Comprehensive Guide to Amazon Prime Benefits

We have a new reference post here at the main blog, a “living document” of the ever-expanding benefits (and restrictions) of the Amazon Prime program. This will be updated many times as things change, thus the “Latest Update” section below…

LATEST UPDATE: February 17 in 2017: free shipping minimum for non-Prime members reduced from $49 to $35… added screenshot of Prime shipping option offered by 3rd-party sellers… fixed typos and tortured sentences, and other things that came up during further proof-reading… If you want to quickly skim/scan this long post, focus on the bold phrases :)… Created on 2/8/17…

TABLE OF CONTENTS

SHIPPING BENEFITS

Prime started as a 2-day free shipping service. Over time, Amazon decorated it like a Christmas tree, adding all kinds of other features and services and benefits. In parallel, the threshold for free shipping for non-members rose from $25 to $35, and now it is at $49+ (or $25+ in printed books, a benefit-match of the Barnes and Noble website). However, in mid-February 2017, the trend was reversed, the threshold is now back down to $35 for non-Prime members, perhaps a “price match” of the Jet-fued change by Walmart. But still, the raison d^etre of Prime is the free 2-day shipping benefit. The current annual subscription is $100 per year (paid in advance; annual fee as of early February 2017). But if you are more of a seasonal shopper (eg the holiday shopping season or back to school or Valentine’s gifts fro all) they have a month to month option, $11/mo without a long term commitment.

Products that are sold and shipped by Amazon itself, or “fulfilled by Amazon” (sent by sellers to Amazon warehouses/facilities, and when someone purchases the items, they are processed/shipped by Amazon) get free 2-day shipping. Actual delivery time can vary, from faster than two days to slower, depending on many variables. They use a variety of shipping services, including their own drivers, the Post Office, FedEx, UPS, many others, along with combinations (eg Amazon hand off to a local Post Office that makes the drop).

If a Prime 2-day delivery does not arrive on the scheduled/estimated time given when you placed an order, you have a make-up benefit: you can contact customer service, inform them of the delay, and you will receive an extra month of Prime to make up for the delay. I believe the restriction is one free extra month per customer per calendar month.

Depending on warehouse proximity and product availability (and order time), if you place a $35+ order of eligible items, you may qualify for free 1-Day delivery, instead of 2-day delivery. The product page and shopping cart let you know if that is the case. Otherwise 1-day delivery is a for-pay upgrade to your order.

But if you don’t need/want to receive your purchase immediately, Amazon instituted an optional “No Rush Credit” benefit that it too expanded over time. The street name for this benefit is “slow shipping credit” 🙂 For some eligible orders (not sure how it is determined), if you select the slowest shipping option, instead of 2-day or standard shipping, you may be offered credits [it’s not guaranteed every time; the shopping cart will tell you before you place your order] you can use in future Amazon purchases. Some examples:

  • $1 digital media credit (ebooks, mp3, instant video, etc)
  • $5 Prime Pantry store credit (counters the Pantry Box $6 flat shipping fee)
  • $20 credit towards Amazon in-house Services (installation, furniture assembly, etc)
  • you can now see your balance at amazon.com/norushcredits while logged on to your Amazon account (see screenshot below)

A lesser known Prime feature is the option to receive Prime-like 2-day free shipping from 3rd-party sellers that ship the product directly to you (not fulfilled by Amazon). To figure this out, you must be logged on to your Amazon Prime account, and you have to look at two spots in the product detail page. UPDATE: I found screenshot, follow the annotated areas…

For media purchases (eg printed books, DVDs, etc), they offer release-date delivery if you place a pre-order. In other words, they will either ship ahead of time, or ship with same-day delivery of sorts, so you end up getting your new music CD on Friday (Friday is the new Tuesday).

SHIPPING BENEFIT RESTRICTIONS

Oversize items or items that require special handling or delivery (eg huge HDTVs, heavy furniture, etc) are delivered separately, by appointment. They do not go through the Prime 2-day shipping process.

