My secret to saving thousands of dollars through the years on visiting fun and educational places all across the nation, and abroad, including zoos, aquariums, and museums lies in the unique benefit of reciprocal museum membership programs. Read on to learn how you can save too!
One of the ways that we have been able to afford to go to so many great educational destinations is thanks to our reciprocal museum membership.
What exactly is Reciprocal Museum Membership?
Reciprocal zoo and reciprocal museum memberships mean that you have purchased a membership to a zoo or museum that belongs to one (or more) associations that serve these destinations. When you purchase a membership from a participating museum partner, your membership gives you free admission (and often other perks) to the destination where you purchased the membership. The secret is that you ALSO get reciprocal admission benefits to many other zoos or museums, across the country, that belong to the same association network.
The two main reciprocal museum membership associations we utilize are the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC).
Following is some basic information about how the reciprocal programs we use work. Be sure to read up on the benefits and restrictions on each museum’s memberships and membership levels. Different levels of memberships offer different benefits, including how many people will be admitted under each membership.
There are so many exceptional zoos and aquariums around the country, and many of them belong to the AZA. If you purchase a membership at an AZA member zoo (or aquarium), you will receive benefits from other zoos around the country. The main benefit is free or reduced (50% off) admission to other member zoos. You can find the current list of AZA participating member locations is here. The way the program works is outlined in the paragraphs on the right hand side of the chart in that link.
Before you purchase an AZA membership, be sure that you understand how the reciprocity works. Your discount at other zoos will depend on your home membership. Purchasing a membership from a zoo that offers a 100% discount to other membership holders will be the best deal if you are going to be visiting a lot of other locations (listed in blue as 100%). Some location’s members will only receive 50% off at other member zoos (listed in red as 50%).
Membership to an ASTC offers you free admission to other member science-technology centers outside of a 90 mile radius of the museum. It also means museums within 90 miles of the address on your driver’s license do not have to offer you reciprocity discounts (except your home membership location). For example, in Charlotte the *only* museum we have not been able to use the reciprocal museum membership program is Discovery Place. —Although you could choose Discovery Place as your “home” museum and receive the member benefit of free admission. More on our ‘home’ museum choice in a bit. You can find the current list of ASTC participating member locations here.
Read the Fine Print
Each location sets their own limits on the number of family members included in the reciprocity. Free admission limits are noted, for each center, on the member list. Benefits are generally limited to a family of 6 but can vary. Visits must also usually include at least one individual (generally a parent) named on the membership card. It may be beneficial if your family is larger to purchase an additional membership in each parent’s name seperately. Some programs will also allow you to purchase an additional reciprocal museum membership for an adult or even two. This can be a great option for grandparents!
Also note that reciprocal museum membership is generally only for basic admission. If the location you are visiting has additional attraction such as a planetarium or theater admission to these special exhibits is not typically included in the reciprocity benefits. You would have to pay for participation in those extras. Reciprocal museum membership often also includes notices of special events and discounts reserved only for members.
Your membership card will also often get you a discount in your home Museum, as well as reciprocal member, gift-shops. The discount generally ranges from 10 to 20%. This is a great bonus if you are already buying souvenirs, so don’t forget to ask. Another tip is to time the date of your membership purchase to a date just before you plan to use your pass a lot. I usually purchase our pass just before before Spring Break or summer vacation.
Our “Home” Museum
For the past decade we have purchased a ‘Family’ membership from the Western North Carolina Nature Center in Asheville, NC. We choose this location because it is part of BOTH the AZA and ASTC reciprocity networks and because the membership prices are so incredibly affordable. Individual membership is $34, dual membership is $49 and family membership —which is what we utilize, is for $69. Family membership covers 2 adults and 4 children. An additional adult can be added $25 and an additional child can be added for $14. Please read their membership page thoroughly so that you understand any limitations/restrictions.
We have used our reciprocal zoo and reciprocal museum membership to visit zoos, aquariums, and museums all across the country and even internationally including every place pictured in this post.
Disclosure: Please note that the following links in this post are affiliate links. This means that at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase using the link. If you have any questions about the products or companies, e-mail me and I’m happy to answer your questions.
We have learned so much, and the memories and experiences are priceless! The tickets have been priceless too, thanks to our pass! Hopefully, these reciprocal zoo and museum memberships will make it easier and more affordable for your family to experience these fun locations and make memories too! Another great way to save on attractions is with CitiPASS! You can read up on how to save on attractions with CitiPASS in this post.