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SALT LAKE CITY — As temperatures warm up, many families think of getting out of the house to enjoy fun activities. An annual pass to an amusement park, zoo, garden or museum is often a good way to save money, enjoy family time, and support a local organization. But are annual passes always a good deal? Only if you actually use them.
Here are five questions you should ask before you buy an annual pass or membership.
1. How many times will we need to visit before the pass is paid for?
Many annual passes pay for themselves in 2 to 3 visits. So, if you live near a favorite attraction, an annual membership is often a good bet. Here are the current single-visit and annual pass rates for some popular Utah attractions:
- Lagoon Amusement Park: $47/adult vs $107/annual individual
- Thanksgiving Point: $15/adult for one attraction vs $195/annual family for all gardens and museums (effective May 15, 2014)
- Living Planet Aquarium: $16/adult vs $150/annual family
- Hogle Zoo: $15/adult vs $109/annual family
- Ogden Eccles Dinosaur Park: $7/adult vs $60/annual family
- National Parks: $25/car at Zion vs $85/annual for all parks
2. How many times will we visit if we don't buy the membership?
Of course it would be fun to visit the zoo or amusement park with your family at least three times a year. However, if you don't have to visit three times to make the membership worthwhile, will you be sorry? Consider travel and food costs, as well as the opportunity cost of not being able to spend that time and money visiting another fun destination. If your family will be excited to go time after time, then buy.
3. What other activities fill our family's schedule?
An annual pass to a local museum or garden is often a great choice for a stay-at-home parent with preschoolers. School, work, sports, lessons and volunteer commitments may make it difficult for other families to use a membership as often as they'd like. If you are due to renew a membership, consider the age of your children and the coming year's plans before you re-commit.
4. What are the members-only benefits?
Many annual passes include more benefits than free admission. For example, at Red Butte Garden, members can purchase advance tickets to concerts that may sell out before they go on sale to the general public. Here are some other common membership perks:
- express entry
- dining discounts
- gift shop discounts
- discounted admission for your guests
- discounts for special events and activities
- discounts on classes, camps and birthday parties
- members-only events
- inside information on new developments
- showing your support for a local organization
Many attractions that available locally are members of larger, worldwide associations. If you have a membership and are planning a trip, it is worth your while to find out if you can get free or discounted admission to a partner attraction. Look for reciprocal agreements within the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the American Horticultural Society, the Association of Science-Technology Centers and others.
Some local attractions have partnered to make your annual membership more valuable. For example, members of Tracy Aviary get free weekday admission to Ogden Eccles Dinosaur Park. They also get free admission to Thanksgiving Point Farm and Ogden Nature Center on the first Thursday of each month, and a 50 percent discount at Hogle Zoo every Thursday. Not all websites list reciprocal benefits in detail, so ask questions if you're not sure about all the benefits included with your membership.
Allison Laypath is an expert on family travel and author of the family travel blog tipsforfamilytrips.com. With her family, Allison especially enjoys road trips, national parks and local field trips. Email Allison at email@example.com.