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!
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So this is 2019. If I got roadside assistance thru Auto insurance, would they pay to tow vehicle to nearest place or dealer? Ford, Subaru, etc. if you run out of gas, will they bring som in the middle of nowhere? Will your insurance go up if you use them?
We have AARP, but I want maps. Etc. places to stop along the way? AARP, do they have any services for this? I don’t have cellular on the road. Only phone.
Love to hear some ideas?. Does AAA even give you paper maps anymore?
Jim Wang says
Hi Lily – you will have to check your insurance provider to see what their roadside assistance will cover. For State Farm, they will tow it to the nearest repair location and will also deliver gas (and oil, battery, and change of tire). We had a battery jump once and our insurance didn’t go up, but that’s a relatively low cost repair.
They still give paper maps and TripTiks.
Kevin Lineburg says
Be careful with using that feature with State Farm. While under the stress of planning our wedding my wife locked herself out of her car three times. At the time I was thrilled to have State Farm’s help, but when it came time to renew our insurance, our rates were raised, because those events were considered blemishes on our record. This was in 2014 in Oregon. Years later I learned that AAA even sells car insurance, so they can handle everything and assistance never hurts our rates!
Jim Wang says
That is a good point – do you know how much of an impact those blemishes had?
Putting a $$ value on AAA Membership is only one way to look at it, I think the more important factor is to consider it more of an insurance plan in case of an unforeseen predicament while traveling. Many new cars today have no spare tire. Even with a new car you may need someone. AAA.
Don’t waste your time with this company. I just got off the phone with them for the 6th time this morning and they can’t add a simple $2000 medical coverage as is needed by my employer. This is the last day that I can add this service before my employee decides to not pay me my reimbursement. AAA told me that they will not be able to add this until next week even-though they have already pulled the payment out of my account.
I told them to just refund the money and they said it would take 7-10 business days before they could complete this, but I just don’t have the time for that. I then attempted to call my back and speak with a supervisor to find out if they could stop payment. Again they told me that they could file a claim and that would also take 7-10 days. absolute waste and massive disappointment.
With AAA I get 10% off my monthly Sprint bill, in addition Sprint pays my yearly basic membership.
I think this is worth mentioning.
We’ve been AAA members for over 30 years. I’ve always traveled a lot for business. If my wife or either of my daughters encounters a car issue while I’m away, they can get help right away. Also, the coverage is on each person and is not limited to our vehicles. We rented a Chevy Tahoe for a family trip in August. A tire blew out on an busy interstate highway. AAA had a tow truck on the scene within 20 minutes. The tow driver removed the bad tire and replaced it with the spare (in a Tahoe the spare is mounted underneath the vehicle and is kind of a pain to access). No charge to us.
The other benefit is their auto and home insurance. Of course everybody’s rates will be different. I compare the AAA prices against other companies (State Farm, Progressive, Geico, Allstate, etc.) every few years and AAA always comes out ahead.
You are out of your mind AAA is the most expensive auto insurance in Michigan and a rip off company.
EM BAYLES says
I live in Alaska and it gets to 30 below 0. I was in the middle of no where and it was a desolate area. The car broke down from the cold or stopped. At the time we were going to Fairbanks and it likely 50 below 0. We could have froze to death it was that cold in the middle of now where. Call AAA and there was someone to help us in a 1 hr. which is very fast for this neck of the woods. If they were there then it would have led to hypothermia. It was a pretty new suv.
I have had other vehicles through the years and it was so cold my door handles were frozen. This year alone the keys were left in the car by myself or my nephews. So 5 times last year they were Johnnie on the spot. I am grateful they were able to find someone in a desolate area that is 350 miles to Fairbanks. New Ford Explorer and so it was just the cold where your exhaust can freeze. The price you pay is a pittance living in the cold. I think it is worth every penny for them to be there for me. You should have AAA no matter where you live, if you are wise.
fair 'n balanced says
That’s nice of them, but you didn’t ‘have’ to have AAA to get someone out to help you. The only thing AAA did was save you from having to look up local numbers yourself. This might have been a service before everyone had google in their pocket, but now?….
Just making sure that credit is given where appropriate, and this isn’t necessarily the case.
I enjoied the article; howeve, please keep in mind that State Fram Ins. may have roadside assistance and it may be nominal; however, if you use the roadside assistance service it is considered a claim. I have been insured with StateFarm for over 20 years and have paid for roadside assistance although, I never used the service. The roadside assistance issue was brought to my attention by StateFram insured who did use the Statefarm roadside assistance and quickly found out his rates went up due to claims, which turned out to be the use of roadside assistance for his teenage daughter! I’ve since canceled the StateFarm Roadside Assistance and have opted for AAA.
M. James says
One consideration about AAA compared to roadside assistance on an insurance plan is that the AAA roadside service is with the member and not the car. The member could be in any car and call AAA for service, such as on a trip with friends. This happened to me when my husband and I were on a trip with friends in their vehicle. The engine caught on fire and burned. I used my membership to get us help, towing, and a ride. On the other hand, my experience is that roadside assistance with your car insurance is only on the vehicles that are insured on that plan. For me, this is an important difference, although it may not be for everyone.
Jim Wang says
That’s an excellent point – thank you!