You could just suck it up and pay the freshly hiked rates for Amazon Prime. Or you could get a little creative, save some money, and still enjoy free shipping.
The idea that's been floated for a few months has become a reality: On Thursday, Amazon announced that the price of its Prime service would rise to $99 annually, up from the $79 rate that's been charged since the two-day shipping membership program was introduced nearly a decade ago. The Amazon Prime for Students rate—available to those with a .edu email address until graduation, including a six-month free trial—will rise to $49 annually, up from $39.
In Amazon's note about the changes, Prime members are told that if the date you normally pay for the service before April 17, 2014, the old rate—$79, or $39 for students—will be charged. On the other hand, "If your membership renews on or after April 17, 2014, you'll be charged at a membership rate of $99." Or $49 for those in the Amazon Student program.
And if you'd rather not cough up the extra cash now involved in a Prime membership, consider the following alternatives to lower the costs, at least for a while:
Sign Up for Prime Now
New Prime members can lock in existing rates by signing up for the service no later than Wednesday, March 19. Students who sign up by then will get a free six-month trial, and when that period ends, they'll be charged $39 for that first year of service (and $49 thereafter until graduation). Likewise, anyone signing up for a new regular Prime membership by March 19 would pay the $79 annual rate, after receiving a free one-month trial.
Use a Workaround Hack
In a lively SlickDeals.net forum about the Prime price increase, several commenters suggest the tactic of buying an Amazon Prime Gift Membership for oneself. Purchasers are allowed to specify the starting date of Prime membership up to one year in advance of the date it's bought. The idea is that you purchase a gift membership—for yourself—that starts the day after your current membership is set to expire. And of course, you make the gift purchase soon, to lock in the cheaper rate.
Get a Credit Card with Free Prime
Certain American Express cards come with an offer of free Prime membership for one year for new members. At least one of the cards (Blue Cash Everyday) has no annual fee itself.
Consider ShopRunner Instead
ShopRunner, the main shipping service competitor of Prime, is still available at the standard rate of $79 annually, after a free 30-day trial. Members get free two-day shipping from dozens of major retailers, including Toys R Us, PetSmart, FTD, eBags, Calvin Klein, and more. Even better, last November, ShopRunner launched a new partnership with American Express, in which members can get its two-day shipping service totally free so long as you register an AmEx card at ShopRunner checkout. By doing so, the annual membership fee is waived—and this is no one-year promotional deal, the fee is waived indefinitely. Of course, if you're not a Prime member, you don't get access to the streaming video services included with a subscription.
Just Use Amazon's Free Super Saver Shipping
Last fall, Amazon raised the minimum purchase from $25 to $35 in order for customers to be eligible for free shipping, without the requirement of a Prime membership. Many people grumbled about the change, but the $35 threshold is pretty easy to reach, considering that Amazon sells nearly everything under the sun. And it's still much cheaper than the typical e-retailer's minimum purchase requirement, of $75 or $99, in order to qualify for free shipping. Sure, Amazon's free shipping for non-Prime members is slow—"your order will be delivered 5-8 business days after all of your items are available to ship," Amazon explains—but hey, it's free. And it's truly free-free, not just "free" after you've paid $79, err $99, annually.