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Online mega-retailer Amazon sells a membership program called Amazon Prime, which offers access to free shipping, streaming video, e-books, music and a variety of other services and deals. But before you pull out your best credit card to sign up, you’ll want to understand the different possible prices for Amazon Prime.

How much does it cost?

For most people, an annual Amazon Prime membership is $99 — if you pay it all at once. If you’d rather pay in monthly installments, the cost is $10.99 per month, or $131.88 per year. So, you save $32.88 by going with the onetime-payment option.

Occasionally, there are sales. For example, a Black Friday sale in 2016 offered Amazon Prime memberships for $79.

For college students, Amazon offers Prime Student memberships, which cost $49 a year.

In June 2017, the company introduced discounted Amazon Prime memberships, costing $5.99 per month, for Americans who have been issued EBT (electronic benefit transfer) cards for food stamps and related government assistance programs.

What does a Prime membership include?

These are some of the benefits of Amazon Prime:

  • Free shipping. Not every item sold on Amazon is eligible for free shipping, but millions are. Prime members in more than 5,000 cities and towns qualify for free one-day or even same-day delivery on more than a million items. Members in more than 25 metro areas can get free delivery in as little as  one hour on thousands of items, with the mobile app Prime Now.
  • Music streaming. Prime Music allows members access to over a million songs and thousands of playlists and stations.
  • Video streaming. With Prime, members have access to tens of thousands of TV shows and movies. They can watch on iPads, computers, Smart TVs or other televisions outfitted with Amazon Fire or Roku.
  • Prime Pantry. For no more than a flat delivery fee of $5.99, members who live in any state other than Alaska, Hawaii or the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico can have grocery, household and pet care items shipped to their homes. It is a great service for new moms or anyone who has trouble getting out of the house.
  • Prime Photos. Members can store unlimited photos in the Amazon Cloud Drive.
  • Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. This perk offers access to more than 800,000 e-book titles and allows members to borrow one book a month with no due date. Members also get one pre-released book a month through Kindle First.
  • Lightning deals. A lightning deal is a short-term, deeply discounted deal that normally features high-tech or fashion items. Members qualify for these deals 30 minutes before the general public.
  • Amazon Family. Just as the name implies, this benefit allows members 15 percent off eligible baby registry items and 20 percent off diapers.
  • Exclusive access. Amazon has recently experimented with making certain purchases available only to Prime members. For example, you have to have Prime if you want to buy a DVD of the blockbuster movie “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Disadvantages of Prime?

There are at least two possible downsides to having an Amazon Prime membership:

  • If you shop Amazon just occasionally, rather than weekly or daily, you may not recoup your membership fee.
  • To make the membership worth your while, you may feel compelled to buy from Amazon rather than shop other online or brick-and-mortar retailers.

Conclusion

According to an April 2017 analysis, Amazon Prime has grown to about 80 million members in the U.S. The many who have come to depend upon the e-tailing giant for quick, convenient purchases have found that a Prime membership can pay for itself rather quickly.

Sitting there with your credit card in hand, ready to sign up? Be certain that you’ll make enough purchases from Amazon to make Prime worth the cost.