Museums are my favorite way to spend a rainy afternoon, especially in a new city I’m visiting. But if you’re not careful, they can take a big chunk out of your travel budget.
Thank goodness you’re careful. Actually, thank goodness you’re here.
Follow my advice and use these six different ways to save money at museums:
1. Consider a CityPass
If you’re going to be in town for awhile, and you want to see and do as much as possible, look into CityPASS. Chances are, if you want to do some touristy things, you can save money purchasing a booklet of tickets to top attractions.
2. Go Early or Late
Check to see if the museum has discounted entry. Sometimes, if you get to the museum in the last hour of the day, entry is free. Sometimes, you can go during the first hour to save money. Chart your museums in advance to see what makes the most sense for you.
3. Become a Member
Becoming an annual member probably only makes sense when you visit a city frequently, not one-off visits. But if the membership fee is typically about 3X the cost of a one-time ticket, consider whether you’ll be back to that city in the next 12 months.
4. Look for Discounts Online
Sites like Groupon, Livingsocial, and Smart Save are excellent places to find discounted entry fees. For example, if you wanted to go to the USS Intrepid museum, with a bit of hunting online, you can easily save 20%.
5. Pay Attention to Emails from Your Credit Card
This is not a reason to sign up for a new credit card, but if you have a Bank of America or Merrill Lynch credit card, look in your email. Several times a year, they offer “museums on US” days and partner with museums all over the country.
6. Remember “Suggested Donation” is Just That… a Suggestion
There’s a difference between entry fees and suggested donations. Pay close attention to the wording. If it says “suggested donation $25,” that means you can pay less. But speak up! The person at the window is supposed to make that suggestion look like more of a rule.
And, really, if none of these work… go to the museum anyway. I spent one magical afternoon at the Detroit Institute of Art several years ago, and tried fruitlessly to find a discount. It was still one of the best afternoons I can remember.