If you’ve ever broken down on the side of the road or had to get a car towed, you’ve probably wished you had some kind of roadside assistance coverage. But if you’re wondering whether a membership to the American Automobile Association (AAA) is worth the cost, pretty much across the board experts say, “Not necessarily.”
Costs and benefits vary by state and by membership level, so it’s important to evaluate all the options, and what parts of the service you’ll actually use, before handing over your credit card.
What You Get With AAA: The Basics
The annual fee for the lowest level AAA membership (here in Colorado — it varies by-state) is $75, plus a one-time enrollment fee of about $15 for new members. You can add additional family members (e.g., a spouse or child) for $37 per person, per year.
This basic-level membership includes the following roadside assistance:
- A mechanical adjustment: If your responder thinks it’s possible to get your vehicle operational on site, they’ll try to do so. That might include jump-starting the battery, changing a flat tire, charging an electric vehicle, or fuel delivery (you pay the price of fuel).
- If none of that solves the problem, your car will be towed to the destination of your choice, within seven miles.
- If your keys are locked in the car, AAA covers retrieval.
- Roadside assistance, in some areas, can includes bicycles. AAA won’t fix a flat, but they’ll drive you and your bike as far as they would tow your car.
- Services are connected to the member, not the vehicle. That means you can call in AAA to help whether you’re the driver or a passenger, in your car or someone else’s, up to four times per year.
The Plus and Premier levels (in Colorado, these are priced at $125 and $165 a year, respectively) add services such as towing up to 100 miles, free fuel, one day of car rental, and extrication assistance if your vehicle is stuck in mud or ice.
What Else You Get: The Bonus Perks
AAA members have access to a full-service travel agency, as well as other travel-related discounts and benefits. For example, many hotels across the country offer a AAA discount of about 10% or more off normal rates, including chains such as Marriott and Best Western, and rental car agencies also honor AAA discounts.
Members can also can access a lengthy list of other discounts available to them. But between the proliferation of discount travel and deal websites (from Kayak and Priceline to Honey.com) and the tendency for individual companies to rewarding newsletter subscribers with more coupons than they can ever hope to use, this is more of a nice throw-in than a reason to get a AAA membership.
For example, one “deal” on AAA.com as of mid-October is free shipping from Gap.com on a purchase of $50 or more, and free returns. But if you’re a regular on the Gap website, you know that the company offers that deal to everyone, all the time — and if you sign up to receive their emails, they regularly send along additional site-wide discounts.
AAA does offer a cash-back “WOWPoints” program — similar to many credit cards rewards programs. So that $50 Gap.com purchase will earn you 50 points, which you can redeem at a penny per point during checkout on future purchases through approved merchants. Again, it’s worth evaluating your credit card’s loyalty programs against AAA’s to see where you can get the best deal.
You May Already Have Roadside Assistance
Bonus perks aside, most people mulling over a AAA membership are primarily looking for fast and reliable help on the road when something goes wonky with their vehicle. If this is true for you, it’s worth researching what services you might already have access to first. Those might include:
Your vehicle’s manufacturer: New vehicles typically come with some level of roadside assistance. Check the fine print of your paperwork to see what’s included and for how long or how many miles it’s valid. Plans can range from three years from purchase date to the lifetime of the car while you’re the owner.
Your car insurance: Many car insurance policies offer some level of roadside assistance either as part of the plan or for a low additional fee — for example, Geico’s fee is $14 a year. Some don’t limit the number of calls per year, and offer towing up to 100 miles (which you’d only get with AAA at the Plus or Premier levels).
Your credit cards: While some credit card companies have dropped roadside assistance as a basic benefit in recent years, some still offer free or low-cost options. Options vary by card issuer or even by credit card, so once again, dig into your paperwork or have an online chat with a representative to see whether you’re eligible.
Is AAA Worth It? Some Final Thoughts
Perhaps the most compelling financial reason to get a AAA membership is the peace of mind it offers — especially if it means you feel more comfortable trying to squeeze another year or two out of an old, paid-off car.
Every year you’re able to put off buying a new car can save you thousands of dollars. So if the knowledge that you won’t be left stranded on the side of the road gives you the confidence to stick with your beater for another year or three, a AAA membership (or the roadside assistance coverage through your insurer) is probably well worth it.
If you do decide to sign up with AAA, do a quick Google search for “AAA promotion code.” As of mid-October, this search brought up multiple opportunities to save — from enrollment fee waivers to reduced-rate memberships. It might just be the piece that makes AAA worth it after all.