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How to Save with Season Passes

Updated on April 19, 2016
Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Busch Gardens Williamsburg

With summer approaching quickly, thoughts are turning to the fun places we will visit when the weather turns warm. Our family of four enjoys day trips to amusement parks, zoos and museums. We also like to travel to visit family and just see new places. With a little advance planning, we can make the most of that time without breaking the bank.

What are Annual Memberships?

Annual memberships, or season passes, offer you unlimited admission to the organization, and often offer additional perks such as free parking and discounts on food and merchandise. The cost of the membership is usually a little less than two visits to the organization.

Why would they do that? Aren't they losing money? Not really. If you buy a season pass to an amusement park, chances are that you will purchase food or other items each time you visit. Each time you tell your friends and family that you are going to the amusement park, you are potentially creating interest for new customers.

What's the difference between an Annual Membership and a Season Pass? The difference is in the operating dates of the organization. A museum is open all year. They will offer Annual Memberships. Some annual memberships are for the calendar year (January through December), while others offer 12-month memberships that begin from the date of purchase. A water park is only open during the warm weather. They will offer a Season Pass that has a specific begin and end date for their specific park. Many amusement parks now have Halloween and Christmas events that take place after the regular season. Make certain to check your season pass to see if these events are included or not.

Look for these programs

  • ACM - Association of Children's Museums
  • ASTC Travel Passport - Association of Science-Technology Centers
  • AZA - Association of Zoos and Aquariums
  • NARM - North American Reciprocal Museum
  • RAP - Reciprocal Admissions Program
  • Look for others at your favorite place

Visit More Places

Many museums and zoos have reciprocal agreements with other museums and zoos that offer free or discounted admissions. For example, if you purchase a membership at the Philadelphia Zoo, you will be able to get 50% off admission at the San Francisco Zoo, or free admission to ZOOAmerica in Hershey, PA.

Amusement parks that are part of a larger organization provide similar perks. The Six-Flags parks and the Busch Gardens parks all offer levels of membership that allow you to visit their sister parks for no additional cost.

If you are planning a trip, look for places that offer reciprocity with your membership. We have visited some interesting places in North Carolina, Louisiana, Missouri, and West Virginia that we would have passed by if they hadn't been included with our membership. One year we were able to visit six different Six-Flags parks in one season. The annual membership cost us about $100 per person. Park admission would have cost of about $300 per person. That was a savings of $200 per person. Not bad for a family of four.

North Carolina Aquarium at Manteo
North Carolina Aquarium at Manteo

Favorite Way to Spend A Day

What is your favorite way to spend the day with your family?

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Bargain Hunt

Now here is where you can really save some money. The Liberty Science Center in NJ offers a family membership for $140 which includes unlimited admission to their center and participates in the ASTC Travel Passport Program, which offers free general admission to participating museums. The Franklin Institute in PA offers a family membership for $120 and also participates in the ASTC program. You can enjoy both museums, and save $20 by purchasing you membership at the Franklin Institute.

To find the best bargain in your area, look at the list of places that reciprocate with each other. Visit their web sites and compare the cost of the membership. Be certain to look for any restrictions that might apply. Some organizations will not reciprocate with those within 90 miles of each other. So if you want to visit all the museums in Pennsylvania, it might be beneficial to purchase a membership in New York that reciprocates with the places you want to visit.

Compare Six Flags Park Memberships

Park
Regular Season Pass
Gold Season Pass
Great Escape (NY)
68.99
114.99
Great Adventure (NJ)
79.99
104.99
New England (Mass)
69.99
114.99
America (MD)
64.99
99.99

Conclusion

These memberships also make great gifts. One year I gave my nieces and nephews family memberships to their local zoos, museums, and state parks. They had a lot of fun exploring these places all year round, and always had something to do on a rainy day.

With a little bit of internet searching, you and your family can explore many new places and still stay within your budget. Do you know other reciprocal programs? Please share.

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