find him on Twitter @Brian_Martucci.
Is a AAA Membership Worth It? – Cost, Benefits & Alternatives
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