Theme park getaways are popular with families, but they sure ain't cheap. Happily, there are some golden rules of ticket-buying that apply to pretty much every theme park, and they can help you chip away at the cost of tickets. Here are tried-and-tested ways to lower your theme park spend.
Buy Tickets Online
Never, ever pay the walk-up ticket price at a theme park. Instead, visit the theme park website, and print out your tickets before you go. You're guaranteed to save a significant sum—sometimes as much as $20 per ticket—even for same-day tickets.
Buy in Advance
Most theme parks offer a price cut if you buy tickets at least a few days before you arrive. For instance, Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, California, slices off $25 per ticket when you make your purchase at least three days ahead.
Mine Deal-Finding Outlets
Sites like Travelzoo, Living Social, and Groupon are great places to look for deals on theme park tickets. If you're going to be spending a few days at a destination with a theme park, consider buying the Entertainment Book for that location. It's guaranteed to be full of money-saving coupons for dining and attractions, including theme parks. During your vacation, you'll almost certainly recoup the cost of the book itself, which costs less than $10 if you buy mid-way through the year.
This one is a universal no-brainer. Single-day ticket prices at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, on weekdays are about 30 percent less than admission on Saturdays and Sundays. But the big bonus is that lines will be much shorter, allowing you to spend less time waiting in lines and more time having fun.
Go in the Afternoon
Some parks offer deeply discounted tickets for visitors arriving later in the day. For example, Hersheypark's sunset tickets allow entry after 4pm or 5pm, depending on the day. You'll still get between four to six hours of fun before the park closes, and you'll pay up to 50 percent less than the full-day ticket price.
Buy More Tickets Than You Need
It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes it pays to buy a multi-day or season pass even if you're only visiting for one day. The season pass at any Six Flags park is marginally more expensive than a single-day ticket, yet it gives you a full season of fun at Six Flags parks all over the country. It's something to consider if you live within driving distance of one or more Six Flags parks or have a summer road trip planned near one.
Spring for a Package
At larger parks, such as the Disney and Universal theme parks on both coasts, you'll save money when you buy a package that bundles tickets with a hotel stay and sometimes even meals. Moreover, staying on property can allow you to take advantage of additional perks such as free parking and line-skipping privileges.
Make Membership Work for You
Both Disney World and Universal Orlando offer attractive ticket discounts to AARP members. It's one of the perks of turning 50.