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The American Automobile Association, or AAA, is a nonprofit federation of motor clubs that services the entire United States. Is AAA worth it? The answer depends on a wide variety of factors, ranging from your budget to your driving and travel patterns.
AAA membership costs differ depending on the membership level you choose and where you live. Generally, the cheapest options are about $50 per year, while the most expensive options cost about $120 per year. The latter can seem like a large investment, but it might be more than worth it considering the number of benefits frequent travelers can enjoy from their membership.
Savings from AAA only follow if you use the company's services. Drivers who don't travel much might not have the chance to take advantage of everything AAA can offer, which means the money they're paying for membership isn't benefiting them fully. Additionally, certain insurance policies and warranties offer the same services as AAA. Find out if AAA is worth it for your budget.
When you have AAA, you can enjoy a wide variety of benefits. These universal benefits are available no matter which of the three membership tier levels you choose:
There are many reasons why you might need a jump-start, like accidentally leaving a car light on or having an alternator problem. While portable jump-starters can get the job done, most drivers don't have them readily available, which is why AAA includes battery jumps as part of its roadside assistance package.
If you need to get your vehicle's battery replaced, AAA can take care of that for you. The service will go against the cost of your annual roadside assistance allowance, however, unless you agree to pay the full price of the replacement battery. If you cover the full cost of the battery, AAA will come to you and replace it at no charge, and it doesn't count toward your annual allowance.
Several insurers have partnered with AAA clubs to offer member discounts, including Auto Club Family Insurance Company, AAA Life Insurance Company, and Automobile Club Inter-Insurance Exchange. The latter not only includes auto insurance but also renters insurance, life insurance, homeowners insurance, and excess liability insurance.
Regular maintenance is essential for every vehicle, and you can get yours at a discount as a AAA member when you use AAA-approved auto repair shops. Members get 10% off all parts and labor charges at these facilities, though the maximum benefit for a single repair is $50. Most of these affiliated shops won't offer this discount by default, so be sure to ask for it and be ready to show your AAA card as proof of membership. These mechanics must also guarantee that their work will last for at least two years or 24,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Car Rental Discounts
Hertz has teamed up with AAA to offer discounts that range from a few percentage points to 20% off your rental. The rental location and vehicle model will dictate the exact discount. Additionally, your AAA membership includes a complimentary Hertz Gold Plus membership that offers vehicle changes, expedited checkout, and more. The amount of Hertz rewards points you receive for this membership depends on the AAA tier level you choose.
AAA branches out to all types of travel, not just cars. For example, you can access travel agency services, discounted and sometimes free trip planning, admission to attractions, travel booking, and cruise planning. AAA also offers travel guides for both national and international locations. Even short trips are covered with travel concierge services that can offer local weather reports, rentals, ticketing, and assistance with reservations.
Several retail stores, including UPS and Best Buy, have partnered with AAA to offer exclusive discounts to members. While the offerings vary depending on the store, some discounts boast savings of up to 50% off retail prices. To get this discount, you must present your AAA membership card.
AAA Membership Levels
When you apply for AAA membership, you can choose from three tier levels. They all have plenty to offer, but the more expensive tiers are naturally going to come with more benefits. You'll be able to choose from the Classic, Plus, and Premier tiers:
The base-level Classic tier is the standard membership level, and it offers tons of features, despite being the cheapest option. It generally costs about $38-$74 per year and provides:
24/7 roadside assistance: This is AAA's flagship benefit, which all members can enjoy. Any time or day of the week, members can call AAA for complimentary roadside assistance up to four times a year. If a Classic tier member calls for help more than four times, however, those subsequent calls typically cost around $50 each. Roadside assistance includes a variety of services, such as jump-starts, battery testing, tire replacement (if you have a spare), and even minor repairs. Your membership also allows you to call for assistance when you're a passenger in someone else's vehicle.
Towing services: If you run into problems with your vehicle on the road to the point you can no longer drive it safely, you'll need to get it towed. AAA offers towing services to any facility of your choosing within a 3-mile radius. If the tow is longer, you must pay the difference. For the duration of your vehicle's repairs, you're also entitled to a discount of up to 20% on a rental car from Hertz rentals.
Fuel delivery: If you run out of gas, it's typically easier to get fuel delivery than a tow to the gas station. With AAA, you can enjoy complimentary fuel delivery as long as you pay for the gas itself.
Winching service: If you get stuck in tough terrain like mud or snow, AAA will provide a winching service to pull your vehicle back out onto the road. This service doesn't apply to vehicles that are temporarily stuck in a street or driveway parking spot due to flooding or heavy snow.
CARFAX discounts: CARFAX has partnered with AAA to offer member discounts of 20% on all CARFAX reports. These reports typically cost $40 apiece, so you can save about $8 on each one you order with AAA.
