We devote thousands of hours of research to help you get Big Travel with Small Money. You support us by signing-up for credit cards through partner links which earn us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
Jasmin: Like most folks in the miles and points hobby, I love a good bargain! One of the strategies my family uses to save money when we travel is maintaining a membership at our local science center.
By having a membership at participating science centers, children’s museums, or zoos, you can get reciprocal benefits (free or discounted admission) at similar attractions in the US and around the world. If you visit spots like this frequently in your travels, you could save hundreds of dollars.
And there are a couple of tricks that can get you an even deeper discount. Thanks to Million Mile Secrets readers Christine B, Mike Renna, and Carole for sharing their ideas!
I’ll show you how you can turn a good deal into an amazing deal by finding and stacking discounts!
Don’t Pay Full Price for a Museum Membership!
I love when folks think outside the box to get even Bigger Travel with Small Money.
We’ve written about how keeping an annual membership to a participating local museum or science center can save a ton on admission to other attractions when you travel. And Million Mile Secrets readers commented on even more ways to save!
1. Check Groupon or Other Deal Sites for Museum Membership Discounts
Christine B wrote:
We’ve purchased family memberships through Groupon and LivingSocial, then used them for our trip up the East Coast. Had a ton of fun and saved a good bit of money. Museums are always great places on those bad weather days that could otherwise tank a vacation.
Terrific tip, Christine! I spotted a Groupon discount to the Rochester Museum and Science Center where we’re already members. Normally, a year-long membership for a family of 2 adults and all children costs $95. But with this deal, you’d pay $72.
Check Groupon to see if your favorite local attraction is offering a deal. Remember, to get reciprocal benefits elsewhere, the museum must be part of an association. For example:
- 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
In some cases, you might be able to stack the Groupon discount with a promotion code. For instance, the Arizona Science Center in Phoenix normally charges $145 per year for a family of four. But there’s currently a Groupon deal that gets you the same membership for just $65.
Plus, it stacks with a 20% off promotion code (current at time of writing) which brings the price down to only $52 per year!
To make the deal even sweeter, remember to start your Groupon search through a shopping portal like CashBack Monitor and earn bonus points or additional savings.
2. Look Beyond Your Local Attractions
You don’t have to purchase a membership somewhere close to home. If there’s a participating museum or zoo you’re interested in (or not ;)) which offers cheaper memberships than what you’ll find nearby, you could get an even better deal.
Million Mile Secrets reader Carole shared her strategy:
Our family of 6 saved $$$ a few years ago by purchasing an annual family membership at a few select museums that we might or might not visit in order to have the reciprocal museums benefit (NARM, Children’s Museums, ASTC, Time Traveler’s) for our trip through the Northwest. There was a range of cost for membership, so I looked at the list and chose to support the smaller museums. Even if we weren’t able to visit that specific museum, I felt like it was a win – win. Support for small museums and the best deal for our family.
And Mike Renna has this down to a science:
Just like Carole described, after making a spreadsheet / merge of different organizations’ reciprocity programs along with the cost for membership at museums to get the reciprocity, I wound up finding a children’s museum in Las Vegas that had the best “bang for the buck” – joined them and you got into several different reciprocity programs.
Fantastic tips! I love the idea of supporting smaller organizations. And if you’ll pay less for a membership, all the better.
Note: Check the terms and conditions of each association for geographic restrictions. For example, the Association of Science and Technology Centers excludes reciprocal benefits at:
- Science centers & museums located within 90 miles of the science center or museum where you are a member
- Science centers & museums located within 90 miles of your residence
So purchasing a membership at your local museum makes more sense if you live within 90 miles and plan to visit often.
How Much Can You Really Save?
Your savings will depend on how often and where you’ll use reciprocal benefits. So consider your travel plans and family’s interests before you commit to a membership.
I paid $90 last year (now $95) for a family membership at the Rochester Museum and Science Center. Along with unlimited visits there, we also got free admission at the following museums:
- Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago – We saved $43 when we visited on our weekend trip to Chicago to see Hamilton – An American Musical
- Science North, Sudbury, Canada – Over 2 visits, we saved a total of ~$157 – we enjoyed it so much we went twice!
- TELUS Spark, Calgary, Canada – Instead of paying ~$70, we got in for free!
By making the most of reciprocal agreements, we saved a total on ~$270 on museum admissions. And we have more fun stuff planned in the coming year!
If your family enjoys visiting museums, science centers, and zoos, it’s worth checking out an annual membership to save money at other locations through reciprocal agreements. My family saved ~$270 over the past year with free admission to spots like the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago!
But you can save even more by finding discounted membership deals on sites like Groupon. Sometimes, these stack with promotion codes for an even better deal. And don’t forget to navigate to deal sites through a shopping portal like CashBack Monitor to earn additional miles, points, or cash back.
You don’t have to limit yourself to memberships at nearby attractions. Consider supporting a smaller organization if it offers cheaper annual fees. Just double check the fine print for geographic and other restrictions.
If you have other ideas on how to save on family attractions when you travel, please share in the comments!
Come back each Wednesday for a new installment in our Family Travel series!