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This Trick Saves Your Family Hundreds of Dollars on Travel Attractions

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This Trick Saves Your Family Hundreds of Dollars on Travel Attractions

Million Mile SecretsThis Trick Saves Your Family Hundreds of Dollars on Travel AttractionsMillion Mile Secrets Team

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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?

Childrens Museum Coupons
Use Your Local Membership to Visit Spots Like the Chicago Children’s Museum at a Discount!

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:

  • Aquariums
  • Art Galleries
  • Children’s Centers or Museums
  • Cultural Centers
  • Museums
  • 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.

Childrens Museum Coupons
General Admission to the Museum of Science in Boston Costs $90 for 2 Adults and 2 Children. But You Could Get in Free If You’re a Member at Another Participating Science Center

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

Link:   Association of Children’s Museums Reciprocal Program Benefits

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.
Childrens Museum Coupons
Save 50% Off General Admission for up to 6 People at Top-Ranked Children’s Museums, Like the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York

Many of the best children’s museums in the US are part of this list, including:

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

Link:   Association of Science and Technology Centers Travel Passport

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.

Childrens Museum Coupons
Visiting Seattle? A Family of 4 (2 Adults, 2 Children) Will Save $68 on Admission to the Museum of Flight – It’s the West Coast’s Largest Aviation Museum

Examples of fun spots to visit include:

3.   Association of Zoos and Aquariums

Link:   Association of Zoos and Aquariums Reciprocal Admissions Program

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:

Childrens Museum Coupons
Visit Giraffes and More at the Dallas Zoo, the Largest in Texas

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.

Childrens Museum Coupons
Visit the Corning Museum of Glass and Check Out the Fern Green Tower Sculpture by World-Renowned Artist Dale Chihuly

It’s always best to call ahead to find out what discounts are included.

A few interesting options from the reciprocal list include:

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).

Childrens Museum Coupons
Would You Lie Down on This Bed of Nails at Science North in Sudbury, Canada?

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’s “Museums on Us” program offers free admission only for the primary cardholder.  You can check out the full list of participating locations here.

And if you’re paying for admission, don’t forget to use a card that earns bonus points at museums, zoos, art galleries, and aquariums, like the Citi Prestige® Card or Citi ThankYou® Premier Card.

Bottom Line

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:

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!

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Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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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.

Great idea to check Groupon and LivingSocial! Thanks, Christine!

Great article, thank you so much, I’m sharing! Also, your local library may be able to let you check out passes as you would check out a book, letting you in for free or for a discount. Here’s a list of participating venues in the San Francisco Bay Area program DiscoverAndGo:

Thanks, Karey! And that’s a great tip about DiscoverAnd Go!

Brings back fond memories! My kids are in / just graduated college and I was doing this when they were little. So the idea has been around for years. Just like Carole described, way back then, we’re on the East Coast but after making a spreadsheet / merge of different organizations reciprocity programs along with what the cost for membership at museums to get the reciprocity and wound up finding a children’s museum in Las Vegas (I thought it was the Lieb museum, but googling it now, can’t find it / maybe they changed their name) that had the best ‘bang for the buck’ – joined them and you got into several different reciprocity programs (and we had no intention of actually ever getting to that museum… is that wrong?!! We were members of that museum for years. It was several years later that I actually got to that museum (without the kids). Nice place : )

And yeah, for people like me (overly concerned about minimizing spend), it was soooo relaxing. I remember most vividly, our trips to Baltimore – where they have the Maryland Science Museum, National Aquarium and Port Discovery, a kids museum all within walking distance of each other – rather than me saying – we paid (the daily) admission to Port Discovery. We will see that today and only today, then tomorrow we will pay the daily admission / see only the science museum and only that , then the next day, only the aquarium…. with the Las Vegas membership (that had reciprocity to AYM and ASTC) and a membership to the aquarium (did that have AZA reciprocity? Not sure), we bounced between the 3 locations like having a park hopper pass at Disney. Bored of the kids museum at lunch time? Lets see the dolphin show at the aquarium this afternoon. Want to go back to the science museum for something, no problem. SOOO much more relaxing (and less stressful when the kids would have gotten bored / tired and dad’s being too rigid)

And yeah, we used the reciprocity at loads of other places too. I just remember Baltimore with little kids and those memberships as being the perfect example.

Thanks for a great website and the fond memories!

I love the idea of a spreadsheet! 🙂 You and Carole are real pros at this!

And terrific point about the park-hopper angle – I bet it makes a huge difference to the kids!

This is a great tip! Our family of six 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. We also ended up using it for a trip to LA later that year. 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 + best deal for our family. As a cautionary note, sometimes the family membership does not include reciprocal benefits at the family level, so it’s a good idea to always check the fine print! Also, we like to visit art, science, AND children’s museums and I found that frequently the larger art museums simply did not participate in the programs or only at a higher donor level.

Finding a cheaper museum membership is an even better way to save – thanks for the great tip!

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