Consumer Wise: Best place to buy contact lenses

By Angie Moreschi, Consumer Wise Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, August 15, 2017, 6:07 AM EDT

"Better on one or two?"

Anyone who’s been to the eye doctor has probably heard that question, as part of the process to find the right prescription for your eyes.

It used to be once you had that prescription, the doctor’s office would also order the lenses for you, but nowadays you have many more choices -- from online to eye care chains to big box stores.

Patients we talked with at Anderson Eye Care in Tampa say they’ve shopped around to try and get the best price.

"Usually I buy them from Walmart," contact lens customer Tina Majchrzak said. “I think I researched the first time I bought them, and since then, I go with who was cheapest last time.”

Actually, don’t count on one place always having the lowest price. The contact lens marketplace is very competitive, with the best deals changing often.

Contact lens patient Edna Oliver has tried buying online, but finds it more convenient and just as cheap at her doctor’s office.

"I usually come in and do my exam, and I get them here," Oliver said.

Finding the best price does take a little research.

"Don't assume it's cheaper on the internet," optometrist Dr. Bruce Anderson said. "Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn't."

Checking Online

If you like to buy online you definitely need to compare prices. To save a little time, you can go to a contact lens price comparison site like ContactsAdvice.com. The website makes it easy to compare by listing several different brands for you, the best prices, and where to go to get those prices. It includes a variety of websites, like Lens.com, 1-800-contacts, LensDirect.com, DiscountContactLenses.com, and several others.

Also, take shipping and handling into consideration. If the price is close and a site charges you for shipping, that could wipe out your savings. Click HERE for more information on how much contacts cost.

Also take note, an online contact lens retailer must, by law, contact your eye care practitioner to verify your prescription. Your doctor has one business day to respond. If they don’t, the website can assume the prescription is valid. Or you can email or fax a copy of your prescription directly to the retailer.

Tips to Get the Lowest Price

Getting the lowest price often requires following up with a mail-in rebate and buying several boxes at once.

"Tend to get the year supply of contact lenses to get your biggest bang for your buck," Anderson Eyecare contact expert Frank Loiercio said.

And be sure to check if you have vision benefits.  If you combine bulk buying with rebates and insurance, you can really save a lot.

"Some insurance plans will give you an allowance towards contacts," Loiercio said. "The patient will pay the difference; then, they get the rebate money back also. So I've seen to where people actually make money!"

Using Insurance

Keep in mind you often can't use insurance online, because it must be coupled with your eye exam.

The front office staff at Anderson Eyecare checked to see if the Majchrzak’s insurance coverage had contact benefits. You’ll recall in the past, she bought her family’s contacts at Walmart.

It turned out she had a total of $150 dollars in vision benefits per patient to be applied towards an exam and contacts.  The exam cost about $64 dollars, so that left about $86 to apply toward contacts.

“I’m really surprised I just saved $86, really excited!”  Majchrzak said, laughing.

Other factors

Wherever you buy from, be sure to ask about their return policy, so you’ll have options if your prescription changes.  Some doctor’s offices and online sites will take unused contacts back— if the box hasn’t been opened. 

Another good tip: if you have a Health Savings Account at work, remember you can use that to buy contacts and supplies, too.  If you have money left over at the end of the year, be sure to stock up on everything from lenses to contact solution, so you don't waste that money.

Bottom line: the price of contacts can vary widely depending on many factors from insurance to rebates, so be sure to shop around, and don't assume one place will always have the best deal.