How to Pay Less at Museums and Zoos

Reciprocity agreements between museums, zoos, and aquariums is a wonderful thing which families should take advantage of. A reciprocity agreement is in essence an agreement between a group of museums that are willing to offer special discounts to each other’s members. In essence, you purchase a membership in one place, and then you can go to other places less expensively.


The savings add up


About 7 years ago I took my family on a trip to Florida and we were able to go to many places for a small investment. I knew that I was traveling to the Sarasota area on the Gulf side of Florida. I grew up in that area and knew several places that I wanted to take my 5 children. I ended up purchasing a family annual pass from Spanish Point Historical Area in Nokomis for $50. With that membership, I was able to go to 4 or 5 other museums within a few hours either free or very inexpensively. I was also able to go home and use that same family pass to get in free to a couple of places close to home.


If I had paid full price to all of those places it would have cost me well over $500. The great thing about reciprocity agreements is that you can get great discounts and sometimes even free admission to other museums all over the country.


The real deal is that I went to the least expensive place to buy my initial family membership. I had to do a bit of research to make this happen and spend the least amount of money. Since it has been 7 or 8 years since I have done that, I thought I would plan something similar just to show you the process.


Zoos Reciprocal Agreement


Here is where I started:

My local zoo is the Chattanooga Zoo. A family membership there is $94.50. The reciprocity agreement is found here. They are members of The Association of Zoos and Aquariums.


They have a column that designates if the membership to the zoo I belong to will afford me free admittance or reduced admittance. If the column marked ‘Reciprocity’ says 100% & 50% then that means all the other zoos with that same identifier will be free to me and the rest will be 50% off (except of course the free zoos are always free). If my member zoo only has 50% in the reciprocity column then all the other zoos are only 50% off to me. So it would make sense that I would want to join a zoo that has the 100% & 50% designation if I plan to go to other zoos with that same identifier because then it will be free.


When you are interested in going somewhere always ask if they have a reciprocity agreement in place with other like-minded establishments. They often do and so you can capitalize on that agreement and plan your field trips for the year.


National Forrest Reciprocal Agreement


Another similar type pass is the America the Beautiful pass which gives you entrance into National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands. This pass is $80 but could afford you many hundreds of dollars of fun if planned well. A couple of years ago I took my kids out west and purchased one of these passes knowing that we would be going to many national parks. After using it for 2 weeks out west which saved me several hundred dollars I then used it close to home for parking at a National Park we frequent.


More Reciprocal Agreement Options


Association of Children’s Museums offers discounted entrance to lots of children’s museums.


Association of Science-Technology Centers gives members free admission to many science centers.


North American Reciprocal Museum Association is the best deal yet because it includes many different types of museums all across North America including Mexico and Canada.


Southeastern Reciprocal Membership Program Since I live in the Southeast I included this one for all my neighbors. :)


Time Travelers offers free or discounted entrance to many history museums.


If you start planning now you could come up with a great plan for your family to go to science museums, art museums, zoos, and national forests all for a fraction of the price it would normally cost.


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