8 Ways to Make Your Amazon Prime Membership Pay Off

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To celebrate its 20-year anniversary, Amazon is introducing Prime Day on July 15. The online behemoth is billing the members-only promotion as a global shopping event with more deals than Black Friday. The jury is out on whether that claim will hold true, but it's likely to entice plenty of people to sign up. Is the $99 annual Amazon Prime membership fee worth it? For the cautious, Amazon offers a 30-day trial that opens up Prime Day bargains. But it's the everyday perks -- including 30-minute early access to deals at MyHabit (a private sale site for clothing, home furniture, toys, and beauty products at 60 percent off) and Lightning Deals (dramatic price cuts that might last only a few minutes) -- that make Amazon Prime worthwhile for many consumers. Here are eight ways to make the most of a membership.

Free Same-Day or Two-Day Shipping.

One of the most well-known features of Amazon Prime is free two-day shipping, which applies within the continental United States and covers more than 20 million products. Some customers reap the benefits of Amazon's partnership with the U.S. Postal Service and receive Sunday deliveries. Members in 14 metro areas can get free same-day delivery on orders exceeding $35, provided the order is placed before a cutoff time, usually noon. (Check your ZIP code on Amazon.) Not in a hurry? Select "No-Rush Shipping" during checkout for a promotional credit.

Prime Membership Extensions.

Prime members who don't get their packages within the guaranteed accelerated delivery period are eligible for a one-month Prime membership extension -- up to 12 extensions per year. It's worth the five minutes it takes to contact customer service if a package is late. There is fine print involved, so browse it before calling to be confident of an extension.

Streaming TV Shows and Movies.

Although Netflix's collection may be more extensive, Amazon has been upping its video streaming game. Perhaps most notably, a partnership with HBO lets Prime members stream complete series such as "The Sopranos" and "The Wire" and select seasons of current shows including "Girls" and "Veep." There is also a growing number of Amazon original series, such as "Transparent" -- the first show from a streaming service to nab a Golden Globe award for best series. The free content can be accessed on Amazon's website, Kindle tablets, Roku and Fire TV streaming media players, and iOS mobile devices. This year, Prime members on JetBlue flights should be able to use Amazon's streaming service without plopping down a Wi-Fi fee.

Unlimited Photo Storage.

Worried about all those photos taking up space on your computer? Amazon Prime membership includes free Amazon Cloud Drive storage; whatever you put there can be accessed across multiple devices. Upload photos to Amazon Cloud Drive using your web browser or the Android/iOS app.

Free Streaming Music.

A relatively new feature, Prime Music is stocked with more than 1 million songs and hundreds of "stations" that play specific genres of music and "learn" what listeners like and don't like. The ad-free music can be enjoyed from a computer or downloaded to a mobile device for on-the-go listening, even without a Wi-Fi connection. While the collection is much smaller than those of competitors such as Spotify and Tidal, this Prime perk is still something worth keeping an eye on.

Free Prime Benefits for Relatives and Students.

Prime members can share the shipping benefits with up to four other members of their household, which, in practice, includes any invited family member or friend who knows the member's birth date. Amazon also grants college students with a valid .edu email address a six-month free trial of Amazon Prime. Not all benefits are included, but students do get Instant Video, Prime Music, and two-day shipping. When the trial ends, Amazon offers full Prime membership at half price.

Kindle Lending Library.

With Prime, hundreds of thousands of digital books are offered for free through the Kindle Owners' Lending Library (also available for devices such as a Fire tablet, or by downloading the Kindle app onto iOS and Android tablets and phones). One ebook is available each month, with no specific return dates. Note that selection can change, and you may not find every ebook you want -- but if the title is there, you can start reading instantly. Bookworms will appreciate the Kindle First program, which provides an opportunity to download an editor-approved book one month before its official release.

More Membership Opportunities.

Prime members have access to Prime Pantry, an Amazon service for household essentials that competes with Costco and Sam's Club. Bulk items such as paper towels, toilet paper, and laundry detergent are available, along with single items such as chips, cereal, soft drinks, and other nonperishable staples. Note that there is a shipping fee of $5.99 a box, which can hold up to 45 pounds. Amazon Mom, another free membership included in Prime, entitles mothers to a 20 percent discount on diapers and other kid-friendly promotions.