The Add-ON program is the true Nemesis of Prime members. It was introduced as a counterbalance to the free 2-day shipping. They probably discovered that shipping $3 items with 2-day shipping was way too expensive (when you factor in packaging material, assembling the order, credit card fees, etc). To be allowed by the shopping cart to purchase an Add-ON item, you must place an order of $25+ in eligible products (sold or fulfilled by Amazon). You can get to $25+ with a mix of Add-ON items, or regular items, or any combination. Many (but not all) sub-$5 items that are either sold-by-Amazon or fulfilled-by-Amazon are marked as “Add-ON items”. A few items under $10 are also designated as “Add-ON”. Prices change all the time at Amazon, so it’s possible the “Add-ON” designation algorithm runs separately from whatever changes prices – this may explain some discrepancies in Add-ON status. You can recognize an Add-ON item on product pages with graphics like this (appearance varies depending on screen/viewport size, etc):

Back in the early days of Prime, Amazon used to give Prime members $1 credits if an item (that was otherwise not eligible for free shipping) got free shipping for non-Prime members. This benefit went away a few years ago, but it got reborn as the “No Rush Credit”.

FINANCIAL BENEFITS

You can get 5% cashback at Amazon through the rotating quarterly promotions (up to $1500 per quarter per credit card) from Discover and Chase and other companies, or if you have a grandfathered Citi Forward that hasn’t been phased out yet. But now you can get 5% throughout the year without having to do the quarterly song and dance.

If you have the Amazon Chase VISA credit card, and if you are a Prime member, your default 3% cashback on Amazon purchases has been switched to 5%, including Prime membership fees. If that hasn’t happened, contact customer support and ask them to look into it. The Chase VISA lets you transfer the cashback to your bank account or post it to your statement balance or convert them to gift cards. So you have flexibility!

If you have the Amazon Store credit card (can only be used at Amazon, it’s a true “Store credit card”), as a Prime member, you can upgrade it to a Prime Store credit card, and this too gets 5% cashback once it becomes a Prime Store card. Optionally you can jump on favorable financing offers in lieu of the 5% cashback. Depending on the situation, it’s your choice to pick whatever benefits you the most. The cashback is posted as a statement credit to your Store Card account.

SHOPPING BENEFITS

This section covers shopping, rather than shipping benefits. This list is growing too. Once upon a time, the only shopping benefit was the Prime Early Access. Now there’s much and more. But Prime Early Access is the bigger benefit. A significant number of Lightning Deals become available exclusively to Prime-members during the first 30 minutes they go live. Most items don’t sell out during their 4-6 hour lightning deal window, but the few really good deals, can already be gone within the first 30 minutes. You can recognize this in the Lightning Deals with these markers:

Once a calendar year, so far at least, sometime in July, Amazon has a Prime DAY event, where more than the usual amount of lightning deals are offered, but the majority of them are restricted to Prime members only. They’ve done it in 2015 and 2016 so far.

Amazon does some price-matching of high profile offers launched at other retailers. Some of the price-matched offers are only available for Prime members. I do not know whether this is a question of quantity (eg if they don’t restrict it, they’ll run out of items faster), or simply another reason to convince people to join Prime. Likewise, a few media releases (eg DVD sets) have had the Prime only designation, even though they were not on sale or a price-match, but rather a new release. Likewise, it could be a question of availability, or Prime bait 🙂

If you have a device that supports Alexa (eg an Amazon Echo), they have dedicated special offers that you can only get if you order through Alexa Voice shopping (not through the website or app). If talking to walls gets boring, we can now shout at Alexa and Siri and Cortana 😉

Sometimes, during the holiday shopping season, or other special events, they may have app-exclusive specials, that you can only buy through the app. There is a loophole to buy them using a web browser, but you still have to use the app to add it to a wishlist, and then purchase it through that with the web browser (perhaps of interest if you are using an open Wifi/cellular signal). But one way or the other, you still have to use the Amazon app to get these offers.

