We live in the Dallas area. Our family loves having tons of big-city things to do, but I hate spending the big city prices! Lots of things here – the zoo, the aquarium, indoor play structures, and more – have a daily rate and a membership option. So is a museum membership cheaper than buying one-day tickets?
I’m excited to give you the run-down today! I’m going to give you three easy steps to help decide if a membership will save you money.
1. Membership price vs. daily price
First, you need the information about each type of ticket. Usually you can find this on an establishment’s website.
I’m going to use the Dallas Zoo as an example. The day-pass is $15 for adults and $12 for kids. We have two kids, so it would cost $54 for our family.
The family membership prices start at $129 and go up to $1,000 (yeesh!). The family membership for $129 is for 2 adults and 4 kids, which is just right for us.
2. Number of visits
The key element to saving with memberships is actually using the membership multiple times. Now you need to decide if it’s something you might want to do again! I have two little boys, so an art museum is definitely a one-time thing. The zoo, on the other hand, is something we can do several times.
If I were looking at a zoo membership today, I would estimate that we would probably go at least every other month on average. We’d probably go a little more in the summer, and a little less in the winter. It’s safe to say we would go around six times in one year.
3. Do the math
To figure out how much your “daily” rate is with a membership, divide the cost of the membership by the number of visits. For my example, the membership is $129 and the number of visits is 6. If we bought a membership and went to the zoo 6 times, our cost per visit is $21.50! (129 / 6 = 21.5) That is way cheaper than $54 a visit!
If you aren’t sure how many times you’d go, you can divide the membership price by the daily admittance price. This gives you the minimum number of times you have to go for your membership to be cost-effective. So $129 divided by $54 (the daily rate for our family of 4) is 3 visits. (129 / 54 = 2.38)
Always round visits up, since you can’t do a fraction of a visit! So it would take 3 visits for our membership to be cost effective. If we make three visits, the cost per visit with the membership is $43. (129 / 3 = 43)
We will definitely visit the zoo at least three times, so a zoo membership is cheaper for us than paying the daily rate of $54! A membership is NOT cheaper if you are doing a one-time visit, or if you don’t make your minimum number of visits to make it cost-effective.
What kind of membership?
Many museums offer different levels of membership. Deciding what membership you need really comes down to the visits to price ratio, but sometimes there are benefits that make it worth spending a little extra. We sometimes like to buy memberships that lets us bring an additional guest free, so that we can invite friends to come with us!
We recently bought a local science museum membership. They have multiple levels of membership. We did the math and figured out how often we would go, then looked at the membership levels. We knew we wanted an ASTC membership, so we made sure to buy the level that gave us ASTC reciprocity.
ASTC is a membership that is usually offered through local science museums, and gives the pass holder reciprocity to participating science centers around the country! There are participating museums in the town where my parents live, and in the city where my in-laws live. We know we will be visiting each of them this year, so we will use our membership to get in to both of those museums totally free! We also used it on our trip to Houston last month. We went to the Houston Children’s museum twice during our trip, and it was completely free because of our ASTC reciprocity! That pass has already paid for itself.
Buying day tickets
If you buy a day ticket and realize that you actually DO love the attraction and want to go again, check with the membership office before you leave! Lots of museums will credit your daily fare towards the cost of a membership. It never hurts to ask, but you usually can only get a deal like that the day of your visit!
Bonus: How to save on one-time tickets
If you’ve realized a membership won’t actually save you money, but you can’t bring yourself to pay full-price for an exhibit, there are other ways to save!
Save with CityPASS
Most big cities have something called a CityPASS. CityPASS tickets get you into four or five iconic city exhibits for the price of one CityPASS. These passes aren’t cheap, but they are cheaper than paying for each exhibit individually. The catch is that you only have a limited number of days to use a CityPASS (usually between 5 and 10, depending on the city), so it’s ideal for a staycation or spring break when you have a short window of time you want to fill with activities!
Save with Groupon
Groupon offers great deals on local attractions! We used groupon to get a great deal on tickets to the Dallas Arboretum. We got 4 tickets for the price of 2! Not all attractions have deals on groupon, but you can sign up for email notifications so you hear about great deals running in your area.
Here in the Dallas area, the Zoo and other local museums host a dollar day once or twice a year. When we lived in Utah, we went to the Living Planet Aquarium in Lehi on dollar day! Sure, it was pretty crazy, but we went early (right when they opened) and had a great time for just a couple bucks. Sometimes you can find these events on exhibit websites, but often I find out about them on social media. Leading to my next tip…
Special deals on social media
Dollar day and other promos are almost always advertised on social media! When there is a pricey attraction I want to see, I follow them on facebook and instagram. Sometimes it takes a few months, but usually I can catch a discount day or other promo that gets me in cheap!
How to pay for your museum membership
The first time you buy a museum membership, it will just be an up-front cost. If you want to keep your membership for another year (or if you want to buy a different membership next year), I recommend amortizing the cost into your budget! This method helps make a big expense (like buying a membership to a local attraction) more affordable by breaking it up into monthly payments! You can use this same method to save up for a pricey membership, but it takes some time and dedication.
Read more about amortizing expenses
Memberships can be a great way to save money on family activities, but they can also be a waste of money if you don’t put them to good use! Be wise about your buying decisions and you can keep your wallet happy and your kids entertained.