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How Smart Are Discount City Passes?

You’ve seen the promotions for “passes” that promise “free” admission to a handful of a city’s top attractions—mostly bypassing ticket lines—for a fixed price that is a lot less than you’d pay separately. I know of two major programs that sell passes for lots of different cities, and some individual cities organize their own passes. The idea is intriguing—both the lower total cost and bypassing some lines.

CityPass issues passes for 10 cities in North America—Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Hollywood, Houston, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and Toronto—providing no-extra-cost admission to a mix of important museums and major commercial tourist attractions.

  • Each pass is valid for nine days after first use.
  • Each pass typically covers four to six one-time admissions from six to eight alternatives.
  • Prices range from $39 to $79, depending on the city.

All in all, my take is that the value of the passes varies among cities: Some are great; others, not so much:

  • In New York, the pass covers the Empire State Building, the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Guggenheim Museum, Top of the Rock, and the Statue of Liberty or the Circle Line Tour. The pass costs $79; the combined admissions to just the three blockbuster museums is $65.50; add any of the commercial attractions, and the pass is a good deal.
  • Pass deals are similarly good for a mix of museums and commercial attractions in Boston, Chicago, Houston, and San Francisco. San Francisco also includes a seven-day cable-car-and-transit pass—a big plus. Philadelphia is weaker and it excludes the most important attraction, the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
  • On the other hand, the Hollywood pass, at $59, is useful only if you’re a big fan of motion-picture lore; you get a Starline Tour, Madame Tussauds admission, a Red Lines Behind the Scenes tour and the Kodak Theater or Hollywood Museum admission. To me, that list is very ho-hum, but if movies are your bag, go for it.
  • Passes for Atlanta, Seattle, and Toronto are also heavy on the commercial attractions.

You won’t be surprised by the overall conclusion: CityPass is a good deal if you would otherwise visit at least half of the attractions each pass covers; not so good if you don’t.

Leisure Pass issues passes for Berlin, London, New York, Paris, Philadelphia, and Yorkshire. The basic approach is quite different: Each pass covers far more attractions than CityPass, but pricing is much higher and varies by length of validity. The New York version, for example, includes admissions to “over 70” attractions but costs $80 for one day, $130 for two days, and up to $210 for seven. The mix includes the same blockbuster museums and commercial attractions that CityPass offers, plus many more.

The Philadelphia pass ($49 for one day, up to $95 for five days) provides similar coverage, and it does include the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Passes in Berlin (about $83 for two-day minimum), London (about $72 for one day), Paris (about $130 for two-day minimum) and Yorkshire (about $54 for one day) provide similar coverage; the London website also pitches Travelcards, but the prices are only about a half-pound less than regular prices.

All in all, Leisure Pass is a tougher proposition than CityPass. Even the one-day prices are higher, and you pay a lot more for multi-day validity. Most of you could probably come out ahead using a Leisure Pass for a day or two of intensive museum or commercial attraction visits, but the CityPass formula is a lot better if you don’t want to cram all your museum and attractions visits into a day or two.

Keep in mind that independent city passes may also be a better deal. For example, a two-day Paris Museum pass costs about $52; a three-day Berlin Museum Pass costs about $25. Do a Google search for passes in other cities.

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Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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