When my girlfriend (now lovely wife) and I first started dating, we'd go on various road trips together.
I don't think it was that long ago but this was before the days of having Waze or Google Maps on your phone. We'd print out Mapquest directions! I'd drive, she'd navigate, periodically changing the directions because “they didn't feel right,” and then we'd get into arguments. It was lovely. Waze has been a game changer.
One of the adorable things she used to do was go to AAA (American Automobile Association, for those curious what all the As stood for) for maps and trip planning. She would literally drive to a AAA office, talk to someone there, and get a few area maps and a customized “TripTik” booklet that outlined the entire trip. It had sections of the map with the roadways highlighted.
It was a pretty nice service in the days before live maps with traffic information on your phone.
These days, that aspect of AAA's service is less valuable but there are still reasons why folks have joined.
If you've been considering AAA, let's see if it's worth the cost.
What is AAA?
AAA isn't a single national company but a federation of regional clubs. The name, American Automobile Association, hints that it's structured that way but much like a franchise model, there's a national organization that sits atop the regional clubs.
It was founded in 1902 when 9 motor clubs joined together to form Triple-A, a common nickname and how I most often refer to the group. As you'd expect from a 100+ year organization, it has a rich and storied history of involvement in the community, in government, and many other areas.
Today, AAA consists of 42 individual clubs all across North America. Most clubs have AAA in the name but there are two that don't, the Automobile Club of Southern California and Auto Club South.
How Much Does AAA Cost?
There are three membership levels but the pricing will vary based on the area.
In the Mid-Atlantic region, an AAA membership costs (as of March 2020):
- Classic: $90 / year
- Plus: $138.50 / year
- Premier: $171 / year
Prices vary around the country so you'll want to check yours for the most up to date price.
The three plans are similar in what they cover and it's just a matter of degree. For example, you get free towing with each plan but the number of miles changes. With the Classic, you get towing of up to 5 miles or back to the responding facility. With Plus the miles jumps to 100 and with Premier they will tow up to 200 miles in one tow (up to 100 miles in four tows).
If you run out of fuel, Classic will get you enough fuel to get to the nearest station at the pump's price. Plus and Premier will give you that fuel for free.
With each membership, you get a free second household member at the Classic level and $5 off if you sign up for automatic renewal.
AAA Member Benefits
The key benefit of AAA is emergency roadside assistance. Everything from towing your broken down vehicle to unlocking it to changing a flat tire or dead battery, AAA provides this assistance through local private towing companies contracted by the AAA club. All plans get towing, battery service, tire change, out of fuel service, lockout, and even stuck vehicle service.
The second most popular benefit, which I alluded to in the introduction, is trip planning. AAA has an app called AAA Mobile that will help you plan your trip, find the cheapest gas, and even call for roadside assistance.
Finally, as is the case with many large organizations or corporations, AAA has a lot of agreements with various companies for discounts. For example, when you book a hotel online, you will often see a discount available to AAA members and all you need is to provide your membership number. It's not always the absolute cheapest, given ongoing promotions, but it'll be cheaper than the advertised rack rate.
Beyond these, there is still a huge list of benefits most people not know about but aren't frequently used (like travel insurance):
- Identity theft monitoring: You get ProtectMYID Essential, Premier members get $10,000 of identity theft insurance on top of the monitoring.
- Trip interruption expense reimbursement: If you're on a covered trip and your car breaks down, you can get reimbursed for some expenses. Limited to $500 for Classic, $1000 for Plus, and $1500 for Premier members.
- Legal defense reimbursement: You can get reimbursement for attorney's fees to defend you against a covered traffic charge/violation. Limited to $1000 for Classic, $1500 for Plus, and $2000 for Premier members.
- International travel guides & maps: Maps are free, guides will cost a small fee (free to Premier).
- Passport Photos: $7.99 + tax to Classic, $2.99 + tax to Plus, and free to Premier members.
- Free battery replacement: Premier members get a free battery once a year if a AAA Mobile Battery Service test indicates you need a replacement
- Bicycle Coverage: You get roadside assistance on your bicycle if you need it.
(a separate question is whether travel insurance is worth it)
Is AAA Worth It?
It depends on two factors – how important is roadside assistance and whether you already have it through something else.
We don't do a lot of driving so roadside assistance is not crucial, but it really depends on how much it costs. As it turns out, we can get it for cheap from our auto insurance.
Our auto insurance is through State Farm and they offer 24 hour emergency roadside service. They offer towing, lockout service, gas/oil, battery jumpstart, tire changes, and other emergency repairs.
It's not unlike what AAA offers and it's an addition on our policy. We only pay $8.80 per year per car.
If roadside assistance is the biggest reason why you're getting AAA, you should see if you can get it for less from other places.
As for the discounts, you'll have to do the math yourself on this one. In the Mid-Atlantic, they claim that AAA members save an average of $86 per year. I suspect that if we had a big trip coming up, with several hotel stays or perhaps a Disney trip somewhere, a AAA membership might give us access to some discounts that'll pay for the membership.
Many of the discounts are available through other similar memberships, like AARP, and those memberships may be cheaper because there's no roadside assistance component.
If I pay $8.80 a year to State Farm for roadside assistance and get an AARP membership for $16, that's just $24.80 a year for a light version of AAA at half the price.
Is AAA worth it? Only you will know!