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How to Get Free AWS Credits: 4 Tactics to Use

Calendar Icon 07.23.2021
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There are certain things I don’t want a discount on — a quality parachute, for example. But when it comes to cloud computing, discounted services are usually identical to the regularly priced ones. So why not take advantage?

Since the marginal cost of supplying cloud services is low, AWS doesn’t mind offering credits or discounts to help onboard new customers or to keep existing customers happy. There are four high-level ways that you can get promotional credits or discounts from AWS: apply for them, buy them, earn them, or ask nicely for them. 

The most generous offers are full-blown credit programs, aimed at helping companies get started on or migrate to AWS. Beyond these programs, there’s no simple or consistent way to “mine” credits. But there are plenty of opportunities to wrangle small to medium amounts, if you’re patient and engaged.

One caveat before we dive in: However you secure your credits, keep in mind that they’re a sales tactic. They probably won’t cover your costs completely — they’re intended to reduce friction as you slide further and faster into the AWS ecosystem. AWS says this explicitly in its terms and conditions: Credits serve “merely as a means to provide an incentive to use our services.” Don’t try to structure your finances around credits. In the long run, the house always wins.

1. Apply for an AWS credit program

AWS offers a surprisingly robust set of credit and discount programs. Most of the big-money programs are aimed at startups. The reason seems plain: By subsidizing companies in the early stages of development, AWS ensures some amount of lock-in once the discounts expire. AWS has a strong gravitational pull, and a dollar of short-term credit may earn them a significant recurring return.

How much credit you’re eligible for depends on what type of business you’re running, what stage of funding it’s in, and what you’re building.

AWS Activate for startups

The Moby Dick of AWS credit programs is AWS Activate Portfolio, which offers up to $100,000 in credits, covering services, support, and training. But before you go spinning up a 112xlarge instance (it exists!), be sure that you qualify. The program is open to startups under 10 years old that have not received funding beyond series A, and the exact amount of credit dispensed depends on various other factors.

The AWS Activate Founders program offers a less-jaw-dropping-but-still-decent $1,000 in service credits and $350 in support credits. This program is aimed at bootstrapped startups, and if you have a small unfunded company, you’ll likely qualify. If you’re creative, $1,000 of credit can go a long way in your first year of business. The support credits are valuable too, particularly if you’re new to AWS.

Research and education sector programs

If you’re an academic researcher, you may be eligible for the AWS Cloud Credit for Research program. The program offers a potentially unlimited amount of credit for groups that evangelize the utility of cloud computing for research workloads or build public science-as-a-service applications. Faculty awards are uncapped, but student awards are capped at $5,000.

AWS EdStart is, not surprisingly, aimed at EdTech startups. It offers AWS promotional credit, training, and support in two tiers: early-stage companies they call “innovators” and companies looking to scale existing offerings that they call “members.” For both tiers, this program offers more than just discounts. It’s basically a partnership program intended to incubate businesses in the education space. The amount of aid varies on a case-by-case basis.

AWS Educate isn’t actually a grant program — it’s a hub for students who are looking to build cloud computing skills. But if you’re an educator, simply joining the program may give you access to promotional credits. The amount is unclear, and I assume they’re intended for educational purposes only.

Programs for nonprofits

The AWS Imagine Grant program offers select nonprofits substantial promotional credits — from $10,000-$100,000. The qualifications are vague, but generally it seems like the grants are given to organizations that are migrating their workloads to the cloud or are using cloud services in an especially innovative or conspicuous way. Beyond the promotional credits, this program also offers cash, training, and marketing support. Only a select few will qualify for this program, but it may be worth a shot.

The AWS Nonprofit Credit Program offers $1,000 of promotional credit to qualifying nonprofits. This one’s a bit weird — it’s run through TechSoup and seems to require a $95 administrative fee upfront. But if you’re a nonprofit, it’s possibly an easy way to net $905 worth of credit.

If you maintain an open-source project, you can apply for credit to cover the cost of functional or performance testing in AWS. Your project must be released under an OSI-approved license. (Sorry, SSPL adopters.)

2. Join startup communities

Many members-only communities offer AWS promotional credits as perks to their subscribers. Even if the community aspect doesn’t seem valuable to you, the tradeoff can be a net positive. There are a lot of similar offers out there, so let’s look at a select few that seem popular.

TechCrunch’s Extra Crunch subscription gives you access to its members-only community of entrepreneurs. When you sign up for a $99 annual subscription, it gives you $1,000 of AWS promotional credits.

Secret is a members-only portal for “startup deals and resources.” It seems like a digital version of those old touristy coupon books. But instead of a free glass-bottom boat ride, the $199 annual membership buys you access to $5,000 of AWS promotional credits. Be warned that access to the credits is not guaranteed: It’s for startups only and seems like a repackaged version of AWS’ own Activate program, with similar requirements.

Product Hunt is a community for “product-loving enthusiasts” (um, OK) that offers a suite of paid tools for advertising to and engaging with said group of maniacs. Their paid plans, which cost $708 or $2,388 annually, both come with $5,000 of AWS credits, and it doesn’t seem like there are any strings attached.

Y Combinator’s Startup School is a free virtual incubator program that helps entrepreneurs develop their businesses. Members receive access to a version of the AWS Activate program, providing them up to $3,000 in AWS promotional credits.

It’s not exactly a community, but Stripe Atlas is a service that helps startups legally register a company. The one-time $500 fee includes access to $5,000 of AWS promotional credits. Obviously, this is only advisable if you’re actually going to set up a company.

3. Be active with AWS

The AWS marketing and educational landscape is vast and confusing, but the more you engage with it, the more you’ll run across opportunities to earn promotional credits.

Simply having an AWS account and agreeing to receive promotional emails gives you access to some of these offers, but they arrive unpredictably and depend on your level of interaction with AWS. I recently received an offer for a $300 credit simply by creating a new AWS account in my organization. Two or three times a year, I receive credits of $25-$100 by filling out emailed surveys. These are usually related to specific events I’ve registered for, like re:Invent, but some seem completely random. All are tied to my AWS account. The more you engage with AWS, the better your odds.

One thing you can do to reliably earn credits is to publish an Alexa skill. You can earn $100 of credit each month by consistently publishing skills, but these credits don’t roll over and aren’t transferable. Unless you’re passionate about creating Alexa skills, this might not be worth it.

Buying things through the AWS Marketplace, watching webinars, and attending live events can also earn you promotional credits. But again, you have to keep an eye out for these deals, which means reading the newsletters, attending the events, visiting the trade show booths, and generally hustling.

4. Ask AWS or an AWS Partner

Strictly speaking, this is not a good way to obtain promotional credits. But if your goal is to save money or cover unexpected costs, there are plenty of legitimate circumstances in which you can ask AWS or your reseller for a monetary break or incentive.

The most common case for this is if you’ve accidentally done something that causes a short-term spike in your bill; maybe you misunderstood the Free Tier, or you tried out a new service and forgot to shut it down. If you file a support ticket and explain the situation, AWS often lets you off the hook entirely or credits part of the overage for these mistakes. AWS grows less understanding every time you ask, but it’s definitely reasonable.

AWS Partners sometimes have access to promotional credits and discounted pricing. Though they probably won’t directly transfer promotional credits to you, they usually have some financial wiggle room to help you out if you’re in a bind or have a reasonable need. They may also have the inside track on upcoming pilot programs, trials, and other offers. Your mileage may vary, but good things come to those who ask.

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