Upgrade to AAA's Plus tier membership, and you can enjoy all the Classic tier benefits plus extra coverage. This tier typically costs between $60 and $124 per year, depending on where you live. Popular offerings include:
Increased towing distance: While the Classic tier offers towing services of up to 3 miles from the site of your breakdown, the Plus tier increases that distance to 100 miles. This makes it much easier to find a repair shop of your choice rather than being stuck with what's close or paying to travel the additional distance.
Free gas: At this level, you can receive a free gas delivery that will get you to the nearest gas station. If you find yourself in a particularly isolated area, that could be the equivalent of several gallons.
Enhanced winching: If you're seriously stuck or drive a heavy vehicle, normal winching might not get you back on the road. With the Plus tier, you can enjoy the benefit of two vehicles fishing your vehicle out of wherever it's stuck.
Passport photos: Travelers are often surprised by the cost of getting passport photos. Plus tier AAA membership entitles you to two complimentary sets of passport photos every year, making international travel easier.
The top-level Premier tier is the best AAA can offer, improving on the lower-tier benefits and introducing some new features. This level typically costs $77 to $164 per year and includes:
Free battery replacement: Every year, you're entitled to a free battery replacement that includes not only the labor but the battery itself. This can lead to big savings depending on the kind of battery your car uses.
Maximized towing distance: Premier members have the benefit of a massive maximum towing distance of 200 miles on their first call before it reverts back to 100 miles on subsequent calls. Once a full year has passed, however, members get another annual 200-mile limit on a towing call.
Enhanced locksmith services: While lower tier levels offer serious discounts on automobile lockout assistance, the Premier tier allows you to take advantage of locksmith services for your home, as well.
Free CARFAX report: Instead of merely getting a discount on CARFAX reports, with this tier you can enjoy a single free report every year. If you need more than one per year, every report after the first one is 40% off.
Identity theft protection: If you're a Premier member who's had your identity stolen, you're eligible for insurance of up to $10,000 via Experian in addition to universal basic AAA benefits.
Consider your driving habits and history when determining which tier offers you the most benefits.
Benefits of AAA
With the details of AAA in mind, it's time to examine the benefits of everything it can offer. Its features come in handy if you ever find yourself in a bind on the side of the road. Not only do AAA emergency services cover many problems you might experience, but its response time is highly reputable as well, even if you find yourself in an isolated area.
Owning an older used car can be costly, especially if you bought one thinking it would save you money. Maintenance and emergency services costs on these vehicles can add up quickly. With AAA's complimentary offerings and significant discounts on services and repairs, however, you can keep your savings. Leveraging AAA's emergency assistance can also help you overcome common problems in older cars, such as dead batteries or electrical issues.
AAA employs a don't-ask-don't-tell policy when it comes to servicing cars, which means the responder won't ask who owns the vehicle you need help with. As long as you're a member, they'll help with whatever vehicle you're in, even if you're a passenger in a friend's car. Additionally, the auto repair centers AAA partners with are widespread and reputable, typically offering options well within the towing radius, though that's not always the case.
The advantages of AAA stretch far beyond automotive benefits, with discounts and benefits available for all types of travel, including flights, hotels, vacation planning, and more. Plus, AAA features a range of insurance products, including auto, home, and life insurance.
Downsides of AAA
While AAA certainly has a lot to offer, it might not be ideal for every driver. Before you commit to a membership, consider potential downsides, as well.
The most obvious drawback is AAA doesn't offer much for people who don't spend a lot of time on the road. If you're an infrequent driver who doesn't take advantage of roadside assistance, emergency services, or travel discounts, you're essentially paying for the opportunity to get benefits rather than the benefits themselves.
Plus, many AAA discounts are only good for their partners, meaning certain auto repair shops, hotels, car rental services, and more won't offer discounts for AAA members.
Because AAA is a federation of different motor clubs across the country, prices can vary greatly depending on where you live. For example, the cost of AAA tends to be much higher in Atlanta, Georgia, than it is in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with the former's Classic tier prices being nearly double the latter.
AAA often boasts that its insurance offerings are cheaper for members than other options. Given the variance in AAA membership prices, however, that's not always the case when you consider overall costs. Plus, many insurers offer similar roadside assistance services.
Given AAA's tier system, some drivers might find themselves missing out on opportunities if only the Classic tier falls within their budget. While roadside assistance is useful, the lack of perks such as free battery replacement can be notably costly depending on the kind of car that needs a replacement. Remember, some batteries can cost upward of $100.
Ultimately, the value of AAA depends on how frequently you plan to use its services. If you're on the road regularly and want peace of mind, you'll get the services you need in a pinch and at a good price with AAA.
And if you can afford a higher tier level, the services are some of the best available. If you're an infrequent driver, however, you'll likely find yourself without opportunities to get your money's worth out of the membership fee.
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