Every year when my Amazon Prime membership is about to auto-renew, like the tens of millions of other members, I take a step back and wonder if the $99 per year price is worth it. To be sure, I wring that much value out of the service simply through its free two-day shipping alone. But with that benefit also comes the guilt of shopping online and not in my own community.
So what keeps me re-upping my subscription? There's a slew of other Amazon Prime benefits that, when all added up, are worth much more than the shipping savings alone.
Here are eight of the lesser-known Prime perks:
Unlimited Photo Storage: If you’re the digital, yet sentimental type, this one Amazon Prime add-on is worth the entire year’s subscription price. Utilizing the company’s cloud storage offerings, Prime members can archive all of their photos to Amazon’s servers for free. With no limit on the amount of pictures nor any restriction on how many photos you can upload per month, this is a crazy deal that every Prime user should take advantage of. Photos can be uploaded through your web browser, with the Amazon Cloud Drive app, or with the Cloud Drive Photos app, available for Android, iOS, and of course through Amazon’s own app store.
Music: From Spotify’s updated offerings to Apple’s impending new service to the celebrity backed Tidal, everyone is after your streaming music money. But Amazon customers may want to pause for a beat before subscribing elsewhere, because with Prime Music they’re already getting access to more than a million songs, more than a thousand playlists and hundreds of stations.
To be fair, the competition has 20 or 30 times more tracks, but if music isn’t your main jam, Prime Music is at least a good, inexpensive way to stream ad-free and at your convenience. From classics like Simon & Garfunkel to catchy tunes like Uptown Funk, it’s a varied collection that definitely out-rocks your iTunes library.
Streaming Video: In the good old days of television, you used to be able to pick up the remote, flip through the channels, and find at least one thing worth watching. Today, despite a dizzying number of cable channels, that seems like a distant memory. But Amazon's Prime Instant Video has an unexpectedly great selection of movies and television shows ready to watch on everything from TV-connected streaming boxes to tablets.
'For instance, Inside Amy Schumer and Broad City, two Comedy Central shows drawing rave reviews, are up on Prime, ready for downloading. A deal between Amazon and HBO means the cable channel's entire back catalog of great original programming (like The Wire) is at Prime members’ fingertips. And Amazon is pushing as hard as Netflix to make its own programming. The company even won two Golden Globes for its comedy Transparent. Not bad, for a throw-in feature. Oh, and Prime members flying JetBlue can also watch their Amazon-streamed content while airborne, for free.
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Prime Now: In my experience, Amazon’s free two-day shipping with Prime is plenty fast, but I’ve never tried to use it in a pinch, like to refill an empty container of dishwashing detergent or to buy deodorant after forgetting to apply it in my morning routine. But Prime customers in select locations from Atlanta to Austin can avail of this ultra-quick delivery at no extra charge — so long as you can wait for two hours. (One-hour delivery is available for $7.99.) So how does the company deliver items as varied as peanut butter and headphones? If your answer is “drones,” you’ve been reading too many rumor websites. The actual answer is underground, not through the air.
Members-Only Deals: "Membership has its privileges" might be an old American Express tagline, but Amazon has given the concept new life in the 21st century by offering its shoppers a wide range of perks. For instance, some of Amazon’s most aggressive discounts come via its Lightning Deals, and beginning last holiday season, Prime members got early access to some of these sales.
MyHabit, an Amazon-owned website that offers up to 60% off designer brand clothing and home goods, runs daily events that start at 9 a.m. Pacific, but Prime subscribers get access a half-hour before the online crowds. And in the future, Prime subscribers will get exclusive access to Amazon Elements, a line of staples made by the company with input from its customer reviews. And you better believe these goods will be great; Amazon already removed the Elements diapers because they weren’t working out for parents and babies. That leaves only baby wipes in the line for now, but they beat Costco’s Kirkland brand wipes in a price-per-sheet showdown. But expect more products to come in the future — another reason to renew, I suppose.
Books and Magazines: People who weren't paying attention to "the everything store" at its inception might not realize that Amazon got its start as an online bookseller. But Amazon Prime aficionados can see the influence of the company's early days in its current offerings. Through Prime Reading, subscribers can access more than 1,000 books, dozens of magazines, as well as other short stories, memoirs, and essays through Amazon's Kindle app on iOS and Android. Owners of Amazon Kindle tablets also get some added perks, namely the Kindle Lending Library — which features hundreds of thousands of books — and Kindle First — which lets bookworms devour new titles before they're officially published.
E-Books and Podcasts: As one of the pioneering online audiobooks companies, Audible is a well-known brand. But lesser known is the fact that Amazon owns Audible, and has rolled some of the online service's offerings into Prime. Specifically, Prime subscribers are now able to listen to programming via Audible Channels at no extra charge. A paid service for non-Audible or Prime subscribers, Audible Channels rounds up some of the best podcasts on the web (many of which are already free) with excellent Audible Originals, like Nick Offerman's Bedtime Stories for Cynics, and selected audiobooks like the original James Bond tale Casino Royale.
Videogames (Sort of): You can't play games through Amazon Prime (yet, at least), but with a complimentary subscription to Twitch Prime, you can do the next best thing: watch someone else play them. A video service that lets gamers stream their marathon sessions to the rest of the world, Twitch is beloved by joystick jockeys. Prime subscribers now get ad-free Twitch gameplay viewing, a free channel subscription of their choice, free game content (like emotes, skins, and vehicles), and discounts on new releases and pre-ordered titles. That's a good power-up.
Want to give it a shot? You can get a free 30-day Prime trial membership right here.