OPTION to USE other AMAZON SERVICES

Once upon time, shopping on Amazon was simple. Go to amazon.com and buy. Now there are many different options and that’s before you consider the companies they bought (eg Zappos, Woot, Abebooks, etc), or the ones they created as stand-alone (Wag, Casa, etc).

Prime is a gateway to using the following services – they are only available to Prime members.

PrimeNOW is perhaps the most distinct of them, as it offers local delivery within 1-2 hours. This is restricted to regions that offer this service, and it is limited to products that are currently in-stock at the nearby warehouse. Just like the regular Amazon website features products from 3rd-party sellers, so does PrimeNOW, except the 3rd-party sellers are local businesses and local restaurants. Orders have minimum purchase amounts for delivery, and a recommended tip is added to the order (you can remove it, but they see this as a service, similar to ordering pizza or takeout). Some camera and tech options are available, mostly popular and mass-market items. You won’t find tilt-shift lenses on PrimeNOW 🙂

PrimePantry on the other hand, is the most bizarre of these “nu” options. In a rather unusual attempt to compete with Costco, they offer various household items, sometimes at better prices than the regular Amazon website, sometimes not. Sometimes they have unique bundles or quantities of products. These items have to fit into a physical and virtual box, with a $6 flat delivery fee. They often run some promotions that waive the shipping fee, and you can also use the “No Rush” shipping credit mentioned above to counter it. Bottom line, you may get a better deal with this service than the regular website if you purchase a lot of items. You may also want to split orders between edibles and non-edibles. You don’t want the bathtub declogger dancing around in the same box as your organic chocolate chip cookies 🙂

AmazonFresh (local delivery of fresh and frozen and refrigerated foods) started as a superset of Prime. You paid $300 a year, and you got both a standard Prime membership and also a Fresh membership. The initial annual fee probably discouraged a lot of people, so now AmazonFresh is a $15 per month month-to-month no commitment service. This is more flexible – you can use it seasonally or as circumstances change. AmazonFresh is not just food though, you can get some electronics through it, such as Sandisk memory cards and Canon printers. It’s perhaps linked to the PrimeNOW facilities, which may explain the SDHC card potato chips with your steak 🙂 Free delivery with orders of $40+. The $15/month fee is a foot through the door type of a fee, it doesn’t get you free delivery. This is actual delivery, people come to your door with appropriately sealed and packed containers with the food (including ice cream).

Yet another twist are the Sample Boxes. You pay for a box of sample consumable products (various types are available, you can get one of each kind). After you receive the order, the purchase amount is added to your Amazon account as a store credit that can be used towards future purchases of some of the items found in the sample box. You can see these options ahead of time, so you’ll know ahead of time where this is a good dea for you or not. But they didn’t stop there, they are even experimenting with individual samples at a smaller scale, you buy $2 samples, which get you a $2 credit towards future purchases of the same product. PRO TIP: if some products belong in overlapping sample-box credit categories, the shopping cart will stack all eligible coupons. I believe there was one protein bar box that qualified for three separate credits, making it essentially free.

Another odd-ball service for Prime members are the Dash Buttons. You pay $5, you receive the physical button at home, and a $5 credit towards your first order made with these Wifi-enabled goofy buttons is added to your Amazon account. But that’s not all – they also added virtual dash buttons too, which you can use online, which is rather ironic. However, some people find them useful enough ~ otherwise they would have had the same fate as the Kindle Fire Phone 🙂

A Prime membership also qualifies you for 20% off on diaper subscriptions through the Amazon Family portal. Just under 50 options are available. Separate but without a discount is the Prime-exclusive line of “Elements” products, currently consisting of baby wipes and nothing else. Babies will grow up knowing they are Prime Element babies 🙂

Last but not least, for households with multiple members, they offer benefit sharing. The actual benefits vary by service. Typically they cover a second adult, and up to four children. This happens under the Amazon Households umbrella. A primer (no pun intended) on what can be shared and with whom and under what circumstances can be found at the Households Help page.

MULTIMEDIA EXPLOSION

This is another benefit category that exploded through time and keeps on growing.

