Art by Jonan Everett
Now that we have a small child, my wife and I have been trying to come up with cheap ways to get out of the house and keep our son entertained. This year, we’ve hit on something we’d never really thought of before, and it looks like it will work out quite well: Season passes.
We live near an awesome water park, Shipwreck Island, that we’ve been to only a couple of times in the past. Typically, we buy single-day passes and go once a year. This year, however, we decided to pick up season passes for a number of reasons. Even so, I wondered whether that was a wise move. Here’s what I found out.
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Season Passes for Zoos, Theme Parks, and Water Parks
When it comes to theme parks, zoos, and water parks, you need to consider both the price of the tickets and the intangibles you’ll get for being a season pass holder.
The biggest factor in determining whether a season pass will be worthwhile is how often you’ll visit during the time frame when the pass is valid. You’re likely to go more often if you live close by.
Frequent visitors may find that season passes offer them the best deal. In our case, this was an easy decision. Season passes to the water park cost $129 each, while individual tickets cost $38.91. We’d have to visit just four times to get our money’s worth.
However, don’t base the decision solely on price. Consider the less tangible benefits a season pass may offer.
For us, the biggest plus of having a pass to Shipwreck Island is that we can come and go as we please, rather than trying to get maximum value out of a single-day ticket.
With passes, we can go for just a few hours between our son’s naps and enjoy ourselves without worrying about getting burnt to a crisp or buying expensive water-park concessions when we get hungry. For this reason, we’ll probably visit the water park more often than we normally would have and save even more money by not buying concessions.
When it comes to larger theme parks such as Disney World, you have even more options to weigh. Disney World has a variety of annual passes with different levels of benefits. You can get a pass with blackout dates or pay a premium for a pass that will work any day of the year.
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Most season passes come with discounts on dining and merchandise, as well as free standard parking. While currently suspended, the $829 Disney Platinum Pass Plus, good for a year, was ultimately more expensive than a $109 peak-time one-day ticket to Magic Kingdom, unless you plan to visit more than six times.
Making that number of trips can be difficult, especially if you don’t within driving distance of the park.
On the other hand, Six Flags has locations throughout the United States. Six Flags America, in the Baltimore–Washington, D.C. metro area, offers an Extreme Pass, for just $74.99 a person.
If you’re in the market for a daily ticket that can be used any day the park is open, you can buy one on the Six Flags website for $29.99. Go to the park just three times, and you’ll save money on a Six Flags America season pass, even with the more expensive one-ticket season pass option.
Sports Season Passes
While calculating the value of season passes to theme parks is fairly straightforward, doing so for those for sports is much more complicated. Ticket prices will vary by sport and even by team within the same sport. While most teams will give you discounts for buying season tickets, a few may charge a premium, based on data from SeatGeek.
Of course, if the games become sold out, you’ll have to purchase tickets on the secondary marketplace. If your team is having an amazing season, secondary-market tickets may spike in value. But if your team is doing awful, tickets may be cheaper on the secondary market.
If you’re a diehard fan who will attend every game, you'll probably save money by buying season tickets, especially if your team ends up doing well. If your seats are surrounded by other season-ticket holders whom you enjoy spending time with, the passes are even more valuable to you.
That said, if you’re a casual fan who might miss a few games, you might be better off with tickets just to the games you want to attend.
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Season Tickets for a Concert Series
Depending on where you live, you might have access to season tickets to a concert venue. For instance, in Washington, D.C., you can buy multi-event passes to National Symphony Orchestra Pops concerts at the Kennedy Center. Purchasing a NSO Pops three-performance ticket package will save you 10 percent on the regular ticket price for most shows.
Local universities may have concert series that also have a season ticket option, so make sure to check out the entertainment options in your area.
Should You Get That Season Pass? The Bottom Line
A season pass can provide a great summer of fun for the family and create some awesome memories.
Overall, it’s a good idea if you’re planning to use it often. Just make sure to calculate the cost so that you know exactly how often you have to go in order to make a season pass cheaper than buying individual tickets. Don’t forget to factor in the other benefits that it may provide when calculating your break-even point.