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Many folks, especially families, purchase annual memberships to their local museum, science center, or zoo to save money. That’s because if you visit 2 or more times a year, it’s often cheaper to sign-up for a membership than pay regular admission each visit.
But did you know you can use your local membership to get free or discounted admission to thousands of similar attractions all over the world?
I’ll show you how to make the most of your local membership and save money when you travel!
Save Money — It’s Like Having Children’s Museums Coupons!
If you have a membership at a local institution, it’s possible you have access to free or discounted admission at similar venues both in the US and internationally. These could include:
- Art Galleries
- Children’s Centers or Museums
- Cultural Centers
- Science Centers
- Zoos and Botanical Gardens
Certain museums, cultural centers, art galleries, science centers, zoos, and aquariums participate in reciprocal agreements through organizations like the North American Reciprocal Museum Association or Association of Zoos & Aquariums.
If you travel, you can use these agreements to save Big Money on tourist attractions you might have paid full price to visit! And making the most of your membership is an excellent way to discover interesting and frugal things to do in a new city.
If you have upcoming trips with attractions like these, it’s worth considering a membership with your local organization to reduce or eliminate the cost of admission.
This could be especially valuable if you have a large family, because ticket prices can quickly add up.
The easiest way to find out if your local institution participates in reciprocal agreements is to visit their website and search for “reciprocal agreements” or similar.
The discount may vary depending on the location. Some venues offer completely free admission to reciprocal members, but others allow a 50% discount.
Typically, the free or discounted rates only include general admission, NOT extras like special exhibits or IMAX shows. It’s best to call ahead to confirm what’s offered and any other conditions.
Or check the following museum and zoo association websites for reciprocal admissions lists and important restrictions.
1. Association of Children’s Museums
If you have little ones, you might already be a member at your local children’s museum or science center. And if it’s one of ~200 participating Association of Children’s Museums members, you’ll get a 50% discount on admission for up to 6 people at other member museums.
To be eligible, you must:
- Hold a membership to your local participating children’s museum worth at least $125
- Be prepared to show your membership card with Association of Children’s Museums logo (the member must be part of your group). Photo identification may be required.
- Boston Children’s Museum, Boston
- Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Brooklyn, New York
- Center of Science and Industry, Columbus, Ohio
- Children’s Museum of Denver, Denver
- Minnesota Children’s Museum, St. Paul, Minnesota
- Please Touch Museum, Philadelphia
- Port Discovery Children’s Museum, Baltimore
- Strong National Museum of Play, Rochester, New York
Unlike some museum associations, there are NO restrictions on visiting museums near your home. And you WILL have access to special exhibits, but NOT discounts on parking, gift shop purchases, dining, special events & programs, or extras like summer camp and birthday parties.
And you’ll save time and energy trying to hunt down children’s museum coupons to discount your admission!
2. Association of Science and Technology Centers
The Association of Science and Technology Centers Travel Passport offers free admission to members at over 350 participating science centers, museums, nature centers, aquariums, planetariums, zoos, botanical gardens, and natural history and children’s museums.
These include popular attractions in major tourist centers, both in the US and abroad. However, you’re NOT entitled to benefits at institutions that are within 90 miles (linear distance) from:
- The museum or science center where you’re a member, and
- Your residence
The rules for each location vary, so check the list for specific terms (and call ahead to confirm). Usually, general admission is included, but special exhibits, parking, and other discounts are not.
Note: Be sure to bring your membership card and photo identification.
Examples of fun spots to visit include:
- Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum, New York
- Liberty Science Center, Jersey City
- Museum of Science, Boston
- Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago
- Ontario Science Centre, Toronto
- Science Centre Singapore, Singapore
3. Association of Zoos and Aquariums
Dozens of zoos and aquariums in the US, Canada, and Mexico participate in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Reciprocal Admissions Program.
These include 8 of the top 10 zoos in the US as ranked by USA Today:
- Toledo Zoo & Aquarium, Toledo
- St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis
- Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Cincinnati
- Memphis Zoo, Memphis
- Columbus Zoo, Columbus, Ohio
- Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, Omaha
- Houston Zoo, Houston
- Dallas Zoo – Dallas
The discount you’ll get at participating zoos depends at which zoo or aquarium you’re a member. You’ll save either 100% or 50% off the price of admission. And at zoos that are free to the public, you may receive other discounts (like gift shop, special exhibit passes, or concessions).
I strongly suggest you call ahead to find out the latest rules and policies for the zoo you plan to visit. Some institutions may not offer discounted admission to members at other organizations within “close geographic proximity.”
And don’t forget your membership card and identification!
4. ROAM (Reciprocal Organization of Associated Museums)
Link: List of ROAM Museums
If art, history, and culture are more your thing, check out the Reciprocal Organization of Associated Museums. Folks with a membership at participating museums, art galleries, and cultural attractions will receive free general admission for 2 adults (or more), plus gift shop discounts.
Some museums and galleries might provide other perks, like access to member-only events, and member pricing on special exhibits and lectures.
In order to receive reciprocal benefits, you must:
- Have a membership worth $100 or more at a participating organization
- Show your membership card or ROAM sticker
And reciprocal benefits do not apply at locations within a 25 mile radius of the museum or gallery where you’re a member.
It’s always best to call ahead to find out what discounts are included.
A few interesting options from the reciprocal list include:
- Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore
- Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY
- High Museum of Art, Atlanta
- Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles
- Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal
- North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh
- Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto
A Real Life Example
Million Mile Secrets team member Jasmin has 3 school-age kids who love visiting children’s and science museums. Her family has a membership at the Rochester Museum and Science Center, which costs $90 per year. Paying general admission for a single visit would cost $50, so it’s well worth the price.
Because the Rochester Museum and Science Center is part of the Association of Science and Technology Centers, they’ve also received free admission this year to The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago (worth ~$43 for 1 adult and 3 kids) and Science North in Sudbury, Canada (worth ~$105 for 2 adults and 3 kids).
And they already have plans this spring to visit the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, which costs ~$62 for a family of five. But they’ll get in free!
Other Ways to Save Money at Museums
If you’re a Bank of America or Merrill Lynch credit or debit cardholder, you can get free admission to dozens of museums and cultural centers the first full weekend of every month.
This includes folks who have the following cards:
- Bank of America Alaska Airlines (Personal)
- Bank of America Alaska Airlines (Small Business)
- Bank Americard Travel Rewards
- Bank of America Virgin Atlantic
Bank of America’s “Museums on Us” program offers free admission only for the primary cardholder. You can check out the full list of participating locations here.
If you or your family have a membership at your local museum, science center, zoo, or other attraction, you could have access to free or discounted admission at hundreds of other venues in the US and abroad.
This is a terrific way to save lots of money when you travel. And getting free tickets to popular attractions can more than make up for the cost of your membership!
To find out if your local membership includes reciprocal benefits, check the organization’s website. Or visit:
- Association of Children’s Museums Reciprocal Program Benefits
- Association of Science and Technology Centers Travel Passport
- Association of Zoos and Aquariums Reciprocal Admissions Program
- Reciprocal Organization of Associated Museums
Have you saved money while you travel by making the most of reciprocal museum, science center, or zoo membership? Please share your experiences and tips in the comments!