The Prime Video service gets you access to a variety of movies and TV shows, including original Amazon content. Just like Netflix, you can watch as much as you want while you are a paying member, but once the membership ends, you own nothing. This may come as a surprise to you, but a handful of photograhy documentaries and videos are included with Prime! They were not there the last time I checked (a couple of years ago).

They recently launched a new layer to their video offering, additional premium channel monthly subscriptions (like adding extra stuff on your standard cable subscription) including HBO, Showtime, Starz, and more. These are month to month per channel, you are in control. This is another “Prime bait” feature because you can’t sign up for these without a Prime subscription. Of camera and photo interest, the Great Courses channel is available, along with a few documentary channels (nature videos/photography).

Just like the video services, Amazon is continuing their Prime Music service. You have access to subset of music compared to a full-featured service, but it’s included for free. You can also use this in conjunction with music you purchased and music you uploaded at Amazon. But their integration is not as good as Google Play’s Music (which includes a lot more storage for your own music).

But if you are interested in their full-feature music streaming service, as a Prime member, you get a monthly or prepaid discount for Music Unlimited. As of February 2017, you pay $8 month, instead of $10. You also get Prime-exclusive discounts on this and the Family plan if you prepay for a year (12 months of service).

Yet another recently released feature is Audible Channels, you get a few dozen audiobooks to listen to (you do not own them), along with a handful of audio productions and newsclips, all for free using the Audible app. This benefit is an “Audible bait”, because if millions of people go to Audible to checkout the freebies, they are more likely to buy more Audible content 🙂 Plus, audio plays and serialized podcasts are making a comeback.

Prime Reading is perhaps one of the most practical/useful features, you can “borrow” ebooks from a rotating library of around 1000 options. You can read as many as you want, but you can only “check out” up to ten items at a time. Think of it like the library, you can borrow as much as you want, but only ten at a time. There are no restrictions on how often you can exchange them for new content. Another feature, that occasionally includes photography and related magazine single issues, is the Monthly Magazine Newsstand. You can borrow single-issue magazines from a rotating choice every month. These too count towards your “ten out” limit.

Next up is one of the oldest Prime benefits, the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library. You need an Amazon hardware device (e-readers, Fire tablets, Fire Phone) to access this feature. You can borrow one e-book per month from a preset selection. You can keep it as long as you want, or switch it every calendar month. Note however that this benefit is essentially rendered useless if you sign-up for the Kindle Unlimited (KU) service, because most of the ebooks are in both services, and Amazon shows the KU option over the Lending Library. Here’s their Help page.

But wait, there’s a third e-book benefit, Kindle First. Every calendar month, you pick one pre-release e-book for FREE, from a choice of six options. You can read it immediately while everybody else can buy it the next month. Most of these ebooks end up in Kindle Unlimited. You won’t find blockbusters or best sellers here (obviously).

Another reading-related benefit, you can get six months of free digital access to the Washington Post. You login with your Amazon account to activate this six month freebie.

Amazon’s purchase of Twitch led to the inevitable integration of benefits in Twitch Prime which gets you ad-free viewing, one free channel subscription per month, and free in-game content. You also get discounts on select video game purchases, which goes hand-in-hand with Twitch. But Twitch is not just gaming. Under the “Creative” tab you will find streams by photographers and other creatives. If you find channels of interest, this is where the free subscription per month can come in handy (and support those channels too).

CLOUD and PHOTO

Amazon is doing a lot better profit-wise with their enterprise cloud services, so it’s not a surprise they expanded into the “consumer cloud”. As a Prime member, you get unlimited free storage for photographs, and 5GB of storage to use on everything else (video, documents, etc). Per the terms of use, the Prime Photos are for personal and non-commercial use. They explicitly state in the FAQ page:

“You may not use it in connection with a professional photography business or other commercial service.”

Amazon also launched its own Photo Prints Service (custom photo books, conventional photo prints, cards, calendars, etc). Everyone can use the photo prints service, but Prime members get free shipping on every order regardless of amount. Or if a Prime member’s order total is $15+, you get free expedited shipping.

FOOTNOTES

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