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Avoiding Lines at Blockbuster Exhibits? It’s Easy

SmarterTravel

If you plan to attend an out-of-town blockbuster exhibit, you can often avoid long lines and zip right past those ordinary folks waiting in line by getting “VIP” entrance tickets, either by joining the museum ahead of time, buying a hotel package, or both. Sure, you’ll spend a few more bucks, but avoiding the time and hassle is well worth the modest cost, at least to many of you.

This column—updating a similar posting last year—was prompted by an announcement from Seattle’s posh Pan Pacific hotel about a package to the upcoming Picasso exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum, October 8, 2010, through January 18, 2011. The two-night package includes two exhibit tickets each day, a “deluxe city-view room,” and a few trivial extras. The cost is $245 per night, double, plus the usual taxes. {{{SmarterBuddy|align=left}}}Is this a good deal? Expedia currently shows a rate of $229 per night (plus tax) for this hotel in mid-October, and the museum sells timed entry tickets for $23 per person for adults, $20 for seniors 62or over, so the package beats separate buying.

Of course, you can easily beat that price by staying at a less expensive hotel. The museum’s website currently lists similar packages from 14 other hotels—mainly upscale, and mainly fairly close to the museum. Several packages include various combinations of meals or meal credits, parking, and such, with rates starting at $139 per night. Take a look at the options.

Of course, you don’t have to buy a package to get VIP tickets to this exhibit. They’re “free” to museum members. Membership costs start at $65 per year for a single person or $80 per couple. If you visit as a couple and plan on entering twice, your ticket fees would exactly offset the couple membership price, and with the membership, you wouldn’t have to make both visits on consecutive days. And, of course, you could shop around for better hotel deals.

The Seattle case is par for the course on any blockbuster exhibit. You can generally figure that hotel packages are good options. Usually, the museum’s website posts links to available hotel packages, but not always. If the museum’s own website doesn’t show links, try the host city’s convention and visitors bureau (or equivalent) and look for hotel packages or event listings. Even for an exhibit that may fall short of blockbuster status, I recommend at least checking for packages.

Also generally good: Become at least a low-end member of any museum you plan to visit. The cost of membership is usually less than $100 per year, often under $50. Membership typically qualifies you for some combination of VIP tickets, advance-sale timed tickets, preferred times, and discounted admission prices to any important exhibitions that might be showing. You also get discounts at the museum’s shops and a bunch of other perks. Whether VIP or timed, you can usually arrange advance tickets online or by phone. The main downside is that once you sign up as a member, you’ll receive annual renewal notices and fundraising pleas until the end of your days—and maybe longer.
I’ve found three big exhibits around the United States starting during the remainder of the year or continuing through the year:

  • A major presentation of the transformation of German, French, and Italian culture in the tumultuous 1918 to 1936 period at the Guggenheim in New York City, October 1 to January 9.
  • Masterpieces from the Musee d’Orsay—the world’s top repository for the Impressionists—at the Frist Center in Nashville, October 15 to January 23.
  • Salvador Dali’s Late Work at the High Museum in Atlanta, through January 9, 2011.

Of course, event packages such as this aren’t confined to art museums. You can find similar deals for just about any relatively short-term blockbuster event, from a big concert to the Super Bowl. Whenever you see anything interesting, log on and see if any good package deals are listed.

Your Turn

How do you score tickets to or avoid lines at blockbuster exhibits? Share your strategies by submitting a comment below!

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