Making Museum Visits More Affordable

by Jessica Graham
Making Museum Visits More Affordable photo

Museum visits can be costly. Here are some ways to find great discounts or even free tickets in most cities across the country.

One of the best things about visiting a new city or even exploring your hometown is going to zoos and museums. However, these trips can get pricey, especially if you need multiple tickets.

The price of the tickets, even before you factor in parking and other transportation costs, can be steep.

There are, however, ways for the savvy museum goer to make a museum visit more affordable. Culture need not come at a high cost!

Look for free opportunities

Many museums offer their patrons a free day, such as monthly Free Fridays or free summertime days. Check the museum’s website for such opportunities, and if you find one, you should plan on arriving as soon as the museum opens. The free days can draw big crowds. Be sure to get on the museum’s email list to stay informed of any free or promotional days.

You can also see if your museum of choice is affiliated with another organization that offers perk days. For example, Bank of America and Merrill Lynch offer their cardholders free entry to certain museums the first full weekend of every month.

While you may think of your library card as being just for books, think again! You may be able to use your library card to get free and discounted passes to local museums and cultural institutions. We’ve used our library card to visit the U.S.S. Hornet, a museum ship, for free.

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Think about discounted admissions

While it may be counterintuitive, think about arriving at a museum a few hours before closing. Some museums offer discounted tickets for latecomers. If you do go this cost-saving route, you’ll need to plan your visit strategically to maximize your time, but you likely won’t have to fight with large crowds.

If you’re visiting a major city like Boston, Chicago or Orlando, consider purchasing a Go City card. These cards are multi-attraction passes for top destinations. Because you’re buying your tickets in a bundle, you’re able to get a discount on “at the gate” prices. These cards can be bought as single or multi-day passes.

Many corporations offer their employees discounted rates to museums and other institutions. You may need to purchase your tickets ahead of time through a company intranet or portal, but the savings can be significant.

Before you head to your destination, you should do a quick internet search for discounts. Many online savings websites like Groupon or Living Social offer discounted tickets themselves or travel packages that include tickets. Check to see if there are any restrictions like blackout dates or if the tickets need to be printed at home.

Once you arrive at a museum, be sure to ask about discounts. Many locations offer reduced entry for AAA members, AARP members, veterans, active military, and senior citizens.

Buy a membership

Purchasing an annual membership may seem obvious for local institutions where you can go numerous times and see changing exhibits, but you might also consider becoming a member of a museum that you will visit less frequently or even only once.

Annual memberships can be advantageous, especially for large families, because they provide a flat group rate on tickets rather than you needing to buy the tickets individually. A membership may also offer discounts on parking and to the museum gift shop or restaurant. Your museum membership or a portion of the membership may be tax deductible. These deductions can be tricky, however, so read the fine print carefully.

Another sizeable advantage to purchasing a museum membership is access to an entire network of museums. For example, over 300 science centers and museums participate in the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) Travel Passport Program. This means that if you purchase a membership to one museum, you are eligible for benefits such as free general admission to other ASTC museums when you travel 90 miles or more outside of your home address.

Reviewed January 2023

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