Eyewear websites offer a wide variety of options, but each "extra" you choose adds to the final eyeglasses price, as does shipping. Choosing the fewest add-ons gets you the biggest bang for your buck in the discount eyewear department, and more importantly, reduces the margin of error.
Eyeglasses prices for a base-model pair, including single-vision lenses and anti-scratch coatings, runs pennies less than $7 at Zenni Optical, Goggles 4 U, and Eye Buy Direct (the first two also throw in UV protection).
We also researched prices for bifocals and progressive lenses. With Zenni Optical, bifocals add $17 to the overall eyeglasses price and progressive lenses add $22. At 39 Dollar Glasses, bifocals and progressives are $89 and $99, respectively, including frames and polycarbonate lenses. Eye Buy Direct sells bifocals for $19 more and progressives for $39 more than the price for single-vision lenses. Bifocal lenses at Goggles 4 U start at $19 and progressives start at $29, which includes anti-scratch and anti-reflective coatings. Progressive lenses at Coastal add about $149 to the cost of the frames and bifocals are an additional $99. Progressive lenses add at least $22 to eyeglasses prices at the Glasses Shop and bifocals raise the stakes by $17 or more.
We last priced out bifocals and progressive lenses at $92 at Optical 4 Less, including anti-scratch, anti-reflective, and UV coatings. When trying to update these costs, however, we encountered a buggy registration process and a confusing shopping interface that made it impossible to clarify eyeglasses prices. Still, we noted a surcharge of $59 for certain prescriptions and a $3 per lens charge for each degree of prism correction.
Prescription Capabilities.Shopping for the best eyeglasses prices is one thing. Finding the online provider with low prices that can accommodate your particular prescription is another.
For starters, a stronger prescription calls for a higher lens index. High index lenses are thinner and lighter, reducing the overall bulk of prescription glasses. If a high index lens is important to you, check out Optical 4 Less, which offers ultra-high index glass lenses of 1.8 or 1.9 for single-vision glasses and progressive lenses with an index up to 1.67. The highest index lens that 39 Dollar Glasses carries is 1.67, and that's for single-vision lenses only. At Zenni Optical, single-vision lenses are available in three indices -- 1.57, 1.61, or 1.67; progressives and bifocals are available in one index only. Eye Buy Direct has a standard index of 1.5 for all its glasses and offers a maximum index of 1.6 for bifocals, 1.67 for progressives, and 1.74 for single-vision lenses. Goggles 4 U's single-vision lenses extend up to a 1.71 high-index glass or 1.67 high-index plastic, but bifocals and progressive lenses stop at an index of 1.56. Coastal offers an index up to 1.74 for either single-vision or progressive lenses. Glasses Shop can accommodate an index of up to 1.74 for single-vision or progressive lenses, but offers an index up to only 1.59 for bifocals.
A word of warning: Eyeglasses prices increase as the prescription gets more complex. The likelihood of a prescription error also increases along with complexity, as customers of 39 Dollar Glasses note in reviews on the Glassy Eyes Google group and Epinions. Ditto for a Zenni Optical customer who posted on Epinions. Because customer service is spotty with online providers of cheap eyewear, you may decide to stick with a brick-and-mortar provider if your prescription is unusual.
As an alternative to low-cost eyewear websites, the Glassy Eyes expert recommends Costco and Sam's Club, whose eyeglasses prices have adjusted downward in the past few years to stay competitive with online sellers. "They have really good rates for eye exams, their eyeglass prices are not outrageous, and they're a good place to start for people not entirely comfortable buying online," he explains. "They're certainly a good option for people with complex prescriptions." Gambling $35 on a common single-lens prescription is one thing; risking $135 on a complicated eyeglass order is something else entirely.